With congressional lawmakers and the rest of the nation buzzing about potential military intervention in Syria, a nearly century-old failed constitutional amendment resurfaced on Reddit Tuesday, sparking debate about a dramatic restructuring of the power to declare war.
In 1916, with World War I looming for the United States, a group of Nebraska residents gathered petition signatures and sent a constitutional amendment to Congress that would have enacted a national referendum before lawmakers could declare war. On top of the national vote, anyone who cast a ballot in favor of war would have been required to register as a volunteer for service in the United States Army.
While the proposal didn't make it far in Congress, the idea now pops up regularly on various social networks, earning the attention of anti-war activists and anti-interventionists who support a more concrete definition of war. There was heated discussion last month over whether President Barack Obama would seek congressional approval for military action in Syria. The president has decided to, but he has also maintained that it is within his authority to approve a strike without a vote in Congress.
The 1916 constitutional amendment isn't the only historical effort to give American voters a greater say in when the nation goes to war. On several occasions between 1935 and 1940, Rep. Louis Ludlow (D-Ind.) submitted a measure calling for a national vote to confirm any declaration of war by Congress, except in cases when the United States had been attacked first. While the proposal was supported by around 75 percent of Americans at the time, according to polling, it failed in a congressional vote.