34th President of the United States (1953-1961)
Full Name: Dwight David Eisenhower (Born: David Dwight Eisenhower)
Full Name: October 14, 1890, Denison, Texas
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: New York (1st term: When running for President in 1952, Eisenhower was stationed in Paris as NATO Secretary-General and New York was his official residence) and Kansas (2nd term: During his Presidency, Eisenhower switched his official residency back to Kansas)
Term: January 20, 1953-January 20, 1961
Age at Inauguration: 62 years, 98 days
Administration: 42nd and 43rd
Congresses: 83rd, 84th, 85th, and 86th
Vice President: Richard Milhous Nixon (1953-1961)
Died: March 28, 1969, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 78 years, 165 days
Buried: Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas
2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 9 of 43 [↑1]
Ulysses S. Grant is on American currency because of his successes as a Union General during the Civil War, not because of anything he did as President of the United States. For decades, the first thing that Dwight D. Eisenhower has been remembered for is his leadership as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. Perhaps that will never change, and maybe it shouldn’t since he was the successful commander of the largest, the most intricate, and possibly even the most important amphibious invasion in the history of the world. But as the years pass and the Eisenhower and we are able to compare him to others, it is clear that Eisenhower was a great President as well as a great soldier. Eisenhower was an incredibly clever and able politician, and he modernized the way the Executive Branch works and is organized. Eisenhower brought the military-type of chief of staff position to the White House and it changed the way that Presidential power was used and protected. The eight years of the Eisenhower Administration were prosperous and peaceful, and despite his age and his supposed “inexperience” with politics, Eisenhower was hands-on and directed every aspect of his Presidency. That made for a strong Presidency and a country that was steered into the 1960’s by President, not General, Eisenhower. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a career soldier who spent decades training to be a warrior and preparing to wage war, but after World War II, few citizens worked harder at “waging peace”. As Ike said while reflecting on his Presidency, “The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground during my Administration. We kept the peace. People ask how it happened — by God, it didn’t just happen!”
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: 22 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: 9 of 38
1990: Siena Institute: 12 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 10 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 9 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 8 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 8 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 8 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 10 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 10 of 40
Eisenhower and all five of his brothers were nicknamed “Ike” at one point. Eisenhower himself was never really sure where the nickname came from, but some suggested that it was a shortened version of his nickname, although it seems like it would be much easier for his parents to just call the sons by their first names instead of shortening the last name that they all shared. Then again, the parents gave all of the boys the same nickname, so who knows? They also called the future President by his middle name of “Dwight” rather than his given first name of “David” since that was his dad’s name instead of just naming him “Dwight David Eisenhower” in the first place.
Dwight Eisenhower was the only one of his brothers who continued being called “Ike” past his childhood. By the way, when Eisenhower’s first son, Dwight Doud, was born (he tragically died at the age of three), he was nicknamed “Icky”.
Some of you may be nearing Graduation Day. Some of you may be older folks like me and have children approaching Graduation Day. Either way, one thing is certain — if you miss your child’s graduation, you better have a damn good reason.
John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower was the only surviving son of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. Their first son, Doud Dwight (nicknamed “Icky” to go along with his father, “Ike”), had died of scarlet fever at the age of three — a devastating blow that Ike could, understandably, never fully come to terms with. John, who passed away in December 2013, was born in 1922, less than two years after Icky’s death, and he followed in his father’s footsteps in many ways. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, had a respectable career in the military, retired as a general (albeit with four less stars than his father had on his shoulder), and later served as a diplomat and highly-respect military historian. John S.D. Eisenhower was also not only the son of a President, but the father-in-law of a President’s daughter — John’s son, David (the namesake of Camp David), married Julie Nixon in 1968. In old age, John Eisenhower even looked almost exactly like Dwight D. Eisenhower.
But when John Eisenhower graduated from West Point, as his father had done in 1915, Dwight D. Eisenhower missed the solemn and important ceremony. Mamie was there, but Ike was not — he wasn’t even on the same continent.
Fortunately, Ike was forgiven. He had a good reason for missing John’s graduation from the United States Military Academy.
For John S.D Eisenhower, June 6, 1944 was Graduation Day; for Dwight D. Eisenhower and 160,000 Allied soldiers, it was D-Day. John tossed his hat in the air with his fellow West Point cadets on the very same day that his father was commanding the Allied landings on Normandy, the largest amphibious invasion in the history of the world.
The rivalry between General Eisenhower and Robert Taft was certainly interesting. Because of Eisenhower’s popularity and his relatively easy victories over Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, it’s forgotten that Taft was such a contender for the Republican nomination in 1952 before it became clear that Eisenhower was making a bid for the Presidency. Taft really felt that it was his turn and that he deserved the nomination. He looked at Eisenhower as a bit of a political carpetbagger — a career soldier who had said he had no interest in politics and hadn’t even officially declared which party he belonged to until shortly before he ran for President.
Taft was a victim, of course, to Eisenhower’s immense popularity as the Allied commander during World War II. But Taft was also a victim of television. Eisenhower had that famous smile and a quirky charisma, while Robert Taft was a really awkward-looking guy who didn’t come across well on television. The 1952 Republican National Convention was the first political convention that was a major television event, and that definitely helped Ike and hurt Taft. Bob Taft also came across as a cold, aloof figure who was highly-respected for his intellect, but not terribly exciting or special. Not only did he not have the appeal or ability to connect with the American people that Eisenhower did, but he wasn’t even close to being as likable as his father, William Howard Taft.
With that said, Bob Taft was a formidable figure and Eisenhower could not take him lightly — not during the 1952 GOP Convention and not after Eisenhower’s election when he Ike had to try to mend their relationship since Taft remained Senate Majority Leader. Taft never fully bought in to Eisenhower, but they also didn’t have much time. Although Taft sought the Presidency and felt that he deserved to win it in 1952, he was probably already dying of stomach cancer at the time. Senator Taft died on July 31, 1953, so if he had been elected, he would have been dead just over six months into his Presidency. Despite their rivalry, President Eisenhower quickly realized that losing Taft’s leadership in the Senate was an early blow to his Administration’s legislative efforts and Taft’s absence allowed Joseph McCarthy to continue his reign of terror in the Senate for several more years.
Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War
David A. Nichols
Paperback. 346 pp.
February 2012. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
A few years ago, I ordered the The Presidents Collection DVD box set from PBS’s awesome American Experience series. This particular set included documentaries about 10 of the most important and influential Presidents of the 20th Century: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy (in “The Kennedys” featuring the story of the entire political family), Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. For someone like me, 35 hours worth of documentaries about our Presidents is basically my personal definition of heaven and I have never had any complaints about my purchase. However, I’ve always been surprised that one of the 20th Century Presidents left out of this particular set of DVDs is the 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
For some reason, Dwight D. Eisenhower as President is often overlooked or overshadowed. The mid-20th Century featured large personalities immediately preceding and succeeding Eisenhower in the Presidency — FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Nixon — and the eight years that Eisenhower served were relatively calm, peaceful, and prosperous in comparison to the events that took place during the Administrations of FDR (Great Depression/World War II), Truman (End of World War II/Atomic bombing of Japan/Korean War), JFK (Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis), LBJ (Civil Rights Movement/Vietnam), and Nixon (Vietnam/Watergate). Then there’s the fact that Eisenhower’s greatest fame came before he entered the world of politics, first as one of the leading Generals and then the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, where he planned and oversaw the successful D-Day invasion of Europe. In a way, President Eisenhower has always been overshadowed by General Eisenhower, and Eisenhower’s performance as President continues to be underrated, although more Americans are beginning to understand Ike’s greatness during his two terms in the White House.
The world didn’t stop being a dangerous place from 1953-1961. A famous Eisenhower quote inscribed on a wall at the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kansas notes that the peace and prosperity that the United States enjoyed during his Administration wasn’t the result of good luck: “The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground during my Administration. We kept the peace. People ask how it happened — by God, it didn’t just happen.” Eisenhower spent almost his entire adult life prior to entering politics as a warrior, but as President, the old soldier committed himself and his nation towards, in one of his favorite phrases, “waging peace”.
Even before Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn into office in January 1953, he took steps to end the fighting in the Korean War, which had become a stalemate under President Truman. During the transition between Eisenhower’s election and inauguration, the President-elect followed through on a campaign pledge and traveled to Korea to revive peace talks and help guide the parties to an Armistice. When he took office, Eisenhower hit the ground running and Americans had immense faith in their new President because of the leadership skills that helped the Allies win World War II. The peace and prosperity that Americans enjoyed during Eisenhower’s first term virtually guaranteed that Ike could be easily re-elected in 1956.
David A. Nichols begins his remarkable look at the most difficult year of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Presidency, Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War (Paperback, 2012, Simon & Schuster), with President Eisenhower enjoying a nice vacation at the Colorado home of his mother-in-law. However, early in the morning of September 24, 1955, the President, who was less than a month away from his 65th birthday, suffered a massive heart attack. The quick reaction of Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, may have saved the President’s life, but a little over a year away from the 1956 election, Eisenhower’s ability to seek re-election, or even continue in the Presidency, was in serious question.
Nichols follows President Eisenhower’s recovery into 1956 as Ike slowly but surely regains his strength and becomes convinced that he is not only capable of seeking re-election, but that his country needs him to remain at the helm. The President’s heart attack is the beginning of several crises that make Eisenhower 1956 a gripping account as the political calendar flips closer and closer to Election Day, and as one international crisis after another plunge the world to the brink of yet another World War and seemingly blend together to make every move that the Eisenhower Administration makes potentially dangerous and crucial to the survival of peace.
In Eisenhower 1956, David A. Nichols uncovers incredible details from recently declassified documents, personal diaries, diplomatic cables, and more in order to prove that Dwight D. Eisenhower was not merely a popular, genial, caretaker in the White House. Instead, Eisenhower was a hands-on leader who may have come from a military background but who had perhaps better political instincts than any American politician of his time. Eisenhower was clever and cunning, in national politics and international diplomacy. Despite running for a second term and another serious setback to his health, Eisenhower stays engaged at a top-level and, in many instances, the President’s perspective on foreign relations and his vision for the big picture rivals that of his ever-present Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and any of the other longtime political or diplomatic veterans in Eisenhower’s Cabinet or inner circle. For those readers who were previously aware of Eisenhower’s surprising political skills, Eisenhower 1956 will add to your appreciation of Ike’s capabilities. For those who might have thought of the old General as a hands-off delegator with a famous smile who won the Presidency as something akin to a lifetime achievement award — and there are many Americans who have thought of Eisenhower the President in that way over the past half-century — this book by Nichols is perhaps the best revelation yet about Eisenhower’s immense skills and how he transformed the Presidency.
The main conflict in Eisenhower 1956 is the Suez Crisis, an event that continues to have consequences today in an area of the world which remains a flashpoint. Since the Suez Crisis took place in 1956, some historians have looked at it one of the last gasps of European colonialism in the wake of World War II. Throughout Eisenhower 1956, the deep research done by David A. Nichols reveals incredible details about how the Suez Crisis escalated and what could have happened if not for the restraint and stunning diplomatic footwork of President Eisenhower and the Eisenhower Administration. One of the most incredible aspects of the Suez Crisis is how, just a decade following the end of World War II, two of America’s wartime Allies that owed perhaps more gratitude than anyone else to Dwight D. Eisenhower — Great Britain and France — secretly plotted with Israel to double-cross President Eisenhower and the United States in order to attack Egypt after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. It is a tremendous story, told with incredible detail by Dr. Nichols, which not only takes you back to 1956, but makes you feel as if you were in charge of President Eisenhower’s daily calendar throughout the crisis.
Most unbelievable of all is that President Eisenhower’s bid for re-election, the most heated moments of the Suez Crisis, and Eisenhower’s precarious health are issues that don’t simply share the same year — 1956 — but, in many cases, take place simultaneously. And, as President Eisenhower considers how to handle the Suez Crisis — including the unthinkable possibility of American forces combating the aggression against Egypt by responding militarily against our seemingly inseparable Allies, Britain, France, and Israel — the Soviet Union puts down a popular revolt in Hungary with 200,000 Russian troops and threatens to funnel weapons and funding, if not direct military support, in the Middle East.
Eisenhower 1956 is a compelling, phenomenal history of one of our great, underrated Presidents, at the top of his game as a world leader and visionary of modern global relations, responding to a hurricane of dangerous international crises with political skills that few leaders — Presidents, diplomats, politicians, or soldiers — have ever possessed. Dr. Nichols has crafted a masterpiece that does justice to the gravity of the events portrayed in his book while giving President Eisenhower the just due that he so richly deserves. This is an important work for the study of Eisenhower, the American Presidency, the Cold War, and the always-evolving status of American relations in the Middle East.
Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis: Suez and the Brink of War by David A. Nichols is available now in hardcover and paperback from Simon & Schuster. You can order the book from Amazon, or download it instantly for your Kindle. Dr. Nichols previously authored another title about the 34th President, A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution (BOOK•KINDLE). For more information on Dr. Nichols, be sure to check out his author page at the Simon & Schuster website.