President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

eisenhower cold war

On today’s date in 1961, President Eisenhower delivered a farewell speech warning the nation against the military-industrial (and, originally, congressional) complex:

We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

– President Eisenhower

The President’s address also included another prescient caution:

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

– President Eisenhower

The full transcript of the address is available here.

The speech is worth watching in full:

3 replies
  1. Luke Sprague, M.A. says:

    Nick,

    Thank you for including the YouTube on this as it helps flesh out the entire speech versus just an excerpt. President Eisenhower was prescient in his fear of a growing military industrial complex. Eisenhower’s statement seems less fraught with the hyper-partisanship of today and instead appears as a sober assessment of the roles and size of federal government. However, that is me looking back at his statement through the lens of today without completely understanding the political context the speech was given in. What are your thoughts on that context?

    Best,

    Luke Sprague

    • Nick Blackbourn says:

      Hi Luke – The Eisenhower Library has a section on its website you might find interesting: http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/research/online_documents/farewell_address.html

      Eisenhower was genuinely worried about the direction of the country if defense-interests dominated policymaking. He wasn’t against the Cold War, but feared the conflict would ‘capture’ public policy. In terms of partisanship, I don’t think he made the warning as a Republican.

      But let’s not forget that Eisenhower himself used ‘defense’ in politics, for example, to sell the Interstate Highway System to Congress, the ‘National Interstate and Defense Highways Act’ in 1956. In the American system of divided government, framing policy in national security terms is often the easiest way to generate sufficient support. That’s a structural issue, not a result of hyper-partisanship.

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