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“Inherent Powers” Doctrine
Menaces Democratic Rights

Truman Claims Presidential Authority to Rule by Decree

(14 February 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 7, 14 February 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Truman’s claim that he has “inherent power” to outlaw and smash strikes when he decides they affect public “health, safety and welfare” is the boldest move he has yet made to arrogate to himself dictatorial powers.

By this declaration, Truman has openly and autocratically attempted to assume authority that no previous president, not even Roosevelt, had ever dared to assert in war or peace without specific legal sanction. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution granting the sweeping powers that Truman claims as chief executive. Nevertheless, Truman has stated, in effect, that “I am the law!”

He made this dictatorial claim at a press interview on Feb. 4 when he approved a memorandum by Attorney General Tom Clark to the Senate labor hearings which contended there is no need for a special law to permit presidential use of injunctions because the president has “inherent power” to enjoin strikes in “national emergencies.” Truman said he had no objection to Congress “spelling out” such a law, but he didn’t think it was “necessary” inasmuch as he already has the “inherent power” to act.

“Divine Right of Kings”

Truman’s enunciation of this new and unprecedented doctrine of “inherent power” raises an issue that transcends even the vital issue of labor relations legislation. Under this doctrine there is no limit to the powers the president may assert. It parallels the doctrine of the “divine right of kings” maintained by absolute monarchs.

As applied to the sphere of labor relations, Truman’s assumption of “inherent power” would make him a supreme arbiter with no legal limits to his authority to intervene against the workers at any time he decides their actions constitute a “national emergency.”

Truman’s claim is all the more ominous because it follows a series of other actions designed to establish his power by decree to suppress and outlaw dissident political groups and to plunge the country into war without the specific approval of Congress, let alone the expressed will of the people.

Other Usurpations

Truman acted on the doctrine of “inherent power,” without publicly formulating it, when he issued his Executive Order 9835 that initiated Clark’s list of so-called “subversive” organizations, and the Gestapo-like “loyalty” purge among government workers. This order not only blacklists any political opposition that Truman chooses to label “subversive” and denies them a hearing on this charge, but it subjects anyone on government work, whether in federal or private employment, to intimate investigation and dismissal without a hearing or the right to confront accusers. It was under this order that James Kutcher, the legless war veteran, was fired from the Veterans Administration.

It has been revealed that the North Atlantic military pact, now being secretly drafted in Washington, includes the commitment that the U.S. will send military support to any other pact-partner which may be “attacked” by an “aggressor.” Under this commitment, Truman, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, could plunge this country into war at will.

If Truman gets away with his new doctrine of “inherent powers,” it will be the biggest step yet taken in this country toward a police state. If he can break strikes this way, then he can also break any and all elementary rights of labor, Negro and progressive organizations by decree. Organized labor must take the lead in halting this move toward totalitariansm.

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