Charles U. Zug: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Federal Highway Act

Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Federal Highway Act (Landmark Presidential Decisions)

By Charles U. Zug


JMC Fellow Charles U. Zug has recently released a book on President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Federal Highway Act:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower is remembered by many as the originator of the American Interstate Highway System. He is also praised for restraining executive overreach, restoring the separation of powers, and presiding over an era of governmental equanimity and goodwill.

In Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Federal Highway Act, Charles Zug contests all these assumptions. Through archival research, Zug shows that Eisenhower’s attempt to lead highway expansion during 1952–1955 ended in dismal failure. Far from championing the separation of powers, Eisenhower sought to marginalize Congress from the legislative process by secretly writing a transformative highway bill within the confines of his White House. And once it was announced, Eisenhower’s highway plan was almost universally panned: Ike’s own comptroller general deemed the plan’s funding mechanism “illegal” before a bipartisan majority laughed it out of the Senate in the spring of 1955. The highway bill that did eventually pass Congress in 1956, and that went on to launch the modern interstate system, was written by congressional Democrats and emphatically rejected Eisenhower’s basic approach to highway reform.

Drawing on executive politics, American political development, and leadership studies, Zug uses the Federal Highway Act to argue for a foundational reassessment of Eisenhower’s legacy as highway founder, president, and political leader.

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Charles ZugCharles U. Zug is Kinder Assistant Professor of Constitutional Democracy and Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri. Previously he taught at the University of Colorado and Williams College. He received his Ph.D. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin.

Charles’s expertise is in American political development (APD) and constitutional theory, with a focus on the American presidency and the relationship between ideas and the development of political institutions. Specifically, he is interested in evaluating the functionality of political institutions within the context of the broader constitutional order.

In addition to scholarly articles, book chapters, and popular press writings, Charles is the author of Demagogues in American Politics (Oxford University Press, 2022) and Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Federal Highway Act (University Press of Kansas, 2024). Among other projects, he is currently writing a book tentatively titled Constructing a Mythology of American Federalism.

Professor Zug is a JMC Fellow.

Learn more about Charles U. Zug >>


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