Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1890-1969), American general and 34th president of the United States. He was the principal
architect of the successful Allied invasion of Europe during World War II
and of the subsequent defeat of Nazi Germany. As president, Eisenhower ended
the Korean War, but his two terms (1953-1961) produced few legislative
landmarks or dramatic initiatives in foreign policy. His presidency is remembered
as a period of relative calm in the United States.
Eisenhower spent his first 50 years in almost total obscurity.
A professional soldier, he was not even particularly well known within the
U.S. Army. His rise to fame during World War II was meteoric: a lieutenant
colonel in 1941, he was a five-star general in 1945. As supreme commander
of the Allied Expeditionary Force, he commanded the most powerful force ever
assembled under one man. He is one of the few generals ever to command major
naval forces; he directed the world's greatest air force; he is the only man
ever to command successfully an integrated, multinational alliance of ground,
sea, and air forces. He led the assault on the French coast at Normandy, on
June 6, 1944, and held together the Allied units through the European campaign
that followed, concentrating everyone's attention on a single objective: the
defeat of Nazi Germany, completed on May 8, 1945.
In 1950, President Harry Truman appointed Eisenhower the
supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, thus making
Eisenhower the first man to command a large, peacetime multinational force.
His genius lay in getting people of diverse background to work together toward
a common objective, but he was equally skillful as a strategist and administrator.
He displayed the same talents as president, but they did
not produce the same spectacular results. The discipline characteristic of
military organizations was unknown to American politics, and rebellion against
his leadership occurred frequently--the more so because his Republican
party controlled Congress during only two of Eisenhower's eight years in office.
His dislike of politics was also a handicap. He calmed fears about Communist
infiltration of the national government. He provided partial relief from the
divisiveness engendered by his predecessor's approach to issues, yet Eisenhower's
achievements seem less impressive in retrospect because he minimized the importance
of racial tensions and of socioeconomic antagonisms that erupted so explosively
in the 1960's.
Although only a little above average in height and weight,
Eisenhower dominated any gathering of which he was a member. His bald pate,
prominent forehead, and broad mouth made his head seem larger than it was.
He had a wonderfully expressive face, and it was impossible for him to conceal
He had a sharp, orderly mind. No one thought of him as an
intellectual giant, and outside his professional field he was not well read.
He was not likely to come up with brilliant insights. But he could look at a problem, analyze it, see what alternatives
were available, and choose from among them. His beliefs were those of Main
Street; his personality that of the outgoing, affable American writ large.
Almost everyone liked him. His easy manners, his obvious
concern with the welfare of others, his ability to listen patiently--all
contributed to his popularity. Most important was his trustworthy nature.
His grin, his mannerisms, and his generosity and kindness all exuded sincerity.
Eisenhower's parents, David and
Ida Stover Eisenhower, both belonged to the River Brethren, a fundamentalist
Christian sect. David and Ida met as students at Lane University, operated
by the United Brethren Church in Lecompton, Kans. They married in 1885. David's
father, a prosperous farmer, gave him $2,000 and a 160-acre farm as
wedding gifts. However, David hated the drudgery of farming and sold out,
investing in a general store in Hope, Kans. Within three years the business
failed, and David was broke. He fled to Denison, Texas, leaving behind a son
and a pregnant wife. He worked as a laborer on a railroad for $40 a
month and in 1889 sent for his family to join him in Texas. There Dwight was
born on Oct. 14, 1890. When Dwight was less than a year old, David took a
job at the Belle Springs Creamery in Abilene, Kans., and the family moved
into a small house in Abilene. There David and Ida raised six healthy boys--a
seventh son died in infancy--on a salary that never exceeded $100
a month. Each of the six surviving sons achieved success.
Ida ran a tightly organized household. The Eisenhowers raised
almost all their own food, selling the surplus for cash. The boys worked to
earn their spending money. David led weekly Bible reading sessions. He and
Ida moved steadily toward a more primitive Christianity, eventually joining
the Jehovah's Witnesses. None of their sons became notably devout--Dwight
never joined a church and rarely attended a church service in his adult life--but
none staged a dramatic rebellion against religion either. At the core of his
parents' religion was an ingrained respect for the individual as a creature
of God who had free will. They insisted that their boys be fully exposed to
Christianity, but beyond that they did not impose their beliefs. The Eisenhowers
also encouraged their children to be independent and self-reliant.
Although Dwight attracted little attention in the classroom,
he stood out in athletic competition through grade school and high school.
After graduating from Abilene High School in 1909, Dwight went to work in
the creamery, partly to support an older brother in college. He took a competitive
examination for an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, both because a free
education was too good to pass up and because of the opportunity to play football.
He passed the examination, then found that he was too old to go to Annapolis
and instead in 1911 went to the Military Academy at West Point.
Sports were his all-consuming interest. At the academy he
was average in everything else. During his second year Eisenhower played halfback
on the Army team, and sportswriters began to predict All-American honors for
him, but a twisted knee during the season ruined his football career. The
blow to his emotions was worse. His roommate described Eisenhower as a man
who had lost interest in life. Eisenhower graduated in 1915, 61st in a class
Two weeks after reporting for duty
as a 2d lieutenant of Infantry at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas,
he met Mamie Geneva Doud. He immediately embarked on a courtship. Miss Doud
came from a wealthy Denver family and was accustomed to a life of ease and
luxury, which a young Army officer could hardly offer. She tried to discourage
her suitor, but he persisted, and on July 1, 1916, they were married in Denver.
The union was an eminently happy one. They had two sons. One died as a child.
The other, John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, graduated from the Military Academy
on the day Dwight Eisenhower launched the invasion of Europe. He later served
as ambassador to Belgium. Mamie Eisenhower died in Washington on Nov. 1, 1979.
In 1917, shortly after
the U.S. entered World War I, Eisenhower was promoted to captain. He wanted
desperately to go to France to lead men in battle, but he was such an outstanding
instructor and trainer of men that the Army kept him in the United States.
In March 1918 he took command of Camp Colt, a tank training center at Gettysburg,
Pa. There he spent the rest of the war, learning a great deal about armored
warfare and about turning civilians into soldiers, earning a Distinguished
Service Medal for his services, but getting no promotions or combat experience.
He was promoted to major in 1920 and in the next year graduated from the Tank
School at Camp Meade, Md. But outward signs of progress hid inner drift. He
had little interest in his profession, spent most of his time coaching football teams on Army posts, and could not see
much of a future for himself.
Then, in 1922, he was transferred to the Panama Canal Zone
as executive officer for the 20th Infantry Brigade. There he met Gen. Fox
Conner, who stimulated Eisenhower's interest in the profession of arms. Conner
gave Eisenhower what amounted to a graduate course in military history. They
spent hours talking about military and international problems. Conner told
Eisenhower that a certain Col. George C. MARSHALL would lead the American
forces in the next war--which he was certain would come--and urged
Eisenhower to try for an assignment under Marshall. Conner also impressed
on Eisenhower the idea that the next war would be worldwide and those who
directed it would have to think in terms of world rather than single-front
strategy. Even after he was a retired president, Eisenhower would say, "
Fox Conner was the ablest man I ever knew.
In 1925, thanks to Conner's
help, Eisenhower went to the Command and General Staff School in Leavenworth,
Kans. He worked hard, graduating first in a class of 275. In 1927 he prepared
a guidebook on European battlefields of World War I. In 1928 he graduated
from the Army War College in Washington, D. C. By this time his reputation
in the Army was that of an outstanding staff officer, uncommonly good at preparing
From 1929 to 1933, Eisenhower served in the office of the
assistant secretary of war. He produced a long report on industrial mobilization
in the event of war. In 1933 he became assistant to the chief of staff, Gen.
Douglas MacArthur. Although MacArthur was too flamboyant for Eisenhower's
taste, MacArthur appreciated and depended on Eisenhower's administrative and
writing abilities. When MacArthur went to the Philippines in 1935 as military
adviser to the Commonwealth, he asked the War Department to detail Major Eisenhower
to him as senior assistant. Eisenhower spent the next four years in the Philippines
helping MacArthur build up the defenses of the islands. He made no secret
of the fact that he disliked the duty and wanted command of troops.
In early 1940, Eisenhower, now a lieutenant colonel, became
executive officer of the 15th Infantry Regiment at Fort Ord, Calif., but the
Army quickly sent him back to staff work. In March 1940 he became chief of
staff of the 3d Division at Fort Lewis, Wash., and in 1941 rose to colonel
and chief of staff for Gen. Walter Krueger, commander of the 3d Army at Fort
Sam Houston. In the summer of 1941 he made the plans for Krueger's 3d Army
in the Louisiana maneuvers, the largest ever held in peacetime in the United
States. Eisenhower did so well that for the first time he attracted some notice
outside the Army. He was also promoted to brigadier general.
On Dec. 14, 1941, George Marshall, now Army chief of staff,
called Eisenhower to Washington and put him in the War Plans Division with
special responsibility for the Far East. Eisenhower was stuck behind a desk
again, working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Marshall, who was trying to
cut the deadwood out of the Army's general officer ranks and was looking for
vigorous younger men to lead the war effort, was impressed. In March 1942,
he made Eisenhower a major general and head of the Operations Division. In
June he added another star and sent Eisenhower to London to take command of
the U.S. forces in the European Theater of Operations.
African and Italian Campaigns
spent his first weeks in London participating in one of the war's great strategic
debates. Following Marshall's lead, he urged the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS, composed of the heads of services of Britain
and the United States) to plan for an invasion of France in 1943, with a possible
suicide invasion in 1942 if it appeared that the Soviet Union was about to
leave the war. The British insisted on an invasion of North Africa, an easier
task though less likely to produce significant results. It was one of many
disagreements between the British and American commands on war strategy. President
Franklin D. Roosevelt sided with the British. The CCS selected Eisenhower
to command Operation Torch, giving him control of all British and U.S. ground,
sea, and air forces involved. It was a unique command. Eisenhower's directive
gave him far more power than Marshal Foch had exercised in 1918 in the only
previous attempt to create a large allied command.
On Nov. 8, 1942, the African invasion began. Eisenhower's
forces landed near Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. The Vichy French forces
resisted. Eisenhower made a deal with their commander, Adm. Jean Darlan, giving
Darlan civil control of North Africa in return for French cooperation in the
war against Germany. Because Darlan was anti-Semitic and a collaborator with
the Nazis and because Eisenhower was giving him vast powers, the arrangement
brought a storm of protest on Eisenhower's head. By emphasizing the temporary,
military nature of the deal, Eisenhower survived the storm.
On the ground, meanwhile, Eisenhower tried to rush his troops
eastward into Tunisia before the Germans could establish themselves there.
He failed. A long, dreary campaign followed, punctuated by the Battle of Kasserine
Pass, in February 1943, in which the U.S. troops were caught by surprise but
recovered and held their ground. In May the Germans surrendered. Eisenhower,
now a full four-star general, added the British Eighth Army, under Montgomery,
to his command and in July launched the invasion of Sicily. The island fell
at the end of August, though most of the German defenders escaped. Eisenhower,
meanwhile, had also been directing the secret negotiations for the Italian
On Sept. 8, 1943, Eisenhower's forces invaded Italy at Salerno.
The Germans, who had occupied the country and were well prepared, fought a
tough defensive campaign in the mountains, and progress was slow. Eisenhower
was delighted when in December the CCS ordered him to leave Italy and go to
London to take command of the forces gathering in England for the invasion
Invasion of France
When Eisenhower took
over Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), he found himself
in command of the largest single undertaking ever attempted by man. The entire
course of the war would likely turn on the success or failure of Operation
Overlord. More than 156,000 men would hit the Normandy beaches on the first
day, with 6,000 ships behind them and thousands of airplanes of every type
overhead. To organize and direct this vast force, Eisenhower had a staff of
16,312 officers and enlisted men. He counted most of all, however, on two
men. Marshall had backed him throughout the Mediterranean campaign and was
giving him unlimited support in Washington. His own chief of staff, Walter
Bedell Smith, was another source of strength. In the field his chief U.S.
commanders were Gen. Omar Bradley, a West Point classmate and close friend,
and Gen. George Patton. Eisenhower did not get along well with Montgomery,
the British commander, but respected his ability.
The invasion was scheduled for June 4, 1944, but a great
storm over the English Channel forced postponement. That evening the weatherman
predicted that the storm would abate by the morning of June 6, providing satisfactory
landing conditions. Eisenhower had total confidence in his meteorologist,
based on a month of checking on his predictions every day. After consulting
with his field commanders and staff, Eisenhower tentatively decided to launch
the attack. On June 5 he held a predawn conference. He could still order the
ships to turn back. Outside, the wind howled and the rain seemed to come down
in horizontal streaks. The weatherman stuck by his prediction. Most of Eisenhower's
advisers wanted to go ahead. If he called off the invasion, it could not be
launched for at least two weeks. Also, the secret of the landing site would
almost certainly become known to the Germans because 160,000 men had been
briefed. If the storm did not subside, however, the invasion landing craft
would be tossed on the beaches and Overlord would fail. Only Eisenhower could
decide. He thought for a moment, then said quietly but clearly, "O.K.,
The weather cleared and the troops got ashore. For the next
month and a half Eisenhower built up his forces
in Normandy, meanwhile urging Montgomery to take more aggressive action in
the vicinity of Caen so that the SHAEF forces could move on to Paris by the
most direct route. Montgomery, however, insisted that his chief task was to
tie down heavy German forces so that the Americans on his right could break
out of the beachhead.
In late July the Americans did force a breakthrough, and
the drive through France began. Almost immediately Eisenhower was locked in
another controversy with Montgomery. The British general urged the supreme
commander to give the British troops on the left all available supplies so
that he could lead a drive into northern Germany. Eisenhower insisted on advancing
along a broad front, with Bradley's American troops on the right staying about
even with Montgomery's troops. Montgomery charged that Eisenhower's caution
prolonged the war. Eisenhower believed that if he gave all the drastically
limited supplies--SHAEF's major problem was the absence of deepwater
ports--to Montgomery and allowed him to drive into Germany, the troops
involved in the single thrust would be isolated and destroyed by the enemy.
In addition, Eisenhower thought it politically impossible to halt the Americans--especially
Patton--in the Paris region while Montgomery drove for Berlin and glory.
He insisted on the broad front in the face of the strongest protests from
Montgomery, the British chiefs of staff, and Prime Minister Churchill. He
had his way, partly because of Marshall's support, mainly because of his own
By late autumn the SHAEF forces had outrun their supplies.
Although they had driven the enemy from France, they had been unable to penetrate
Germany. In December 1944 the Germans began a massive counterattack in the
Ardennes region. In the resulting Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower, his staff,
and most of all the troops recovered quickly and soon plugged the breach in
the Allied lines. Eisenhower, now wearing five stars, approached the Rhine
along a broad front, destroying the bulk of the German forces in a brilliant
The question now concerned
the direction the advancing forces should take. Churchill wanted Eisenhower
to capture Berlin and hold it until the Russians made concessions on Poland
and other political questions relating to the fate of postwar eastern Europe.
Eisenhower insisted that prior agreements between the Allied governments--agreements
that had divided Germany into occupation zones and Berlin into sectors within
the Russian zone--made the nationality of the troops who took Berlin
meaningless. If the Americans took the city, he felt, they would suffer up
to 100,000 casualties and would then have to give up most of Berlin, and all
the surrounding area, to the Russians anyway. Besides, he argued, there was
no possibility of getting large Allied forces into Berlin before the Russians
took the city. Once again, the alliance was greatly strained, but Eisenhower
held it together even while insisting on his own views. He sent his forces
into southern Germany. His decision remains the subject of hot dispute.
The Germans signed the unconditional surrender document
on May 8, 1945. Eisenhower headed the occupation forces for six months, then
went to Washington to succeed Marshall as chief of staff. He presided over
the demobilization of the American Army, made speeches urging national defense,
and wrote an account of his war career. Although pressed by both major parties
to accept a presidential nomination, he insisted that he had no interest in
politics and instead in 1949 accepted the presidency of Columbia University.
In 1950 he left Columbia to become supreme commander of the newly formed North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces.
Prominent Democrats had tried unsuccessfully to draft Eisenhower
for the presidency in 1948. After he became NATO commander, representatives
of both parties continued to query him about his availability for 1952. Their
interest was due to his widespread popularity and aloofness from partisan
strife. Eisenhower was reluctant to enter politics unless he was drafted.
The Democrats could have met his conditions and given him a virtually uncontested
nomination. Yet he chose to declare that he was a Republican because he believed
that Democratic policies were promoting centralized government at the expense
of individual liberty. However, Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio cherished the
same conviction and believed that he had a better claim on the Republican
presidential nomination. Taft headed a Midwestern faction strongly represented
in Congress. It opposed lavish welfare programs at home. It was generally
for retrenchment of American commitments abroad and critical of the Truman
administration for aiding Europe at the expense of Asia. Although strongly
nationalistic, the Taft faction preferred to fight communism by weeding out
American subversives than by containment overseas. So it supported the demagogic
investigations of Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, a
Republican. In short, it wanted to make an all-out fight on President Truman's
Fair Deal and believed that the Republicans had lost the last three presidential
elections by soft-pedaling major issues.
1952 Nomination and Election
preferred not to become a factional candidate, but the moderate Eastern wing
of the party headed by Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Sen. Henry Cabot
Lodge, Jr., of Massachusetts persuaded him to announce his availability for
the nomination. It soon became apparent that the Taft forces were strong enough
to prevent a draft. So Eisenhower resigned as supreme commander and returned
to the United States on June 1, 1952, to wage a hectic five-week pre-convention
campaign. The Taft and Eisenhower forces were so evenly matched that the outcome
depended on the decision of some 300 delegates pledged to favorite-son candidates.
In the end, they coalesced behind Eisenhower, and helped unseat contested
Taft delegates from three Southern states. Eisenhower was nominated by a narrow
margin on the first ballot. A number of delegates who voted for him would
have preferred Taft but did not think the latter could win in November. The
same reasoning led them to support a moderate platform.
Many Taft supporters were bitter over the outcome, but they
eventually rallied to Eisenhower. His selection of Sen. Richard M. Nixon of
California as his running mate helped to restore harmony because Nixon was
conspicuously identified with congressional investigations of Communists.
Using the new medium of television effectively, Eisenhower turned the ensuing
campaign into a triumphal procession. Large, enthusiastic crowds greeted him
everywhere and applauded his appeals for patriotism and clean government.
Neither his jerky delivery nor his failure to deal with controversial issues
checked the Eisenhower tide. He easily defeated his Democratic opponent, Gov.
Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, piling up a margin of 442 votes to 89 in the
electoral college. In the popular vote, Eisenhower led Stevenson 33,937,252
to 27,314,992. The Republicans captured both Houses of Congress by narrow
margins and made inroads in the hitherto Democratic South because of its opposition
to Truman's civil rights program.
Eisenhower brought to the presidency both the assets and
limitations of a military background: a talent for administrative efficiency
qualified by a deficient background in national problems outside the sphere
of foreign relations. He established a chain of command, delegated broad responsibility
to subordinates, and freed himself to grapple with the larger issues. He also
attempted to learn about race relations, economic questions, and the intricacies
of partisan politics. Although his knowledge grew steadily in all three areas,
it seldom prompted him to vigorous action. He sought consensus above all else,
and shunned bold, controversial programs. This tendency was reinforced by
his belief that many problems would be better solved at the local level than
through initiatives from Washington. Because he admired businessmen and relied
heavily on them in staffing his administration, Eisenhower was exposed to
little dissent from his advisers.
Domestic Issues, First Term
domestic objectives of the new administration were to balance the budget,
reduce the agricultural surplus by lowering price supports for farm products,
and institute a loyalty program that would discourage the investigations of
Senator McCarthy. Apart from Eisenhower's inexperience, other obstacles impeded
his efforts. Groups accustomed to receiving financial aid from the federal
government opposed the reduction of government expenditures, and Congress
was reluctant to offend them. Farmers wanted to grow as much as they pleased
while retaining high price supports. Worse still, factional differences paralyzed
the small Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress. Control rested
with the Taft faction. Taft had tried to cooperate with Eisenhower, but he
soon died. Thereafter, congressional leadership was more obstructive.
As a result, it took Eisenhower three years to balance the
budget, and his victory was illusory because mounting expenditures for foreign
aid and defense soon produced a new deficit. He also secured a token cut in
support prices for agriculture. At first his cautious efforts to outflank
McCarthy were fruitless, but McCarthy overreached himself in 1954, was censured
by the Senate, and lost his influence. Meanwhile, a mild economic recession
had begun, and many people blamed the monetary policies of George M. Humphrey,
the conservative secretary of the treasury.
The Supreme Court confronted Eisenhower with another problem
in May 1954 by declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. It
set no time schedule for compliance. Most Northern African Americans customarily
voted Democratic, and Eisenhower might have converted some by pressing energetically
for implementation of the court order. But he temporized, partly because he
was fearful of arresting the movement of Southern Democrats into the Republican
The Republicans lost both houses in the off-year congressional
elections of 1954, but by such slim margins that the outcome could not be
interpreted as a rebuke to the President. The sequel was a period of dead-center
government in which the Democratic leadership subjected Eisenhower to pinpricks.
Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and House Speaker Sam Rayburn seldom
challenged the President personally, but these skilled legislative leaders
frequently outmaneuvered Eisenhower. On some issues, however, the Democrats
supported Eisenhower in greater numbers than conservative Republicans. However,
Eisenhower's mild proposals for a commission to study racial discrimination
and for federal aid to education were killed by Southern Democrats. Because
neither Eisenhower nor the bulk of the voters seemed interested in innovation,
the deadlock caused little visible indignation.
Foreign Affairs, First Term
his administration with high hopes of ending the Cold War. Fulfilling a campaign
pledge, the President-elect went to Korea in December 1952 to examine the
military and diplomatic stalemate. After his inauguration, he quickly halted
the fighting in Korea, but the negotiation of a cease-fire was the prelude
to an uneasy truce rather than a genuine peace. He was more successful in
securing the termination of the four-power occupation of Austria and the restoration
of Austrian sovereignty in 1955. More comprehensive efforts to ease tension
between the United States and the Soviet Union were less productive. Secretary
of State John Foster Dulles, who favored a firm stand against communism, strongly
influenced the President. The administration
promised to assume the diplomatic offensive and thereby free oppressed peoples
behind the "iron curtain. The "new look in foreign policy
involved an intensification of ideological activity. There was more rhetoric
than action, notably in the case of Hungary's abortive revolt against its
Fresh hope for a detente revived in 1955 when the
Russians agreed to a Big Four meeting at Geneva in July. Eisenhower, meeting
with the leaders of the Soviet Union, Britain, and France, created the most
excitement with an offer to permit aerial inspection of the United States
by Russian planes if the Soviet Union would reciprocate. The Soviet delegates
treated this and other proposals with respect, but at a subsequent meeting
of foreign ministers in October 1955 it became apparent that the two sides
were as far apart as ever on substantive issues.
Shortly thereafter the USSR began to arm Egypt, which was
engaged in an undeclared war with Israel. The next year, after the United
States had declined to finance a huge dam at Aswan on the Nile River, Egypt
accepted a Soviet offer to do so. Egypt soon nationalized the Suez Canal,
and on Oct. 29, 1956, England, France, and Israel attacked Egypt. With the
Eisenhower administration refusing to support its own Allies and the Soviet
Union championing the Egyptians, the invasion was quickly called off. The
subsequent effort of the President to serve as an honest broker led to the
restoration of a shaky peace, but the episode was the prelude to further Soviet
penetration of the Middle East.
Reelection in 1956
The expectation that
Eisenhower would run for a second term was shaken when he suffered a heart
attack in September 1955 while vacationing in Colorado. He recovered slowly,
but by February 1956 felt well enough to announce his candidacy. Although
an operation for ileitis in June 1956 raised fresh doubts about his political
future, Eisenhower was again in good health by convention time. (He would
also suffer a mild stroke in 1957, but it impaired his strength only briefly.)
Yet uncertainty about his ability to survive a second term generated a movement
to drop Vice President Nixon from the ticket in 1956 on the ground that he
was an abrasive personality and would offend independent voters. Eisenhower
did not encourage the dissidents, and Nixon was easily renominated.
The Democrats again selected Adlai Stevenson as their standard-bearer.
The campaign was unusually free of issues. Eisenhower retained his image as
a selfless public servant and confined his activities to nonpartisan appeals
for support. The Democrats were afraid to attack him personally or to express
direct doubts about his health. So they pictured the President as an amiable,
naive front man for Nixon and other "Red baiters. Voters were
supposed to conclude that McCarthyism would be revived if the President died
in office. These tactics failed. Eisenhower won 41 states and 457 electoral
votes, while Stevenson won only 7 states and 73 electoral votes. In the popular
vote, Eisenhower led Stevenson 35,589,477 to 26,035,504. Unfortunately for
the Republicans, Eisenhower was far more popular than his party, which was
unable to regain control of either house of Congress.
Domestic Issues, Second Term
seldom look as good in their second term as in their first, and Eisenhower
was no exception to the rule. He struggled to maintain friendly personal relations
with the Democratic leaders in Congress and largely succeeded. But his cordiality
did not prevent them from ignoring some presidential recommendations and amending
others. Mindful of his impending retirement and his decreasing ability to
retaliate effectively, many Republican congressmen also became obstructive.
This unstable coalition spearheaded a drive to increase the scope of welfare
programs. Recognizing that he was unable to reduce governmental activities,
Eisenhower fought to prevent them from getting larger. He was also embarrassed
by congressional investigations of executive departments. The major casualty
was Sherman Adams, his chief assistant and an influential adviser, who was
forced to resign because he had accepted gifts from a textile manufacturer
During his second term, Eisenhower also faced increasing
repercussions from the 1954 school desegregation decision of the Supreme Court.
Inclined to take the legally defensible but morally dubious position of acquiescing
in delaying tactics, Eisenhower was obliged to act when a Southern mob obstructed
token integration of a high school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957. His initial
efforts to get state authorities to enforce a federal court order were fruitless.
So he dispatched military units to Little Rock and secured compliance with
bayonets. The sullen attitude of local whites discouraged Eisenhower from
further efforts at integration either by coercion or any other method. The
adverse effect of his indecisiveness on African Americans was compounded by
the tactics of Republican senators, many of whom voted with Southern Democrats
to retain the rules permitting filibusters against civil rights legislation.
Civil rights acts passed in 1957 and 1960 dealt rather ineffectively with
Neither African Americans nor any other discontented group
were inclined to support the Republicans when Eisenhower's magical name did
not head the ticket. The GOP, also handicapped by a recession, suffered a
disastrous defeat in the 1958 congressional elections as the Democrats sharply
increased majorities in both the Senate and the House.
Foreign Affairs, Second Term
also encountered increasing frustration after 1957 in his attempts to moderate
the Cold War. After a left-wing revolution in Iraq, Eisenhower airlifted a
marine detachment to Lebanon in 1958 to forestall a similar
uprising there. The immediate crisis soon subsided, and the troops were withdrawn,
but the American position in the Middle East continued to deteriorate. In
the same year, Vice President Nixon was almost killed by a hostile mob in
Caracas, Venezuela, during a goodwill tour. Anti-American feeling erupted
still closer to home when the radical Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba. Eisenhower
outwardly ignored Castro's increasingly strident attacks on the United States
but was criticized for both provoking and tolerating them.
Ill-fortune likewise dogged Eisenhower's final bid for an
accommodation with the Russians. Premier Nikita Khrushchev boycotted a projected
summit conference at Paris in May 1960. Khrushchev's excuse was the shooting
down of an American U-2 plane that had been photographing installations in
the USSR. Democrats criticized Eisenhower for jeopardizing peace with spy
missions. They also charged that the administration was falling behind the
Soviet Union in the development of missiles and other weapons of the space
age. The secrecy that shrouded military planning precludes an objective judgment
about Eisenhower's stewardship in that area. He did voice concern about the
growing power of the Pentagon and of the "military-industrial complex.
In any case, the combination of setbacks and partisan complaints about
the administration's foreign policy were politically damaging on the eve of
the 1960 election.
The 1960 Election
Long before the Republican
convention, Eisenhower had groomed Nixon as his successor, giving the Vice
President special assignments designed to command favorable publicity. The
delegates enthusiastically ratified the choice. The Democrats nominated John
F. Kennedy, the youthful Catholic senator from Massachusetts, who combined
an appealing personal style with an eloquent updating of New Deal doctrines.
Fearful that Eisenhower would unintentionally divert the spotlight from his
protege, Nixon's managers limited presidential participation
in the campaign to the final weeks. Eisenhower's impact on Republican prospects
was favorable but might have been greater had he been encouraged to intervene
earlier. Kennedy reunited a large enough percentage of each group in the old
New Deal coalition to win the election. Eisenhower transferred enough of his
Democratic and independent support to Nixon to produce a close contest. Like
the popular Whig generals of the 1840's, Eisenhower could win elections, but
he could not convert personal loyalty into durable support for his party.
During the initial years of his retirement, Eisenhower was
healthy, active, and the recipient of many honors. Congress restored his rank
as a five-star general, colleges conferred honorary degrees on him, and private
organizations showered him with awards. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson treated
him as an elder statesman, frequently soliciting his advice on international
problems. These friendly relations survived Eisenhower's occasional attacks
on Democratic policies and his efforts to rebuild the Republican party. He
also established a repository for his papers at Abilene, Kans., and worked
on his memoirs. When not traveling, he resided either on his farm at Gettysburg,
Pa., or in the vicinity of Palm Springs, Calif. His recreational activities
were concentrated on golf, hunting, fishing, and painting.
Eisenhower did not endorse any candidate for the Republican
presidential nomination in 1964, but encouraged a number whom he regarded
as qualified to enter the race. He was disappointed when the delegates selected
Sen. Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona because he thought the candidate was identified
with an intemperate brand of conservatism. Eisenhower eventually endorsed
Goldwater without becoming an active supporter.
A serious heart attack in August 1965 ended Eisenhower's
active participation in public affairs. He was hospitalized frequently with
a variety of complaints during the next three years and was an invalid after
still another heart attack in the summer of 1968. Nevertheless, he endorsed
Nixon for president and was gratified by his subsequent victory. His popularity
never waned, and he topped the list of most admired Americans in a Gallup
poll released in December 1968. Eisenhower died in Walter Reed Army Hospital
in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 1969, and was buried at Abilene, Kans.
George H. Mayer
Author of The Republican Party
University of South Florida
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