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Modern Republican

Arthur Larson and the Eisenhower Years

David L. Stebenne

Publication Year: 2006

"This book is an original, important, and interesting contribution to the literature on President Eisenhower and on American history in the years before and after World War II. It will make a difference in the way historians and political scientists think about a critical period of national history. Too few books have that sort of impact...." -- Michael A. McGerr, author of A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870--1920

Arthur Larson was the chief architect of moderate conservatism -- one of the most influential and least studied political forces in U.S. history. During the Eisenhower administration, Larson held three major posts: Under Secretary of Labor, Director of the United States Information Agency, and chief presidential speechwriter. In each of these roles, Larson's most important achievement was to explain clearly and cogently what the administration stood for on matters foreign and domestic. Larson's views were put forth most forcefully in A Republican Looks at His Party, published in 1956. Larson and his book provided the Eisenhower administration with "the vision thing." His limitations and disappointments also help explain Eisenhower-era conservatism. They illuminate the extent to which there was a gap between what the "Modern Republicans" believed and what they said and were able to accomplish, and why those beliefs, values, and achievements did not always mesh. Larson's ultimately unsuccessful efforts to prevent the rise of the New Right are especially enlightening, for they help to clarify why the party of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s gradually became the party of the more conservative Ronald Reagan by the 1980s. Modern Republican will enlighten readers who want to understand more fully the historical context of today's divisive political arena.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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p. c-c

Title, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Americans have heard a lot about “compassionate conservatism” recently, but what that label really means in terms of basic philosophy and specific public policies is still pretty unclear. What we know for sure is that it differs signifficantly from Reagan-era conservatism, which sought to shrink the size and cost of government (especially by cutting domestic programs) and reduce....

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pp. xiii-xvi

A great many people have helped me in one way or another with this project, and I can only try to thank them all. My ¤rst real assistance came from Dwight Strandberg, Mack Teasley, and the other members of the staff at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, who accelerated the processing of the Arthur Larson Papers on deposit there at my request and aided me in many...

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1. Native Son of the Upper Midwest

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pp. 1-26

This very American story begins, quite appropriately, in the heart of the country on the Fourth of July, 1910. On that day in the town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Anna Huseboe Larson, the child of Norwegian immigrants, as was her husband Lewis, gave birth to a son they named Lewis Arthur Larson. Arthur, as they always called him, was the third of five children. They...

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2. Oxford’s Imprint

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pp. 27-53

Although Larson would move several times throughout his life, this first experience of uprooting proved in many ways to be the hardest. The most immediate discomfort stemmed from chronic indigestion. It affected him so severely that he went to see a doctor, who prescribed what Larson later remembered as “a repellent-looking purple medicine.”1 In time, this substance succeeded...

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3. A Few False Starts

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pp. 54-83

At first, life for the two newlyweds was appropriately carefree. They spent the month following their wedding at Lake Bemidji in Minnesota’s North Woods enjoying a long honeymoon. Next came a move to Milwaukee, where Larson began working at the ¤rm that had expressed interest in hiring him. His interview with the partners, which had taken place shortly before his wedding...

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4. Legal Scholar

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pp. 84-98

Larson’s arrival at Cornell in the fall of 1945 signaled the start of a distinctly different phase of his life, both personally and professionally. After a decade of moving about, he and his family settled into a much more stable existence. For the next eight years they would call the area around Ithaca, New York, where Cornell was located their home. One key reason for this new...

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5. To the Eisenhower Administration

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pp. 99-117

Larson ultimately spent only nine months at Pittsburgh Law School, a time notable chiefly for the part it played in advancing him to a highranking position in the U.S. Department of Labor. His brief tenure as dean, which began on July 1, 1953, gave him the modicum of administrative experience needed for such an appointment. Even more important, he finished writing...

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6. Of Theory and Practice

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pp. 118-150

Larson formally assumed the office of under secretary of labor on April 12, 1954, following a brief and uneventful Senate confirmation process. Rather than resign as dean of Pittsburgh Law School, he opted to request an indefinite leave of absence, which was granted. Although not eager to return to Pittsburgh, Larson evidently wanted a sure way out in case his new situation...

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7. A Republican Looks at His Party

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pp. 151-175

Larson’s road to greater prominence in Washington began at Cornell. His research on the law of workers’ compensation and a course he sometimes taught called “Social Legislation” prompted him to try writing some essays that extrapolated a broader political philosophy from those subjects. When he became under secretary of labor and began making speeches on a...

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8. Caught in the Crosscurrents

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pp. 176-199

Larson’s writing and public speaking skills so impressed Dwight Eisenhower in the summer and fall of 1956 that the president decided immediately after the election to groom him for higher things. Eisenhower’s plans for Larson’s future grew out of a larger interest in developing a corps of talented younger officials who could advance the cause of Modern Republicanism in...

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9. The President’s “Ghost”

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pp. 200-220

Larson joined the White House staff just as it was struggling to develop an effective response to the public hysteria created by the news on October 4, 1957, of the Soviets’ successful launch of their Sputnik satellite. Although Eisenhower reacted calmly to this turn of events, it clearly rattled some of his own senior advisors, such as Sherman Adams and defense secretary Charles...

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10. Dueling with the New Right

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pp. 221-254

When Arthur and Florence Larson arrived in Durham, North Carolina, in mid-September 1958, they took up residence in an area unlike any they had lived in before. The closest earlier experience for them had been their two-year stay in Knoxville, Tennessee. Knoxville, however, had been urban, with a diversified economy; rates of income, home ownership, and literacy that...

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11. Victories and Defeats

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pp. 255-280

As 1965 opened, Larson busied himself with his new venture to expose the falsehoods and misconduct of far-right groups. Although he was working on other causes, his role as head of the National Council on Civic Responsibility made its efforts a very high priority that year. The council had grown quickly during the last few months of 1964, from an initial roster of eighty prominent...

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pp. 281-284

After his break with the Nixon administration over Vietnam, Arthur Larson entered the final stage of his life and career. Although he gradually lost the public prominence he had enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s, Larson found ways to continue making important contributions. In the early 1970s, he returned to the subject of workers’ compensation law and produced several major...


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pp. 285-352


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pp. 353-368

E-ISBN-13: 9780253112323
E-ISBN-10: 025311232X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253348074

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2006

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Subject Headings

  • Larson, Arthur.
  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Political consultants -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States. Dept. of Labor -- Officials and employees -- Biography.
  • United States Information Agency -- Officials and employees -- Biography.
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