President Eisenhower sends federal troops to defend the Constitution in Little Rock.
The President has acted firmly, wisely, and in fulfillment of his constitutional responsibilities in ordering federal troops into Little Rock to uphold the authority of the federal courts. Sooner or later the President would have had to face this direct challenge, if not in Arkansas then elsewhere. For the country now knows, if it did not know before, that a large section of the South has long been nurtured on the misconception that compliance with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments is a matter of local option. (The Jackson Daily News, in an editorial of September 25, comments, “To the President — Nuts!”). The President met the Little Rock crisis in the only way he could meet it; he said what needed to be said and did what needed to be done.
Over a year ago (July 7, 1956), in a special issue on the theme, “Time to Kill Jim Crow,” we said in these columns that there was ample precedent for the use of federal troops and that the President should use them, if necessary, to secure compliance with decrees issued pursuant to the Supreme Court’s ruling. In the same editorial, we pointed out that the repeated assurances, official and otherwise, that federal troops would not be used had the effect of encouraging Southern officials to resist the inevitable. In retrospect, it is amazing that so many responsible leaders should have acquiesced in the proposition that force should never be used under any circumstances whatever to obtain compliance with federal district court desegregation decrees. Even the President — and he was supported by Adlai Stevenson — encouraged the South to believe that force would not be used. But any President, Republican or Democrat, must use force, if necessary, to uphold the Constitution. The President should have made it clear, throughout the period subsequent to May 17, 1954, that he would use whatever force was necessary to secure compliance. But whatever the President’s sins of omission, the Senators who signed the Dixiecrat Manifesto were more grievously at fault; they encouraged a form of insurrection. What has been needed all along has been strong executive and legislative leadership in support of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Now that the President has acted, a new climate of opinion will form which should make it possible to proceed “with all deliberate speed” to enforce desegregation as a national policy.
Of course there will be “incidents” and “disturbances”; hoodlums will howl and hysterics will rant. Teenage girls will scream, “Oh, God, they let the niggers in!” Ignorant mobs will shout, “two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate.” Photographers will have their cameras smashed. Senator Byrd’s blood pressure will continue to rise. Talmadge II will rumble imprecations throughout Georgia. Klansmen will light fiery crosses in the dead of night. Spinsters will faint. And, here and there, troops may be needed, for short periods of time, to maintain order—but only in those communities where local “law and order” has connived at violence. The conservative South will not rush headlong into open rebellion; already these elements are preparing the way for a reluctant but gradual capitulation. Racial demagogues always use the threat of “bloodshed” and “violence” to intimidate the majority of law-abiding citizens who, of course, abhor physical violence of any kind. But it is folly ever to yield to such threats. If the liberty of an individual is to be suppressed because the granting of that liberty may incite others to violence, then the effect is to make the least educated and most intemperate citizens the arbiters of what shall or shall not be permitted. The precondition to the solution of the so-called “race problem” in the South has always been the equal enforcement of the law and of every right sanctioned by the Constitution.