President Eisenhower, addressing the annual Governors Conference from June 24, 1957. Here we were, in the middle of a Cold War, a Space Race we were losing and domestic issues. Any one of them could have sent our country into a tailspin. But it was a time for cool heads and cooler solutions. During this address, President Eisenhower touched on a number of important issues of the day. An important agenda to address was the issue of Education and the individual state’s responsibility in maintaining a high level of opportunity and quality.
President Eisenhower: “Four years ago at your Seattle conference I expressed the conviction that unless we preserve the traditional power and responsibilities of State government, with revenues necessary to exercise that power and discharge those responsibilities, then we will not preserve the kind of America we have known; eventually, we will have, instead, another form of government and, therefore, quite another kind of America.
That conviction I hold just as strongly today.
Now, because of that long-held belief–and because many of you, also, believed that the historic Federal-State relationship and its modern deviations needed careful re-examination–in that same year I obtained Congressional authority to establish a Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. With the cooperation of State Governors, Members of Congress and other leading citizens, the Commission completed the first official survey of our federal system since the adoption of our Constitution 170 years ago. This study brought long-needed perspective and pointed the way to improvements in areas of mutual concern to the States and the Federal Government. But theory and action are not always the same.
Opposed though I am to needless Federal expansion, since 1953 I have found it necessary to urge Federal action in some areas traditionally reserved to the States. In each instance State inaction, or inadequate action, coupled with undeniable national need, has forced emergency Federal intervention.
The education of our youth is a prime example.
Classroom shortages, in some places no less than critical, are largely the product of depression and wars. These, of course, were national and international, not state or local, both in their origins and in their effects. These classroom shortages have become potentially so dangerous to the entire nation and have yielded so slowly to local effort as to compel emergency action. Thus was forced a Federal plan of temporary assistance adjusted to the specific needs of States and communities and designed not to supplant but to supplement their own efforts.
Now, some have feared the sincerity of that word “temporary.” I at once concede that, in government as with individuals, there is an instinctive inclination to persist in any activity once begun. But if it be the people’s will, and I believe it is, I have no doubt at all that we can defeat that inclination in respect to Federal help in school construction, once the emergency need has been satisfied.
Three other basic problems provide simple examples of how “filling the vacuum” tends to constrict State and local responsibility.
These are such problems as slum clearance and urban renewal–problems caused by natural disasters–problems of traffic safety.
As for the first, the lack in the past of energetic State attention to urban needs has spawned a host of Federal activities that are more than difficult to curtail. Today, for help in urban problems, committees of Mayors are far more likely to journey to Washington than to their own State Capitals.
It always seemed to me that, in such meetings, Federal and municipal authorities have united in a two-pronged assault upon the State echelon of government, attacking simultaneously both from above and from below.
Yet the needs of our cities are glaringly evident. Unless action is prompt and effective, urban problems will soon almost defy solution. Metropolitan areas have ranged far beyond city boundaries, but in every instance the centers and the peripheries are interdependent for survival and growth. As citizens in outer areas clamor for adequate services, too often the cities and the counties avoid responsibilities or are powerless to act as a result of State-imposed restrictions. Those needs must be–and they will be–met. The question I raise before you is this: which level of government will meet those needs–the city, the county, the State, or the Federal Government? Or, if all must merge their efforts for reasons of mutual interest, how shall we confine each-and especially the powerful Federal Government–to its proper role?
Because I am so earnestly hopeful that this task will be assumed by government nearest the people and not by the far-off, reputedly “rich uncle” in Washington, D.C., I enthusiastically commend your Council’s initiative in facing up to the needs of metropolitan areas.”
This, and other issues were address by Eisenhower at this gathering. Here is that complete address, as it was broadcast on June 24, 1957 – sixty years ago