Dwight David Eisenhower

Presidency

Eisenhower was sought as a nominee for presidency of the United States in 1948 but rejected the offers made him. In Dec., 1950, he obtained a leave of absence as president of Columbia to become Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). After he negotiated basic commitments from member countries to build up the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he retired from active duty (1952) with the army to campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. With the support of Republican liberals and internationalists, he defeated his chief rival, Senator Robert A. Taft, for the nomination. His popularity as a World War II hero, and his promise to end the Korean War brought Eisenhower an easy victory over his Democratic opponent, Adlai E. Stevenson, and he took office on Jan. 20, 1953.

First Term

Eisenhower soon fulfilled his campaign pledge when an armistice was signed (July, 1953) in Korea after he threatened to use nuclear weapons. Eisenhower and his secretary of state John Foster Dulles continued the Truman administration policy of containing Communism and of financing the French attempt to maintain control of Indochina. Defense treaties were signed with South Korea (1953) and Taiwan (1954), and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization was formed in 1954 to halt Communist expansion in Asia. After the French lost the battle of Dienbienphu and withdrew from Indochina, Eisenhower sent military aid to South Vietnam. He also tried, after the death of Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1953, to ease cold war tensions. His "atoms for peace" plan and his statements at the Geneva summit conference in July, 1955, were widely heralded.

At home, Eisenhower's record was less distinguished. He failed to oppose publicly Senator Joseph McCarthy. The predominance of business executives in his cabinet lent a conservative tone to his administration, while his concern for a balanced budget at a time when defense expenditures were rising rapidly, as well as his commitment to limiting the role of the government in the economy, kept Eisenhower from expanding the social welfare programs begun by his Democratic predecessors. Despite an attack of coronary thrombosis in Sept., 1955, he was reelected over Adlai Stevenson in 1956 by an even wider margin than in 1952.

Second Term

During his second term, desegregation became one of the primary issues on the national agenda. Although personally unenthusiastic about desegregation, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Ark. to enforce a court-ordered school desegregation decision (Sept., 1957). His administration supported the civil-rights legislation that passed Congress (1957, 1960); and he prohibited discriminatory practices in the District of Columbia and in federal facilities such as navy yards and hospitals.

International tensions increased during his second term. In 1957 he promulgated the so-called Eisenhower Doctrine, in which he proposed to send military and economic aid to any Middle Eastern nation requesting it in order to bolster that region against Communist aggression. Pursuant to that doctrine, he sent U.S. Marines to Lebanon in July, 1958. Eisenhower hosted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the latter's visit to the United States in 1959. When they met at the Paris summit conference in the following year, the tone was less friendly; Khrushchev denounced Eisenhower for permitting high-altitude espionage flights over the Soviet Union and walked out of the summit. Fidel Castro's Communist regime in Cuba exacerbated cold war tensions, and In 1961, Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba and authorized preparations for an invasion (see Bay of Pigs Invasion).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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