- The Candidate, 1951 - 1953
- Ike's Family, 1951 - 1953
- Ike's First Term as President, 1953 - 1957
- Ike's Family, 1953 - 1957
- Ike's Second Term as President, 1957 - 1961
- Ike's Family, 1957 - 1961
“I occupy the enviable position of a man who wants nothing.”
By mid-1951 Ike was in Paris, hard at work laying the groundwork for a new military alliance destined to protect Western Europe from Soviet-advance. He was a grandfather, now 60 years old, and wanted nothing more than to complete his NATO mission, return to Columbia University, and — at some point — retire. Yet he was very worried for the future of his country in the uncertain atmosphere of the postwar era.
As early as 1943, Ike’s name had been casually linked with the highest office in the land. By 1948, public opinion polls indicated that he was America’s first choice for President of the United States. That same year, President Truman offered to run as his vice-president on an Eisenhower-Truman Democratic ticket. In the summer of 1949 and again in the fall of 1950, Governor Dewey of New York, approached Ike about a presidential bid. Ike made it clear: he was not interested.
The “Eisenhower for President” campaign took shape in the summer of 1951. Ike’s closest friends and prominent Republicans worked behind the scenes to organize a campaign and raise money. Even earlier, grassroots volunteers began to organize under the umbrella of “Citizens for Eisenhower.” “Ike Clubs” sprouted across the country. There were “Volunteers for Eisenhower,” “Mothers’ Clubs for Ike,” and even “Democrats for Eisenhower.” One Los Angeles group took out a political ad declaring themselves “Democrats Anonymous for Ike,” adding, “May our ancestors forgive us — we’re going Republican.” Campaign buttons, clothing, banners, toys, stationery — all appeared emblazoned with “I Like Ike.”
Pressure for Ike to agree to run intensified. On his 61st birthday, October 14, 1951, he finally wrote a confidential letter to his closest supporters. In it he stated reluctantly that, if there were a clear call to duty from the American people, he felt he had no choice but to serve. And, if drafted as the presidential candidate at the Republican convention, he would run.
As 1951 came to an end and 1952 began, the pressure on Ike continued to build. Just before Christmas 1951, a letter from President Truman arrived offering his support if Ike would run as a Democrat. For Ike, it was a stressful and uncertain time as he did his best to focus on his duties at NATO. He told his supporters that he would do nothing to hinder their efforts, but that was all he would do.
In early January 1952, the “Eisenhower for President” campaign made public a letter announcing that Eisenhower was a Republican and a presidential candidate. Ike was furious! He wrote a letter of reply stating that, although he had voted Republican, he was not interested in a presidential bid.
On February 8, an event took place at Madison Square Garden, New York, that convinced Ike, beyond any doubt, that the American people really wanted him. An “Eisenhower for President” rally attracted a crowd of 40,000 wildly enthusiastic supporters. Three days later, the Eisenhowers and friends watched the film of the rally at their home outside Paris. It was a sobering and emotional moment for Ike.
On March 11, 1951, while still in Paris, Ike won the New Hampshire primarily handily. One week later, he nearly won the Minnesota primary though his name was not even printed on the ballot. More than 128,692 voters had spelled “Eisenhower” correctly in a remarkable write-in campaign. Meanwhile, Senator Taft was steadily accumulating Republican delegates. A “Draft Eisenhower” strategy at the convention in July would be too little, too late. If Ike wanted the nomination, he would have to return home and fight for it.
On June 1, 1952, Eisenhower made good on his promise to return home to fight for the Republican nomination. He traveled first to Abilene to announce his candidacy on June 4. In the weeks that followed, he met with delegates all across the country. As the Chicago Republican national convention neared, the party was split much as it had been in the famous election of 1912. On the eve of the convention, the Associated Press estimated 530 delegates for Taft and 427 for Eisenhower. The Republican nominee would need 604 votes to win.
A number of states sent two sets of of delegates to the convention in July: one for Taft and one for Eisenhower. Taft’s people controlled the convention machinery, and they had no intention of seating the Eisenhower delegates. But Ike’s supporters challenged the convention’s leadership with a “Fair Play” amendment. Taft’s supporters fought hard, but Fair Play was passed; the nomination belonged to Ike on the first ballot. Richard Nixon was picked for the vice-presidential spot. He was only 39 years old but appeared to balance the Republican ticket perfectly.
The general campaign began in early September. On a 19-car train, the Eisenhower Special, Ike, Mamie, and more than 35 campaign advisors, staff, and reporters traveled for two months on the last great “whistlestop” campaign in American history. By train and airplane, Ike logged more than 50,000 miles. To everyone’s delight, Mamie proved to be a natural campaigner. Soon campaign buttons appeared exclaiming, “I Like Ike, but I LOVE MAMIE!”
The 1952 presidential campaign was one of the nastiest in American history. President Truman took to the campaign trail in support of Stevenson. At one stop, a boy in the crowd shouted out, “We want Ike.” Truman fired back, “Well, why don’t you go get him, and you’ll get what’s coming to you.” He accused Eisenhower of being cozy with the Russians after the war and charged that Ike had been a poor Army Chief of Staff.
For his part, Ike denounced the Democrats for the Potsdam and Yalta agreements and blamed them for China’s fall to the communists. Further, he charged, the Truman administration was rife with corruption and had been soft on communism. If Truman had confronted the communist threat effectively, he argued, the Korean War might have been avoided.
No sooner had the fallout from the September Nixon calamity settled than a second crisis erupted for the Eisenhower campaign in early October. Throughout the campaign, Eisenhower wanted nothing more than to distance himself from Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin whom he personally found repugnant. However all along the campaign trail, reporters pressed the issue with probing questions, especially after McCarthy began to criticize Ik’s mentor and friend, George C. Marshall.
Against his better judgment, Ike was persuaded to eliminate praise for Marshall in a speech he was scheduled to give in McCarthy’s home state. The text of the original speech was leaked to the press, and the omission was painfully obvious. The public reaction was immediate, and Eisenhower staffers began to refer to it as “that terrible day.” Ike regretted this mistake for the rest of his life.
On October 24, Ike’s “I shall go to Korea” speech in Detroit set the Eisenhower campaign back on track. Election day was less than two weeks away.
November 4, 1952, proved triumphant for the Republican party; their candidate had won decisively. And, for the first time since post-Civil War Reconstruction, a number of southern states had voted Republican. More than anything else, election day was a great personal victory for Dwight D. Eisenhower. He had long ago earned the respect and trust of many Americans. They looked to him now to do his best to lead them safely through the uncertainty ahead.
At Christmas time in 1951, close friends arrived in Paris to share the holidays. When the guests arrived for Christmas dinner wearing “I Like Ike” ties, hats, and campaign buttons. Ike turned red with embarrassment, but Mamie burst out laughing. The nicest gift of all that Christmas was a new granddaughter, Susan, born December 31.
Mamie loved their life in Paris. She and Ike had traveled widely and included among their friends heads of state and royalty. Their new home, Marnes-La-Coquette had been newly renovated and the grounds were beautiful. To pack up once more to begin a demanding presidential campaign was not an idea that either relished.
Through the spring of 1952, Mamie felt the pressures on her husband intensify. Sensing his mixed feeling, she wanted nothing more than to ask him to bow out of a possible presidential run. Yet, she knew that the decision must be his to make.
Throughout the Republican primary contest, the Eisenhowers endured stinging personal attacks. Because Ike was a national hero, Mamie more often was the target of nasty rumors. She continued to be criticized for her hairstyle, and during the general campaign so many letters were received that a special form letter was created to answer them.
In the beginning, political advisors and staff tried to squeeze Mamie out of her husband’s inner campaign circle. But she stood her ground. In the end, Mamie proved to be a valuable asset to the campaign. She granted daily interviews and dictated thousands of letters. Ike appreciated her input as he crafted his speeches for a particular crowd. The American people adored her — so much so that two campaign songs were written in her honor, “Mamie” and “I Want Mamie.” One reporter following the campaign declared that she was worth at least 50 electoral votes.
Though the campaign schedule was exhausting for Ike, Mamie thoroughly enjoyed the fanfare, the noise, and the excitement. As she looked out over the faces of ordinary Americans, she was uplifted and felt a profound sense of responsibility. When the campaign train finally rolled to an end, Mamie realized with surprise, that she would miss it.
Arriving in Korea on July 27, John Eisenhower’s destination was the rear headquarters of the Eighth U.S. Army. Next, he was transported to headquarters north of Seoul, where he narrowly escaped friendly-fire. From there, John was sent directly to the front. Here he celebrated his 30th birthday. In early September, John was ordered to the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters for a new assignment. It was here he learned the results of the presidential election. Though happy that his father had won the presidency, he knew that all their lives would be forever changed.
As November turned into December, Eisenhower fulfilled his campaign promise to go to Korea. For three days, he toured the frontlines, talked to soldiers and commanders, and met with South Korean President Syngman Rhee. Despite intense lobbying from Rhee, General Mark Clark, and John Foster Dulles for a bold new offensive in Korea., Eisenhower remained firm — he would strive to end the war as he had promised.
“Small attacks on small hills would not end this war.”
On the morning of January 20, 1953, President-elect Eisenhower was driven to the White House to pick up President Truman. The two men barely spoke on the drive to the Capitol. After taking the oath of office, the new president walked over to the new first lady and kissed her. Then he offered a prayer before beginning his lengthy speech. The Inaugural Parade which followed lasted six long hours.
On January 21, 1953, Dwight Eisenhower entered the Oval Office, better prepared than many who had come before him, to begin his first day as President of the United States. He reflected on the gravity of the moment, later writing in his diary, that, in many ways,
"[The presidency represented] a continuation of all I’ve
been doing since July 1941 — even before that.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower came to the presidency not only well prepared to assume the weighty duties of the office, but also already accustomed to public life. As an international celebrity, he had long ago adapted to living a very public life. For years it had been impossible for him to enjoy simple pleasures like eating in restaurants or going to the movies. Eisenhower had learned to live in a world of aides and assistants; he had not been behind the wheel of a car in at least ten years. He had never dialed a telephone (Dials were then a modern feature.) or shopped in a supermarket. He did not even write his own checks. Possibly the only change that truly unsettled him when he became president was when lifelong friends addressed him as “Mr. President.”
Eisenhower typically began his day early, about 6:00 a.m. After reading the morning’s intelligence reports and major newspapers, he had breakfast at 7:15. By 8:00 a.m., he was seated at his desk in the Oval Office, a daunting stack of paperwork in front of him. Lunch was with his wife and a few members of Congress. Then at 3:30 in the afternoon, he would break away for about 30 minutes to practice golf shots on the South Lawn. Afterwards, he would return to his desk for another two hours. Before supper, the president sometimes met informally with leaders of Congress. Finally, at 7:00 p.m., he joined the first lady for the evening meal.
He organized two staffs: a small personal staff and a larger official staff. Then he created the position of staff secretariat to coordinate the offices of the executive branch. Eisenhower preferred one-page summaries of documents to help him decide which needed more of his personal attention. Additionally, each day, he received a list of the most important actions taken by all three branches of government the day before. Letters from members of Congress were reduced to a list of one-line summaries. It was a simple thing, but by signing official papers with “DE” or “E” — rather than with his entire name — enormous amounts of time were saved.
Those who worked with President Eisenhower on a daily basis in the Oval Office were his secretary, Ann Whitman; Assistant to the President, Sherman Adams; Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles; and Press Secretary, Jim Hagerty. Mrs. Whitman — conscientious loyal and extremely hardworking — had a ringside seat to all that went on in the Oval Office. No one met with the President without the approval of Sherman Adams, who guarded the President’s time and energy zealously. Eisenhower and Foster Dulles, shared a deep mutual respect and worked extremely well together. However, there was never any doubt as to who was president. Jim Hagerty became Eisenhower’s trusted confidant and friend.
Eisenhower practiced a unique decision-making style. Unlike many in positions of authority, he expected staff members to express their opinions freely, and he encouraged them to do so. It was not surprising that, initially, they were less than enthusiastic about disagreeing with the President of the United States. Once a decision had been reached, however, Eisenhower expected all staff to support it absolutely.
Eisenhower established regular Friday morning cabinet meetings. He expected cabinet members to consider what was best for the nation as a whole, not their particular departments. As with White House staff, he encouraged cabinet members to state their opinions and to debate openly. The president often sat silently, head down, doodling on his paper, yet missing not a word. Occasionally, he would look up, point with his pencil, and ask someone for an opinion or join in the discussion. At the end of the meeting, he generally called for a vote, thanked everyone, and then announced his decision. On other decisions, he retired to his office to consider the issue further.
In the days of World War II, Eisenhower had learned the wisdom of nurturing good rapport with the press. He viewed press conferences as an effective method of keeping in touch with the American people. If a direct and candid answer to a reporter’s question might, in some way, compromise security or be inappropriate, Eisenhower was the master of the non-answer. He would launch into a convoluted, rambling reply that left reporters looking confused. A skilled writer and speaker. Eisenhower used the English language to accomplish specific objectives with a particular audience.
As the first “television president,” Eisenhower understood its power to communicate directly with the America people. Though an experienced public speaker, looking straight into the lens of a television camera was uncomfortable for him. After actor Robert Montgomery tutored Eisenhower, the president’s performance improved, especially once the camera was hidden behind a curtain. He even agreed to wear a light blue shirt, but he drew the line at tampering with his usual haircut.
To a much lesser extent than do presidents today, Eisenhower consulted public opinion polls as a measure of the public’s approval of his performance. Throughout his presidency, he consistently earned a 70-75 percent approval rating. Occasionally, it dropped a little below that. Following the 1954 election, he faced a Democratic Congress in addition to a split Republican party. The continued respect and high opinion that the American people had for him were essential to his leadership.
The Republican presidential contest in 1952 had divided the party, but Eisenhower was committed to unifying it once again. If he wished to see his programs become law, he would need Congress. Too, the Senate had the power to approve or reject his presidential appointments. Senate Majority Leader Royer Taft was gracious and generous with his help. But when Taft died of cancer in the summer of 1954, everything changed. The new Majority Leader, William Knowland of California, had little interest in mending fences. Members of the president’s own Republican party often proved more difficult than the Democrats.
National Security Council (NSC) meetings, like cabinet meetings, were held once a week every Thursday morning. Eisenhower rarely missed one. To help coordinate the work of the administration, the new post of “special assistant to the president for national security” was created. In addition to the president and vice-president, there were eight permanent NSC members. Eisenhower expected a spirited, factual airing of the issues among the members of the Council; he had little patience for lectures or speeches by its members. At some point in any discussion, the president would pose the question:
“What is best for America?”
After the formal meeting ended, a select few usually carried the debate into the Oval Office. Often the president participated with such intensity that his staff worried about his health.
In September 1955, Eisenhower was enjoying a well-earned vacation in Denver. In the early morning hours of September 24, he awakened with what he thought was a bad case of indigestion. Later that morning, his doctor admitted him to the hospital for tests. The president had suffered a serious heart attack. He was unable to resume a normal schedule until January 1956. Convinced that his temper had contributed to the heart attack, he resolved to learn to deal better with daily frustrations and to work more relaxation into his day. He was not pleased, but complied, when the doctor ordered a nap after lunch.
Since 1956 was an election year, and the question of the president’s health and whether or not he would run for a second term was a national preoccupation. When Eisenhower had agreed to run in 1952, he had planned to step down after one term in favor of a younger moderate Republican. To agree to serve another four years was not an easy decision. Eisenhower sought the counsel of family, friends, and advisors. In many respects, he was as torn as he had been four years earlier.
There were valid concerns among Republicans that if Eisenhower did not run in 1956 the Republicans would lose the White House. Eisenhower finally made up his mind; he felt he had no choice but to serve his country for four more years. In a televised message to the American people in February, he explained his decision and gave an update on the state of his health.
The 1956 Republican national convention was scheduled for August in San Francisco. Then, on June 6, a sever ileitis attack threatened the president’s life. Surgeons operated. Eisenhower was hospitalized for three weeks, and because it was so soon after the heart attack, his recovery was slow. Nonetheless, he felt well enough to attend his party’s convention where he was nominated by acclamation.
Eisenhower had warned that he would not campaign as actively as he had in 1952. His record would have to stand on its own. On Election Day, November 6, the choice of the American people was clear; they wanted their president for another four years. Eisenhower was reelected in a landslide, even more popular than he had been in 1952. Although he did not yet know it, in so many ways the next four years would prove even more difficult and exasperating than the first.
The Eisenhowers would spend eight years in the White House, living there longer than anywhere they had lived before. For Mamie, especially, this was a happy time because Ike was never far away. White House staff observed that the Eisenhowers were an affectionate and sentimental couple. Mamie was devoted to her husband, and he, in turn, pampered her. A woman of her time, Mamie’s career was her husband, something of which she was very proud.
Mamie Eisenhower was well prepared to take on the duties of first lady. For more than 35 years she had been an army officer’s wife and for ten of those at the highest levels of military life. Long ago she had adapted to the many demands made on her because of her husband’s position. Mamie was accustomed to public life; she knew how to manage a large household and staff and she knew how to entertain graciously on a grand scale.
As first lady, Mamie received as many as 1,000 letters a month, and she insisted that each one deserved a reply. In her eight years as first lady, the White House Social Office received 500,000 letters. During her husband’s first term of office, she shook hands with an estimated 100,000 people. Each person that she greeted felt felt that he or she had been singled out for special attention from Mamie Eisenhower.
Mamie believed in courtesy and good manners. No matter how seemingly small the gesture, she always thanked everyone. Mamie had a reputation among Washington society for avoiding gossip and was considered a model of politeness. While first lady, she always remembered White House staff and their family members on their birthdays with a cake and gift. If someone was ill, she sent flowers. At Christmas, she was a legendary gift-giver. Even more importantly, she took the time to get to know her staff and their families personally and keep up on the news of their lives.
Mamie kept up a busy public appearance schedule. She was involved with up to five special causes per week. As first lady, she knew that she had the power to make things happen for worthy individuals and causes. Where she could make a difference she did not hesitate to do so.
The Eisenhower White House was noted for its elegant, formal entertaining. The Eisenhowers hosted events for more heads of state from all over the world than any presidential couple before them. In many instances, guests were old friends like Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Queen Elizabeth II, and Bernard Montgomery. An evening at the Eisenhower White House was memorable, marked by high style, lavish entertaining, and warm hospitality.
The Eisenhowers often did not see each other until the evening. (Mamie was in the Oval Office only four times in eight years!) They ate supper together, usually on trays in front of the television, while they watched their favorite programs. Mamie’s mother lived for extended periods with them in the White House, and she joined them for the evening meal. Two or three nights a week, they watched a movie in the White House theater — usually a western. While Ike painted late into the night, Mamie was usually nearby reading or writing. Before falling asleep, Ike liked to read western novels because they relaxed him.
Ike spent long demanding hours at his desk in the Oval Office. So, as often as he could, he got away to play golf. (Ike’s love of golf helped to make it a sport of the middle class.) Now and then, his close friends, “the gang,” would receive a morning phone call from Ann Whitman that the president wanted to play golf and the gang would be in Washington that afternoon. Ike’s close friends became even more important now that he lived and worked at “the loneliest job in the world.”
The Eisenhowers vacationed with friends in Augusta, Georgia, in the winter, where Ike played golf, and in Colorado, in the summer, where he fished. When they were in Colorado, the Eisenhowers stayed at the Doud’s home at 750 Lafayette Street, which became a summer White House. Until their Gettysburg home was ready, they spent weekends together at Camp David, named for their oldest grandchild.
Mamie’s sister “Mike” (Mabel Frances) and Ike’s brother Milton lived in Washington. Mamie was close to Mike’s four children, and in fact, one of her nieces was named for her. Mike shopped for her sister and ran special errands. Milton was very close to his brother, the President, and they shared many of the same opinions. Often Milton traveled as the special emissary of the president, especially to Latin American. When Milton’s wife, Helen, died suddenly in 1954 at age of 49, it was a terrible blow to the family.
Mamie was anxious to finish their Gettysburg home so that she and Ike could spend weekends there. Most of the original farmhouse had to be demolished and the house rebuilt. Mamie had collected furnishings for nearly forty years, most of which were in storage. She was excited and impatient to decorate her first real home. When the house was finished in 1955, the Eisenhowers celebrated by hosting two parties for the White House domestic staff so that everyone could attend.
Ike’s heart attack in September 1955 had been traumatic for Mamie. But she had surprised those around her with her resiliency and strength. For her ailing husband, she was a source of comfort and calm. Ike received more than 11,000 get-well letters and cards, and Mamie replied personally to each one. When Ike recovered, he gave Mamie a gift of a gold medallion that he designed especially for her.
From the time that his father won the Republican nomination in July 1952 until a year later, John Eisenhower was on active duty in Korea. When the president-elect visited Korea after the 1952 election, his son John accompanied him on his tour of inspection. When John returned to Korea after his father’s Inauguration, Barbara and the children lived in the White House.
The Secret Service agents assigned to the Eisenhower grandchildren were dubbed the “diaper detail.” In order to have around-the-clock protection for each of the four children — the youngest, Mary Jean, was born in 1955 — 12 agents were necessary. Though not easy to do, John and Barbara insisted on carrying on as normal a family life as possible. The agents did their best to incorporate their jobs into the children’s everyday activities.
The third floor of the White House became a play area for the Eisenhower grandchildren. There were a canary and two parakeets. As well, there were tricycles, bicycles, and a miniature electric car that the children were allowed to ride in the hallways of the first floor after the day’s tour groups had departed. Her four grandchildren called Mamie “Mimi.” They were allowed to visit her in her bedroom and delighted in searching the nightstand drawers for special trinkets that Mamie placed there for them. On the other hand, Mimi expected only the best behavior. Inside the White House the grandchildren were not allowed to run, slide down the stairway banisters, or leave sticky fingerprints on the walls.
When Ike’s heart attack was followed by a very serious ileitis attack nine months after, Mamie had understandable concerns for her husband’s health. Despite her own misgivings and worry, she knew her husband too well to encourage him to retire. Too, she accepted that he wanted to complete what he had set out to accomplish. As Ike was reelected in November 1956, Mamie celebrated her 60th birthday knowing that there were yet four more years of duty ahead.
“There must be respect for the Constitution — which means the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution — or we shall have chaos. We cannot possibly imagine a successful form of government in which every individual citizen would have the right to interpret the Constitution according to his own convictions, beliefs and prejudices. Chaos would develop. This I believe with all my heart — and shall always act accordingly.” -DDE, Letter to his friend Swede Hazlett, boyhood friend, July 22, 1957
If Dwight D. Eisenhower had known in 1956 how contentious and difficult his second term would be, he might have been even more reluctant to consider reelection. From Election Day 1956 until he left office on January 20, 1961, it seemed that his job was one crisis after another.
Eisenhower lost two valued members of his team during his second administration: Sherman Adams and John Foster Dulles. Adams was both liked and respected by the White House staff for his extraordinary management and organizational skills. Considered a “scrupulously” honest man, Adams, nevertheless, made the mistake of accepting gifts from a friend, a wealthy New England industrialist.
Adams, “informally, the president’s White House chief of staff,” had acquired an impressive list of enemies in Congress and among some of Eisenhower’s close friends. When they learned of his indiscretion, it was only a matter of time before Democrats in Congress began demanding his resignation. By early September 1958, the clamor had reached a pitch that Eisenhower could not ignore. Five days after meeting with the president, Adams submitted his resignation. Wilton B. Persons, Adams’ second in command, replaced him. Adams’ New England reserve and bluntness were replaced by the warmth of Persona’s southern charm and sense of humor.
In late 1958, John Foster Dulles was 70 years old. He had been treated for cancer before and now underwent additional medical tests to uncover the source of new pain. Although the cancer had come back, Dulles put off treatment to continue his work until early February 9, 1959. Finally, in late February 1959, Dulles took a leave of absence to enter the hospital.
Throughout the spring, Dulles remained in the hospital; Eisenhower called him daily to report on the progress of the test ban agreement. Eisenhower was incensed that a number of Democratic senators, knowing that Dulles was literally on his deathbed, chose this time to criticize his policies and demand his resignation.
After a slow and painful decline, on May 24, 1959, John Foster Dulles died. Dulles had been the president’s closest advisor, an able and devoted colleague. His knowledge of every aspect of public affairs and his lifetime of experience were irreplaceable. Eisenhower felt his loss acutely. Under Secretary of State Christian Herter became the new Secretary of State on April 20, 1959.
For President Eisenhower, 1957 was a nearly impossible year. First, the struggle and the political expediency necessary to secure civil rights legislation had disgusted him. Before it was even signed, the school desegregation disaster at Little Rock was upon him. Immediately after, Sputnik threw the nation into a crisis of self-confidence and worry with demands for education reform, fallout shelters, space exploration, and even more unnecessary — in his opinion — weapons. The president had done his best to reassure the American people that the United States was secure and to keep the lid on a defense establishment that threatened to spend the country into oblivion. Then in November, just before Thanksgiving, he had suffered a minor stroke. To make things even worse, 1957 was a recession year.
Despite doing all he could to keep the nation at peace, secure and prosperous, the criticism gathered momentum every day by the end of 1957. Newspaper columnists, particularly had begun to question how well he had done his job. The president was criticized for the Civil Rights Act and for the recession. What cut most deeply, however, were charges that he had “lost” the space race to the arms race. Moreover, Dwight D. Eisenhower still had three more years to endure.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., E. Frederic Morrow, Dwight D. Eisenhower, A. Philip Randolph, William Rogers, Rocco Siciliano, and Roy Wilkins.
The president had been working at his desk on November 25, 1957, when he suddenly lost the ability to hold objects or to speak. President Eisenhower, age 67, had suffered a stroke. For several days, he was unable to communicate intelligibly, but he quickly recovered. Through not obvious to others, after the stroke, he sometimes switched syllables in words. That winter was frustrating, and the subtle effects of the stroke on his health made his job even more demanding.
A year later, as 1958 turned to 1959, Eisenhower had just two years left in his term. He planned to use them to establish a legacy of peace. As he looked forward to taking on his new objective, his characteristic optimism returned. He planned to do all that he could to accomplish a nuclear test ban with the Soviet and move toward a disarmament that might offer a future peace.
President Eisenhower would complete three arduous goodwill tours in the last two years of his presidency. The first lady had been concerned about the effects of the trips on his health. She would not accompany him, however, as she had health concerns of her own. But Eisenhower was resilient. During one of the trips, a reporter traveling with the president wrote to tell her that, at 68 years old, he was holding up far better than the press!
The first trip in 1959, to the Middle East, India, and Europe, was an overwhelming success as would be the rest. The crowds cheered President Eisenhower in welcome. Queen Elizabeth II even sent him a handwritten note of congratulations. In late February 1960, he made a second tour, this time to Latin America, that lasted two weeks and made thirteen stops. Eisenhower met with four presidents and made a total of 37 speeches. The last goodwill tour, June 1960, lasted two weeks. The president made eight stops in the Pacific and East Asia, and visited Alaska and Hawaii, which had only the year before become new states in the Union.
Just one month before the May 1960 Paris summit with Khrushchev, Eisenhower’s high hopes for détente with the Soviet Union and possible progress towards disarmament and peace were dashed. The U-2 incident had taken place just before the much-anticipated summit. Although it was clear that Khrushchev had made up his mind to scuttle the peace talks even before that, the U-2 fiasco had further complicated the picture and set back U.S.-Soviet relations.
As the 1960 presidential year neared, questions arose as to Eisenhower’s successor. Richard Nixon had been a member of the Eisenhower administration for eight years. The vice-president had performed well and had been a loyal team member. Yet Eisenhower and Nixon were not particularly close nor was it a comfortable relationship for either man.
Back in 1952, Nixon had expected more support from Eisenhower during the Checkers crisis. When it came only after his triumphant speech, he had felt some resentment. Over the years, the vice-president had played an active role in the administration and he was willing to do more. Nixon attended high level meetings such as those of the National Security Council and had contributed to the discussions. He had even traveled as a special representative for the president on a number of occasions. When Eisenhower had his heart attack in 1955, everyone judged that Nixon had responded admirable and responsibly. Nonetheless, Eisenhower had lingering concerns about whether his vice-president was ready to take on the responsibilities of the presidency.
which was carried in the Corona capsule retrieved from Discoverer XIII. Right, September 8, 1960 - Dwight D. Eisenhower
tours the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Even if Eisenhower harbored irreconcilable doubts about Richard Nixon, he determined that the Democratic ticket was far worse. Moreover, the goals for the two men in early 1960 — or even as early as 1959 — were at odds. Eisenhower was focused on building his legacy and, understandably, Nixon was preparing for his own presidential run.
Because his doctor advised against it for health reasons, Eisenhower campaigned for Nixon only on a limited basis for most of the presidential campaign in 1960. Too, it was important for the vice-president to distance himself from the criticism directed at the Eisenhower administration and to establish himself as a presidential candidate in his own right. When Eisenhower did campaign, he tended to focus on the accomplishments of his own presidency rather than Nixon’s qualifications to be president. The worst gaffe occurred when Eisenhower was pushed one time too many by reporters for a specific example of something that the vice-president had contributed to the Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower, extremely irritated at the never-ending interrogation, answered, “If you give me a week, I might think of something. I don’t remember. “ He had not intended to insult the vice-president, but the damage to his campaign was the same.
Eisenhower advised Nixon that he should not participate in the 1960 presidential debates. The president felt that Nixon had little to gain and it would give Kennedy too much attention. Nixon decided to go ahead anyway. Before the first debate, Eisenhower counseled Nixon to present himself as more a statesman than a partisan. As a result, Nixon came across as too mild when compared with Kennedy’s more aggressive style. With the campaign coming to a close and the picture not looking good for the vice-president, Eisenhower campaigned more vigorously.
When John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, Eisenhower viewed it as a rejection of his own presidency. He was very depressed by the outcome. For the past eight years, he had worked ceaselessly on behalf of the American people, and, to his way of thinking, this was a rejection of all he had accomplished at a great cost to his health and reputation.
On December 6, 1960, Eisenhower met with President-elect Kennedy at the White House to brief him on policies and problems that he would have to deal with soon. Though Eisenhower had had little regard for candidate Kennedy, he changed his opinion, at least temporarily, after this meeting. Kennedy had impressed him with his earnestness and his questions. The meeting between the two men ended on friendly terms. They would meet once more, on January 19, the day before the Inauguration.
That night, Washington, D.C., experienced such a snowstorm that much of the White House Staff, unable to get home, had to bunk in the bomb shelter of the White House basement. The next morning, Eisenhower, for the first time in eight — or even nineteen — years, had little work waiting for him. He spent much of the morning reminiscing with his secretary Ann Whitman. When it came time for the Eisenhowers to say farewell to the White House domestic staff, there were many tears as each member of the staff received a personal goodbye.
The Eisenhowers hosted a coffee for the Kennedys and the Johnsons and other Democratic leaders, at the White House before Eisenhower and Kennedy took the traditional drive down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. At noon, Chief Justice Earl Warren swore in the new president, the youngest ever elected to office. After the ceremonies, the Eisenhowers slipped away to join friends and, now former, cabinet members for a luncheon. Afterwards they would drive home to Gettysburg. Dwight D. Eisenhower, for the first time in decades, was now a private citizen. He looked forward to the freedom and leisure of a long-awaited and much-deserved retirement.
"Unless each day can be looked back upon as one in which you have had some fun, some joy, some satisfaction -- that day is a loss."- Dwight D. Eisenhower
At the Gettysburg farm, Ike could relax. He took much pleasure in overseeing the tending of the cattle and horses and supervising the work in the garden. Best of all, he worked on his “short game” and gave golf lessons to his grandchildren on his putting green in the backyard. Only a very few close friends received invitations to spend the weekend at Gettysburg. But when they did, Ike usually initiated a game of bridge. He was a “no nonsense” player with little toleration for a recreational effort or average-playing ability.
Meanwhile, Mamie worked on the final decorating touches to the home she had waited for so long. When foreign dignitaries were visiting Washington, D.C., Ike liked to take them to the farm for a tour that usually included the Pitzer Schoolhouse which John and Barbara bought in 1957 and converted into a home. A road was built between the farmhouse and the one-room schoolhouse.
During her husband’s second administration, Mamie Eisenhower continued to be an active first lady. She welcomed many women’s clubs, organizations, and special groups to the White House. Some she even sponsored. The American Heart Association, not surprisingly, was an organization to which she devoted her efforts and personal attention. As first lady, she reinstitute the White House Easter Egg Roll, which, she insisted, would be attended by children of all races. At a time when integration was a controversial and sensitive subject, she hosted a White House reception for the National Council of Negro Women and became an honorary member. Mamie once even offered a short campaign speech for a woman congressional candidate that she personally supported.
After her husband experienced a mild stroke in 1957, Mamie became even more protective of his health. She did her best to make sure that he did not overextend himself — not an easy thing to accomplish. It could not have pleased her to know that because Ike did not like all the restrictions that his doctor placed on him, he often ignored them.
Whenever he broke away from work for a trip to Newport, Rhode Island, or Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, Mamie was relieved. (After his 1955 heart attack, Ike was cautioned to avoid high altitudes so the Eisenhower made Newport the summer White House instead of Denver.) Here, too, Ike played bridge with old friends like General Alfred Gruenther and members of “the gang,” men such as Bill Robinson, Clifford Roberts, and Pete Jones. When the Eisenhowers were at Augusta, they stayed at “Mamie’s cabin,” a three-story home that friends had built for them at a cost of $450,000.
By the autumn of 1958, Ike was desperately anticipating retirement. He would be 68 years old on October 14, 1958, and 70 years old when he left office, the oldest serving president up to that time. Ike was extremely tired and his health had suffered. And, although 1957 had been a very bad year for him, he declared 1958 “the worst” of his life.
By mid-1959, Ike was making plans for his retirement. As a former president, he would receive a $25,000-a-year pension plus a $50,000 yearly allowance to finance an office and staff. The Gettysburg farm was paid for, and the remainder of the money he had received for "Crusade in Europe" had been invested for him. It seemed that every publishing house in the country wanted to handle his White House memoirs. The Eisenhowers would be financially secure in their retirement.
Ike and Mamie were also giving thought to where they would be buried one day. Among the sites they considered were Arlington National Cemetery, West Point, and Abilene. Ike favored his boyhood hometown, Abilene. Upon his mother’s death in 1946, the family home had been deeded to the Eisenhower Foundation, and the Eisenhower Museum, just five years old, was located nearby. His future presidential library would be built in the same general area.
From 1957 to 1959, John Eisenhower worked in the White House. In the beginning, he was on temporary duty working in the area of national security. As part of his job, he sat in on some high-level meetings. Next, he worked in the Pentagon in the Joint War Plans Branch. The younger Eisenhowers lived nearby in Alexandria, Virginia. The close proximity to Washington, D.C., made it convenient for the young family to attend an occasional White House function such as the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1957.
In the autumn of 1958, the White House Staff was reorganized, and John began a new duty — working in the White House. One of John’s responsibilities was to give his father daily intelligence briefings. Like anyone else, he had to schedule his time with the president. When John and Ike were alone, John called him "Dad," but when others were present, he addressed him as "the Boss" or "the President."
With only a year remaining in the Eisenhower presidency, John became a member of the advance team that traveled to set up the many details for upcoming presidential trips. Also, in the spring of 1960, John began his last major project — planning for his father’s post-presidential years at Gettysburg. On January 20, 1961, John retired from the Army, the same day his father retired from the presidency.
December 1960 was the last Eisenhower Christmas in the White House. Mamie decorated the White House as never before; she wanted it to be a Christmas that her family would remember forever. (Mamie’s mother had died just three months before, and this was Mamie’s first Christmas without Nana.) With their mother’s help, the grandchildren put on a Nativity play, wearing elaborate costumes made from the exotic fabrics Barbara had brought back from the Middle East. The grandchildren remember it as an “enchanted Christmas.”
By early January 1961, Mamie had made sure that the Gettysburg household was set up, and the farm was ready and waiting for them. After nearly 45 years of moves that had taken them to nearly every region of the United States and to places around the globe, this move would finally take them to their first permanent home.
After the pomp and ceremony of the Kennedy Inauguration, the Eisenhowers drove home to Gettysburg. John was at the wheel. Along the way, groups of ordinary American citizens gathered, standing in the deep snow, to honor the former president and first lady with respectful applause. Arriving at Gettysburg, they were met with a “Welcome Home” rally in the town’s square. When their car finally pulled up to the gate of the farm, Ike hopped out to open it himself. Ike and Mamie were delighted to be home.