Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1890–1969)

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The nation has often rewarded its military heroes by electing them to the presidency. General of the Army Dwight David Eisenhower, who had commanded the Allied forces in Europe during world war ii, was President from 1953 to 1961. A 1915 graduate of West Point, Eisenhower held no public office—except his military command—before being elected President.

Eisenhower was a "moderate" Republican: conservative on economic matters but often liberal on social issues. Although he privately expressed to Chief Justice earl warren his disapproval of brown v. board of education (1954), he proposed, and successfully pressed for passage of, the civil rights acts of 1957 and 1960, the first such acts since Reconstruction. They expanded voting rights and created the civil rights commission. In 1957, when the governor of Arkansas resisted a federal court's school desegregation order (see cooper v. aaron), the Eisenhower administration obtained an injunction forbidding the use of the National Guard to prevent integration. When anti-integration rioting broke out in Little Rock, and the local authorities proved unable or unwilling to suppress it, Eisenhower ordered regular federal troops to the city.

Perhaps because of his military background Eisenhower was more cautious than some Presidents in exercising his power as commander-in-chief. He brought the korean war to an end and, thereafter, no American troops were actively engaged in combat during his administration. When Chinese communists bombarded the Nationalist-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu, Eisenhower sought, and obtained, a joint resolution of Congress authorizing American military action, if necessary. In 1958, again authorized by congressional resolution, he ordered Marines to Lebanon to maintain order, but they did no actual fighting.

In foreign affairs, Eisenhower's was an activist administration. During the Eisenhower presidency the mutual defense treaty with Nationalist China and the Southeast Asia (SEATO) Treaty were signed, each committing the United States to the defense of distant—and not necessarily democratic—countries. Under the SEATO pact Eisenhower in 1954 began the American policy of assistance to South Vietnam that continued through the vietnam war (1965–1973). Eisenhower supported the United Nations campaign of "anticolonialism," opposing America's European allies in Suez and Africa.

Domestically, Eisenhower was criticized for not speaking out forcefully against Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, whose inquiries into communist influence in government threatened civil liberties and often involved guilt by association. Eisenhower promulgated executive order 10450, which revamped the existing loyalty-security program for federal employees.

During his two terms in the White House Eisenhower suffered three serious illnesses and was, for a time, virtually incapacitated. During those periods, Vice-President richard m. nixon presided over the cabinet and the National Security Council while routine matters were handled by a powerful White House staff. Eisenhower's illnesses raised questions about presidential succession in case of disability that were not resolved until passage of the twenty-fifth amendment.

Eisenhower made four appointments of supreme court justices : Chief Justice earl warren (1953) and Associate Justices john marshall harlan (1955), william j. brennan (1956), and charles e. whittaker (1957). Ironically, the moderate conservative Eisenhower made his most lasting mark on American constitutional history by appointing Justices who turned the Court toward liberal activism.

Dennis J. Mahoney


Greenstein, Fred I. 1982 The Hidden Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader. New York: Basic Books.

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Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1890–1969)

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