Dwight D. Eisenhower's Domestic Policy

Instructor: Logan Thomas

Logan has taught college courses and has a master's degree in history.

President Dwight Eisenhower was world famous for his leadership during World War II. In this lesson, we will learn how Eisenhower used his abilities to help the United States.

President During a Time of Change

The world was in the midst of extreme political and societal change in the years following the conclusion of World War II in 1945. By the time Dwight D. Eisenhower took office as the President of the United States, the country was involved in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the threat of nuclear war loomed. During World War II, Eisenhower had already proved he excelled in world affairs when he helped lead an alliance to victory. However, the new president, who had never served in an elected position, would prove equally skilled at handling domestic affairs in the United Sates.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower

Background

The United States emerged from the greatest war in history in 1945 as the only nation with the atom bomb and a thriving economy undamaged by the horrors of war. However, the atomic monopoly soon ended when the Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb in 1949, and the arms race was underway.

By the early 1950s, the evolving Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union berthed a domestic era of paranoia and fear. U.S. politicians like Joseph McCarthy began hunting for domestic communists, often without proof, and magnified an age of neighbors being wary of one another. Meanwhile, the southern United States still had laws segregating the nation, embarrassing the 'land of the free' on the world stage.

Joseph McCarthy
Joseph McCarthy

Interstate System

When he took office in 1953, Eisenhower refused to take part in the communist hunt in Washington. Instead, Eisenhower focused on improving America's highways.

As a young officer, Eisenhower participated in a public relations cross-country journey on the Lincoln Highway. He had seen the poor condition of the nation's roads first hand. Years later while serving as the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Germany, he saw the effectiveness of the German highway system, known as the Autobahn, and thought a similar system would help the United States.

A Map of the Interstate Highway System
Interstate Highway System

Initially began as a defense construction project, the Interstate Highway System would be a tremendous project that would take decades to complete and completely transform the country. Eisenhower pushed forth the idea, and the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was signed.

The Red Scare

Beginning around 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy started his quest to rid the United States of communists. He believed internal communists to be as dangerous to the country or even more so than communists abroad. The accusations ruined lives, careers, and marriages. Some of the accused committed suicide.

Eisenhower had stayed out of the communist witch hunt, also known as the Red Scare, for the first years of his administration. In 1953, however, McCarthy turned his attention to the White House and threatened to continue his hunt for communists among Eisenhower's staff. It would be the first mistake leading to his downfall.

Believing his administration needed to be able to have frank discussions to lead the nation, Eisenhower used the power of the presidency to shield the communications of his staff and members of his cabinet. The tradition became known as 'executive privilege.' His decision reduced the power of McCarthy's tirades and eventually led to the man's public downfall.

The Civil Rights Struggle

By the time of Eisenhower's administration, separate public facilities for whites and African Americans had been legal as long as they were equal for more than half a century. The legality of segregation came to an end in 1954 with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision declaring separate education facilities unconstitutional. The government ordered schools to integrate with all possible speed.

But southern communities delayed integration or, in some cases, refused to comply with the law. At first, Eisenhower kept quiet regarding the issue because he thought the situation should be handled at the local level.

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