UMR historian’s book examines declarations of war, military interventions

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On February 27, 2003

With the threat of war in Iraq looming on the horizon, and a presidential declaration of war a distinct possibility, a historian and foreign policy expert at the University of Missouri-Rolla examines such calls to action throughout history in his latest book.

"Calls to Arms" a new book by UMR’s Professor Russell D. Buhite.

"Calls to Arms: Presidential Speeches, Messages and Declarations of War," edited by Dr. Russell D. Buhite, professor of history at UMR, was published in February by Scholarly Resources in Wilmington, Del., a major publisher of U.S. diplomatic history.

Buhite’s book compiles the messages of 24 presidents, from John Adams to George W. Bush, as they sought to explain, justify or rationalize their decisions to use force either against other nations or sub-national groups.

The documents included in the book show the changes in presidential power and show how congress and others respond to the various calls to arms throughout history.

In addition, the collection demonstrates the relationship between presidents and the constitutional requirements dealing with war, or in the cases of undeclared war, the "extra-constitutional" behavior exhibited.

One of Buhite’s concerns has always regarded presidential usurpations of congressional privilege in making decisions about war. "The framers of the Constitution were especially vigilant on this matter," Buhite explains. "They feared a system in which a president could initiate war without congressional approval, then insist that the legislative body pay for continuing military activity. That was, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, ‘the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions.’"

Five of the messages included in the book are requests for a congressional declaration of war. Thirty-six deal with military interventions of relatively short duration, or, in the cases of war in Korea and Vietnam, undeclared and lengthy involvements.

In addition to compiling the messages, Buhite wrote a 42-page introduction in which he examines the way presidential speech has changed over the years. He discusses "which presidents stand out as superior rhetoricians and why, and to what degree and by what processes presidents have challenged the war powers delimited in the U.S. Constitution."

Buhite came to UMR in 1997 as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a position he held until 2002. He currently teaches full time in the history department at UMR, where he specializes in the history of American foreign relations. Before coming to UMR, Buhite chaired the history departments at the University of Tennessee and the University of Oklahoma for seven and 10 years, respectively.

Buhite is the author of eight other books on U.S. foreign policy and the co-editor of a collection of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. His most recent book, "Major Crises in Contemporary American Foreign Policy: A Documentary History," was published in 1997 by Greenwood Publishing Group.

"Calls to Arms: Presidential Speeches, Messages, and Declarations of War" is available from the publisher, Scholarly Resources, at

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On February 27, 2003. Posted in News