The request for a referendum on war has come up many times since WWI. But one of the more memorable proposals of a U.S. referendum on war came from a group of Nebraskans in 1916 who largely wanted to encourage either peace or isolationism. At the very least, they wanted the people who voted for war to walk to the walk.
A referendum on war
A 1987 article in the NYT (cited below) listed some of the amendments citizens have proposed over the years. Among them was one from a group of Nebraskans that tends to recirculate any time the U.S. appears to be about to engage in a war effort.
“The petition, sent to Washington by a group of Nebraska residents in 1916, proposed an amendment requiring a national referendum before Congress could declare war. To dissuade votes for war, the petition proposed that all those who voted in favor of the United States entering World War I be willing to enlist.”
The petition got so many signatures in the petitioner’s town that the US Archives noted that he had to add extra pieces of paper to accommodate them all.
The Ludlow Amendment
The 1916 attempt to give citizens the power to declare war wasn’t the only attempt.
The Ludlow Amendment was a constitutional amendment proposed in 1938 by Indiana Representative Louis Ludlow. According to the US House of Representatives Archives, it “called for a national referendum before the United States could enter a war, except in cases of invasion or attack on U.S. soil.” This would have removed the power to declare war from Congress in most cases.
A poll found that many people favored this amendment, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything. “On December 8, the House of Representatives voted 388 to 1 to approve President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request to declare war on Japan, with the President signing the declaration later that day. On December 11, Congress approved war resolutions against Germany and Italy, with Roosevelt also signing them the day they were passed.” (Source)
Source: “WASHINTON TALK; Letters to Congress: Amend the Constitution? Let Us Count the Ways” — NY Times Archives