Why Was It Unconstitutional For President Harry Truman To Take Over the Coal and Steel Industries


By Jim Campbell —— Bio and Archives April 28, 2010

Comments | Print Friendly | Subscribe | Email Us

When President Harry Truman was told by the Supreme Court of the United States of America that his attempts to seize the coal and steel industries were Unconstitutional, why is Barack Hussein Obama being held to a different standard?

Does he believe he is above the law?  Is he betting that the current leadership, under Nancy Pelosi would never begin Impeachment Proceedings?  What will Republicans do when they eventually gain control of both houses?

On the issue, does he believe he’s above the law?  The answer goes without saying as was recently demonstrated during the vote on the health care fiasco.  Also his take over of Banks and the Auto Industry would certainly qualify.  Is he safe with his bet on Nancy Pelosi, seemingly so.

What will Republicans do when they once again gain control of both houses or make substantial gains in November? It would be most prudent to make President Obama a lame duck, making no more legislation possible during the next two years.

The country would not be well served with another Impeachment when there is so much very important legislation to be implemented, cutting taxes, and useless programs, while putting our country back on the road toward real growth in the private sector.

Random thoughts while observing the passing charade, I’m J.C.


On June 2, 1952, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court declared in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer that the president lacked the authority to seize the steel mills. Writing for a badly divided majority, Justice Hugo Black held that the president had no authority under the Constitution to seize private property on the grounds of national security. Since the Congress had not otherwise authorized the president to seize the steel mills, the president could not do so.

When President Truman attempted to deal with striking coal workers, in United States v. Pewee Coal Co. 341 U.S. 114 (1951) as justification for the government’s claims of unfettered executive power.  Judge Pine issued his opinion at 4:45 p.m. on April 29. “There is no express grant of power in the Constitution authorizing the President to direct this seizure. There is no grant of power from which it reasonably can be implied. There is no enactment of Congress authorizing it,” the court declared. H/T dragon1


The government, Pine wrote, says in its brief that it “does ‘not perceive how Article II (of the Constitution) can be read so as to limit the Presidential power to meet all emergencies,’ and … claims that the finding of the emergency is ‘not subject to judicial review.’ To my mind this spells a form of government alien to our Constitutional government of limited powers. I therefore find that the acts of defendant are illegal and without authority of law.”

After winding it’s way through the Appellate Court, if finally reached the Supreme Court. On June 2, 1952, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court declared in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer that the president lacked the authority to seize the steel mills. Writing for a badly divided majority, Justice Hugo Black held that the president had no authority under the Constitution to seize private property on the grounds of national security. Since the Congress had not otherwise authorized the president to seize the steel mills, the president could not do so.

Pine’s decision was read as a ringing defense of limited government, and was widely praised by the press and Congress.

I’ve been doing some digging and reading and ran across interesting data that I hadn’t known and data that I did at one time know but have since forgotten. I find it “Rather” curious that Obama invokes the names of FDR, Kennedy and Reagan on a frequent basis but I haven’t heard him mention President Truman at all. Perhaps he did and I missed it.

If, as Obama claims, he is a student of history why has he not mentioned Truman’s attempt at doing the exact same thing Obama is doing now even though Truman’s efforts were declared unconstitutional and threats of impeachment made him back down?

Interesting, isn’t it?

I have heard how great Truman was as a President even though his approval ratings upon exiting stage left were lower than George W. Bush’s approval ratings when he left office, I find that “Rather” quizzical as well.

Did you know that in the 1950s there were two “agencies” called the Office of Price Stabilization and the Wage Stabilization Board? Both were federally mandated and they backfired on the economy as well. However, that didn’t stop Truman from taking over the steel mills whose workers were threatening to go on strike. Other avenues were available to the then President but, there was a war on called the Korean War and Truman claimed imaginary powers unto the office of the Presidency and moved to seize the steel mills. Sound familiar?

It’s called degeneration into Despotism. That’s what was charged against Truman and in a “decision” of a federal judge back then, Judge David A Pine stated after Truman claimed “inherent” power of the Presidency:

The non-existence of this “inherent” power in the President has been recognized by eminent writers, and I cite in this connection the unequivocal language of the late Chief Justice William Howards Taft in his treatise entitled Our Chief Magistrate and His Powers (1916) wherein he says: “The true view of the Executive function is, as I conceive it, that the President can exercise no power which cannot be fairly and reasonably traced to some specific grant of power or justly implied and included within such express grant as proper and necessary to its exercise. Such specific grant must be either in the Federal Constitution or in an Act of Congress passed in pursuance thereof.

There is no undefined residuum of power which he can exercise because it seems to him to be in the public interest, and there is nothing in the Neagle case and its definition of a law of the United States, or in other precedents, warranting such an inference. The grants of Executive power are necessarily in general terms in order not to embarrass the Executive within the field of action plainly marked for him, but his jurisdiction must be justified and vindicated by affirmative constitutional or statutory provision, or is does not exist.” (US House, The Steel Seizure Case, 428)

In other words, ladies and gentlemen, the actions of the current administration taking over the financial industry and the auto industry is entirely unconstitutional and are impeachable offenses no matter how honorable they may seem to be. Truman tried it and failed and was “disappointed” that he was denied his day of glory.

Jim Campbell runs Charging Elephants.


Guest Column Jim Campbell -- Bio and Archives |

Items of notes and interest from the web.

Commenting Policy

Please adhere to our commenting policy to avoid being banned. As a privately owned website, we reserve the right to remove any comment and ban any user at any time.

Comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal or abusive attacks on other users may be removed and result in a ban.
-- Follow these instructions on registering: