The Effectiveness of Eisenhower's First Term: 1953-1956
Political Science 3322
Professor Dennis Simon
On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this work.
Presidents are judged by a number of factors for their overall effectiveness. In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower took public office for the first time. During his first term as President he was confronted with many different situations that taxed his leadership abilities.
During the nineteen fifties, America was in a period of enormous change. The United States had just ended World War II, and the conflict in Korea had reached a stalemate. With the splitting of the atom came the Atomic Age, a new era of responsibility that the United States hadn't fully come to understand and realize. Also, in this time the Cold War, that was started by the Truman administration, was beginning to escalate. When Dwight D. Eisenhower became the thirty-fourth president of the United States he was immediately confronted with several major events left to him by the previous administration. First, the Cold War with the Soviet Union was escalating, and second, the war in Korea was quickly becoming an unpopular war of attrition in which thousands of lives had already been lost. During the Eisenhower administration, the president would be confronted with a plethora of events both domestic and international. Shortly after Eisenhower's inauguration, Joseph Stalin (the Soviet Première) died of a stroke on March 5, 1953, leaving the United States questioning who would rise to power in Russia and continue the Cold War against the US. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was created on March 12, 1953. On December 8, 1953, Eisenhower gave his "Atoms for Peace" speech calling for the cooperation of both the United States and the Soviet Union to help develop a program for the peaceful development of atomic power.
Another event that took place during the administration was the fall and surrender of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu to the Viet Minh on May 7, 1954. In domestic issues the administration was further confronted by Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools are inherently unequal. In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine. During the month of July of the same year, President Eisenhower attended the Geneva Four Power Conference and proposed his "Open Skies" program that would allow mutual air reconnaissance over military installations. On December 5, 1955, Martin Luther King began a boycott of Montgomery Alabama city busses. In June of 1956, the federal highway bill authorizing funds for the interstate highway system was signed. Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula while the British and French attacked Egyptian forces around the Suez Canal during the months of October and November 1956. Also the administration had to face both the rising expectations of the colonial world and the issue of civil rights in the United States. These two challenges along with Korea, Senator McCarthy, and the Bricker Amendment, proved to be some of the greatest problems of the Eisenhower administration.
On September 18, the first scandal of the administration took place even before the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket was elected. The New York Post revealed that Nixon had received $18,000 as the governor of California from several millionaires. This finding opened him up to enormous criticism especially because his campaign was supposed to be against government immorality. Eisenhower immediately began to consider dropping Nixon from the ticket. The only chance that Nixon had was to show that he was "as clean as a hound's tooth"1 as it was put by Eisenhower. To do this the Senator made an address on national television that was viewed by approximately 55 million American viewers. The soap opera, as the Republican critics called it, amounted to the story of Richard's life. The address began with him telling how as a poor boy he worked in a grocery store and then moved to his involvement in the South Pacific during the second World War. He also told about how his wife Pat didn't own a mink coat but owned "a respectable Republican cloth coat."2 Nixon even went so far as to tell the American public about his daughters' little dog Checkers that they had received from a supporter. "And you know the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're going to keep it."3 The result of this performance not only kept Nixon on the "Ike" ticket but it also gave a huge lift to the nation's approval of Nixon. When Nixon and Eisenhower met in "Wheeling, West Virginia, Eisenhower, with tears in his eyes, extended his hand and said: 'Dick, you're my boy.'"4
In January of 1952, Dwight Eisenhower, an Army general was serving as Supreme Commander of NATO forces in Europe. A bid for the Republican presidential nomination came from Senator Taft and his platform of the Korean War being an "unnecessary war" or a "Truman war" but few thought that he could win the presidency. Even though Taft was supported by the majority of the G.O.P. delegation in Congress, he was hindered in his campaign by his record of isolationism. In the past both political parties had actively sought Eisenhower to run in the previous Presidential elections with little success. Seeking a potential candidate Republican party members asked Eisenhower again to join their party and run in the 1952 Presidency race. Eisenhower was desirable as a candidate because he was considered a national hero by many and he had never sought political office. The Republican party was not the only party interested in Eisenhower; the Democratic party also tried to persuade him to run on their ticket. "On January 6, 1952, after flying to Paris to confer with the General, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge told a crowded press conference in Washington that Eisenhower was in the race 'to the finish.'"5 At the outcome of the New Hampshire primary, Eisenhower, who was still in Europe and had not been able to campaign in the United States because of his duties, defeated Senator Taft by 10,000 votes.
The first campaign speech made by Eisenhower was in his home town of Abilene, Kansas. This first speech proved disappointing because he lacked an issue to reinforce his image as a candidate of the people running against the organized political system. By the time of the Republican convention the popularity of "Ike" was overwhelming to his opponent, Senator Taft. Eisenhower easily won the nomination in the first ballot. "For its vice presidential nominee the convention chose 39-year-old Senator Richard M. Nixon of California, a decision which recognized both the importance of the Pacific Coast and the vote-getting potential of the communist issue."6 On the Democratic ticket was Adlai E. Stevenson who at the time was the governor of Illinois. Along with his governship, Stevenson also had a long and varied career in the government and his grandfather had been the Vice President in Cleveland's second term. Stevenson campaigned with "truth" being his main issue. In his acceptance speech Stevenson said "The ordeal of the Twentieth Century- the bloodiest, most turbulent era of the Christian age-is far from over."7 "Let's face it. Let's talk sense to the American people. Let's tell them the truth, that their are no gains without pains, that we are now on the eve of great decisions..."8 Stevenson continued to tell the American voters the "truth." At one campaign stop he told members of "the American Legion that a veteran was someone who owed America more than the nation owed him."9 Unfortunately his policy of hard truths only gained the support of the intellectuals and not the majority of the population.
In contrast, the Eisenhower campaign was making great strides. With the endorsement of Taft, Eisenhower was able to heal the wounds of a split party that the convention had caused. In conjunction with Taft, Eisenhower developed a manifesto that stated his conservative view of domestic affairs. In this manifesto, Eisenhower stated that the greatest threat that faced the nation was the unchecked growth of the government. From this evolved one of the main issues of the campaign, the "creeping socialization" of the United States government. This issue sought to curb the spending on social programs that had increased during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. Another issue of the campaign was the idea that Democrats were soft on communism. The vice presidential nominee, Richard Nixon, went so far as to say that "Adlai the appeaser... who got a Ph.D. from Dean Acheson's College of Cowardly Communist Containment."10
From this point on, the main issues of the campaign could best be summed up by Senator Karl Mundt's words, "K1C2--Korea, corruption and Communism."11 The biggest of the issues was Korea. Since 1951, the United States and Korea had been dragging their feet on the signing of an armistice. The United States also continued its attempts to regain insignificant amounts of territory lost to the North Koreans, such as Heartbreak Hill, at the expense of thousands of American lives. Even though the war had created a boom in the United States economy, the boom was seen as guilt for the Democrats. This was because the boom was paid for by American bloodshed. It was on this issue that General Eisenhower delivered his "I shall go to Korea" speech. In this speech, "Ike" promised that he could end the war and still retain a peace that was both honorable and prestigious for the United States.
Once all of the election results were in and the dust settled, Eisenhower had won the election of 1952 by a land slide. The total 33,936,000 votes for Eisenhower amounted to 55.14% of the votes. These votes turned into 442 electoral votes that constituted the landslide victory when compared to Stevenson's total of 89. In Congress the G.O.P. gained control. In the House, the Republicans achieved a majority over the Democrats by eight seats. In the Senate the Democrat and Republican seats were split 50/50, but since the Republicans won the presidency, a tie vote could be defeated by the addition of one vote cast by the Vice President, Richard Nixon.
Before his election, President Eisenhower had relatively strong political support. Members of both parties favored him because of his "middle of the road policy," since politically he was considered a liberal Republican with conservative domestic views and was liberal in foreign policy. In the midterm elections of 1954, the Republican party lost control of both the House and Senate to the Democrats. Still, after his party had lost the Congress, he continued to maintain his political support from both Republicans and Democrats alike.
After Dwight Eisenhower was elected, his next priority was to establish an agenda or policy goals that he wanted his administration to achieve. Since President Eisenhower wanted to reflect the American people, the policy initiatives he designed did not seek "sharp departures from existing policies."12 Eisenhower also desired to limit the changes in domestic policy and was very active in doing so. One of the main reasons for him being elected was because during his campaign he portrayed the image of doing the best for the American people. In the State of the Union address of 1954, President Eisenhower stated a number of the initiatives that he intended to propose to Congress. In foreign policy he hoped to continue military and technological assistance to foreign countries while reducing the amount of economic assistance granted. The President went further by saying that these economic cuts would not effect "our economic programs in Korea and in a few other places in the world that are especially important,"13 and would ask Congress that they continue. The Atomic Energy Proposal was also introduced in the address. This proposal was designed to create a program that would offer alternatives to nuclear war and to find peaceful applications of the technology within the United Nations. The new President continued to try to initiate joint construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway that had been promoted by previous administrations with the Canadians. Another of the initiatives that Eisenhower took was the "New Look" defense program. In this program the budget of the United States Army would be cut back. The funds that were cut would be given to the Air Force and to the Navy to be spent on developing a larger nuclear arsenal and air power to deliver the weapons. This plan was justified because in the eyes of the President the bulk of the United States' military power lied in its ability to use these high yield weapons of destruction not in the ground forces. Also, "New Look weighed defense costs against the goal of avoiding burdening the economy with taxes or deficits."14 This initiative became known as the "more bang for the buck" policy that helped America defend itself in the Cold War. Another initiative of the administration was the National Highways program. In this piece of legislation, Eisenhower hoped to improve the countries' highways. This proposal called for the continuation of the current gasoline tax. One of the largest initiatives that the President called for was a plan for stabilizing agriculture. The idea of this plan was that the nations' farmers needed to be protected and that as our standard of living increases, "we must be sure that the farmer fairly shares in that increase."15 Also during the Eisenhower administration, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was created on March 12, 1953, giving it Cabinet status.
During the Eisenhower administration many of the events or crises that occurred tested the abilities of the Eisenhower presidency. On July 27, 1953, one of the issues that the Eisenhower administration inherited was finished. The key challenge at the beginning of the administration had been how to end the Korean War without the loss of honor or prestige. One of the major points that the US./Korean negotiations hinged on was how to develop a system to return the prisoners of war to their respective countries. Once this was achieved, the administration concluded that since all the goals the United Nations had set were met the United States was able to end the war and still retain honor and prestige. Once the armistice was signed, over 3,700 American prisoners of war returned home. The ending of the Korean War contributed greatly to the feeling of tranquillity that enveloped the United States and the Eisenhower administration. Even though the Eisenhower presidency looked calm on the outside there was a great amount of activism on the inside. Within the White House the Cold War continued.
Throughout the 1953-54 years, Senator Joseph McCarthy, chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigation Committee, conducted hearings that looked into the Communist infiltration of America and the Armed Forces. Even before Eisenhower was still considering whether or not to seek the presidency in the 1952 election, he and Senator McCarthy began to have problems. In Eisenhower's diary, "a March 13, 1951, entry that commented on the daily news summary he received from the United States, he indicated his annoyance that the media continued to view him as a political contender and referred to reports by Drew Pearson that `Senator McCarthy is digging up alleged dirt with which to smear me if I run for President.'"16 A few months later, Senator McCarthy blasted "Eisenhower for not taking Berlin at the close of World War II."17 After Eisenhower resigned from his post in NATO to run for the presidency, he realized that in order for him to win he must be able to separate himself from McCarthy "while at the same time trying to unify a party riven by a bitter nominating convention."18 After Eisenhower was elected the relationship between McCarthy and the President continued to be a source of conflict that grew to become a scandal within the administration. As McCarthy's reputation as the nation's number one Communist-hater grew, Eisenhower refused to lower himself to McCarthy's level. The quotation "'I'm not going to get down in the gutter with that guy,' summed it up."19 One of the reasons why Eisenhower did little to remove the power from McCarthy was because he "knew that when a member of the Senate came under direct attack from the Executive, however repulsive to his colleagues that Senator might be, the senatorial club invariably closed ranks about its threatened member to ward off the common enemy-the President."20 Instead, Eisenhower decided to let the Senate take care of McCarthy, and over time it did. Until the time McCarthy left, President Eisenhower restrained his actions and retaliations against him.
During this time the issue of civil rights was gaining more attention. With all the other events arising, "somehow no one gave much thought to the special problems of the Negro, and practically nothing was done about this politically sensitive matter."21 The leadership style of Eisenhower contributed to the fact that civil rights received very little attention. Eisenhower wanted to deal with problems as they arose into the political scene. The subject of civil rights was seen by the President "as a special category of political affairs."22 When the subject was brought to the attention of President Eisenhower at a press conference by Associated Negro Press reporter Alice Dunnigan, the President began to realize the importance of civil rights. Later a telegram was sent to the President by Adam Powell, Jr., a black Representative in Congress. "The telegram began: 'The hour has arrived for you to decisively assert your integrity. You cannot continue to stand between two opposite moral poles.'"23 At this time the Democrats began to exploit the fact that the administration overlooked this subject. To counter this, a policy of desegregation was initiated in the military and in particular the Navy ship yards. These actions only quelled the call for desegregation for the time being and would arise again in his second term because of the "quick fix" approach that was given to civil rights.
The greatest test of the Eisenhower White House was the Bricker Amendment. This amendment was first seen by the President in January of 1953. The amendment's purpose was to protect the American people from "the possibility that a President, aided by an unwary Senate, would impose on the country through a treaty legal obligations which would deprive the people of Constitutional rights or would invade the domain of power reserved for the states."24 The reasons for the amendment were varied. Executive agreements such as in Yalta, threatened the Constitution and American sovereignty. Another reason was that of the United Nations. Many people felt that the United States involvement in the organization would eventually lead to international agreements that would infringe or deny the American people their fundamental rights. At first look the President sympathized with the general idea of the proposal but disliked the specifics of the plan that limited the President's ability to make treaties and executive agreements. Upon further study of the document, Cabinet member John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, said "the Bricker amendment would seriously curtail executive authority and make it impossible to conduct foreign affairs effectively."25 Dulles went further and indicated that the conflict caused by this amendment would be detrimental to both the Republican party and to the White House itself. Dulles suggested that head-on fighting should be avoided at all costs. Eisenhower knew that many Senate chairmanships were at stake in the midterm elections of 1954, less than a year and a half away. He also knew that a "good Republican record would be essential to keep them from being lost."26
Soon the President and Dulles met with Bricker to bargain or work out a settlement that would be agreeable both to the administration and to Bricker himself. During the talks it came to surface that the original intent of the Senator from Ohio was to "enact some amendment to this general purpose, and which bore his name."27 Dulles was still concerned over what impact even an apparently harmless, watered down amendment might still produce. Dulles also knew that there is not a history of treaties having ill effects in the domestic realm. Eisenhower summed it up by saying that "giving Congress control over treaties would jeopardize the permanence of the treaties because one Congress could nullify the action of a preceding Congress."28 As the administration became more entrenched in the battle over the amendment, Eisenhower became more strongly opposed to it. Because of his background in NATO, he began to see the amendment as being against NATO. At present time, the Senate could not ratify the NATO agreement because of separation of powers. The Bricker amendment would grant this power to the Senate, a granting of power he greatly disliked. As the opposition in the White House grew, the Senate began to provide strong support to the amendment. It was quickly beginning to look as if a compromise would not be possible. Several times over the next few months, Bricker revised or redrafted his proposed amendment, each time the Eisenhower administration rejected it for the same reasons. During this time the Eisenhower administration wrestled with their options.
From the President's perspective, a "good deal of 'salesmanship' would be needed to bring the Senate around to the administration's viewpoint."29 One of the first attempts at a compromise, suggested by the Attorney General, was to create a commission headed by Bricker to find a suitable alternative to the amendment. This attempt at a compromise fell through because it was feared that this option would widen the division that was already forming in the party. The administration decided that it would be best for both the White House and the party to continue to work together towards a solution. The solution was announced on July 22 by Senator Knowland. The principle of this new amendment was that any executive agreement or treaty that infringed on the Constitution would be void. It went further by stating that a treaty could only be ratified by a recorded vote. Finally a compromise had been reached that was greatly supported by both the Senate and the President. Unfortunately the issue was not dead.
When Congress reconvened the next year, Bricker had enormous support, and allied himself with various lobbying groups such as the AMA, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. One of the new found allies of Bricker was a "volunteer organization of housewives and mothers of boys overseas,"30 who presented the Senate with a petition that contained 500,000 signatures in favor of the Bricker amendment. A heated debate in the Senate followed. In this debate the Presidency was on one side and the Senate was on the other side. The president was forced to sit through endless debates, but when the subject of ending the debates came up, Eisenhower felt that the defense of the power of the President to conduct foreign affairs was more important. The debates raged on. On February 26, it came down to the final vote. There were sixty votes for the amendment (sixty-one is the two thirds needed to amend the Constitution) and thirty against. The final vote that killed the Bricker amendment was cast by the Vice President. The total, sixty for and thirty-one against.
Eisenhower made frequent use of prime time speeches to bring issues to the public. By the end of 1953, the White House was moving away from the use of the press corps because of the inability to control the corps. The administration shifted to the use of news conferences where the President could issue a prepared statement and thus exert more control over the information given. In the first applications of the news conference, press Secretary Jim Hagerty imposed a rule that there were to be no quotations. Soon after the initiation of the news conference this rule was lifted because all conferences were being recorded. After Eisenhower learned the art of answering the questions of reporters with "sound bites," the control over the press by the President was complete. "Eisenhower's single most significant media advancement was putting the Presidential news conference on television. Remembered as a breakthrough in TV news, it was actually created as a means of circumventing press interpretations. 'To Hell with the slanted reporters,' Press Secretary Jim Hagerty said. 'We'll go directly to the people...'"31 On June 26, 1953, the President made public the signing of the armistice with Korea and the end of the Korean War. Also that summer the President went on national television to "introduce his new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and its first Secretary, Oveta Culp Hobby, the second woman ever named to a cabinet post."32 The President that the public saw was geared for the image that he wanted to portray. The "positive, issue-free image of an apolitical president,"33 was carefully cultured by the administration. One such example of the apolitical President would be the putting green on the South lawn of the White House that he had installed. Often he was shown trying to rid the green of the squirrels that live there. The American public was shown an image of the President chasing squirrels or devising ways to rid his course of them. This public image covered the "hidden-hand Presidency" that was operating in the background. Eisenhower constantly tried to have the American public relate to him. During the campaign, he frequently used radio and television to reach the greatest audience possible. Even before the Presidency, he had carefully cultivated his public image when he was the President of Colombia University. "Many of Eisenhower's presidential utterances directly play on the public image of the military hero who is a soldier of peace."34 This image of the "soldier of peace" was reinforced by his use of metaphors. With the example of nuclear war, the President would compare the weapons of the first World War with the second World War "in order to dramatize the overriding urgency of avoiding nuclear war."35 He also used this style to reassure the American people by stating that the government was "doing our best"36 with the connection that this is "what the ordinary American family does."37 By using this plain style of speaking the President came across as being warm and confident. This style allowed him to effortlessly win the public's admiration, confidence and support. Eisenhower knew the importance of popularity. He said, "one man can do a lot... he can especially do a lot at any particular given moment, if at that moment he happens to be ranking high in public estimation. By this I mean he is dwelling in the ivory tower and not in the dog house."38
The public support that President Eisenhower was able to maintain was very high. The majority of Americans believed that he was doing a good job and that he was doing what the United States needed. Throughout the administration, Eisenhower was able to average a 69% approval rating in "Dr. Gallup's monthly sounding of how Americans rate the President's performance, exceeding all of the post-World War II presidents except Kennedy, who did not live to face the cost of such policies as his administration's increasing military involvement in Vietnam."39 In his first term, "Ike" averaged an approval rating of 68%. In the next year Eisenhower's support dropped marginally to 65% public approval. This drop in the President's approval could be attributed to the problems that McCarthy caused for the White House. In 1955, the President raised his Gallup approval rating to 71%. In the final year of his first term, Eisenhower achieved an approval rating of 72%. The public response to the major policy initiatives of the President was relatively consistent over his first term in office. Over his entire first term Eisenhower never fell below a 57% approval rating. 40
In Congress, one of the problems that faced the newly elected President was that many of the members of Congress had supported Senator Taft in his bid for the Presidency. These members were resentful of Eisenhower because he not only did not follow political protocol and work his way up to the presidency, they were also resentful of his defeat of Taft. The President used several tactics to circumnavigate these problems and to establish a friendly working relationship. During the beginning of the administration he held lunches to create a friendly atmosphere among him and the Congressional leaders. These lunches were purely for social reasons. With the Republican party leaders, President Eisenhower established weekly meetings in which the leadership discussed the legislation that was being considered. These meetings allowed the President to establish an early warning system that would help the administration see in advance any potential problems that might occur. Even with these measures in place conflict did arise. In 1953, Republican Congressional members were slowing the passing of pending legislation that the President wanted to pass quickly. To overcome this the President threatened that he would take the issue to the public if the Republican party members did not help in the passing of the bill. The party members quickly complied with the President's wishes in order to avoid a public fight with the popular President. In the President's record of dealing with Congress he used his power to veto a bill 14 times. Of these 14 times, there were only two attempts to o