Presidents at War

Presidential War Powers and the Challenges of Managing Wars
New America

What constitutes a legitimate wartime target? Where can combat be waged? How do we keep Americans safe while respecting their civil liberties? And how do we target an enemy, or handle POWs, in an age of irregular combat?

Such questions and controversies may seem unprecedented in our post-9/11 age of drone warfare, electronic surveillance, and increasingly diffuse global threats. But they are also the same questions that have fueled bitter public debate about the office of the Commander-in-Chief throughout America’s existence, including in its most divisive hour: the Civil War.

What can we learn from the age of the telegraph and the cannon about how to manage modern warfare? And how can debates over constitutional war powers from the war that divided the nation apply to the war that seems to be dividing the world?

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, Dickinson College, and New America hosted a range of military and presidential advisors and scholars for a debate about how American presidents can—or should—wage war.

Join the conversation online using #PresidentsAtWar and following @NewAmerica.


Major General John D. Altenburg Jr. (retired) Of Counsel, Greenberg Traurig Former Deputy Judge Advocate General, U.S. Army

Sidney Blumenthal Former Assistant and Senior Advisor to President Bill Clinton Author, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man (Spring 2015)

Louis Fisher Scholar in Residence, The Constitution Project

Colonel Jeffrey McCausland (retired) Distinguished Visiting Professor of Research and Minerva Chair, Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), U.S. Army War College


Matthew Pinsker Pohanka Chair in American Civil War History, Dickinson College Author, Lincoln's Sanctuary (2003) Fellow, New America