Dwight David, one
of seven sons of David and Ida Eisenhower, was born October 14th, 1890,
in Denison, Texas. He entered the US Military Academy in 1911, where he
graduated in the upper third of his class in 1915. After two years with
the 19th Infantry at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Eisenhower's career accelerated
with the Army's expansion for WWI.
By 1917, he had risen
to the temporary grade of lieutenant colonel. Although he never went to
France, Eisenhower commanded Camp Colt, the Army's tank corps training
center at Gettysburg. When the United States into WWII, Eisenhower
took over the Army War Plans Division to draft a basic strategy for the
war against the Axis. As a result of his efforts, Eisenhower was promoted
to Commanding General, European Theater on June 25, 1942.
Soon after his arrival, he led British and
American troops in North Africa during Operation TORCH. By the end of
1943, Eisenhower had conducted successful landings in Sicily and Italy
and negotiated an Italian surrender.
Due to his successes,
the Combined Chiefs of Staff named him Supreme Commander of the Allied
Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe. Codenamed Operation OVERLORD,
the attack across was to be the decisive act of the World War II. The
Germans were aware of the Allied force build-up in the United Kingdom
and anticipated an attack somewhere on the French coast. It was Eisenhower's
job to surprise the Germans in the time and place of the landings. Complicating
matters was the fact that the Allied resources were sufficient for only
one invasion attempt. After painstaking planning, Eisenhower launched
the invasion on June 6, 1944.
Following the beginning of the invasion,
Eisenhower could to little but wait. In no way assured of success, he
actually drafted letters both for the success and failure of the landing.
However, the brave men on Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah beaches managed
to gain a solid beachhead by late afternoon. By the end of June, the Allies
had moved nearly one million men and over 585,000 tons of supplies over
the beaches. Following of the success of OVERLORD, Eisenhower launched
a second landing in the south of France to trap the Germans in converging
pincers and force them to retreat from France. Eisenhower remained in
command of the Allied forces through the unconditional surrender given
to him by General Alfred Jodl at the SHAEF headquarters in Rheims.
Following WWII, Eisenhower was appointed the
Army's Chief of Staff in 1945. In 1952 he was elected President of the
United States. As president, he achieved a great deal including signing
the treaty to end the Korean War, lobbying Congress to pass the Federal
Aid Highway Act in 1956 and enforcing school desegregation in Little Rock,
Ark. Additionally, he signed legislation to create the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA) and oversaw the statehood of Alaska and
Dwight D. Eisenhower
DWIGHT DAVID 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
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 his feelings.
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
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 of 164.
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
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
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
Eisenhower 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 surrender.
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 of France.
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., let's
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
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 WINSTON CHURCHILL. He had his way,
partly because of Marshall's support, mainly because of his own growing
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 campaign.
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
Eisenhower 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
Domestic Issues, First Term
The initial 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 party.
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
Foreign Affairs, First Term
Eisenhower launched 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 Communist leaders.
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
Domestic Issues, Second Term
Presidents 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 and
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 voting rights.
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
Eisenhower 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,
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