A war hawk, or simply hawk, is a term used in politics for someone favoring war in a debate over whether to go to war, or whether to continue or escalate an existing war. War hawks are the opposite of doves. The terms are derived by analogy with the birds of the same name: hawks are predators that attack and eat other animals, whereas doves mostly eat seeds and fruit and are historically a symbol of peace.
The term "War Hawk" was coined by the prominent Virginia Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke, a staunch opponent of entry into the War of 1812. There was, therefore, never any "official" roster of War Hawks; as historian Donald Hickey notes, "Scholars differ over who (if anyone) ought to be classified as a War Hawk." One scholar believes the term "no longer seems appropriate". However, most historians use the term to describe about a dozen members of the Twelfth Congress. The leader of this group was Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was another notable War Hawk. Both of these men became major players in American politics for decades. Other men traditionally identified as War Hawks include Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, William Lowndes of South Carolina, Langdon Cheves of South Carolina, Felix Grundy of Tennessee, and William W. Bibb of Georgia.
In modern American usage "hawk" refers to a fierce advocate for a cause or policy, such as "deficit hawk" or "privacy hawk". It may also refer to a person or political leader who favors a strong or aggressive military policy, though not necessarily outright war.
The term "liberal hawk" is a derivation of the traditional phrase, in the sense that it denotes an individual with "socially liberal" inclinations coupled with an aggressive outlook on foreign policy.