Was Ike a secret New Dealer?

Today’s post is from Jim Worsham, editor of Prologue magazine, the quarterly of the National Archives.

Was Dwight D. Eisenhower—the architect of the allied victory over the Nazis in World War II and our President during the peaceful 1950s—a secret New Dealer?

Eisenhower, elected President as a Republican in 1952, brought in with him a Republican-controlled Congress. The GOP lawmakers were eager to dismantle the social welfare programs that were started and became embedded in government during the 20 years of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s and Harry S. Truman’s presidencies.

In fact, President Eisenhower affirmed programs of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1919


Eisenhower’s position on FDR’s legacy is revealed in “Eisenhower, the Frontier, and the New Deal: Ike Considers America’s Frontier Gone, Embraces, Adds to FDR’s Legacy” an article in the Fall issue of Prologue magazine, the flagship publication of the National Archives.

Author Tim Rives draws much of this story from exchanges of letters between President Eisenhower and then-retired Brig. Gen. Bradford G. Chynoweth, a long-time friend.

Eisenhower had known Chynoweth since they were junior officers in Panama after World War I. “Ike” and “Chyn,” as they called each other, spent many an hour debating the state of the nation and the direction it ought to take.

Decades later, Eisenhower had moved into the White House and Chynoweth was retired and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. By then Chynoweth was a “radical Republican” and the two renewed their friendly debates by letter.

111-sc-149416 BG Chynoweth 1924 (1)
Bradford G. Chynoweth in 1924


Chynoweth urged his friend to go along with the conservative Republicans who then controlled Congress to and were eager to dismantle the New Deal.

“Chyn” agreed that social problems needed a new approach, but he added: “Why jump to the extreme New Deal view that the only way to find new approaches is from the Government?”

Still, Eisenhower resisted, Rives writes, and wrote his old friend: “It seems to me that no great intelligence is required in order to discern the practical necessity of establishing some kind of security for individuals in a specialized and highly industrialized age. At one time such security was provided by the existence of free land and a great mass of untouched and valuable natural resources. These are no longer to be had for the asking.”

Eisenhower, with the help of a Democratic Congress for his last six years, expanded Social Security, retained agencies created in the New Deal, started the Interstate highway system, and established federal student loans.

Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, says there was another reason: “Eisenhower embraced the reforms as a political necessity. The New Deal had won broad acceptance from the American public.” The article contains more details of the Ike-Chyn relationship.

This article is one of three written for in the issue that focus on Eisenhower on the 125th anniversary of his birth. You can read all three online on our Prologue website.


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