What did president Eisenhower mean by "Modern Republicanism"?

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asavage1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Historians have dubbed President Eisenhower's approach "Modern Republicanism."  In order to understand this topic you must consider the context of Eisenhower's presidency.  Eisenhower came to office after 20 years of Democratic presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.  FDR had initiated his famous New Deal during the Great Depression and Truman followed up WWII with his Fair Deal. The New Deal was a massive expansion of the scope and responsibility of the federal government in order to combat the Depression.  With all the new programs of the New Deal came new bureaucratic positions numbering in the thousands. Beginning with the New Deal, for the first time, the federal government would affect the daily lives of Americans. Truman continued a dependence on the federal government, and even expanded the responsibilities of it in his Fair Deal.  The Fair Deal sought federal powers to stimulate the economy, provide better educational opportunities, care for the elderly, and even to a very small degree civil rights for African Americans. The key thing with both programs is that they intentionally pushed for an active federal government to solve problems in society, which can be described as a liberal political outlook.

Eisenhower was a Republican (although the Democrats had asked him to run for them) working in a postwar society that had grown dependent on an active federal government guiding the most powerful and influential country in the world.  Republicans of the late 19th century and the 1920s had mostly been conservative in the sense of keeping the status quo which meant a laissez-faire approach to economic issues.  Once the federal government had been reshaped by FDR and Truman, though, Republicans could not simply have a hands off attitude because the federal government was simply too big and pervasive. Many conservatives by the 1950s surely desired a "return to normalcy" just like President Harding had promised following WWI.  A return to normalcy meant curbing the growth and influence of the federal government and restoring more power back to the states.  Many affluent Americans wanted to enjoy the postwar boom and not necessarily fund a massive reform effort in Washington.

Modern Republicanism is the term given for the reaction of conservatives to the active and expansive federal government of the 1930s and 1940s.  This never equated to a dismantling of federal powers, or even a scaling back of the federal government.  The new era of big government was here to stay and not even conservatives could (or even wanted to in many cases) cut back the federal government for Republicans had their own agenda that included the use of federal powers. What Ike and his Republican predecessors did was to try to slow down federal growth, although it did and still does continue to grow whether under Democratic or Republican leadership.