The Presidency: Constitutional Controversies

Eisenhower and the Little Rock Crisis (1957)

A document-based question which explores Dwight D. Eisenhower’s response to the Little Rock Crisis. This lesson asks students to asses President Eisenhower’s constitutional justification for his decision to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce a federal court’s order to integrate public schools.

Founding Principles

Federalism image

Federalism

The people delegate certain powers to the national government, while the states retain other powers; and the people, who authorize the states and national government, retain all freedoms not delegated to the governing bodies.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Separation of Powers image

Separation of Powers

A system of distinct powers built into the Constitution to prevent an accumulation of power in one branch.

Case Background

The Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), with its declaration that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, overturned decades of precedent and challenged deeply-held social traditions. Southern resistance to the decision was widespread. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not enthusiastic about federal judicial intervention in public education, but he carried out his constitutional responsibility to enforce the law by implementing desegregation in the District of Columbia. Not all state governments were quick to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to integrate “with all deliberate speed” and many fought against it openly. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered his state’s National Guard to block the entry of nine newly-enrolled African American students to Central High School in Little Rock. A violent mob gathered in front of the school, and city police failed to control it. Finally, when asked for assistance by the Mayor of Little Rock, President Eisenhower believed his constitutional duty to take care that the laws were faithfully executed left him no choice but to intervene, even to the point of using military force against American citizens.

Key Question

Assess President Eisenhower’s constitutional justification for his decision to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a federal court’s order to integrate public schools.

Directions

Read the background essay. Then, using Documents A – K and your knowledge of history and current events, assess President Eisenhower’s constitutional justification for his decision to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a federal court’s order to integrate public schools.

Learning Objectives

  • Students understand the events leading up to and including the Little Rock Crisis.
  • Students analyze President Eisenhower’s constitutional justification for his actions.
  • Students assess the President’s decision to use military force to prevent violent opposition to a court order.

Activities

  1. Have students read the background essay, Handout A: Eisenhower and the Little Rock Crisis, and answer the questions.
  2. Lead students to compare and contrast the three photographs in the DBQ lesson: Documents D, I, and J, using the scaffolding questions provided for each document.
  3. Assign appropriate documents for student analysis.
  4. Have students complete handout, Handout B: Analyzing Documents, to show how each document is related to the Constitution, and how the documents are related to each other.
  5. Use key question, “Assess President Eisenhower’s constitutional justification for his decision to send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a federal court’s order to integrate public schools.” for class discussion or writing assignment, focusing on the constitutional principles involved in the event.

See RESOURCES for additional Graphic Organizers.

Materials

  1. The United States Constitution, Article II (1789)
  2. The Tenth Amendment (1791)
  3. The Fourteenth Amendment (1868)
  4. “Terrence Roberts and Two Arkansas National Guardsmen,” September 4, 1957
  5. Telegram from Little Rock Mayor Mann to President Eisenhower, 6:24 PM, September 23, 1957
  6. Proclamation 3204, September 23, 1957
  7. Telegram from Mayor Mann to President Eisenhower, 9:16 AM, September 24, 1957
  8. Executive Order 10730, September 24, 1957
  9. “Operation Arkansas: A Different Kind of Deployment Photo,” September 25, 1957
  10. “Bayonet Point,” September 25, 1957
  11. Eisenhower’s Address to the Nation, September 24, 1957

Extensions

  1. Have students read Eisenhower’s entire radio address and summarize its key points.
  2. Have students research the lives of the Little Rock Nine: Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray, Minnijean Brown, and Ernest Green.

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