11. 8 The Eisenhower Administration at Home
When Eisenhower was elected to the office of President
in January 1953, his entry marked the 20 year old Democratic control
on the administration of America. By electing the Republican candidate
Eisenhower, the American people had indicated that they wanted a
change. The new administration did not make any basic changes in
the policies of the previous governments. For instance, the new
government headed by Eisenhower was committed to economize and reduce
taxes. At the same time, it continued to follow the social welfare
program introduced under the New Deal and the Fair Deal. This is
evident from the fact that President Eisenhower sponsored many improvements
in the social security programs, allocated financial resources for
roads, education and housing. Further, the new government wished
to check expenditure on foreign, economic and military aid. To the
foreign threat of communism, it did not make any change in it.
Reducing control on the economy
Wage controls that were adopted by the Congress
during the Korea war were lifted in February 1953. Later price controls
were also lifted from many goods. The Defense Production Act
(1950), enacted to strengthen the economy so as to support the Korean
War was allowed to lapse. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation,
which was active right through the Depression and the war, stopped
all its activities. But the rent controls continued in areas where
there was a severe shortage of housing.
State Control of offshore Oil Deposits
Considered to be the most controversial law passed
in the first few months of Eisenhower’s government, it gave the
states the right to control offshore and tidelands oil deposits.
President Truman had vetoed the Bill during his tenure and it had
become a major election issue in 1952.
The National Debt, taxes and the budget
The Congress wished to reduce taxes. But the new
President, believed that taxes should not be reduced until the budget
was balanced. Eisenhower, along with Senator Taft were able to convince
the Congress to extend the excess profit tax. The new government
also tried to cut expenditure on defense on foreign aid, but could
not succeed in doing so.
The St. Lawrence Sea-way and Power Project
The proposal to connect the Great Lakes with the
Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence River had been debated for
over a quarter of a century. This project also included the proposal
for the construction hydroelectric power plants. Though both Roosevelt
and Truman were in favor of the project, and even conducted talks
with Canada, the Congress had not been very keen on it. So in 1953,
Canada decided to proceed with the project without waiting for the
Congress to give a nod. President Eisenhower successfully persuaded
the Congress to give the New York State the right to join hands
with the Ontario province, to build dams and hydroelectric plants.
The electricity generated was to be shared between New York and
Ontario. A separate agreement was made with New York that it make
some of the electric power available to neighboring states. In 1954,
the Congress gave its approval for the St. Lawrence seaway project
as a joint U.S.-Canada program. The Project helped in converting
many inland cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Toledo
and Milwaukee into seaports, accessible to most ocean going ships.
Other Achievements of the Eisenhower Administration
President Eisenhower followed a middle path
policy. Very often, due to this policy, a combination of moderate
Republicans and moderate Democrats gave the President the support
he needed. Inspite of opposition from his own party members (Republicans)
he succeeded in extending the Reciprocal Trade Agreement
- initially for one year and again for a period of three years.
Besides, the number of people covered under the
social security program were also increased under his tenure.
In 1953, the Congress formed the Small Business
Administration to help defend the interests of small businesses
and provide loans to them. In 1954, the government increased the
minimum wage rate to one dollar per hour. The insurance and mortgage
processes under the Housing Act was liberalized to encourage the
buying of houses. A provision was also made to build 45,000 low
cost housing units by 1956.
In 1956, the Federal Highway Bill made provision
for the construction of highways during the next 13 years to connect
cities with a population of 50,000 and more. The federal government
was to allocate $ 20 billion to the states as finance to build the
super highways. The law also provided two and half billion dollars
for the construction of primary, secondary and rural roads. To help
generate additional resources for this government program, the Federal
Gasoline Tax was hiked from 3 to 4 cents a gallon.
In 1952, the Congress had passed the McCarren-Walter
Immigration and Nationality Act after over-riding the President’s
veto. Still the Act remained a subject of major controversy. In
1953, the Act was liberalized to allow 214,000 immigrants into the
country above the specified quota during the next three years. The
aim of this law was to accept in the US people leaving countries
under communist or socialist control.
Agriculture in the country during this period made
some significant achievements in terms of increased production.
At the same time the farmers’ income continued to fall sharply.
This was because the production of farm commodities had far surpassed
the demand in the market.
In the 2 terms that Eisenhower was President, farm
income fell by 25%. This, despite the fact that the government had
invested $8,500,000,000 in surplus crops. Government aid through
subsidies did not help as the average farm made only $2,364 in 1959.
It is not surprising that between 1940 and 1960, the farm population
dropped from 30 million people (approximately) to 15,635,000.