This is the first in a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. The series will appear monthly. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.
“The Congress shall have Power to . . . provide the common Defense and . . . To declare war.”
–U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8
The Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war and maintain and fund the armed forces. From the harrowing night in 1814 when war arrived on the Capitol’s doorstep to the war on terror, the House and its Members have been key players in wartime decisions.
The House's constitutional power to declare war
On June 4, 1812, the House adopted a war resolution against Great Britain and Ireland, marking the first time it exercised its constitutional power to declare war.
The burning of the Capitol in 1814
In the most devastating blow suffered by the U.S. during the War of 1812, British forces overran the capital city setting fire to most major public buildings, including the U.S. Capitol on August 12, 1814.
The War Powers Resolution
Labeling the bill “unconstitutional and dangerous,” President Richard M. Nixon vetoed the War Powers Resolution on October 24, 1973.
President George W. Bush addressed a Joint Session of Congress
On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed a Joint Session of Congress on the subject of the war on terrorism. With a nation still reeling from the attacks on September 11, 2001, President Bush spoke, not just to American citizens, but to a global audience.
Read about pacifist Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who voted against U.S. entry into both World War I and World War II.
Jeannette Rankin’s life was filled with extraordinary achievements: she was the first woman elected to Congress, one of the few suffragists elected to Congress, and the only Member of Congress to vote against U.S. participation in both World War I and World War II. “I may be the first woman member of Congress,” she observed upon her election in 1916. “But I won’t be the last.”
Read about Civil War hero Representative Robert Smalls of South Carolina, who was a slave conscripted into the Confederate Army.
During the Civil War, the Confederate Army conscripted Robert Smalls into service aboard the Planter, an ammunitions transport ship that had once been a cotton steamer. On May 13, 1862, a black crew captained by Smalls hijacked the well-stocked ship and turned it over to the Union Navy. Smalls became a northern celebrity. His escape was symbolic of the Union cause, and the publication of his name and formerly enslaved status in northern propaganda proved demoralizing for the South.
Lone Vote: Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin of Montana
Watch House Reading Clerk Irving Swanson recall the Declaration of the War against Germany and Italy in his 2005 Oral History.
Oral History Events: World War II
Watch a series of first-hand accounts on Capitol Hill during World War II.
Given to the House of Representatives by the French government in 1918, this vase represents both the artistry and chemistry of the National Manufactory of Sèvres, France. The vases were offered to express France’s “sisterly gratitude for America’s timely help” in World War I and presented to the House on September 13, 1918.
Fifth Massachusetts Volunteers Drilling for Active Service.—Charging, at the Double Quick, Up a Steep Bank Near the Capitol
The Fifth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service in Washington shortly after the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861. This hand-colored wood engraving depicts the regiment drilling near the unfinished dome of the Capitol.
“This Greater than Roman Forum”— The Wartime 38th Congress
It had been three weeks since President Abraham Lincoln visited the rolling hills of the Gettysburg battlefield and delivered his now famous address, intoning "that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth." At the time, no one could have predicted that the war would rage for another year and a half. But that December, few Americans not named Lincoln likely felt the weight of their responsibilities more than the men who had assembled in the U.S. House of Representatives for the opening of the 38th Congress (1863–1865). And few Members of the House seemed to feel the day's pressure more than Schuyler Colfax of Indiana who had just been elected Speaker. More . . .