Eisenhower Is Elected President

The election of a Republican war hero to the U.S. presidency ended two decades of Democratic domination of the White House. During his two terms in office, Dwight D. Eisenhower would see the nation recover from World War II, as it entered the Cold War.

Summary of Event

As the United States moved into a new decade in 1950, the Democrats had been in power in Washington for eighteen years, Cold War tensions seemed to be melting into a hot war in Korea, and apprehensive citizens suspected that communists and corruption were lurking behind the scenes in the administration of Harry S. Truman. With the approach of the 1952 election, the Democratic Party Democratic Party, U.S. found itself facing several serious liabilities. The public tended to blame the incumbent party for many of the problems that had beset the postwar United States, a tendency that was exacerbated by the long tenure of the Democrats and by the sweeping changes instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and by Truman, his vice president and successor. Presidency, U.S.;Dwight D. Eisenhower[Eisenhower]
Presidential elections, U.S.;1952
[kw]Eisenhower Is Elected President (Nov. 4, 1952)
[kw]President, Eisenhower Is Elected (Nov. 4, 1952)
Presidency, U.S.;Dwight D. Eisenhower[Eisenhower]
Presidential elections, U.S.;1952
[g]North America;Nov. 4, 1952: Eisenhower Is Elected President[03920]
[g]United States;Nov. 4, 1952: Eisenhower Is Elected President[03920]
[c]Government and politics;Nov. 4, 1952: Eisenhower Is Elected President[03920]
Eisenhower, Dwight D.
[p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;1952 presidential elections
McCarthy, Joseph
Nixon, Richard M.
[p]Nixon, Richard M.;1952 presidential elections
Stevenson, Adlai E.
Taft, Robert A.
Truman, Harry S.
[p]Truman, Harry S.;1952 presidential elections

Adding to the Democratic Party’s problems was the disclosure, prior to the election, of several instances of Democratic corruption. Democrats were charged not only with plundering at home but also with blundering abroad. China had fallen to communists, allegedly because of the administration’s mishandling of foreign affairs in Asia. The situation in the Korean War Korean War (1950-1953) was tense and uncertain. The peace talks had bogged down, and Truman’s dismissal of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur indicated to many that the Democrats had no will to win the war. The Republican Party seized on this issue, claiming that something decisive needed to be done in Korea.

To escalate the United States’ concern about communists, Senator Joseph McCarthy McCarthyism[Maccarthyism] had been painting vivid pictures of communist infiltration of the U.S. government, especially in the State Department. Despite his excesses and outright falsifications, McCarthy’s charges hurt the Democrats, who had held power when these networks reached their apex: Because the Democrats had been in office for almost twenty years, many people held them responsible for this supposed communist subversion of the government.

Other problems plagued the Democrats, including the high cost of living. The Korean War had produced a need for heavy spending, adding inflationary pressure to the postwar financial boom and the record expenditures of World War II. Fear of inflation was widespread. Many people in the United States, especially Republicans, believed that it was time to balance the budget and reduce government spending.

The Republicans Republican Party, U.S. had problems too, however. As the Republican National Convention drew near, a split within the party seemed imminent. Senator Robert A. Taft and his followers advocated an isolationist, anti-New Deal platform. The senator’s foreign policy appealed to many Republicans and gained widespread support in the traditionally isolationist Midwest. However, many powerful Republican leaders feared that Taft had made too many enemies within the party to gain unanimous support. Because he had attached his name to the Taft-Hartley labor law and was bitterly despised by the labor establishment and millions of rank-and-file union members, the Ohio senator had lost much support from significant segments of the voter population.

Many Republicans thus favored a less controversial figure for the nomination. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower—supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II, president of Columbia University, and temporary head of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Europe—seemed perfect for the job. After the general at last declared that he was a Republican, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., of Massachusetts encouraged his nomination.

Following primary victories in New Hampshire and Minnesota, Eisenhower defeated Taft on the first ballot, 595 to 500. To appease the Taft wing of the party and to give the ticket youth and Western representation, Senator Richard M. Nixon of California was chosen as the vice presidential candidate. Eisenhower, however, did not back Nixon fully until after a dramatic television appearance by the Californian, when, challenged to explain aspects of his financial background, Nixon made the famous televised Checkers speech Checkers speech , in which he listed his earnings and debts and noted that the only gift he ever had accepted was a cocker spaniel named Checkers. Eisenhower astutely observed that the response to the speech—more than 300,000 letters and telegrams to the Republican National Committee positive to Nixon, as well as thousands of pro-Nixon phone calls—made Nixon a political asset.

The leading candidates for the Democratic nomination included Vice President Alben W. Barkley and Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois declared that he would not run but would accept a party draft. After a struggle on the convention floor, Stevenson was nominated on the first ballot. Senator John Jackson Sparkman Sparkman, John Jackson of Alabama was given the vice presidential slot to appease the South. Although the Democratic platform was soft on civil rights and included support of state control of tidelands oil, two prominent Democratic governors, James Francis Byrnes Byrnes, James Francis of South Carolina and Allen Shivers of Texas, declared their support for Eisenhower. It thus became respectable to be a Southern Republican, and the Democratic hold on the South was cracked at last.

During the campaign, several Republican policies became evident. Economic policy;United States The Tennessee Valley Authority, Social Security, and certain other New Deal institutions would be retained by a Republican administration. Eisenhower announced that his party had no basic quarrel with established Democratic economic dogma. He did promise to balance the budget, reduce federal outlays, lower taxes, safeguard free enterprise, lessen government interference in business, and place fewer curbs on industry.

However, the issues of the Korean War and communists in the federal government overshadowed domestic economic policy. On the subject of the war, Eisenhower declared that he would go to Korea, although he did not specify what he expected to accomplish by going. Americans, tired of the Korean quagmire, found hope in the Republican candidate’s pledge; the hero of World War II could certainly solve the sideshow events of Korea. On the communist issue, Eisenhower did not make the McCarthy smear tactics a part of his personal campaign. Nevertheless, he did not disavow McCarthy’s aims and in symbolic ways accommodated the emotional thrust of the Red hunt.

“Ike,” as the public called Eisenhower, also had a strong historical trend in his favor: In the nineteenth century, whenever a party needed to break the opposing party’s momentum, it had nominated a general, usually with success in November. William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and Ulysses S. Grant were not career politicians, but they had parlayed their military successes and images as strong leaders into peacetime political victories. Unlike those politician-generals, Eisenhower held a rank—general of the army, or five-star general—that required him by law to remain on active duty for life. Therefore, because a president cannot also be an active member of the armed forces, he had to resign his commission in the U.S. Army before he could take office as president.

Stevenson, with his urbane and lofty rhetoric, proved no match for the genial and likable general as a vote-getter. The commonly held assumption that Stevenson had elevated U.S. political thinking and therefore appealed to educated and intellectual voters, whereas Eisenhower, often portrayed as dull and lacking in sophistication, appealed only to less-educated voters, has been disputed: Analysis of polling behavior has suggested that the less educated the voter, the more likely he or she was to vote for Stevenson, and the more educated the voter, the more likely he or she was to vote for Eisenhower. College-educated voters preferred Eisenhower by a margin of two to one.

Even Democratic suggestions that a new depression would follow Republican victory were not enough to stem the tide. Eisenhower won thirty-nine states, including four in the so-called Solid South, and 442 electoral votes to Stevenson’s nine states and 89 electoral votes. The Republican Party narrowly gained control of Congress but retained it for only the first two years of Eisenhower’s tenure. In the Senate, the Republicans had a four-seat majority in 1954, losing two seats since 1952. The Democrats retained their hold on the governorships and of state and local government in the Southern states that went for Eisenhower.


President Eisenhower, reelected in 1956, presided over most of the 1950’s in the United States. He is therefore associated, whether rightly or wrongly, with most of the developments of that decade. In addition to helping define the Cold War, the 1950’s and the Republican presidential administration that presided over them are linked with an era of great economic expansion. During the decade, Americans went beyond simply recovering from the Depression and World War II to flourish, as capitalism functioned in its least controversial and apparently most benign form. The mass media was pervasive enough to present a general image of American prosperity and happiness. It was also limited and monovocal enough to efface the racial and cultural tensions that would explode a decade later. Eisenhower thus benefited both from actual peace and prosperity and from perceived peace and prosperity, as he seemed to be the president of a decade-long golden age. Presidency, U.S.;Dwight D. Eisenhower[Eisenhower]
Presidential elections, U.S.;1952

Further Reading

  • Ambrose, Stephen E. Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983. A classic biography of Eisenhower by an illustrious biographer who is sympathetic to the general.
  • Boyle, Peter G. Eisenhower. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2005. Part of the Profiles in Power series, this book looks at both Eisenhower’s strengths as a leader of a nation and his weaknesses as a leader of a political party. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Childs, Marquis. Eisenhower: Captive Hero. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958. An unfavorable treatment of Eisenhower and his administration.
  • Eisenhower, Dwight D. The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963. The first volume of Eisenhower’s memoirs, which covers his first term and the campaign of 1952.
  • Johnson, Walter. How We Drafted Adlai Stevenson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955. One of the leaders of the draft movement describes in detail the preconvention and convention activities of his committee and argues that the draft was genuine.
  • Klehr, Harvey, et al. The Secret World of American Communism. Translated by Timothy Sergay. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995. This translation of Russian documents provides a revealing look at Communist Party operations in the United States from the Soviet perspective.
  • McKeever, Porter. Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy. New York: Morrow, 1989. The best biography to date of Stevenson.
  • Parmet, Herbert S. Eisenhower and the American Crusades. New York: Macmillan, 1972. A renowned presidential scholar examines the campaign and the reasons Eisenhower chose to run. A large portion of the book is devoted to the 1952 election.
  • Schweikart, Larry, and Dennis Lynch. “Government and Politics.” In American Decades, 1950-1959, edited by Richard Layman. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1994. A detailed look at the 1952 and 1954 elections, including analyses of voting data.
  • Williamson, Daniel C. Separate Agendas: Churchill, Eisenhower, and Anglo-American Relations, 1953-1955. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006. Detailed account of American foreign policy under Eisenhower during the first three years of his administration, focused on his cooperation and contention with British prime minister Winston Churchill and the extent to which they helped define the Cold War and the post-World War II world.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization Is Formed

Eisenhower Begins the Food for Peace Program

Eisenhower Doctrine

Eisenhower Sends Troops to Little Rock, Arkansas

Congress Creates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Kennedy Is Elected President

Eisenhower Warns of the Military-Industrial Complex

Nixon Is Elected President