The Tonkin Gulf Resolution

April 12, 2011

Shifting War Powers from Congress to the Executive: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Signing of the Tonkin Gulf ResolutionCongress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, 1964 at the request of the Johnson administration. The resolution stated “that the Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” Johnson requested the resolution after two engagements between U.S. and Vietnamese ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The resolution is significant because it in effect authorized the President to commit U.S. forces without a declaration of war, a practice that has now become standard.

Joint resolutions were used to authorize wars with Iraq (1991), Afghanistan (2001) and with Iraq again in 2002. Resolutions authorizing the use of force are narrower in scope than Declarations of War. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution, for example, limited the use of force to repelling armed attacks against U.S. forces and preventing further aggression. The Declaration of War against Japan, by contrast, “authorized and directed [the President] to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.”

We now know that the second of the two incidents that prompted the Gulf of Tonkin resolution did not occur. The US ships involved in the second engagement thought they were under attack because of radar anomalies. Johnson asked for the resolution authorizing the use of force before this was clear, and afterwards he never publicly acknowledged that the second alleged attack did not occur.

David Tucker, Associate Professor of Defense Analysis, United States Naval Postgraduate School

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Gulf of Tonkin Resolution:

Master of American History and Government at Ashland University

Ashland University’s Master of American History and Government program is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as few as three summers of intensive coursework. You may also attend specific courses for continuing education graduate credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government, with no courses limited to teaching methodology. All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents. Learn more about the program.

A Sample Core Course in the MAHG program: The American Presidency II: Johnson to Present

Franklin Delano RooseveltThis course (a continuation of “The American Presidency I: Washington to Lincoln”) is an examination of the political and constitutional development of the office ofpresident from Reconstruction to the present. It focuses on how changing conceptions of the presidency have shaped American political life in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially as America has become a global power. The course examines the dramatic decline in the authority and prestige of the presidency in the late 19th Century and the resurgence of the office during the Progressive period, along with two themes that come to dominate the modern presidency: the president as domestic steward and the president as leader of a great power. After taking a close look at FDR, the seminal figure in the actual establishment of the modern presidency, the course examines the post-FDR presidents, with special attention to LBJ and Reagan. It will conclude with a look at the contemporary presidency. Along the way, the course examines such questions as the proper role of the presidency in relation to the legislative and judicial powers, the role of political parties in presidential affairs, and the definition and impact of “presidential greatness.”

Professors Jeremy Bailey of the University of Houston and Stephen Knott of the U.S. Naval War College co-instruct in the course, which will be taught in Session Two, from June 26 to July 1. Knott is a political scientist who has written two studies of Reagan, At Reagan’s Side: Insiders’ Recollections from Sacramento to the White House (2005) and The Reagan Years (2005). Bailey is the author of Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power (2007).

Civil War Sesquicentennial

Abraham LincolnThe Civil War began on April 12, 1861 at 4:30am when Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Those shots marked the beginning of a nearly four-year struggle that ultimately determined whether our nation would honor the principles upon which it was founded or be ripped asunder by the conflicts that had existed between principle and practice since the founding. We present here a collection of resources on the Civil War. Included are many of the era’s most notable speeches and letters, commentary and lectures by leading historians and political scientists, original lesson plans developed by history professors and master classroom teachers, and links to additional web resources.

New Features at EDSITEment

March was Women’s History Month. Check out lesson plans and other resources that explore women’s role in American history, including:

Eleanor Roosevelt

Classes who are following current events in the Middle East and US involvement in establishing the no-fly zone in Libya may wish to consult these America Abroad Media reports on the problems confronting current Arab youth, key actors in the current unrest: The Arab World’s Demographic Dilemma: Young, Unemployed, and Searching for a Voice.

Among the April features at EDSITEment is the curriculum unit “The Birth of an American Empire.” Written by Ashland University’s John Moser, this four-part lesson plan helps students examine the causes of the Spanish American War and the reasons Americans intervened in a civil war in the Spanish colony of Cuba. It explores the debate over the proper role for the US on the world stage: whether it should enter militarily into the conflicts of other nations, or remain aloof from foreign entanglements; whether it should expand its territory by entering the imperial sweepstakes, or use economic power and moral suasion to preserve global opportunities for American commerce and moderate the worst effects of European imperialism.

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