The Eisenhower Administration

The Eisenhower Administration

As president from 1953 to 1961, Dwight Eisenhower oversaw 8 years of relative peace and moderate economic growth at home while his foreign policy initiatives, including U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, shaped the global order for decades to come.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the Space Race and the domestic and foreign policies of Eisenhower's presidency

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Eisenhower, who had the option of being a Democratic nominee, chose to run for the Republican ticket in 1952 to combat Robert Taft 's position of non-interventionism.
  • Eisenhower's dedication to ending the Korean War and his stance against government corruption and communism made him a clear choice for president.
  • Eisenhower made great strides in Cold War policy, including overtures to the Soviet Union, meeting with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and signing the armistice stifling the Korean War.
  • Working with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Welsh Dulles, Eisenhower intensified CIA activities under the pretense of blocking the spread of communism in poorer countries, particularly in Africa. He also significantly increased U.S. involvement in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The Space Race began under Eisenhower's administration when he established NASA in response to the Soviets launching Sputnik; the Race lasted well into the 1980s.
  • In domestic affairs, Eisenhower expanded Social Security, kept the national debt low, reduced taxes, and limited immigration. Despite an ambiguous stand on civil rights, he also introduced the first civil rights legislation since 1875.

Key Terms

  • Spanish Miracle: A term given to a broadly based economic boom in Spain from 1959 to 1974. The international oil and stagflation crises of the 1970s ended the boom that started following President Eisenhower's efforts to establish diplomatic relations with Franco's Spain, which ended the country's post-war isolation.
  • Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO): An international organization for collective defense in Southeast Asia created by the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, or the Manila Pact. The formal institution was established on February 19, 1955. Primarily created to block further communist gains in Southeast Asia, it is generally considered a failure because internal conflict and dispute hindered general use of the military.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: The 34th President of the United States, serving from 1953 until 1961. He had previously been a five-star general in the U.S. Army during World War II, serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–'43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–'45 from the Western Front.
  • Space Race: A 20th-century competition between two Cold War rivals—the Soviet Union and the United States—for supremacy in spaceflight capability. It had its origins in the missile based nuclear arms race between the two nations that occurred following World War II, enabled by captured German rocket technology and personnel. The technological superiority required for such supremacy was seen as necessary for national security, in additions to being symbolic of ideological superiority. It spawned pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites, unmanned space probes of the Moon, Venus, and Mars, and human spaceflight in low Earth orbit and to the Moon.
  • Eisenhower Doctrine: A term referring to a speech by President Eisenhower on January 5, 1957, within a "Special Message to the Congress on the Situation in the Middle East." Under it, a Middle Eastern country could request U.S. economic assistance or aid from U.S. military forces if it was under threat of armed aggression from another state.
  • Fifth Party System: A term referring to the era of U.S. national politics that began with the New Deal in 1932 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This era emerged from the realignment of the voting blocs and interest groups supporting the Democratic Party into the New Deal Coalition following the Great Depression. For this reason it is also often called the New Deal Party System. It followed the Fourth Party System, usually called the Progressive Era. Experts debate whether it ended in the mid-1960s, early 1980s (when the Moral Majority took off), mid-1990s, or possibly continues to the present.


The presidency of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, from 1953 to 1961, was a Republican interlude during the Fifth Party System, following 20 years of Democratic control of the White House. It was a period of peace and prosperity, and interparty cooperation, even as the world was polarized by the Cold War. His main legacy is the Interstate Highway System. He sent the Army to Arkansas to enforce court orders regarding racial integration, created NASA, and made the space race against the Soviet Union a high priority. He emphasized advanced technology to keep down the expenses of large military manpower. He supported the conservative fiscal and taxation policies of the Taft Republicans. "Ike," as he was popularly known, expanded the Social Security program but otherwise did not try to change the surviving New Deal welfare programs. A self-described "progressive conservative," Eisenhower warned against the military–industrial complex. He is consistently ranked by scholars and political historians as one of the 10 greatest U.S. presidents.


The official White House portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower: President Dwight Eisenhower, in his 1954 State of the Union address, became the first president to publicly state his support for prohibiting age-based denial of suffrage for those 18 and older.

1952 Election

Eisenhower was a favorite of New Dealers during the war, especially Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins. Eisenhower repelled Democratic efforts to nominate him in 1948 and 1952 and instead chose to run for the Republican Party nomination in 1952. His goal was to prevent Robert Taft's non-interventionism—including opposition to NATO—from becoming public policy. Eisenhower's choice for vice president on his ticket was Richard Nixon. He saw Nixon's strong vocal opposition to communism as an asset to his campaign. In the 1952 U.S. presidential election, Eisenhower easily defeated Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II and became the first career soldier since Ulysses S. Grant to be elected president.

Foreign Affairs

Eisenhower's presidency was dominated by the Cold War and the prolonged confrontation with the Soviet Union. When Joseph Stalin died in 1953, Eisenhower sought to extend an olive branch to the new Soviet regime in his "Chance for Peace" speech, but continued turmoil in Moscow prevented a meaningful response and the Cold War deepened.

In 1953 Eisenhower opened relations with Spain under dictator Francisco Franco. Despite its undemocratic nature, Spain's strategic position in light of the Cold War and anti-Communist position led Eisenhower to build a trade and military alliance with the Spanish through the Pact of Madrid, ultimately bringing an end to Spain's isolation after World War II and bringing about the Spanish Miracle.

During his campaign, Eisenhower had promised to end the stalemated Korean War (1950–'53). This promise was fulfilled on July 27, 1953 by the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement. Defense treaties with South Korea and the Republic of China were signed, and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) alliance was formed in an effort to halt the spread of Communism in Asia.

Eisenhower, working with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Welsh Dulles, intensified CIA activities under the pretense of resisting the spread of communism in poorer countries. The CIA in part deposed the leaders of Iran in Operation Ajax, of Guatemala through Operation PBSUCCESS, and possibly the newly independent Republic of the Congo (Léopoldville). In the Republic of Congo, the Soviet Union and the KGB had intervened in favor of popularly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. The CIA gave weapons and covert support to pro-Western and Democratic CIA assets Joseph Kasavubu and his subordinate, Colonel Joseph Mobutu. The initial struggle came to a close in December 1960, after Kasavubu and Mobutu overthrew Lumumba and proceeded to turn the country (later known as Zaire) into an autocracy, which was unstable long after the end of Eisenhower's term.

Eisenhower also increased U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. In 1954, he sent Allen Welsh Dulles as a delegate to the Geneva Conference, which ended the First Indochina War and temporarily partitioned Vietnam into a Communist north (under Ho Chi Minh) and a non-Communist south (under Ngo Dinh Diem). The United States strongly rejected the Geneva Agreement. In February 1955, Eisenhower dispatched the first U.S. soldiers to Vietnam as military advisers to Diem's army. After Diem announced the formation of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, commonly known as South Vietnam) in October, Eisenhower immediately recognized the new state and offered military, economic, and technical assistance.

In 1956, Eisenhower warned Britain repeatedly not to use force to regain control of the Suez Canal, which Egypt had nationalized. Regardless, Britain, France, and Israel went to war with Egypt and seized the canal. Eisenhower used the economic power of the United States to force his European allies to back down and withdraw from Egypt. It marked the end of British imperial dominance in the Middle East and opened the way for greater U.S. involvement in the region. During his second term, Eisenhower became increasingly involved in Middle Eastern affairs, sending troops to Lebanon in 1958 and promoting the creation of the Baghdad Pact between Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as Britain.

After the Suez Crisis, the United States became the protector of unstable friendly governments in the Middle East via the "Eisenhower Doctrine." Designed by Secretary of State Dulles, it held that the United States would be "prepared to use armed force... [to counter] aggression from any country controlled by international communism." The United States would also provide economic and military aid and, if necessary, use military force to stop the spread of communism in the Middle East.


Eisenhower in the Oval Office: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Oval Office, February 29, 1956, photo by unknown.

Space Race

The Space Race originated from the missile-based nuclear arms race between the the United States and the Soviet Union that occurred following World War II, as both countries sought to recruit German engineers who worked on ballistic missile programs that could be utilized to launch objects into space. Americans were astonished when Soviets were the first to launch a satellite (Sputnik) into space on October 4, 1957. The Soviet Union also later beat the United States in sending the first human into space, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961.

Eisenhower came under heavy criticism after the Sputnik launch, and his administration responded to this crisis with many strategic initiatives, including the creation of NASA in 1958 and a speeding up of the U.S. space program. Under Eisenhower, NASA's human spaceflight program started and visionary projects such as Saturn and the F-1 rocket engine were funded. Those initiatives were necessary for success in the subsequent administrations' effort to win the Space Race.

Domestic Affairs

Eisenhower was a conservative whose policy views were close to those of Taft. They agreed that a free enterprise economy should run itself. He did not attempt to roll back the New Deal; he expanded Social Security. His major project was building the Interstate Highway System using federal gasoline taxes. While his 1952 landslide victory gave the Republicans control of both houses of the Congress, Eisenhower believed that taxes could not be cut until the budget was balanced.

On June 17, 1954, Eisenhower launched Operation Wetback in response to increasing illegal immigration to the United States. As many as three million illegal immigrants had crossed the U.S.–Mexico border to work in California, Arizona, Texas, and other states. Eisenhower opposed this movement, believing that it lowered the wages of U.S. workers and led to corruption. The Immigration and Naturalization Service sent about 80,000 immigrants back to Mexico.

During the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement, President Eisenhower in the public arena denied backing with strong opinion the 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education. However, in 1957, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, after Governor Orval Faubus attempted to defy a federal court order calling for desegregation of Little Rock public schools. The soldiers escorted nine African-American students, who became known as the Little Rock Nine, to Little Rock Central High School. Eisenhower also proposed to Congress the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and of 1960 and signed those acts into law. The 1957 act for the first time established a permanent civil rights office inside the Justice Department and a Civil Rights Commission to hear testimony about voting rights abuses. Although both acts were much weaker than subsequent civil rights legislation, they constituted the first significant civil rights acts since 1875.

Democrats attacked Eisenhower for not taking a public stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist campaigns. Privately he held McCarthy and his tactics in contempt and worked behind the scenes to weaken McCarthy, in particular by putting together a task force headed by Herbert Brownell, Sherman Adams, and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. to oversee the defense of the Army, leading to the pivotal Army–McCarthy hearings that led to his downfall in 1954.

Eisenhower retained his popularity throughout his presidency. In 1956, he was re-elected by an even wider margin than in 1952, again defeating Stevenson, and carrying such traditionally Democratic states (at the time) as Texas and Tennessee.

American Indian Relocation

Indian termination comprised a series of laws initiated in the 1940s but aggressively developed in the 1950s and 1960s that stripped Indian nations of their sovereignty and had disastrous consequences on the economic, social, and cultural condition of American Indians.

Learning Objectives

Assess how the Indian termination policy of the 1950s and '60s affected the education, health care, land rights, and economic stability of American Indian tribes

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Indian Termination policy sought to assimilate American Indians into mainstream U.S. society. In practice, the policy terminated the government's recognition of tribal sovereignty, trusteeship of Indian reservations, and exclusion of Indians from state laws.
  • Termination began with a series of laws directed at dismantling tribal sovereignty and introduced in the 1940s, but House Concurrent Resolution 108 of 1953 announced the federal policy of termination and called for immediate ending of the federal relationship with a selected group of tribes. By the 1960s, 109 tribes were terminated.
  • In addition to ending the tribal rights as sovereign nations, the policy terminated federal support of most of the health care and education programs, utility services, and police and fire departments available to Indians on reservations.
  • Termination had disastrous effects on American Indians. They struggled with poverty and unemployment and lost access to education and health care. The loss of culture and community was also a critical effect.
  • While proposals to end termination appeared in the 1960s, House Concurrent Resolution 108 was formally abandoned as late as 1988.
  • As termination continued, American Indians continued their protest. Several crucial organizations were formed to help protect the rights of the Indians and their land, but not until January 24, 1983, did President Ronald Reagan issue an American Indian policy statement supporting explicit repudiation of the termination policy.

Key Terms

  • Indian Termination: The U.S. policy from the mid-1940s to mid-1960s based on the presumption that American Indians would be better off if assimilated as individuals into mainstream U.S. society. To that end, Congress proposed to end the special relationship between tribes and the federal government. In practical terms, the policy terminated the U.S. government's recognition of sovereignty of tribes, trusteeship of Indian reservations, and exclusion of Indians from state laws.
  • American Indian Movement: An American Indian advocacy group in the United States, founded in July 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was initially formed to address American Indian sovereignty, treaty issues, spirituality, and leadership, while simultaneously addressing incidents of police harassment and racism against Native Americans forced to move away from reservations and tribal culture by the 1950s-era enforcement of the U.S. federal government-enforced Indian Termination Policies originally created in the 1930s.
  • House concurrent resolution 108 of 1953: A formal statement issued August 1, 1953 by the United States Congress announcing the official federal policy of termination. The resolution called for immediate termination of the Flathead, Klamath, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of California, New York, Florida, and Texas. Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations.

Indian Termination

Indian termination policy of the United States (mid-1940s to mid-1960s) sought to assimilate American Indians (herein referred to as "Indians" for historical context) into mainstream U.S. society. Assimilation was not new; the belief that indigenous people should abandon their traditional lives and become "civilized" had been the basis of policy for centuries. What was new was the sense of urgency, that with or without consent, tribes must be terminated and begin living "as Americans." To that end, Congress proposed dissolution of the special relationship between tribes and the federal government; thus granting Indians all the rights and privileges of citizenship, and reducing their dependence on a mismanaged bureaucracy. In essence, the policy terminated the government's recognition of tribal sovereignty, trusteeship of Indian reservations, and exclusion of Indians from state laws. Indians were then subject to state and federal taxes, and laws from which they were previously exempt. Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations.

Termination, although accompanied by pressure and coercion, was considered “voluntary” and required tribal consent. Some tribes may have had a formal termination agreement approved, but they were successful at warding off termination until repudiation, or terms of their agreement were unmet. Other tribes were approved for termination, but were successful in testifying before Congress that they should not be terminated.


Termination began with a series of laws directed at dismantling tribal sovereignty and introduced in the 1940s. House Concurrent Resolution 108 of 1953 announced the federal policy of termination and called for the immediate ending of the federal relationship with a selected group of tribes. The resolution established that Congress would pass termination acts on a tribe-by-tribe basis. Most such acts included cessation of federal recognition and all the federal aid that came along with that designation. From 1953 to 1964, the government terminated recognition of more than 100 tribes and bands as sovereign dependent nations. These actions affected more than 12,000 American Indians or 3% of the total American Indian population. Approximately 2,500,000 acres (10,000 km2) of trust land was removed from protected status during these years. Much was sold by individuals to non-Indians.

The termination of these tribes ended federal government guardianship of, and recognition of, those tribal governments and U.S. jurisdiction of tribal lands. In addition to ending the tribal rights as sovereign nations, the policy terminated federal support of most of the health care and education programs, utility services, and police and fire departments available to Indians on reservations. Given the considerable geographic isolation of many reservations, and inherent economic problems, not many tribes had the funds to continue such services after termination was implemented.

A few tribes mounted legal challenges to maintain tribal government and the trust relationship with the federal government. Through the Indian Claims Commission, tribes had the ability to file claims against the government for breaches of treaty or grievances. The 5-year deadline for making a claim, August 1951, caused many tribes to file in the months preceding the end of the registration period. In some instances, pending claims cases with complex legal issues aided the tribes in preventing termination, while in others, tribes were taken advantage of by government agents and their associates.


During 1953–1964, over 100 tribes were terminated, approximately 1,365,801 acres (5,527 km2) of trust land was removed from protected status, and 13,263 Indians lost tribal affiliation. Many scholars believe that the termination policy had devastating effects on tribal autonomy, culture, and economic welfare. The resource-rich lands belonging to American Indians were taken over by the federal government. The termination policy had disastrous effects on the Menominee (located in Wisconsin) and Klamath tribes (located in Oregon), forcing many members of the tribes onto the public assistance roll. Termination had a devastating effect on the health care and education, as well as the economic stability, of tribes.


By 1972, the impact of termination on education of the tribes was evident. Terminated tribal children struggled to stay in school, and limited funding meant less resources for those who did remain. There was a 75% dropout rate for the Menominee Tribe, resulting in a generation of Menominee children with only a ninth-grade education. With the loss of federal support for schools, states were expected to assume the role of educating the Indian children. All terminated tribes faced new education policies, which offered tribal children lesser opportunities than those available to white students.

Terminated tribal children struggled to stay in school, and those who did were excluded from programs that paid for higher Indian education. In 1970, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) began making yearly scholarship grants for tribal children to attend college. This helped non-terminated tribes, but terminated tribal children were not allowed to apply for these funds. Children who did manage to graduate high school had trouble attending college because of the lack of funding options.

Health Care

The Indian Health Service provided health care for many Indian tribes, but once a tribe was terminated all tribe members lost their eligibility. For many, this meant losing access to hospitals and health care. The Menominee tribe is one poignant example. The tribal hospital at Keshena was forced to close when it fell below state operating standards. Lack of available funding prevented the county from making improvements. Their tribal clinic was also forced to close. During a subsequent tuberculosis epidemic that affected one-fourth of the Menominee population, the lack of a hospital or clinic had disastrous ramifications.

Many Indians also lost health care during termination after relocating off the reservations. Although, they were given private health care for 6 months, the only available care after that was if they happened to live near an Indian health care facility. Ultimately, the BIA could not provide necessary healthcare to many of the terminated tribes. Congress was pushed to reform health care policy as it related to Indians.


Termination, although not the only cause of Indian poverty, had a significant effect on it. As termination continued, the unemployment rates continued to rise. The Menominee tribe had 800 individuals within the tribe and 220 were unemployed as of June 1968. By June 1973, right before the termination policy ended, the tribe had almost a 40% unemployment rate, with only 660 in the tribe and 260 unemployed.

The Menominee Indians experienced high poverty rates from the very beginning of termination, unlike the Klamath tribe, which was able to escape poverty for a brief period. The Klamath tribe had for years been living off timber and revenue from leasing tribal lands. When termination was put into place, tribal land was sold and most of the Klamath tribe was considered above the poverty line, because each tribal member gained $40,000 from the sale. While they had escaped poverty briefly, their economy still suffered from termination. Most families quickly spent the money earned from the initial land sale and were forced to sell more land to obtain food for the family. After just a few years, the Klamath tribe was in the same situation as many other tribes that were terminated.

Regaining Federal Recognition

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson proposed ending termination, building partnerships between tribal governments and the United States, and fostering tribal self-determination and self-development, though the proposal never passed. Subsequent presidents followed this informal approach until 1988, when House Concurrent Resolution 108 was formally abandoned.

Over 100 tribes were terminated during the termination policy era. Some were able to regain federal recognition, and this was often achieved after long court battles that carried on for as long as decades, exhausting large amounts of money in the process. Tribal leaders such as Ada Deer and James White of the Menominee played key roles in bringing their cases to Congress—both through political process, and via the Supreme Court in suits and appeals. Tribes garnered publicity by creating resistance groups that publicly protested the termination policy. They also fought political and legal battles in Washington, D.C., for the restoration of tribal sovereignty. Some tribes are still attempting to gain federal recognition.

The image shows the flag of the American Indian Movement. The flag has four thick vertical stripes in the background. From left to right, the stripes are black, yellow, white, and maroon. Superimposed in the center of the flag is a maroon profile of a Native American man with a peace sign next to his head that doubles as a headdress.

Flag of the American Indian Movement: The American Indian Movement (AIM) is an American Indian advocacy group founded in July 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. AIM was initially formed to address American Indian sovereignty, treaty issues, spirituality, and leadership, while simultaneously addressing incidents of police harassment and racism against Native Americans forced to move away from reservations and tribal culture by the 1950s-era enforcement of the U.S. federal government's Indian termination policies.


By the early 1960s, some federal leaders began opposing the implementation of further termination measures, although President John F. Kennedy's administration did oversee some of the last terminations. The final termination (of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska) began legally in 1962—after Kennedy signed the order (at the bequest of Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall)—and culminated in 1966. Subsequently, Presidents Johnson and Richard Nixon encouraged Indian self-determination instead of termination.

Several vital organizations were formed to help protect the rights of the Indians and their land (e.g., American Indian Movement [AIM]). In 1975, Congress had implicitly rejected the termination policy by passing the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, increasing tribal control over reservations and assisting with funding to building schools closer to the reservations. On January 24, 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued an American Indian policy statement supporting explicit repudiation of the termination policy.


New Mexico Reservation: Indian houses and farms on the Laguna Indian reservation, Laguna, New Mexico (March 1943).

The 1956 Election and Eisenhower's Second Term

In the 1956 presidential election, popular incumbent Republican Dwight Eisenhower successfully ran for re-election, winning against Democrat Adlai Stevenson, whom he had also defeated 4 years earlier.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate Eisenhower's success in the 1956 election

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The U.S. presidential election of 1956 saw the incumbent President, Republican Dwight Eisenhower, successfully gain reelection. While Eisenhower was popular, some speculated that his health issues would prevent him from running.
  • At the Democratic Convention, nominee Adlai Stevenson made the surprise announcement that the convention's delegates would choose his running mate. The two leading contenders were Tennessee Senator Carey Estes Kefauver and young Senator John F. Kennedy. While Kefauver won, the events boosted Kennedy's political career.
  • Television played an important role in the campaign; it allowed the candidates to reach many demographics at once and made it possible for still-recovering Eisenhower to speak to a broad audience without excessive travel.
  • The election focused on many domestic issues, including government spending on social programs, the draft, and nuclear testing. In foreign affairs, the Suez Canal Crisis and the Hungarian Crisis helped Eisenhower, though actual U.S. involvement in the two events was, at most, limited.
  • Although Eisenhower had little interest in civil rights, he received a significant percentage of  the African American vote because of his support for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregated public education facilities.
  • Eisenhower won over 57% of the popular vote and 41 of the 48 states.

Key Terms

  • Brown v. Board of Education: A landmark 1954 case of the United States Supreme Court. The ruling explicitly outlawed segregated public education facilities, ruling so on the grounds that the doctrine of "separate but equal" public education could never truly provide black Americans with facilities of the same standards available to white Americans. A total of 101 members of the House of Representatives and 19 senators signed "The Southern Manifesto" condemning the Supreme Court decision as unconstitutional.
  • Adlai Stevenson: A U.S. politician, noted for his intellectual demeanor, eloquent oratory, and promotion of liberal causes in the Democratic Party, who served as the 31st governor of Illinois and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1952 and 1956. Eisenhower defeated him both times. He sought the Democratic presidential nomination for a third time in the 1960 election but was defeated by Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: The 34th president of the United States (1953–1961. He was previously a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II, serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–'43 and the successful invasions of France and Germany in 1944–'45, from the Western Front.
  • John F. Kennedy: The 35th president of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.


The U.S. presidential election of 1956 saw the popular incumbent President, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, successfully run for reelection. It was a rematch of 1952, as the Democratic opponent was again Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower was popular, but his health had become an issue. Stevenson remained popular with a core of liberal Democrats but held no office and had no real base. Eisenhower had ended the Korean War, and the nation was prospering, so a landslide win for the charismatic Eisenhower was never in doubt.


Early in 1956, there was some speculation that Eisenhower would not run for a second term, primarily due to concerns about his health. In 1955, he had suffered a serious heart attack, and in early 1956, he underwent surgery for ileitis. However, he quickly recovered and after being cleared by his doctors, he decided to run for a second term. Given the enormous popularity of Ike (as the president was commonly known), he was renominated with no opposition at the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California.

The only question among Republicans was whether Vice President Richard Nixon would once again be on the ballot. Many speculated that Eisenhower privately offered Nixon another position in his cabinet, but in the spring of 1956, Eisenhower publicly announced that Nixon would be his running mate.

The highlight of the 1956 Democratic Convention came when Stevenson, in an effort to create excitement for the ticket, made the surprise announcement that the convention's delegates would choose his running mate. This set off a desperate scramble among several candidates to win the nomination. The two leading contenders were Tennessee Senator Carey Estes Kefauver, who retained the support of his primary delegates, and young Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was relatively unknown at that point. Kennedy surprised the experts by surging into the lead on the second ballot; at one point he was only 15 votes shy of winning. However, a number of states then left their "favorite son" candidates and switched to Kefauver, giving him the victory. Kennedy then gave a gracious concession speech. The defeat was in fact a boost for Kennedy's long-term presidential chances. By coming so close to defeating Kefauver, he gained a great deal of favorable national publicity. Yet by losing to Kefauver, he avoided any potential blame for Stevenson's expected loss to Eisenhower in November.


Stevenson campaigned aggressively against Eisenhower, with television ads for the first time being the dominant medium for both sides. Because Eisenhower's 1952 election victory greatly owed to his winning over women voters, there were many "housewife-focused" ads. Some commentators at the time also argued that television's new prominence was a major factor in Eisenhower's decision to run for a second term at age 66, considering his weakened health. Television allowed Eisenhower to reach people across the country without enduring the strain of repeated travel, making a national campaign more feasible.

Stevenson proposed significant increases in government spending for social programs as well as treaties with the Soviet Union to lower military spending and end nuclear testing on both sides. He also proposed ending the military draft and switching to an all-volunteer military. Eisenhower publicly opposed these ideas, even though in private he was working on a proposal to ban atmospheric nuclear testing.

Handling two developing foreign policy crises that occurred in the weeks before the election also helped Eisenhower. In Soviet-occupied Hungary, many citizens had risen in revolt against Soviet domination, but this quieted with the formation of a new government. Then in Egypt, a combined force of Israeli, British, and French troops invaded to topple Gamal Abdel Nasser and seize the recently nationalized Suez Canal. Eisenhower condemned both actions but was able only to pressure the Western forces to withdraw from Egypt. The Eisenhower administration had also supported the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954, which ended legal segregation in public schools.


On election day, Eisenhower won over 57% of the popular vote and 41 of the 48 states. Stevenson won only six southern states and the border state of Missouri, becoming the first losing candidate since 1900 (William Jennings Bryan vs. William McKinley) to carry the Show Me State (Missouri would not vote for the losing candidate in a presidential election again until 2008). Eisenhower won Louisiana, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state since Reconstruction in 1876. As a result of Eisenhower's support for the Brown v. Board of Education decision, he won the support of nearly 40% of black voters. He was the last Republican presidential candidate to receive that level of support from black voters.

The map shows that Stevenson won 13 votes from Missouri, 8 from Arkansas, 8 from Mississippi, 10 from Alabama, 12 from Georgia, 8 from South Carolina, and 14 from South Carolina; Jones won 1 vote from Alabama; and the remainder of the votes went to Eisenhower.

Electoral College Votes 1956: In this presidential election results map, red denotes states won by Eisenhower/Nixon, and blue denotes those won by Stevenson/Kefauver. Orange is the electoral vote for Walter Burgwyn Jones by an Alabama faithless elector. Numbers indicate the number of electoral votes allotted to each state.

The Warren Court

The Warren Court (1953–'69), or the Supreme Court of the United States during the period when Earl Warren served as chief justice, declared a number of critical cases that expanded civil rights, civil liberties, judicial power, and federal power in dramatic ways.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the key decisions of the Warren Court

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Warren Court was characterized by a high level of consensus, an unwillingness to allow constitutional rights to vary from state to state, and attention to ethical principles over narrow interpretive structures or strict precedent.
  • Under the Warren Court, civil rights, civil liberties, judicial power, and federal power were all expanded.
  • The court was both lauded and criticized for efforts to bring an end to racial segregation in the United States, incorporating the Bill of Rights, and ending officially sanctioned voluntary prayer in public schools. One of the most impactful cases presided by the Warren Court was Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ruled segregation in public schools as unconstitutional.
  • Over-representation of rural areas in state legislatures and under-representation of suburbs were ended under the Warren Court, with states reapportioning their legislatures.
  • The Miranda v. Arizona case required that certain rights of a person interrogated while in police custody be clearly explained, including the right to silence before they are interrogated in order to preserve the admissibility of their statements against them.

Key Terms

  • Earl Warren: A U.S. jurist and politician who served as the 14th chief justice of the United States (1953–1969) and the 30th governor of California. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court reached a number of sweeping decisions, including the end of school segregation and transformation of many areas of U.S. law.
  • Warren Court: The term that refers to the Supreme Court of the United States between 1953 and 1969, when Earl Warren served as chief justice. Warren led a liberal majority that used judicial power in dramatic fashion, to the consternation of conservative opponents. Under Warren, the Court expanded civil rights, civil liberties, judicial power, and federal power in significant ways.
  • one man, one vote: A phrase that has been used in many parts of the world where campaigns have arisen for universal suffrage. It was used in this form in an important legal ruling in the United States related to voting rights. Applying the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court majority opinion in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) ruled that state legislatures needed to redistrict in order to have congressional districts with roughly equal representation of populations. The court also ruled that both houses of state legislatures needed to have representation based on districts containing roughly equal populations, with redistricting as needed after censuses.
  • Brown v. Board of Education: (1954) A landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, in which the court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.

Warren Court

The Warren Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States between 1953 and 1969, when Earl Warren served as chief justice. Warren led a liberal majority that used judicial power in dramatic fashion, to the consternation of conservative opponents. The Warren Court expanded civil rights, civil liberties, judicial power, and federal power.

The court was both lauded and criticized for efforts to bring an end to racial segregation in the United States, incorporating the Bill of Rights (i.e., applying it to states), and ending officially sanctioned voluntary prayer in public schools. The period is recognized as a high point in judicial power that has receded ever since, but with a substantial continuing impact. Prominent justices of the Court during the Warren era, besides the chief justice himself, included William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and John Marshall Harlan II.

Warren took his seat January 11, 1954, via a recess appointment by President Eisenhower. The Senate confirmed him 6 weeks later. When Warren joined the court, all the justices had been appointed by former Presidents Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman, and all were committed New Deal liberals. However, they disagreed on the role that the courts should play in achieving liberal goals. The Court was split between two warring factions. Frankfurter and Robert H. Jackson led one faction, which insisted upon judicial self-restraint and that courts should defer to the policy-making prerogatives of the White House and Congress. Black and Douglas led the opposing faction that agreed the court should defer to Congress on matters of economic policy, but felt the judicial agenda had been transformed from questions of property rights to those of individual liberties, and in this area courts should play a more central role. Warren's belief that the judiciary must seek to do justice placed him with the latter group, though he did not have a solid majority until after Frankfurter's retirement in 1962. When Frankfurter retired, President John F. Kennedy named labor lawyer Arthur Goldberg to replace him and Warren finally had the fifth liberal vote for his majority.


1953 Supreme Court: The Supreme Court in 1953, with Chief Justice Earl Warren seated center. Warren made the Supreme Court a power center on a more even basis with Congress and the presidency, particularly through four landmark decisions: Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), Reynolds v. Sims (1964), and Miranda v. Arizona (1966).

Chief Justice Earl Warren

Warren boasted a strong political background, having served three terms as governor of California, and was the Republican nominee for vice president in 1948. He brought a strong belief in the remedial power of law. Warren's view of the law was pragmatic, seeing it as an instrument for obtaining equity and fairness. He also focused on broad ethical principles, rather than narrower interpretative structures or strict precedent. Warren often used this worldview in deciding groundbreaking cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, Reynolds v. Sims, and Miranda v. Arizona, where such traditional sources of precedent were stacked against him.

Portrait of Earl Warren

Chief Justice Earl Warren: Warren is best known for the liberal decisions of the so-called Warren Court, which outlawed segregation in public schools and transformed many areas of U.S. law, especially regarding the rights of the accused, ending public-school-sponsored prayer, and requiring "one man, one vote" rules of apportionment of election districts.


Warren's court was characterized by remarkable consensus, particularly on some of the most controversial cases. Brown v. Board of Education, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Cooper v. Aaron were all unanimously decided. In an unusual action, the decision in Cooper (which held that the states are bound by the court's decisions and must enforce them even if they disagree with them) was personally signed by all nine justices, with the three new members of the court adding that they supported and would have joined the court's decision in Brown v. Board. Warren's greatest asset—what made him in the eyes of many of his admirers "Super Chief"—was his political skill in swaying the other justices. Over the years his ability to lead the court, to forge majorities in support of major decisions, and to inspire liberal forces around the nation, outweighed his intellectual weaknesses.

The Warren Court's doctrine may be seen as proceeding aggressively in three general areas: its decisive reading of the first eight amendments of the Bill of Rights, its commitment to unblocking the channels of political change ("one-man, one-vote"), and its vigorous protection of the rights of racial minority groups.

The Warren Court's decisions were also strongly federal in thrust, as the court read Congress's power quite broadly and often expressed an unwillingness to allow constitutional rights to vary from state to state.

Historically Significant Decisions

The Warren Court reached many decisions that changed not only the laws of the United States but contributed to significant social change. Below are some of its most important cases.

  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, which allowed state-sponsored segregation insofar as it applied to public education. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This ruling paved the way for integration and was a major victory of the Civil Rights Movement. However, the decision's 14 pages did not spell out any sort of method for ending racial segregation in schools, and the court's second decision in Brown II only ordered states to desegregate "with all deliberate speed."
  • Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) unanimously ruled that states are required under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution  to provide counsel in criminal cases to represent defendants unable to afford to pay their own attorneys. The case extended the right to counsel, which had been found under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to impose requirements on the federal government, by ruling that this right imposed those requirements upon the states as well.
  • Miranda v. Arizona (1966) held (in a 5–4 majority) that both inculpatory and exculpatory statements made in response to interrogation by a defendant in police custody will be admissible at trial only if the prosecution can show that the defendant was informed of the right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning and of the right against self-incrimination before police questioning, and that the defendant not only understood these rights, but voluntarily waived them. This had a significant impact on law enforcement in the United States, by making what became known as the Miranda rights part of routine police procedure to ensure suspects were informed of their rights.
  • Loving v. Virginia (1967) invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as "white" and people classified as "colored." The Supreme Court's unanimous decision determined that this prohibition was unconstitutional, overruling Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.
  • The one man, one vote cases (Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims) of 1962–'64, had the effect of ending over-representation of rural areas in state legislatures, as well as under-representation of suburbs. Central cities—which had long been underrepresented— were now losing population to the suburbs and were not greatly affected. Warren's priority on fairness shaped other major decisions. In 1962, over Frankfurter's strong objections, the court agreed that questions regarding malapportionment in state legislatures were not political issues, and thus were not outside the court's purview. For years, underpopulated rural areas had deprived metropolitan centers of equal representation in state legislatures. In Warren's California, Los Angeles County had only one state senator. Cities had long since passed their peak, and now it was the middle-class suburbs that were underrepresented. Frankfurter insisted that the Court should avoid this "political thicket" and warned that the court would never be able to find a clear formula to guide lower courts in the rash of lawsuits sure to follow. But Douglas found such a formula: "one man, one vote." Unlike the desegregation cases, in this instance, the court ordered immediate action.

In other cases, the court also ruled that the Constitution protects a general right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut) and it established that public schools cannot have official prayer (Engel v. Vitale) or mandatory Bible readings (Abington School District v. Schempp). The Warren Court was also credited with reading an equal protection clause into the Fifth Amendment (Bolling v. Sharpe).

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Brown v. Board of Education: Educational segregation in the United States prior to Brown v. Board of Education.

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