Eisenhower, Dwight D.

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As the first Republican president since Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) saw it as his responsibility to peel back what he perceived as the negative trend of the accrual of power in the national government under the New Deal and its consequent paternalism and even “creeping socialism.” Though a doctrinaire conservative on most questions of federal-state relations, Eisenhower was nevertheless pragmatic enough, both in terms of politics and policy, to recognize the staying power of the New Deal and the potential positive uses of national government power.

Believing that twenty years of Democratic control had established dangerous trends toward the increase of federal power, Eisenhower spent considerable time and official effort questioning the appropriate balance of federal-state power. In a 1953 message to Congress, “Recommending the Establishment of a Commission to Study Federal, State, and Local Relations,” Eisenhower argued that given the accrual of power in Washington under the New Deal, “the Federal Government has entered fields which, under our Constitution, are the primary responsibilities of state and local governments.” Seeking to rationalize the federal balance of power that had developed in a “piecemeal and often haphazard” way and to study the efficiency and appropriateness of federal grant-in-aid programs, Eisenhower took first steps to control this key centralizing trend of the New Deal. Indeed, these efforts to address and track the development of American federalism led to the creation of the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations in 1959.

Dwight D. Eisenhower. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Despite these longheld ideological principles on the proper federal balance of power, one key action of the Eisenhower administration involved significant use of national government power. Eisenhower used national government force in a showdown between the authority of the federal courts and recalcitrant southern state officials over the desegregation of public schools. When Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus defied the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that schools be integrated and called out the Arkansas National Guard to maintain racial segregation of Little Rock’s schools, Eisenhower, who had previously disavowed using federal coercion to enforce court rulings, signed Executive Order 10730, which federalized the Arkansas National Guard and mobilized National Guard and U.S. Army forces to compel Arkansas’ compliance with the U.S. Constitution.

Consistent with the political strength of the New Deal and the more general trend toward the expansion of national government power in the twentieth century, for all of his attention to a more traditional role for national, state, and local governments, Eisenhower also expanded the reach of the national government as the use of grants-in-aid expanded during his tenure and the national government’s role in providing entitlements solidified. Moreover, Eisenhower’s interstate highway system represents one of the largest national government public works programs of the twentieth century.


Robert Frederick Burk, The Eisenhower Administration and Black Civil Rights (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984); Douglas B. Harris, “Dwight Eisenhower and the New Deal: The Politics of Preemption,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 27, no. 2 (Spring 1997): 333–42; William E. Leuchtenberg, In the Shadow of FDR: Harry Truman to George W. Bush, 3rd rev. and updated ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001); and Gary W. Reichard, The Reaffirmation of Republicanism (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975).

Douglas B. Harris

Last updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Cooperative Federalism; National Defense and Interstate Highway Act of 1956