WHAT IS THE RULE OF LAW?
Simply stated, it is what John Adams put into the first Constitution of Massachusetts in order obtain a “government of laws and not of men.” It is the basis for our democracy and one of the primary distinguishing factors between democracies and totalitarian countries. Presidents may come and go, legislators may come and go, judges may come and go, but our government is still determined by the “Rule of Law.”
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
Perhaps it is my own nostalgia that leads me to “like Ike” as one of my favorite presidents. After all, his 1956 race with Richard Nixon against Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver is the first presidential election I remember from “my weekly reader” in grade school!
He was a popular president because of his plain talk, charming style, and sense of confidence. His moderate Republican policies were mid-stream and main-line Americana.
Many people look back with nostalgia for these “good old days” in the fifties, before things broke loose in the sixties. However, times really were good. Ozzie and Harriet were alive and well. Father really did know best. Families “saw the USA in a Chevrolet” with Dinah Shore.
Many believed during the tumultuous sixties that President Eisenhower had been a “do-nothing” or simply a caretaker president in an easy time. However, looking a little deeper, below the surface, at the issues that he had to deal with, we get a better sense of his abilities and why historians have now put him in the top eleven or twelve U.S. presidents.
In 1954, shortly after the civil rights movement had begun, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned the court’s own previous ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, and held that separate education for blacks and whites cannot be considered equal education.
Rosa Parks rode on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and not in the back seat.
Martin Luther King, Jr., began his ministry and his peaceful protests.
In 1957, Congress passed and Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act. That same year, a constitutional crisis occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas, at Central High School. While Ike abhorred the idea of sending U.S. troops in to a U.S. city, he had the intestinal fortitude to uphold the Rule of Law and he did in fact send troops in to Little Rock to uphold the U.S. Constitution as it had been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On September 24, 1957, the first of 52 aircraft carrying approximately 1000 troops from Fort Campbell’s 101st Airborne were dispatched to Little Rock.
President Eisenhower said at the time that “mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decision of our courts.” He continued:
Our personal opinions about the decision [Brown v. Board of Education] have no bearing on the matter of enforcement; the responsibility and authority of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution are very clear…. The alternative to supporting the law in such a situation is to acquiesce in anarchy, mob rule, and insipient rebellion. Such unthinkable consequences would be quite as disastrous for the South as for any other region. Ultimately, of course, such a course would destroy the nation. See letter to Senator Stennis dated October 7, 1957.
THE RULE OF LAW
This is one of the better examples in recent history of a president upholding his oath to the people of the United States in following the ideal of the Rule of Law, despite what may have been his own contrary personal beliefs. He proved that adherence to the Rule of Law expands, rather than limits, the opportunities individuals have for freedom. A viable democracy requires understanding the Rule of Law as the basis of our individual freedoms and the recognition of the individual responsibilities which those freedoms impose.
Enjoy President’s Day and enjoy the freedoms we all experience because of our nation’s Rule of Law.