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Letters to the Editor

A Reagan Historian on Ike's Conservatism

May 2024
1min read

Dear Mr. Grosvenor,

I am an Eisenhower-Reagan historian and offer a different perspective on Susan Eisenhower's characterization in your recent October 2020 issue of American Heritage of Eisenhower as a "moderate."

After a spring 1962 GOP marketing-strategy meeting held at his Gettysburg farm, Eisenhower created a GOP publicity recording entitled, "Mr. Lincoln's Party Today." This recording was lost to history until I discovered it during my research for my Eisenhower-Reagan book below.

After being introduced by brand-new Republican Ronald Reagan, former president Eisenhower explained his most deeply-held basic political philosophy:

Republicanism to me means the preeminence of the individual. ...We believe (1) that whatever can be done by private effort, should be done by private effort; (2) that if a job must be done by government, it should be first determined whether state or local government can do the job; and (3) that a job should be done by Washington, when it is duly determined that only the federal government can do the job.

Looking back upon the years of the massive growth of the federal bureaucracy under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, conservative Eisenhower added:

Some I know believe in reversing this order. They turn first to government, before getting the people a chance. What they are doing in effect is putting a price tag on human dignity, and they are selling the people, cheap...For not only does the massive substitution of government action, for private action, create new and more complex problems, but it leaves the nation poorer, by far, in those moral values that distinguish us from collectivist societies.

Starting four years later, Eisenhower began privately mentoring Reagan on domestic politics and world affairs, and one can understand that the origins of Reagan's core belief in small government partially began with Eisenhower concise conservative philosophy espoused above. In fact, in an October, 1967 interview on William F. Buckley's Firing Line, Governor Reagan--running a 22-month long first campaign for the presidency--was asked why Eisenhower had not downsized the federal government.

Immediately, Reagan came to his mentor Eisenhower's defense. Reagan explained that for six of Ike's eight years as president, Congress was controlled by the Democrats, yet Eisenhower was able to make effective use of many presidential vetoes to stop further governmental expansion.

Dwight Eisenhower was quite proud of the conservative, small government goals he had forged and would be quite proud that his conservative Republican political heirs have followed. 


Gene Kopelson
Author of Reagan's 1968 Dress Rehearsal: Ike, RFK, and Reagan's Emergence as a World Statesman

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