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Published on Jan 12, 2012
Seventy-four years ago this week, members of the House of Representatives voted on the Ludlow Amendment, which would have changed the constitution to require a national referendum before allowing Congress to declare war. The amendment went down in defeat, but it captures a particular moment in U.S. history when the memory of World War I, the Great Depression, and gathering storm clouds in Europe combined to spur isolationist sentiment in the United States. James M. Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies, argues that the Ludlow Amendment serves as a powerful reminder that the authority to deploy force was not always so concentrated in the executive branch. The recent debate about Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, he says, shows that this power could again become a Congressional prerogative, or even a public one.