World War II
President of the United States
The presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower began on January 20, 1953, when he was inaugurated as the 34th President of the United States, and ended on January 20, 1961. Eisenhower, a Republican, took office as president following a landslide win over Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 presidential election. This victory upended the New Deal Coalition that had kept the presidency in the hands of the Democratic Party for 20 years. Four years later, in the 1956 presidential election, he defeated Stevenson in a landslide again, winning a second term in office. He was succeeded in office by Democrat John F. Kennedy after the 1960 election.
Eisenhower called for progressive conservativism. That implied that traditional American values included change and progress. Jean Smith says, "He looked to the future, not the past, and his presidency provided a buffered transition from FDR's New Deal and the Fair Deal of Harry Truman into the modern era." Eisenhower was able to secure several victories in Congress, even though Democrats held the majority in both the House and the Senate during all but the first two years of his presidency. Eisenhower continued New Deal programs and expanded Social Security. He took the lead in building the Interstate Highway System in 1956, and the establishment of NASA, with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) mandate. In the Suez Crisis of 1956, Eisenhower used American financial power to force Britain and France to end their occupation of the Suez Canal. Eisenhower signed the first significant civil rights bills of the 20th century, and he sent federal troops to Arkansas to enforce a court ruling mandating school desegregation.
Six months into his first term, the U.S. agreed to an armistice that ended the Korean War. Yet even though at peace, defense spending remained high, as the administration made vigorous efforts to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He authorized covert Central Intelligence Agency actions to overthrow unfriendly governments or protect reliable anti-Communist ones, and he implemented a national security policy that relied on strategic nuclear weapons to deter potential threats, both conventional and nuclear, from Warsaw Pact nations.
Eisenhower was the first U.S. president to be constitutionally limited to two terms under the 22nd Amendment. Voted Gallup's most admired man twelve times, he achieved widespread popular esteem both in and out of office. Since the late 20th century, consensus among Western scholars has consistently held Eisenhower as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.
Dwight D. Eisenhower and Senator Robert A. Taft from Ohio were the two front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination going into the 1952 Republican presidential primaries. Also contending for the nomination were Governor Earl Warren of California, and former Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota. Taft led the conservative wing of the party, centered in the Midwest, that rejected many of the New Deal social welfare programs created in the 1930s, and generally held a non-interventionist foreign policy stance, believing that America should avoid alliances with foreign powers. Taft had been a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1940 and 1948, but had been defeated both times by moderate Republicans from New York:Wendell Willkie in 1940, and Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. Taft blamed these successive loses on the New York GOP's undue influence over the national party.
Dewey, the party's presidential nominee in 1944 and 1948, led the moderate wing of the party, centered in the Eastern states. These moderates were generally willing to accept most aspects of the social welfare state created by the New Deal. They also tended to be interventionists in the Cold War, favoring confrontation with the Soviet Union in Eurasia. Dewey, who declined the notion of a third run for president, and other Eastern moderates were determined to use their influence to ensure that the 1952 presidential ticket reflected their views. To this end, a draft Eisenhower organization was assembled, beginning in September 1951. Two weeks later, at the National Governors' Conference meeting, seven Republican governors endorsed his candidacy. Eisenhower, then serving as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, had long been mentioned as a possible presidential contender, but he was reluctant to become involved in partisan politics. Foreign policy concerns are what gave impetus to Eisenhower's ultimate entry into the race. He was troubled by Taft's non-interventionist views, especially his opposition to NATO. Eisenhower wholeheartedly supported NATO, which he considered an important deterrence against Soviet aggression. He was also motivated by the corruption that had crept into the federal government during the later years of the Truman administration; believing that the time had come to "clean out the courthouse." Eisenhower indicated in late 1951 that he would not oppose any effort to nominate him for president, although he still refused to openly seek the nomination.
In January 1952, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. announced that Eisenhower's name would be entered in the March New Hampshire primary, even though he had not yet officially entered the race. The result in New Hampshire was a solid Eisenhower victory with 46,661 votes to 35,838 for Taft and 6,574 for Stassen. In April, Eisenhower resigned from his NATO command and returned to the United States. The Taft forces put up a strong fight in the remaining primaries, and prior to the July 1952 Republican National Convention it was unclear whether Taft or Eisenhower would win the presidential nomination.
When the 1952 Republican National Convention opened in Chicago, Eisenhower's managers accused Taft of "stealing" delegate votes in Southern states such as Texas and Georgia. They claimed that Taft's leaders in these states had unfairly denied delegate spots to Eisenhower supporters and put Taft delegates in their place. Lodge and Dewey proposed to evict the pro-Taft delegates in these states and replace them with pro-Eisenhower delegates; they called this proposal "Fair Play." Although Taft and his supporters angrily denied this charge, the convention voted to support Fair Play 658 to 548, and Taft lost many Southern delegates. Eisenhower also received two more boosts, firstly when several uncommitted state delegations, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, decided to support him, and secondly when Stassen released his delegates and asked them to support Eisenhower, whose moderate policies he much preferred to those of Taft. The removal of many pro-Taft Southern delegates and the support of the uncommitted states decided the nomination in Eisenhower's favor, which he won on the first ballot. Afterward, Senator Richard Nixon of California was nominated by acclamation as his vice-presidential running mate. Nixon, whose name came to the forefront early and frequently in pre-convention conversations among Eisenhower's campaign managers, was selected because of his relative youth (39 years old) and solid anti-communist credentials.
Incumbent President Harry S. Truman announced his retirement in March 1952, making it unclear who would win the Democratic presidential nomination. Delegates to the 1952 Democratic National Convention, also held in Chicago, nominated Illinois governor Adlai E. Stevenson for president on the third ballot. Senator John Sparkman of Alabama was selected as his running mate. The convention ended with widespread confidence that in Stevenson, the party had selected its ablest candidate, one who would make a powerful presidential contender. Stevenson concentrated on giving a series of thoughtful speeches around the nation. Although his style thrilled intellectuals and academics, some political experts wondered if he were speaking "over the heads" of most of his listeners, and they dubbed him an "egghead," based on his baldness and intellectual demeanor. His biggest liability however, was the unpopularity of the incumbent president, Harry Truman. Even though Stevenson had not had been a part of the Truman administration, voters largely ignored his record and burdened him with Truman's. Historian Herbert Parmet says that Stevenson:
failed to dispel the widespread recognition that, for a divided America, torn by paranoia and unable to understand what had disrupted the anticipated tranquility of the postwar world, the time for change had really arrived. Neither Stevenson nor anyone else could have dissuaded the electorate from its desire to repudiate 'Trumanism.'
Republican strategy during the fall campaign focused on Eisenhower's unrivaled popularity. Ike traveled to 45 of the 48 states; his heroic image and plain talk excited the large crowds who heard him speak from the campaign train's caboose. In his speeches, Eisenhower never mentioned Stevenson by name, rather, he relentlessly attacked Truman, emphasizing three Truman administration failures: Korea, Communism, and corruption. In addition to the speeches, he got his message out to voters through 30-second television advertisements; this was the first presidential election in which television played a major role. In domestic policy, Eisenhower attacked the growing influence of the federal government in the economy, while in foreign affairs, he supported a strong American role in stemming the expansion of Communism. Eisenhower adopted much of the rhetoric and positions of the contemporary GOP, and many of his public statements were designed to win over conservative supporters of Taft.
A potentially devastating allegation hit when Nixon was accused by several newspapers of receiving $18,000 in undeclared "gifts" from wealthy California donors. In reality, contributions were by design only from early supporters and limited to $1,000, with full accountability. Eisenhower and his aides considered dropping Nixon from the ticket and picking another running mate. Nixon responded to the allegations in a nationally televised speech, the "Checkers speech," on September 23. In this speech, Nixon denied the charges against him, gave a detailed account of his modest financial assets, and offered a glowing assessment of Eisenhower's candidacy. The highlight of the speech came when Nixon stated that a supporter had given his daughters a gift—a dog named "Checkers"—and that he would not return it, because his daughters loved it. The public responded to the speech with an outpouring of support, and Eisenhower stayed with him.
In the end, the burden of the ongoing Korean War, Communist threat, and Truman scandals, was too much for Stevenson to overcome. On election day, Eisenhower won a landslide victory, winning 55.2 percent of the popular vote and 442 electoral votes. Stevenson received 44.5 percent of the popular vote and 89 electoral votes. Eisenhower won every state outside of the South, as well as Virginia, Florida, and Texas, each of which voted Republican for just the second time since the end of Reconstruction. In the concurrent congressional elections, Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
|The Eisenhower Cabinet|
|President||Dwight D. Eisenhower||1953–1961|
|Vice President||Richard Nixon||1953–1961|
|Secretary of State||John Foster Dulles||1953–1959|
|Christian A. Herter||1959–1961|
|Secretary of Treasury||George M. Humphrey||1953–1957|
|Robert B. Anderson||1957–1961|
|Secretary of Defense||Charles E. Wilson||1953–1957|
|Neil H. McElroy||1957–1959|
|Thomas S. Gates Jr.||1959–1961|
|Attorney General||Herbert Brownell||1953–1957|
|William P. Rogers||1957–1961|
|Postmaster General||Arthur E. Summerfield||1953–1961|
|Secretary of the Interior||Douglas McKay||1953–1956|
|Fred A. Seaton||1956–1961|
|Secretary of Agriculture||Ezra Taft Benson||1953–1961|
|Secretary of Commerce||Sinclair Weeks||1953–1958|
|Lewis L. Strauss||1958–1959|
|Frederick H. Mueller||1959–1961|
|Secretary of Labor||Martin P. Durkin||1953|
|James P. Mitchell||1953–1961|
|Secretary of Health,
Education, and Welfare
|Oveta Culp Hobby||1953–1955|
|Marion B. Folsom||1955–1958|
|Arthur S. Flemming||1958–1961|
Regarding Eisenhower's administrative style as president, historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote,
The President organized his administration somewhat like a military staff. Men below him were supposed to work out in detail what needed to be done; the President had to make the ultimate decision, but he disliked doing any preliminary thinking about it himself. Contradictory recommendations would come to him on defense and other matters from two or three different departments, each already watered down while passing up from lower echelons. The President, who studied no problem deeply himself, would return the differing recommendations and offer an all-round agreement on which to base his decision; thus almost every decision was a compromise, and often a wishy-washy compromise.
Eisenhower delegated the selection of his cabinet to two close associates, Lucius D. Clay and Herbert Brownell Jr.; Brownell, a legal aid to Dewey, became attorney general. John Foster Dulles, an attorney who also had close ties to Dewey, became the secretary of state. A conscientious "student of foreign affairs," Dulles had previously had a part in developing the both the United Nations Charter and the Treaty of San Francisco. He traveled nearly 560,000 miles (901,233 km) during his six years in office. Outside of the cabinet, Eisenhower selected Sherman Adams as White House Chief of Staff, while Milton S. Eisenhower, the president's brother and a prominent college administrator, emerged as an important adviser. Eisenhower also elevated the role of the National Security Council, and Robert Cutler served as the first National Security Advisor.
Eisenhower sought out leaders of big business for many of his other cabinet appointments. Charles Erwin Wilson, the CEO of General Motors, was Eisenhower's first secretary of defense. In 1957, he was replaced by president of Procter & Gamble president, Neil H. McElroy. For the position of secretary of the treasury, Ike selected George M. Humphrey, the CEO of several steel and coal companies. His postmaster general, Arthur E. Summerfield, and first secretary of the interior, Douglas McKay, were both automobile distributors. Additionally, former senator, Sinclair Weeks, director of the National Association of Manufacturers. Eisenhower appointed Joseph Dodge, a longtime bank president who also had extensive government experience, as the director of the Bureau of the Budget, and Dodge was the first budget director to be given cabinet-level status. Several businessmen named to cabinet-level posts—Wilson, Humphrey, along with Harold E. Talbott (Eisenhower's first Air Force secretary) and Robert Tripp Ross, (a deputy assistant secretary of defense)—came under U.S. Senate scrutiny due their investments and possible conflicts of interest while in office; Talbott and Ross later resigned as a result.
Other Eisenhower cabinet selections were made to cover various "political bases." Ezra Taft Benson, a high-ranking member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was chosen as secretary of agriculture; he was the only person appointed from the Taft wing of the party. Oveta Culp Hobby became the first secretary of the newly created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; she was the second female cabinet secretary (after Frances Perkins). Martin Patrick Durkin, a Democrat and president of the plumbers and steamfitters union, was selected as secretary of labor. As a result, it became a standing joke that his first Cabinet was composed of "nine millionaires and a plumber." Dissatisfied with Eisenhower's labor policies, Durkin resigned after less than a year in office, and was replaced by James P. Mitchell.
Eisenhower, who disliked partisan politics and politicians, left much of the building and sustaining of the Republican Party to his Vice President Nixon. Additionally, shocked at how ill-prepared Vice President Truman had been on major issues such as the atomic bomb when he acceded to the presidency, Eisenhower therefore made sure to keep Nixon fully involved. He gave Nixon multiple diplomatic, domestic, and political assignments so that he "evolved into one of Ike's most valuable subordinates." The office of vice president was thereby fundamentally upgraded from a minor ceremonial post to a major role in the presidential team. Nixon went well beyond the assignment. "Nixon threw himself into state and local politics, making hundreds of speeches across the land. With Eisenhower uninvolved in party building, Nixon became the de facto national GOP leader."
Eisenhower frequently met with the press corps, but his performance in these meetings was widely regarded as awkward. These press conferences contributed greatly to the criticism that Eisenhower was ill-informed or merely a figurehead in his government. At times, he was able to use his reputation for unintelligible press conferences to his advantage, as it allowed him to obfuscate his position on difficult subjects. On January 19, 1955 Eisenhower became the first president to conduct a televised news conference. His press secretary, James Campbell Hagerty, is the only person to have served in that capacity for two full presidential terms. Historian Robert Hugh Ferrell considered him to be the best press secretary in presidential history, because he "organized the presidency for the single innovation in press relations that has itself almost changed the nature of the nation's highest office in recent decades."
A group of three federal government officials and six private U.S. citizens was secretly tasked by the president in 1958 to serve as federal administrators in the event of a national emergency, such as a nuclear attack. Eisenhower discussed the issues with each appointee and then personally sent letters of confirmation. The selection and appointment of these administrator-designates was classified Top Secret. In an emergency, each administrator was to take charge of a specifically activated agency to maintain the continuity of government. Named to the group were:
Eisenhower appointed five Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1953, Eisenhower nominated Governor Earl Warren to succeed Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson. Many conservative Republicans opposed Warren's nomination, but they were unable to block the appointment, and Warren's nomination was approved by the Senate in January 1954. Warren presided over a court that generated numerous liberal rulings on various topics, beginning in 1954 with the desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education. Robert H. Jackson's death in late 1954 generated another vacancy on the Supreme Court, and Eisenhower successfully nominated federal appellate judge John Marshall Harlan II to succeed Jackson. Harlan joined the conservative bloc on the bench, often supporting the position of Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter. After Sherman Minton resigned in 1956, and Eisenhower nominated supreme court justice William J. Brennan to the Supreme Court. Eisenhower hoped that the appointment of Brennan, a liberal-leaning Catholic, would boost his own re-election campaign. Opposition from Senator Joseph McCarthy and others delayed Brennan's confirmation, so Eisenhower placed Brennan on the court via a recess appointment in 1956; the Senate confirmed Brennan's nomination in early 1957. Brennan joined Warren as a leader of the court's liberal bloc. Stanley Reed's retirement in 1957 created another vacancy, and Eisenhower nominated federal appellate judge Charles Evans Whittaker, who would serve on the Supreme Court for just five years before resigning. The fifth and final Supreme Court vacancy of Eisenhower's tenure arose in 1958 due to the retirement of Harold Burton. Eisenhower successfully nominated federal appellate judge Potter Stewart to succeed Burton, and Stewart became a centrist on the court. Eisenhower also appointed 45 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 129 judges to the United States district courts.
For three decades Eisenhower had designed increasingly complex war plans. He now now set himself to designing the basic American strategy for fighting the cold war against world communism. Eisenhower planned for the full mobilization of American society, and especially the technological superiority to promote military preparedness, intelligence services, and covert action by the CIA. According to biographer William I. Hitchcock, he planned:
The Cold War dominated international politics in the 1950s. As both the United States and the Soviet Union possessed nuclear weapons, any conflict presented the risk of escalation into nuclear warfare. Eisenhower continued the basic Truman administration policy of containment of Soviet expansion and the strengthening of the economies of Western Europe. Eisenhower's overall Cold War policy was described by NSC 174, which held that the rollback of Soviet influence was a long-term goal, but that the United States would not provoke war with the Soviet Union.
Joseph Stalin died in March 1953, and Georgy Malenkov took leadership of the Soviet Union. Malenkov proposed a "peaceful coexistence" with the West, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill proposed a summit of the world leaders. Fearing that the summit would delay the rearmament of West Germany, and skeptical of Malenkov's intentions and ability to stay in power, the Eisenhower administration nixed the summit idea. In April, Eisenhower delivered his "Chance for Peace speech," in which he called for an armistice in Korea, free elections to re-unify Germany, the "full independence" of Eastern European nations, and United Nations control of atomic energy. Though well received in the West as the marking the beginning of dialogue between the Western bloc and the Eastern bloc, the Soviet leadership viewed Eisenhower's speech as little more than propaganda. In 1954, a more confrontational leader took charge in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. Eisenhower became increasingly skeptical of the possibility of cooperation with the Soviet Union after it refused to support his Atoms for Peace proposal, which called for the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the creation of nuclear power plants.
The administration's initial national security policy, referred to as New Look, was unveiled on October 30, 1953. The product of a series of meetings with senior cabinet-level officials, consultations with National Security Council personnel (Project Solarium), and a comprehensive defense review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it reflected Eisenhower's desire for a sustainable long-term U.S. national security policy, and also his belief that the mission of the military was to "get ready and stay ready." The National Security Council document upon which the policy was built, NSC 162/2, emphasized reliance on strategic nuclear weapons to deter potential threats, both conventional and nuclear, from the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies. The document also called for reductions in defense spending and foreign aid, basing these recommendations on the argument that a healthy economy "relies at the very basis of a sound capability for defense." Nuclear weapons were seen as the most economically feasible means to deter the Soviet advantage in Europe infantry and tanks. The U.S. military developed a strategy of nuclear deterrence based upon the triad of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), strategic bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Throughout his presidency, Eisenhower insisted on having plans to retaliate, fight, and win a nuclear war against the Soviets, although he hoped he would never feel forced to use such weapons.
As the ground war in Korea ended, Eisenhower sharply reduced the reliance on expensive Army divisions. Historian Saki Dockrill argues that his long-term strategy was to promote the collective security of NATO and other American allies, strengthen the Third World against Soviet pressures, avoid another Korea, and produce a climate that would slowly and steadily weaken Soviet power and influence. Dockrill points to Eisenhower's use of multiple assets against the Soviet Union:
Eisenhower knew that the United States had many other assets that could be translated into influence over the Soviet bloc—its democratic values and institutions, its rich and competitive capitalist economy, its intelligence technology and skills in obtaining information as to the enemy's capabilities and intentions, its psychological warfare and covert operations capabilities, its negotiating skills, and its economic and military assistance to the Third World.
Eisenhower, while accepting the doctrine of containment, sought to counter the Soviet Union through more active means as detailed in the State-Defense report NSC 68. The Eisenhower administration developed the tactic of covert action, used by the Central Intelligence Agency to interfere with suspected communist governments abroad. An early use of covert action was against the elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq. The Shah of Iran and pro-monarchy forces ejected him from power in the complex 1953 Iranian coup d'état (Operation Ajax). The CIA also instigated the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état by the local military that overthrew president Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. The U.S. complaint was that he was veering toward the Soviet Union. Critics have produced conspiracy theories about the causal factors, but according to historian Stephen M. Streeter, CIA documents show the United Fruit Company (UFCO) played no major role in Eisenhower's decision, that Soviet influence was also minimal, and that the Eisenhower administration did not need to be forced into the action by any lobby groups. Streeter Identifies three major interpretive perspectives, "Realist," "Revisionist," and "Postrevisionist':
In January 1953, Senator John W. Bricker of Ohio re-introduced the Bricker Amendment, which would limit the president's treaty making power and ability to enter into executive agreements with foreign nations. Fears that the steady stream of post-World War II-era international treaties, pacts, covenants, and executive agreements entered into by the U.S. government were supplanting the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and undermining the nation's sovereignty, united isolationists, conservative Democrats, most Republicans, along with numerous professional groups and civic organizations behind the amendment. Eisenhower opposed the amendment, believing that it would weaken the president and would hamper the handling of the nation's foreign affairs to such a degree, that it would be impossible for the U.S. to exercise leadership on the global stage. Eisenhower worked with Senate Minority Lyndon B. Johnson to defeat the amendment. Although the amendment started out with 56 co-sponsors, it went down to defeat in the U.S. Senate in 1954, with a 42-50 vote. Later in 1954, a watered-down version of the amendment missed the required two-thirds majority in the Senate by one vote. This episode proved to be the last hurrah for the isolationist Republicans, as younger conservatives increasingly turned to an internationalism based on aggressive anti-communism, typified by Senator Barry Goldwater.
Eisenhower sought troop reductions in Europe by sharing of defense responsibilities with NATO allies. Europeans, however, never quite trusted the idea of nuclear deterrence and were reluctant to shift away from NATO into a proposed European Defence Community (EDC). Like Truman, Eisenhower believed that the rearmament of West Germany was vital to NATO's strategic interests. The administration backed an arrangement devised by Churchill and British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden in which West Germany was rearmed, became a fully sovereign member of NATO, and promised not to establish atomic, biological, or chemical weapons programs. European leaders also created the Western European Union to coordinate European defense. In response to the integration of West Germany into NATO, Eastern bloc leaders established the Warsaw Pact. Austria, which had been jointly-occupied by the Soviet Union and the Western powers, regained its sovereignty with the 1955 Austrian State Treaty. As part of the arrangement that ended the occupation, Austria declared its neutrality after gaining independence.
The Eisenhower administration placed a high priority on undermining Soviet influence on Eastern Europe, and escalated a propaganda war under the leadership of Charles Douglas Jackson. The United States dropped over 300,000 propaganda leaflets in Eastern Europe between 1951 and 1956, and Radio Free Europe sent broadcasts throughout the region. A 1953 uprising in East Germany briefly stoked the administration's hopes of a decline in Soviet influence, but the USSR quickly crushed the insurrection. In 1956, a major uprising broke out in Hungary. After Hungarian leader Imre Nagy promised the institution of multiparty democracy and a withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev dispatched 60,000 soldiers into Hungary, and the rebellion was violently crushed. The United States strongly condemned the military response but did not take direct action, disappointing many Hungarian revolutionaries. After the revolution, the United States shifted from encouraging revolt to seeking cultural and economic ties as a means of undermining Communist regimes.
In 1953, Eisenhower opened relations with Spain under dictator Francisco Franco. Despite its undemocratic nature, Spain's strategic position in light of the Cold War and anti-communist position led Eisenhower to build a trade and military alliance with the Spanish through the Pact of Madrid. These relations brought an end to Spain's isolation after World War II, which in turn led to a Spanish economic boom known as the Spanish miracle.
During his campaign, Eisenhower said he would go to Korea and promised to end the stalemated Korean War. In practice, most fighting had been suspended since 1952. However, there was no agreement on the status of prisoners of war who refused to return to their homes in North Korea or China. Eisenhower demanded a solution, and decided to warn China that he would use nuclear weapons to resolve the problem. China came to terms, and an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 as the Korean Armistice Agreement. Historian Edward C. Keefer says that in accepting the American demands that POWs could refuse to return to their home country, "China and North Korea still swallowed the bitter pill, probably forced down in part by the atomic ultimatum." The Armistice led to decades of uneasy peace between North Korea and South Korea. The United States and South Korea signed a defensive treaty in October 1953, and the U.S. continued to station thousands of soldiers in South Korea after the end of the Korean War.
After the end of World War II, the Communist Việt Minh launched an insurrection against French-supported State of Vietnam. In 1954, the French requested the United States to intervene in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which would prove to be the climactic battle of the First Indochina War. Seeking to rally public support for the intervention, Eisenhower articulated the domino theory, which held that the fall of Vietnam could lead to the fall of other countries. As France refused to commit to an independent Vietnam, Congress refused to approve of the intervention, and the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. In the contemporaneous Geneva Conference, Dulles convinced Chinese and Soviet leaders to pressure Viet Minh leaders to accept the temporary partition of Vietnam. Vietnam was divided into a Communist northern half (under Ho Chi Minh) and a non-Communist southern half (under Ngo Dinh Diem). Despite some doubts about the strength of Diem's government, the Eisenhower administration directed aid to South Vietnam in hopes of creating a bulwark against further Communist expansion.
Eisenhower's commitment in South Vietnam was part of a broader program to contain China and the Soviet Union in East Asia. In 1954, the United States and seven other countries created the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), a defensive alliance dedicated to preventing the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. In 1954, China began shelling tiny islands off the coast of Mainland China which were controlled by the Republic of China (ROC). The shelling nearly escalated to nuclear war as Eisenhower considered using nuclear weapons to prevent the invasion of Taiwan, the main island controlled by the ROC. The crisis ended when China ended the shelling and both sides agreed to diplomatic talks; a second crisis in 1958 would end in a similar fashion. During the first crisis, the United States and the ROC signed the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, which committed the United States to the defense of Taiwan. The CIA also supported dissidents in the 1959 Tibetan uprising, but China crushed the uprising.
The Middle East became increasingly important to U.S. foreign policy during the 1950s. After the 1953 Iranian coup, the U.S. supplanted Britain as the most influential ally of Iran. Eisenhower encouraged the creation of the Baghdad Pact, a military alliance consisting of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan. As it did in several other regions, the Eisenhower administration sought to establish stable, friendly, anti-Communist regimes in the Arab World. The U.S. attempted to mediate the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, but Israel's unwillingness to give up its gains from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and Arab hostility towards Israel scuttled the possibility of an agreement.
In 1952, a revolution led by Gamal Abdel Nasser had overthrown the pro-British Egyptian government. After taking power as Prime Minister of Egypt in 1954, Nasser played the Soviet Union and the United States against each other, seeking aid from both sides. Eisenhower sought to bring Nasser into the American sphere of influence through economic aid, but Nasser's Arab nationalism and opposition to Israel served as a source of friction between the United States and Egypt. One of Nasser's main goals was the construction of the Aswan Dam, which would provide immense hydroelectric power and help irrigate much of Egypt. Eisenhower attempted to use American aid for the financing of the construction of the dam as leverage for other areas of foreign policy, but aid negotiations collapsed. In July 1956, just a week after the collapse of the aid negotiations, Nasser nationalized the British-run Suez Canal, sparking the Suez Crisis. 
The British strongly protested the nationalization, and formed a plan with France and Israel to capture the canal. Eisenhower opposed military intervention, and he repeatedly told British Prime Minister Anthony Eden that the U.S. would not tolerate an invasion. Though opposed to the nationalization of the canal, Eisenhower feared that a military intervention would disrupt global trade and alienate Middle Eastern countries from the West. Israel attacked Egypt in October 1956, quickly seizing control of the Sinai Peninsula. France and Britain launched air and naval attacks after Nasser refused to renounce Egypt's nationalization of the canal. Nasser responded by sinking dozens of ships, preventing operation of the canal. Angered by the attacks, which risked sending Arab states into the arms of the Soviet Union, the Eisenhower administration proposed a cease fire and used economic pressure to force France and Britain to withdraw. The incident marked the end of British and French dominance in the Middle East and opened the way for greater American involvement in the region. In early 1958, Eisenhower used the threat of economic sanctions to coerce Israel into withdrawing from the Sinai Peninsula, and the Suez Canal resumed operations under the control of Egypt.
In response to the power vacuum in the Middle East following the Suez Crisis, the Eisenhower administration developed a new policy to guide U.S. intervention to stabilize the region against Soviet threats or internal turmoil or revolution. Given the collapse of British prestige and the rise of Soviet interest in the region, the president informed Congress on January 5, 1957 that it was essential for the U.S. to accept new responsibilities for the security of the Middle East. Under the policy, known as the Eisenhower Doctrine, any Middle Eastern country could request American economic assistance or aid from U.S. military forces if it was being threatened by armed aggression. Eisenhower found it difficult to convince leading Arab states or Israel to endorse the doctrine's purpose or usefulness. Nonetheless, he applied the doctrine in 1957-58 by dispensing economic aid to shore up the Kingdom of Jordan, by encouraging Syria's neighbors to consider military operations against it, and by sending U.S. troops into Lebanon to prevent a radical revolution from sweeping over that country. Though U.S. aid helped Lebanon and Jordan avoid revolution, the Eisenhower doctrine enhanced Nasser's prestige as the preeminent Arab nationalist. Partly as a result of the bungled U.S. intervention in Syria, Nasser established the short-lived United Arab Republic, a political union between Egypt and Syria. The U.S. also lost a sympathetic Middle Eastern government due to the 1958 Iraqi coup d'état, which saw King Faisal I replaced by General Abd al-Karim Qasim as the leader of Iraq.
The 1947 partition of British India created two new independent states, India and Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pursued a non-aligned policy in the Cold War, and frequently criticized U.S. policies. Largely out of a desire to build up military strength against the more populous India, Pakistan sought close relations with the United States. Pakistan became a U.S. ally in the Cold War, joining both the Baghdad Pact and SEATO. This U.S.-Pakistan alliance alienated India from the United States, and India moved closer to the Soviet Union. In the late 1950s, the Eisenhower administration sought closer relations with India, sending aid to stem the 1957 Indian economic crisis. By the end of his administration, relations between the United States and India had moderately improved, but Pakistan remained the main U.S. ally in South Asia.
For much of his administration, Eisenhower largely continued the policy of his predecessors in Latin America, supporting U.S.-friendly governments regardless of whether they held power through authoritarian means. The Eisenhower administration expanded military aid to Latin America, and used Pan-Americanism as a tool to prevent the spread of Soviet influence. In the late 1950s, several Latin American governments fell, partly due to a recession in the United States.
Cuba was particularly close to the United States, and 300,000 American tourists visited Cuba each year in the late 1950s. Cuban President Fulgencio Batista sought close ties with both the U.S. government and major U.S. companies, and American organized crime also had a strong presence in Cuba. In January 1959, the Cuban Revolution ousted Batista. The new regime, led by Fidel Castro, quickly legalized the Communist Party of Cuba, sparking U.S. fears that Castro would align with the Soviet Union. When Castro visited the United States in April 1959, Eisenhower refused to meet with him, delegating the task to Nixon. In the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, the Eisenhower administration began to encourage democratic government in Latin America and increased economic aid to the region. As Castro drew closer to the Soviet Union, the U.S. broke diplomatic relations, launched a near-total embargo, and began preparations for an invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles.
Fearful that the Soviet Union would deploy a long-range ballistic missile before the U.S., in January 1956 the United States Air Force began developing the Thor, a 1,500 miles (2,400 km) Intermediate-range ballistic missile. The program proceeded quickly, and beginning in 1958 the first of 20 Royal Air Force Thor squadrons became operational in the United Kingdom. This was the first experiment at sharing strategic nuclear weapons in NATO and led to other placements abroad of American nuclear weapons. The Thor missile deployment carried the code name "Project Emily." In 1959, the secretary of the Air Force issued implementing instructions to deploy the first nuclear tipped medium-range ballistic missile, the PGM-19 Jupiter. Beginning in 1961 and continuing through 1963, two Jupiter squadrons were assigned to Italy, and one to Turkey.
France also sought American help in developing nuclear weapons; Eisenhower rejected the overtures for four reasons. Before 1958, he was troubled by the political instability of the French Fourth Republic and worried that it might use nuclear weapons to its colonial wars in Vietnam and Algeria. De Gaulle brought stability to the Fifth Republic in 1958, but Eisenhower knew him too well from the war years. De Gaulle wanted to challenge the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on Western weapons. Eisenhower feared his grandiose plans to use the bombs to restore French grandeur would weaken NATO. Furthermore, Eisenhower wanted to discourage the proliferation of nuclear arms anywhere.
The administration decided the best way to minimize the proliferation of nuclear weapons was to tightly control knowledge of gas-centrifuge technology, which was essential to turn ordinary uranium and to weapons-grade uranium. American diplomats by 1960 reached agreement with the German, Dutch, and British governments to limit access to the technology. The four-power understanding on gas-centrifuge secrecy lasted until Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan took the Dutch centrifuge technology to Pakistan in 1975 and thence to North Korea and Libya. Eisenhower warned against an arms race in outer space in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 22, 1960:
The emergence of this new world poses a vital issue: will outer space be preserved for peaceful use and developed for the benefit of all mankind? Or will it become another focus for the arms race—and thus an area of dangerous and sterile competition? The choice is urgent. And it is ours to make. The nations of the world have recently united in declaring the continent of Antarctica "off limits" to military preparations. We could extend this principle to an even more important sphere. National vested interests have not yet been developed in space or in celestial bodies. Barriers to agreement are now lower than they will ever be again.
Critics at the time, led by Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy levied charges, which became a campaign issue in 1960, to the effect that there was a "missile gap", that is, the U.S. had fallen militarily behind the Soviets because of their lead in space. Historians now discount those allegations saying the U.S. remained ahead in most important areas, although they agree that Eisenhower did not effectively respond to his critics. Public opinion was now engaged and Congress allotted billions of dollars toward not only defense, but education. America's defensive game of catch-up carried on through the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
U.S. and Soviet leaders met at the 1955 Geneva Summit, the first such summit since the 1945 Potsdam Conference. No progress was made on major issues; the two sides had major differences on German policy, and the Soviets dismissed Eisenhower's "Open Skies" proposal. Kruschev toured the United States in 1959, and he and Eisenhower conducted high-level talks regarding nuclear disarmament and the status of Berlin. Eisenhower wanted limits on nuclear weapons testing and on-site inspections of nuclear weapons, while Kruschev initially sought the total elimination of nuclear arsenals. Both wanted to limit total military spending and prevent nuclear proliferation, but Cold War tensions made negotiations difficult. Towards the end of his second term, Eisenhower was determined to reach a nuclear test ban treaty as part of an overall move towards détente with the Soviet Union. Khruschev had also become increasingly interested in reaching an accord, partly due to the growing Sino-Soviet split. By 1960, the major unresolved issue was on-site inspections, as both sides sought nuclear test bans. Hopes for reaching a nuclear agreement agreement at a May 1960 summit in Paris were derailed by the downing of an American U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union.
The Eisenhower administration, initially thinking the pilot had died in the crash, authorized the release of a cover story claiming that the plane was a "weather research aircraft" which had unintentionally strayed into Soviet airspace after the pilot had radioed "difficulties with his oxygen equipment" while flying over Turkey. Further, Eisenhower said that his administration had not been spying on the Soviet Union; when the Soviets produced the pilot, Captain Francis Gary Powers, the Americans were caught misleading the public, and the incident resulted in international embarrassment for the United States. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a lengthy inquiry into the U-2 incident. During the Paris Summit, Eisenhower accused Khrushchev "of sabotaging this meeting, on which so much of the hopes of the world have rested". Later, Eisenhower stated it had all been ruined because of that "stupid U-2 business".
Eisenhower made one international trip while president-elect, to South Korea, December 2–5, 1952, where he visited Seoul and the Korean combat zone. He also made 16 international trips to 26 nations during his presidency. Between August 1959 and June 1960, he undertook five major tours, travelling to Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Southern Asia. On his "Flight to Peace" Goodwill tour, in December 1959, the President visited 11 nations including five in Asia, flying 22,000 miles in 19 days.
|1||December 2–5, 1952||South Korea||Seoul||Visit to Korean combat zone. (Visit made as President-elect.)|
|2||October 19, 1953||Mexico||Nueva Ciudad Guerrero||Dedication of Falcon Dam, with President Adolfo Ruiz Cortines.|
|3||November 13–15, 1953||Canada||Ottawa||State visit. Met with Governor General Vincent Massey and Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. Addressed Parliament.|
|4||December 4–8, 1953||Bermuda||Hamilton||Attended the Bermuda Conference with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and French Prime Minister Joseph Laniel.|
|5||July 16–23, 1955||Switzerland||Geneva||Attended the Geneva Summit with British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, French Premier Edgar Faure and Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin.|
|6||July 21–23, 1956||Panama||Panama City||Attended the meeting of the presidents of the American republics.|
|7||March 20–24, 1957||Bermuda||Hamilton||Met with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.|
|8||December 14–19, 1957||France||Paris||Attended the First NATO summit.|
|9||July 8–11, 1958||Canada||Ottawa||Informal visit. Met with Governor General Vincent Massey and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. Addressed Parliament.|
|10||February 19–20, 1959||Mexico||Acapulco||Informal meeting with President Adolfo López Mateos.|
|11||June 26, 1959||Canada||Montreal||Joined Queen Elizabeth II in ceremony opening the St. Lawrence Seaway.|
|12||August 26–27, 1959||West Germany||Bonn||Informal meeting with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and President Theodor Heuss.|
|August 27 –
September 2, 1959
|Informal visit. Met Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Queen Elizabeth II.|
|September 2–4, 1959||France||Paris||Informal meeting with President Charles de Gaulle and Italian Prime Minister Antonio Segni. Addressed North Atlantic Council.|
|September 4–7, 1959||United Kingdom||Culzean Castle||Rested before returning to the United States.|
|13||December 4–6, 1959||Italy||Rome||Informal visit. Met with President Giovanni Gronchi.|
|December 6, 1959||Vatican City||Apostolic Palace||Audience with Pope John XXIII.|
|December 6–7, 1959||Turkey||Ankara||Informal visit. Met with President Celâl Bayar.|
|December 7–9, 1959||Pakistan||Karachi||Informal visit. Met with President Ayub Khan.|
|December 9, 1959||Afghanistan||Kabul||Informal visit. Met with King Mohammed Zahir Shah.|
|December 9–14, 1959||India||New Delhi,
|Met with President Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Addressed Parliament.|
|December 14, 1959||Iran||Tehran||Met with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Addressed Parliament.|
|December 14–15, 1959||Greece||Athens||Official visit. Met with King Paul and Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. Addressed Parliament.|
|December 17, 1959||Tunisia||Tunis||Met with President Habib Bourguiba.|
|December 18–21, 1959||France||Toulon,
|Conference with President Charles de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.|
|December 21–22, 1959||Spain||Madrid||Met with Generalissimo Francisco Franco.|
|December 22, 1959||Morocco||Casablanca||Met with King Mohammed V.|
|14||February 23–26, 1960||Brazil||Brasília,
Rio de Janeiro,
|Met with President Juscelino Kubitschek. Addressed Brazilian Congress.|
|February 26–29, 1960||Argentina||Buenos Aires,
Mar del Plata,
San Carlos de Bariloche
|Met with President Arturo Frondizi.|
|February 29 –
March 2, 1960
|Chile||Santiago||Met with President Jorge Alessandri.|
|March 2–3, 1960||Uruguay||Montevideo||Met with President Benito Nardone. Returned to the U.S. via Buenos Aires and Suriname.|
|15||May 15–19, 1960||France||Paris||Conference with President Charles de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.|
|May 19–20, 1960||Portugal||Lisbon||Official visit. Met with President Américo Tomás.|
|16||June 14–16, 1960||Philippines||Manila||State visit. Met with President Carlos P. Garcia.|
|June 18–19, 1960||Republic of China||Taipei||State visit. Met with President Chiang Kai-shek.|
|June 19–20, 1960||South Korea||Seoul||Met with Prime Minister Heo Jeong. Addressed the National Assembly.|
|17||October 24, 1960||Mexico||Ciudad Acuña||Informal visit. Met with President Adolfo López Mateos.|
A strong performance in the 1952 elections gave Republicans control of the 83rd United States Congress, though they had narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress. Republican members of Congress were divided into two broad factions; the moderate faction favored keeping much of the New Deal in place, while the conservatives who wanted to destroy the welfare state that had been established under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman. Led by Taft, the conservative faction introduced numerous bills to reduce the federal government's role in numerous areas. Though Eisenhower favored some reduction of the federal government's functions and had strongly opposed Truman's Fair Deal, he favored the continuation of Social Security and other New Deal programs that he saw as beneficial for the common good. Eisenhower presided over a reduction in domestic spending and, through passage of the Agricultural Act of 1954, reduced the government's role in subsidizing agriculture. But he did not propose the abolition of major New Deal programs like Social Security or the Tennessee Valley Authority. Republicans lost control of Congress in the 1954 mid-term elections, and they would not regain control of either chamber until the 1980s. Defying the conservative Republicans who still wanted to roll back the New Deal, in his second term Eisenhower stated that Social Security, unemployment insurance, and other New Deal programs had "become accepted in our civilization as normal."
In domestic affairs, Eisenhower attempted to avoid partisanship whenever possible. When Democrats regained control in the 1954 Senate and House elections, limiting his freedom of action on domestic policy, his largely nonpartisan stance enabled him to work smoothly with the Democratic leaders Speaker Sam Rayburn in the House, and Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson in the Senate. Biographer Jean Edward Smith describes the relationship between the three:
Ike, LBJ, and "Mr. Sam" did not trust one another completely and they did not see eye to eye on every issue, but they understood one another and had no difficulty working together. Eisenhower continued to meet regularly with the Republican leadership. But his weekly sessions with Rayburn and Johnson, usually in the evening, over drinks, were far more productive. For Johnson and Rayburn, it was shrewd politics to cooperate with Ike. Eisenhower was wildly popular in the country....By supporting a Republican president against the Old Guard of his own party, the Democrats hoped to share Ike's popularity.
Eisenhower was a fiscal conservative whose policy views were close to those of Taft— they agreed that a free enterprise economy should run itself. Throughout Eisenhower's presidency, the top marginal tax rate was 91%—among the highest in American history. When Republicans gained control of both houses of the Congress following the 1952 election, conservatives pressed the president to support tax cuts. Eisenhower however, gave a higher priority to balancing the budget, and believed that taxes could not be cut until it was. "We cannot afford to reduce taxes, [and] reduce income," he said, "until we have in sight a program of expenditure that shows that the factors of income and outgo will be balanced." Eisenhower kept the national debt low and inflation near zero; additionally, three of his eight budgets were in the black.
There were three recessions during Eisenhower's administration—July 1953 through May 1954, August 1957 through April 1958, and April 1960 through February 1961, caused by the Federal Reserve clamping down too tight on the money supply, in an effort to wring out the lingering wartime inflation out of the economy. Real Gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaged just 2.5 percent over those eight years. Meanwhile, federal spending as a percentage of GDP fell from 20.4 to 18.4 percent—There has not been a decline of any size in federal spending as a percentage of GDP during any administration since. The stock market performed very well while Eisenhower was in the White House, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than doubling (from 288 to 634), and personal income increased by 45 percent.
At Eisenhower's urging, Congress passed the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, which permitted the admission of 214,000 immigrants to the United States from European countries between 1953 and 1956, over and above existing immigration quotas. The formula for computing the quotas had become more restrictive as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, approved by Congress over the veto of President Truman.
Responding to public outcry, primarily from California, about the perceived costs of services for illegal immigrants from Mexico, the president charged Joseph Swing, Director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, with the task of regaining control of the border. On June 17, 1954, Swing launched Operation Wetback, the roundup and deportation of undocumented immigrants in selected areas of California, Arizona, Texas. The U.S. Border Patrol later reported that more than 1.3 million people (a number viewed by many to be inflated and not accurate) were deported or left the U.S. voluntarily under the threat of deportation in 1954. Meanwhile, the number of Mexicans immigrating legally from Mexico grew rapidly during this period, from 18,454 in 1953 to 65,047 in 1956.
The onset of the Cold War led to a rise in fears of Communist infiltration into the United States. The House established the House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate alleged disloyal activities, while Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin emerged as a national figure due to his prominence in the anti-Communist movement. Though McCarthy remained a popular figure when Eisenhower took office, his constant attacks on the State Department and the Army, and his reckless disregard for due process, offended many inside and outside of Washington, D.C. Privately, Eisenhower held McCarthy and his tactics in contempt, writing, "I despise [McCarthy's tactics], and even during the political campaign of '52 I not only stated publicly (and privately to him) that I disapproved of those methods, but I did so in his own State." Eisenhower's reluctance to publicly oppose McCarthy drew criticism even from many of Eisenhower's own advisers, but the president worked behind the scenes to weaken the popular senator from Wisconsin. In early 1954, after McCarthy escalated his investigation into the Army, Eisenhower moved against McCarthy by releasing a report indicating that McCarthy had pressured the army to grant special privileges to an associate, G. David Schine, who had been drafted. Eisenhower also refused to allow members of the executive branch to testify in the Army–McCarthy hearings, contributing to the collapse of those hearings. In the aftermath of the hearings Senator Ralph Flanders introduced a successful measure to censure McCarthy, permanently ending McCarthy's status as a major player in national politics.
Eisenhower disagreed with McCarthy on tactics, but he also considered Communist infiltration to be a serious threat, and he authorized department heads to dismiss employees if there was cause to believe those employees might be disloyal to the United States. Under the direction of Dulles, the State Department was purged of over 500 employees. Eisenhower also declined to commute the sentences of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two U.S. citizens who were executed for allegedly providing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.
Civil rights had emerged as a major national and global issue in the 1940s, partly due to the negative example set by Nazi Germany. Segregation in the United States damaged relations with African countries, undercut U.S. calls for decolonization, and emerged as a major theme in Soviet propaganda. Truman had begun the process of desegregating the Armed Forces in 1948, but actual implementation had been slow. Southern Democrats strongly resisted integration, and many Southern leaders had endorsed Eisenhower in 1952 after the latter indicated his opposition to federal efforts to compel integration.
Upon taking office, Eisenhower moved quickly to end resistance to desegregation of the military by using government control of spending to compel compliance from military officials. "Wherever federal funds are expended," he told reporters in March, "I do not see how any American can justify a discrimination in the expenditure of those funds." Later, when Secretary of the Navy Robert B. Anderson stated in a report, "The Navy must recognize the customs and usages prevailing in certain geographic areas of our country which the Navy had no part in creating," Eisenhower responded, "We have not taken and we shall not take a single backward step. There must be no second class citizens in this country." Eisenhower also sought to end discrimination in federal hiring and in Washington, D.C. facilities. Despite these actions, Eisenhower continued to resist becoming involved in the expansion of voting rights, the desegregation of public education, or the eradication of employment discrimination. E. Frederic Morrow, the lone black member of the White House staff, met only occasionally with Eisenhower, and was left with the impression that Eisenhower had little interest in understanding the lives of African Americans.
On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The president's response was a frosty, "The Supreme Court has spoken and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional processes in this country; and I will obey." Over the succeeding six years of his presidency, author Robert Caro notes, Eisenhower would never "publicly support the ruling; not once would he say that Brown was morally right[.]" His silence left civil rights leaders with the impression that Ike didn’t care much about the day-to-day plight of blacks in America. It also was a source of encouragement for segregationists vowing to resist school desegregation.
As Southern leaders continued to resist desegregation, Eisenhower sought to defuse calls for stronger federal action by introducing a civil rights bill that included provisions designed to increase the protection of African American voting rights; approximately 80% of African Americans were disenfranchised in the mid-1950s. The bill passed the House relatively easily, but faced strong opposition in the Senate from Southerners, who arranged the passage of a bill that removed many of the provisions proposed by Eisenhower. Though some black leaders urged him to reject the watered-down bill as inadequate, Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law. It was the first federal law designed to protect African Americans since the end of Reconstruction.
Eisenhower hoped that the passage of the Civil Rights Act would, at least temporarily, remove the issue of civil rights from the forefront of national politics, but events in Arkansas would force him into action. The school board of Little Rock, Arkansas created a federal court-approved plan for desegregation, with the program to begin implementation at Little Rock Central High School. Fearing that desegregation would complicate his re-election efforts Governor Orval Faubus mobilized the National Guard to prevent nine black students, known as the "Little Rock Nine," from entering Central High. Though Eisenhower had not fully embraced the cause of civil rights, he was determined to uphold federal authority and to prevent an incident that could embarrass the United States on the international stage. After Eisenhower convinced Faubus to withdraw the National Guard, a mob prevented the black students from attending Central High. In response, Eisenhower sent the Army into Little Rock, and the Army ensured that the Little Rock Nine were able to attend Central High. Faubus derided Eisenhower's actions, claiming that Little Rock had become "occupied territory," and in 1958 he temporarily shut down Little Rock high schools.
Towards the end of his second term, Eisenhower proposed another civil rights bill designed to help protect voting rights, but Congress once again passed a bill with weaker provisions than Eisenhower had requested. Eisenhower signed the bill into law as the Civil Rights Act of 1960. By 1960, 6.4% of Southern black students attended integrated schools, and thousands of black voters had registered to vote, but millions of African Americans remained disenfranchised.
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One of Eisenhower's enduring achievements was the Interstate Highway System, which congress authorized through the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. A key motivation for developing the system was defense against the possibility of a large-scale foreign nuclear attack on America's cities. In pressing for its passage, lobbyists from numerous organizations argued that highways would be essential evacuation routes in wartime, and would encourage population and industrial decentralization away from the vulnerable cities. Other supporters emphasized the civilian economic aspects, as well as the pump-priming impact of such a large construction project.
The president's support for the project was influenced by his experiences as a young Army officer crossing the country as part of the 1919 Army Convoy on the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America. He was assigned as an observer for the 62-day mission, which encountered numerous avoidable delays. Additionally, Eisenhower gained an appreciation of the Reichsautobahn system, the first "national" implementation of modern Germany's Autobahn network, as a necessary component of a national defense system while he was serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II. As a result, he recognized early-on that the proposed system would provide key civilian evacuation corridors, and ground transport routes for military supplies and troop deployments in case of an emergency or foreign invasion.
Eisenhower appointed his friend, retired general Lucius Clay, to lead a presidential commission to study highway design proposals. In January 1955 they recommended a 10-year construction program costing $101 billion to build 41,000 miles of divided highways that would link all medium and major cities. Clay talked Eisenhower out of using toll roads. After compromising with Democrats in 1956, the system was financed by a trust fund based on gasoline taxes of four cents a gallon and taxes on tires. The Federal share of the funding was 90%; the states built, owned and maintained the highways. Clay stated:
It was evident we needed better highways. We needed them for safety, to accommodate more automobiles. We needed them for defense purposes, if that should ever be necessary. And we needed them for the economy. Not just as a public works measure, but for future growth.
In long-term perspective the interstate highway system was a remarkable success, that has done much to sustain Eisenhower's positive reputation. Although there have been objections to the negative impact of clearing neighborhoods in cities, on the whole the system has been well received. The railroad system for passengers and freight declined sharply, but the trucking expanded dramatically and the cost of shipping and travel fell sharply. Suburbanization became possible, with the rapid growth of easily accessible, larger, cheaper housing than was available in the overcrowded central cities. Tourism dramatically expanded as well, creating a demand for more service stations, motels, restaurants and visitor attractions. There was much more long distance movement to the Sunbelt for winter vacations, or for permanent relocation, with convenient access to visits to relatives back home. In rural areas, towns and small cities off the grid lost out as shoppers followed the interstate, and new factories were located near them. Demographers report that counties with interstate access have an advantage in in-migration and employment growth.
The United States was the dominant world power in the early 1950s. Lockheed U-2 spy plane flights over the Soviet Union provided intelligence that the U.S. held the advantage in nuclear capability. By 1955, with both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were building ballistic missiles that could be utilized to launch objects into space. That year, in separate announcements four days apart, both nations publicly announced that they would launch artificial Earth satellites within the next few years. The July 29, announcement from the White House stated that the U.S. would launch "small Earth circling satellites" between July 1, 1957, and December 31, 1958, as part of the American contribution to the International Geophysical Year.
Americans were astonished when October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik 1 satellite into orbit To many, this accomplishment suggested that the Soviets had made a substantial leap forward in technology, which was interpreted as a serious threat to U.S. national security. While Eisenhower initially downplayed the gravity of the Soviet accomplishment, public fear and anxiety about the perceived technological gap grew, and he came under heavy criticism. Americans rushed to build nuclear bomb shelters, while the Soviets boasted about its new superiority as a world power, and of communism over capitalism. Economist Bernard Baruch wrote in an open letter to the New York Herald Tribune titled "The Lessons of Defeat": "While we devote our industrial and technological power to producing new model automobiles and more gadgets, the Soviet Union is conquering space. ... It is Russia, not the United States, who has had the imagination to hitch its wagon to the stars and the skill to reach for the moon and all but grasp it. America is worried. It should be." The president was, as British prime minister Harold Macmillan observed during a June 1958 visit to the U.S., "under severe attack for the first time" in his presidency.
The launch spurred a series of federal government initiatives ranging from defense to education. Renewed emphasis was placed on the Explorers program (which had earlier been supplanted by Project Vanguard) to launch an American satellite into orbit; this was accomplished on January 31, 1958 with the successful launch of Explorer 1. In February 1958, Eisenhower authorized formation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, later renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), within the Department of Defense to develop emerging technologies for the U.S. military. On July 29, 1958, he signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established NASA as a civilian space agency. He also ordered that military test pilots be the source of the first astronaut recruits. The selection of military test pilots as the basis of the United States’ astronaut corps gave NASA an advanced starting point for recruits who were already experienced pilots and had special government clearances.
NASA as created by Congress was substantially stronger than the administration's original proposal. NASA took over the space technology research started by DARPA, as well as the Air Force's manned satellite program, Man In Space Soonest, which was renamed as Project Mercury. The project's first seven astronauts were announced on April 9, 1959.
Less than a year after the Sputnik launch (in September 1958), the president signed into law the National Defense Education Act, a four-year program that poured billions of dollars into the U.S. education system. In 1953 the government spent $153 million, and colleges took $10 million of that funding; however, by 1960 the combined funding grew almost six-fold as a result. Meanwhile, during the late 1950s and into the 1960s, NASA and the Department of Defense were developing multiple communications satellite research and development programs; as were various private sector corporations, such as American Telephone and Telegraph.
Labor unions were a whole high-profile target of Republican activists throughout the 1940s and 1950s, especially the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Both the business community and local Republicans wanted to weaken unions, which played a major role in funding and campaigning for Democratic candidates. Union membership peaked in the 1950s at about a third of the labor force. The strategy of the Eisenhower administration was to consolidate the anti-union potential inherent in Taft-Hartley. Pressure from the Justice Department, the Labor Department, and especially from congressional investigations focused on criminal activity and racketeering in high-profile labor unions, especially the Teamsters Union. Republicans wanted to delegitimize unions by focusing on their shady activities. A select Senate committee, the McClellan Committee, was created in January 1957 to study improper practices in the field of labor-management relations. Its hearings targeted Teamsters president James R. Hoffa as a public enemy. Bobby Kennedy played a major role working for the committee as its chief counsel. Public opinion polls showed growing distrust toward unions, and especially union leaders—or "labor bosses," as Republicans called them. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition, with the aid of liberals such as the Kennedy brothers, won new Congressional restrictions on organized labor in the form of the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959). The main impact was to force more democracy on the previously authoritarian union hierarchies. However, in the 1958 elections, taking place during a sharp economic recession, the unions fought back especially against state Right to Work laws and defeated many conservative Republicans.
The economy began to decline in mid-1957 and reached its nadir in early 1958. The Recession of 1958 was the worst economic downturn of Eisenhower's tenure, as the unemployment rate reached a high of 7.5%. The poor economy, Sputnik, the federal intervention in Little Rock, and a contentious budget battle all sapped Eisenhower's popularity, with Gallup polling showing that his approval rating dropped from 79 percent in February 1957 to 52 percent in March 1958. A controversy broke out in mid-1958 after a House subcommittee discovered that White House Chief of Staff Sherman Adams had accepted an expensive gift from Bernard Goldfine, textile manufacturer under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Adams denied the accusation that he had interfered with the FTC investigation on Goldfine's behalf, but Eisenhower forced him to resign in September 1958. In the 1958 mid-term elections, the Democrats attacked Eisenhower over the Space Race, the controversy relating to Adams, and other issues, but the biggest issue of the campaign was the economy, which had not yet fully recovered. Republicans suffered major defeats in the 1958 mid-term elections, as Democrats picked up over forty seats in the House and over ten seats in the Senate. Several leading Republicans, including Bricker and Senate Minority Leader William Knowland, lost their re-election campaigns.
Under the original constitutional rules governing the Electoral College, presidential electors were apportioned to states only. As a result, the District of Columbia was excluded from the presidential election process. Several constitutional amendments to provide the district's citizens with appropriate rights of voting in national elections for president and vice president were introduced in Congress during the 1950s. Eisenhower was a persistent advocate for the voting rights of D.C. residents. On June 16, 1960, the 86th Congress approved a constitutional amendment extending the right to vote in presidential election to citizens residing in the District of Columbia by granting the district electors in the Electoral College, as if it were a state. After the requisite number state legislatures ratified the proposed amendment, it became the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution on March 29, 1961.
Eisenhower had called for the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states during his 1952 campaign, but various issues delayed their statehood. Hawaii faced opposition from Southern members of Congress who objected to the island chain's large non-white population, while concerns about military bases in Alaska convinced Eisenhower to oppose statehood for the territory early in his tenure. In 1958, Eisenhower reached an agreement with Congress on a bill that provided for the admission of Alaska and set aside large portions of Alaska for military bases. Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act into law in July 1958, and Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959. Two months later, Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act, and Hawaii became the 50th state in August 1959.
Eisenhower began chain smoking cigarettes at West Point. He stopped in 1949. He was the first president to release information about his health and medical records while in office. However people around him covered up medical information that might hurt him politically by raising doubts about his good health. On September 24, 1955, while vacationing in Colorado, he had a serious heart attack. Dr. Howard Snyder, his personal physician, misdiagnosed the symptoms as indigestion, and failed to call in the help that was urgently needed. Snyder later falsified his own records to cover his blunder and to protect Eisenhower's need to portray he was healthy enough to do his job. The heart attack required six weeks' hospitalization, and Eisenhower did not resume his normal work schedule until early 1956. During Eisenhower's period of recuperation, Nixon, Dulles, and Sherman Adams assumed administrative duties and provided communication with the president. Eisenhower suffered a stroke in November 1957, but he quickly recovered. His health was generally good for the remainder of his second term.
In July 1955, TIME Magazine lauded the president for bringing "prosperity to the nation," noting that, "In the 29 months since Dwight Eisenhower moved into the White House, a remarkable changes has come over the nation. Blood pressure and temperature have gone down; nerve endings have healed over. The new tone could be described in a word: confidence." As the country had been enjoying a period of relative prosperity and confidence during Eisenhower's first term, and as his Gallup poll approval rating ranged between 68 and 79 percent, few doubted that he would be reelected in 1956. Eisenhower's September 1955 heart attack engendered speculation about whether he would be able to seek a second term. However, after his doctor pronounced him fully recovered in February 1956, Eisenhower announced his decision to run for reelection. Eisenhower had considered retiring after one term, but decided to run again in part because he viewed his potential successors from both parties as inadequate.
Eisenhower did not trust Nixon to ably lead the country if he acceded to the presidency, and he attempted to remove Nixon from the 1956 ticket by offering him the position of Secretary of Defense. Nixon declined the offer, and refused to take his name out of consideration for re-nomination unless Eisenhower demanded it. Unwilling to split the party, and unable to find the perfect replacement for Nixon, Eisenhower decided not to oppose Nixon's re-nomination. Some in the party continued to oppose Nixon, including Harold Stassen, who worked in vain, through to the convention, to coax someone to come forward and challenge Nixon. Nixon remained highly popular among the Republican leadership and rank-and-file voters, and the vice president was unanimously re-nominated at the 1956 Republican National Convention. Eisenhower, meanwhile, was renominated with no opposition.
At the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, Adlai Stevenson was renominated on the first ballot, despite a strong challenge from New York governor W. Averell Harriman, who was backed by former president Truman. Stevenson announced that he would leave the choice of the candidate for vice president to the convention; he gave no indication of who he would prefer to have for a running mate. Delegates chose Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee on the second ballot.
Eisenhower campaigned on his record of economic prosperity and his Cold War foreign policy. He also attacked Democrats for allegedly blocking his legislative programs and derided Stevenson's proposal to ban the testing of nuclear weapons. Stevenson called for an acceleration of disarmament talks with the Soviet Union and increased government spending on social programs. The Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Revolution became the focus of Eisenhower's attention in the final weeks of the campaign, and his actions in the former crises boosted his popularity.
On election day, Eisenhower won by an even greater margin than he had four years earlier. He won 457 electoral votes to Stevenson's 73; he also won the popular vote 35.6 to 26 million for Stevenson. Compared to the 1952 election, Eisenhower gained Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia, while losing Missouri. Eisenhower's Republican base had grown thanks to the growth of suburbs. He maintained his 1952 gains among Democrats, especially white urban Southerners and Northern Catholics. In interviews with pollsters, his voters were less likely to bring up his leadership record. Instead what stood out this time, "was the response to personal qualities— to his sincerity, his integrity and sense of duty, his virtue as a family man, his religious devotion, and his sheer likeableness." Eisenhower's victory did not provide a strong coattail effect for other Republican candidates, and Democrats retained control of Congress.
The 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1951, established a two-term limits for the presidency. As the amendment had not applied to sitting President Harry S. Truman, Eisenhower became the first president constitutionally limited to two terms. Eisenhower nonetheless closely watched the 1960 presidential election, which he viewed as a referendum on his presidency. He attempted to convince Secretary of the Treasury Robert Anderson to seek the Republican nomination, but Anderson declined to enter the race. Eisenhower offered Nixon lukewarm support in the 1960 Republican primaries. When asked by reporters to list one of Nixon's policy ideas he had adopted, Eisenhower joked, "If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don't remember." Eisenhower and Nixon in fact had become unequal friends, who learned it from each other and respected each other. Despite the lack of strong support from Eisenhower, Nixon's successful cultivation of party elites ensured that he faced only a weak challenge from Governor Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination. In the general election, which pitted Nixon against Democrat John F. Kennedy, Nixon wanted to win on his own, and did not take up Eisenhower's offers for help. To Eisenhower's great disappointment, Kennedy defeated Nixon in an extremely close election.
During the campaign, Eisenhower had privately lambasted Kennedy's inexperience and connections to political machines, but after the election he worked with Kennedy to ensure a smooth transition. He personally met twice with Kennedy, emphasizing especially the danger posed by Cuba. On January 17, 1961, Eisenhower gave his final televised Address to the Nation from the Oval Office. In his farewell address, Eisenhower raised the issue of the Cold War and role of the U.S. armed forces. He described the Cold War: "We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method ..." and warned about what he saw as unjustified government spending proposals and continued with a warning that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex." Eisenhower's address reflected his fear that military spending and the desire to ensure total security would be pursued to the detriment of other goals, including a sound economy, efficient social programs, and individual liberties.
Eisenhower was popular among the general public when he left office, but for a decade or two commentators viewed Eisenhower as a "do-nothing" president who left many of the major decisions to his subordinates. Paul Holbo and Robert W. Sellen state that critics portrayed Eisenhower:
However, the study of previously-closed records and papers showed that Eisenhower shrewdly maneuvered behind the scenes, avoiding controversial issues while retaining control of his administration. Historians have also noted the limits of some of Eisenhower's achievements; he avoided taking strong public stances on McCarthyism or civil rights, and Cold War tensions were high at the end of his presidency.
Historian John Lewis Gaddis has summarized the turnaround in evaluations:
Historians long ago abandoned the view that Eisenhower's was a failed presidency. He did, after all, end the Korean War without getting into any others. He stabilized, and did not escalate, the Soviet-American rivalry. He strengthened European alliances while withdrawing support from European colonialism. He rescued the Republican Party from isolationism and McCarthyism. He maintained prosperity, balanced the budget, promoted technological innovation, facilitated (if reluctantly) the civil rights movement and warned, in the most memorable farewell address since Washington's, of a "military–industrial complex" that could endanger the nation's liberties. Not until Reagan would another president leave office with so strong a sense of having accomplished what he set out to do.
I despise [McCarthy's tactics], and even during the political campaign of '52 I not only stated publicly (and privately to him) that I disapproved of those methods, but I did so in his own State.
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