Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science & Public Administration


While conflict has always existed between the president and the Congress over war-making roles, the president's Commander-in-Chief role has expanded significantly since World War II. This study examines expansion of presidential power in terms of the establishment of the United States as a world economic and political power and the development of nuclear weapons.

Case studies were selected from each of the administrations from Truman through Reagan to illustrate these points. The Truman administration is studied in terms of the war in Korea and the advent of the limited war concept in a nuclear-powered world.

President Eisenhower's massive retaliation strategy represents the first real national military strategy. It set the stage for an unprecedented standing force of nuclear weapons as the U.S. moved to the center stage of world power.

The Kennedy administration's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis outlines the problems of massive retaliation strategy as other nations continued to develop their own forces. It also points out the need for a sole decision maker in crisis situations and changes in the concept of imminent danger.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 granted the broadest possible powers to President Johnson as he pursued American interests in Vietnam. The resolution led to the largest presidentially made war in American history.

President Nixon's decision to bomb and invade Cambodia in 1970 was an extension of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. This decision served as the final straw for Congress in terms of presidential power and resulted in the War Powers Act of 1973.

The Ford Administration's handling of the Mavaguez seizure in 1975 and President Carter's approach to the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 illustrate the presidency in the post-War Powers Act environment. Both men gave lip service to the law, but basically continued to act as presidents before them had done.

President Reagan's leadership in invading Grenada in 1983 finally illustrates the use of strong presidential power, yet recognizes the role of Congress in war-making by complying with the provisions of the War Powers Act.

This thesis concludes that presidential war powers expanded to an all time high by 1973, and then levelled off. Much of the time since then has been spent seeking the correct balance between the president and Congress based on the provisions of the War Powers Act.

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