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Ludlow Amendment (Jan. 1938)

Louis Ludlow was a Washington correspondent for a large number of newspapers, and then served as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Indianapolis, Indiana district for twenty years. He first introduced a constitutional amendment in 1935 (the Ludlow Amendment), which required a national referendum to confirm a declaration of war passed by Congress, except in the event of an invasion of the United States or its territorial possessions. While Ludlow introduced the amendment several times from 1935 to 1941, it failed to pass, in spite of strong support in national opinion polls.

In January 1938, during the buildup to the second world war, passage of the resolution seemed assured, but President Franklin Roosevelt sent a letter to the Speaker of the House arguing that a president would be unable to conduct an effective foreign policy and other nations would violate American rights if the Constitution was amended. By a vote of 209-188, the House returned the resolution to committee.

 

Text of Letter(1)

 
 

President Roosevelt to the Speaker of the House Of Representatives (Bankhead) on the Ludlow Amendment, Washington, January 6, 1938.

My Dear Mr. Speaker:

In response to your request for an expression of my views respecting the proposed resolution calling for a referendum vote as a prerequisite for a declaration of war, I must frankly state that I consider that the proposed amendment would be impracticable in its application and incompatible with our representative form of government.

Our Government is conducted by the people through representatives of their own choosing. It was with singular unanimity that the founders of the Republic agreed upon such free and representative form of government as the only practical means of government by the people. Such an amendment to the Constitution as that proposed would cripple any President in his conduct of our foreign relations, and it would encourage other nations to believe that they could violate American rights with impunity.

I fully realize that the sponsors of this proposal sincerely believe that it would be helpful in keeping the United States out of war. I am convinced it would have the opposite effect.

Yours very sincerely,

Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

The text of the original Ludlow amendment H. J. Res. 199, 75th Congress, 1st session was:

SEC. 1. Except in the event of an invasion of the United States or its Territorial possessions and attack upon its citizens residing therein, the authority of Congress to declare war shall not become effective until confirmed by a majority of all votes cast thereon in a Nation-wide referendum. Congress, when it deems a national crisis to exist, may by concurrent resolution refer the question of war or peace to the citizens of the States, the question to be voted on being, Shall the United States declare war on _________? Congress may otherwise by law provide for the enforcement of this section.

The issue reappeared(2) during the Vietnam war in its familiar form of a proposed constitutional amendment. John Rarick, (Democrat-Louisiana), Robert L. Leggett (Democrat-California), and Parren J. Mitchell (Democrat-Maryland) introduced such a proposed amendment April 1, 1971. They called it the People Power over War Amendment, and they used text based on the earlier Ludlow Amendment:

SEC. 1. Except in the event of an attack or invasion the authority of Congress to declare war shall not become effective until confirmed by a majority of all votes cast thereon in a Nation-wide referendum.

SEC. 2. Whenever war is declared the President shall immediately conscript and take for use by the Government all the public and private war properties, yards, factories, and supplies, together with employees necessary for their operation, fixing the compensation for private properties temporarily employed for the war period at a rate not in excess of 4 percent based on tax values assessed in the year preceding the war.

Sources:

  1. U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 400-402.
  2. Congressional Record, 92nd Congress, 1st session, pp. 9052-53, 9065 (April 1, 1971).

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