Civic Literacy Curriculum
This curriculum guide is intended to cover question 107.
Q107. Which of the following was not something Dwight Eisenhower did?
A. Serve as general during World War II
B. Serve as 34th president of the United States
C. Sign into law the Federal Highway Act of 1956, creating the interstate highway system
D. Serve as President of Harvard University
As President in the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower helped guide the country during the beginning of the Cold War against the totalitarian communists of the Soviet Union. He also helped to enforce the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws in defending the movement for the civil rights of black Americans. Eisenhower was always popular with the public but viewed more skeptically by scholars. His reputation has steadily grown, as historians have discovered that Eisenhower, rather than the amiable dunce he sometimes pretended to be, was actually a cunning political figure content to let his own reputation take a hit in order to achieve important strategic objectives.
Eisenhower rose through the ranks of the United States Army, eventually commanding the invasion of north Africa in 1942 and finally becoming Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. He briefly served as president of Columbia University before being recruited by the Republican Party to run for President of the United States, elected in 1952.
Eisenhower was the first Republican to be elected president since 1928. Although committed to federalism and personally skeptical of the New Deal’s expansion of federal power, he did not believe he had a political mandate to challenge it, and instead largely preserved Roosevelt’s and Truman’s policies while focusing his attentions elsewhere. Impressed by the German ability to transport military equipment across the country, Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate Highway System. Even as he oversaw the Cold War military buildup, he balanced the budget, after years of deficit spending during the Depression and World War II, because he worried that long-term debts were their own national security risk.
Eisenhower was president when the Supreme Court began applying the 14th Amendment’s protections to declare segregation unconstitutional, most notably with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education. When Southern states began to engage in massive resistance to protect segregation, Eisenhower backed the Court, deploying the U.S. military, most famously sending the 101st Airborne to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1955 to force an end to school segregation. He was initially criticized for not speaking up more loudly in condemning segregation, instead briefly arguing that the South should follow the law. In other words, Eisenhower said that segregation was illegal, but not necessarily immoral. (His Department of Justice contended the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited public school segregation during the Brown arguments.) Subsequent historians have argued that Eisenhower, recognized as a cunning political thinker, was following a calculated strategy: that the South would be more amenable to an appeal to the rule of law rather than moral condemnation. Eisenhower also appointed the federal judges to the 5th and 11th circuit that enforced Brown, worked to desegregate Washington D.C., and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Eisenhower was a fierce opponent of communism, which he believed antithetical to the American way of life, and he sought to contain it to where it currently existed. China had recently fallen to the Communists in 1949, and the Soviet Union, aided by spies in the American nuclear program, had developed their own atomic bomb in 1949.
Both before and during his presidency he was an early leader in building up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, more commonly known as NATO, an alliance organized to defend the free world against international communism’s spread. Similarly, he sought to use the threat of massive deterrence to prevent Soviet aggression and avoid a ruinously destructive war. Thus, he resisted an expansion of conventional military forces—instead, massively expanding America’s nuclear weapons, Air Force, and intelligence gathering. He also expanded the use of the CIA to quietly fight the spread of communism. Eisenhower successfully negotiated an armistice in the Korean War, while refusing to recognize Mao Zedong’s communist government that had taken over China.
At the same time, the consistently anti-communist Eisenhower opposed Senator Joe McCarthy. Although subsequent release of intelligence materials has confirmed Soviet infiltration of parts of the government, McCarthy’s scurrilous and unsourced charges of communist affiliation or sympathy did real harm to the legitimate anti-communist cause. For example, McCarthy changed the numbers of communists he claimed to have found, and at one point, even accused Eisenhower’s mentor, the former Defense Secretary George Marshall, who had drawn up the foreign policy plan to stop communism’s spread, as being in league with them. Rather than publicly condemning McCarthy and thereby raising his profile, Eisenhower worked behind the scenes to embarrass the Senator, successfully ending McCarthy’s political career.
As he explained in his Farewell Address, he recognized the drawbacks of a permanent war footing at the same time that he supported a strong defense against communism’s very real threat. He had both views, he insisted, because we had to remember that American freedom was the goal.
Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, like Washington’s, sought to give Americans parting advice. Whereas Washington was commenting on building and sustaining the American constitutional experiment, Eisenhower’s presidency was largely marked by his effort to protect America from communism by maintaining a wartime footing while still preserving American ideals. In this exercise, students will read and discuss Eisenhower’s Farewell Address.
- Provide each student with Eisenhower’s Farewell Address
- Provide each student with the background history above (optional)
- Provide each student with the 3-2-1 worksheet.
- This activity works well as an individual assignment. However, depending on the age and/or skills level of the students, you may want to have them work in pairs.
- If that is the case, divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Explain to the students that today they are going to read a speech from the retiring President Dwight Eisenhower, discussing his concerns about the Cold War and what changes it required America to make.
- After they complete the reading, they will fill out a 3-2-1 Worksheet where they write down three facts that they learned, two questions that they have, and one opinion.
- Circulate throughout the room to help students as needed.
- If you wish, once the students complete the worksheet, use it as a springboard into a class discussion. Questions to ask may include Why does Eisenhower oppose communism? How is fighting communism affecting American institutions? How should we ensure American ideals are preserved during the Cold War?
A well-respected war hero, Eisenhower won the 1952 election by a landslide. When he took office, communists had recently taken over China and, through Soviet espionage, developed a nuclear bomb; the Korean War was not even a year old; and the nation was embroiled in the Cold War, which involved both the existential threat of communism and the challenge of how to fight it while still protecting civil liberties. His experience in the war likely suggested to the American people that he would be more than able to manage these issues.
President Eisenhower was elected in 1952. Before he was President, he was a general. What war did he serve as a general in? Can you name one of his major accomplishments as president?
Concern about the growing strength of communism dominated American consciousness in 1952 when Eisenhower was campaigning. How do you think that this mood affected the 1952 election? What do you think that the people were looking for when they elected him? Are there other times in history where we see current events and emotions affect the presidential election? How does this demonstrate representative government in action? Use current and past events to support your answer.