Historians Present Petition to Congress

AHA Staff, October 2002

Representative Bob Filner (D-Calif.) speaking just before receiving the petition of 1,250 historians on the Cannon Building Terrace—with the U.S. Capitol in the background—on September 17, Constitution Day. Photo by Chris Hale.On September 17—commemorated as Constitution Day—several leading historians gathered on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., to present a petition signed by nearly 1,300 historians, asking the U.S. Congress to reassume its constitutional responsibility under Article 1, Section 8, to debate and vote upon declaration of war. The petition drive was organized by UCLA Professors Joyce Appleby (AHA president for 1997) and Ellen DuBois and quickly gathered support with hundreds of historians from across the United States agreeing to sign on the very first day. The petition, ultimately signed by historians with diverse perspectives from more than 200 organizations and from all the 50 states, read:

We, the undersigned American historians, urge our members of Congress to assume their Constitutional responsibility to debate and vote on whether or not to declare war on Iraq.

We ask our senators and representatives to do this because Congress has not asserted its authority to declare war for over half a century, leaving the president solely in control of war powers to the detriment of our democracy and in clear violation of the Constitution.

We believe it is particularly urgent that Congress reassert its authority at this time since an attack on Iraq, if made, would be an American initiative. Since there was no discussion of Iraq during the 2000 presidential campaign, the election of George Bush cannot be claimed as a mandate for an attack. Only a debate by Americans' elected representatives can engage the public in a serious consideration of the costs, risks, and wisdom of such a war.

Historian Joyce Appleby presents the historians' petition to Representatives Loretta Sanchez, Bob Filner, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Lloyd Doggett as several historians look on. Photo by Chris Hale.The historians who signed the petition (a complete list of the signers can be seen on the web site of the History News Network at http://hnn.us/articles/905.html) included experts on the U.S. Constitution, American law, and diplomacy.

The petition was presented on behalf of the signatories by Appleby and was received by Representatives Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) In their brief speeches the members of Congress applauded the thoughtful petition and declared passionately that the Constitution still applied, that it could not be ignored, and that America should wake up and listen to the historians.