Eisenhower faces problems at home

On domestic issues, the Eisenhower administration followed a policy which was sometimes described as "Modern Republicanism." One aspect of this policy was the effort to keep government interference in the affairs of states and of private business at a minimum. On the other hand, the basic social and economic legislation developed during the New Deal-Fair Deal era was retained and even expanded in such fields as social security, federal support for education, public housing, slum clearance, and public health activities. Shortly after he took office in January 1953, President Eisenhower approved the transformation of the Federal Security Agency into the Cabinet-level Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. He also supported Congress' action in raising the minimum wage rate from 75 cents to one dollar an hour.

In 1955 labor was encouraged by two other developments: first, the signing into some union-management contracts of a provision requiring employers to pay unemployment benefits as a supplement to the benefits administered by the states; secondly, the merger of two independent trade union federations into the united AFL-CIO with 15 million members. Evidence of corrupt practices in some unions led the AFL-CIO to adopt a strict ethical practices code and caused Congress to pass a law requiring full public disclosure of union financial matters, particularly relating to pension and welfare funds, and guaranteeing union members their democratic rights.

Other domestic problems proved less amenable to solution. New advances in agricultural technology intensified the problem of large farm production in relation to national demand. The Eisenhower administration replaced the existing policy of guaranteeing farmers fixed price supports with a flexible scale intended to encourage farmers to grow crops which were not in surplus. In addition, a "soil bank" program encouraged the use of more land for providing forage, for growing trees, and for reservoirs.

The Eisenhower administration also inherited the problem of protecting the country against subversion, without, at the same time, denying Americans their constitutional rights to freedom of criticism and association, A Congressional subcommittee headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy carried on intensive investigations of possible communist influence in the government, bringing charges against individuals both in and out of government service. Many Americans applauded Senator McCarthy for his efforts, but many others criticized him for what they called his recklessness and his disregard of fair judicial practices. In 1954 his influence declined sharply, partly as a result of a Senate resolution censuring him for some of his actions.

The Eisenhower years saw steady progress toward fuller political, legal and social rights for Negro Americans. More Negroes than ever went to college, voted in elections, owned their own homes and automobiles, held professional or supervisory jobs, and occupied high posts in government. But the most important single development in civil rights during this period was the unanimous Supreme Court decision of 1954 which ruled that state or local laws requiring separate schools for Negro and white children were unconstitutional. Since public schools in the great majority of states were not segregated, this ruling applied mainly to a small number of southern states which had a long tradition of racial segregation. The Supreme Court instructed federal district courts in such areas to require local school authorities to "make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance" and to move "with all deliberate speed."

School integration proceeded rapidly in the District of Columbia and some border states, but met strong opposition in the deep South. The sending of federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, after violence had broken out over the issue, was evidence of the government's resolve to enforce court orders for school integration. The granting of full statehood in 1958 and 1959 to Alaska and Hawaii, with their racially diverse populations, was further evidence of the advances made toward social, as well as political, democracy.

Between 1950 and 1960 Americans enjoyed a rising standard of living. Despite an increase in unemployment after the 1957-58 recession, wages continued to rise, business gained momentum, and a spirit of optimism prevailed. The gross national product-the value of all goods and services provided in the nation-rose from 264.7 thousand million dollars in 1950 to 510 thousand million dollars in 1960. The enjoyment of prosperity was tempered, however, by the continuing struggle with world communism and growing international tensions.