Dwight Eisenhower, a career military officer who rose to the rank of five-star general and led U.S. troops in World War II, was first elected president on Nov, 5, 1952.
On this day in history, November 5:
General Dwight Eisenhower won a landslide victory in the 1952 U.S. presidential election, racking up the highest number of popular votes in American history. He received 31,552,768 popular votes and 431 electoral college votes, many more than the 266 needed for a majority.
Ike’s popularity with the American people was due to his experience as a military hero in World War II, when he was the supreme Allied commander and led the D-Day invasion of the Normandy beaches, turning the tide of the war on the Western Front. His 40-year military career culminated in his appointment as commander-in-chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1951.
At the Commodore Hotel in New York, the president-elect told the American people in his victory speech: “I recognize clearly the weight of the responsibilities that you have placed upon me and I assure you that I shall never in my service in Washington give short weight to those responsibilities.”
Stevenson Concedes Defeat
The election results came after months of a hard-fought campaign against Illinois Democratic Governor Adlai E Stevenson, who won 25,409,335 votes, 10 states and 100 electoral college votes. Most commentators had expected a much closer contest. Many Southern states, traditionally Democratic, swung to the Republicans for the first time in 35 years, with Eisenhower’s campaign slogan, “I like Ike,” proving to be a winner everywhere.
Stevenson issued a statement, saying “The people have rendered their verdict, and I gladly accept it. General Eisenhower has been a great leader in war. He has been a vigorous and valiant opponent in the campaign. These qualities will now be dedicated to leading us all through the next four years.”
President Truman sent a telegram congratulating Eisenhower on his “overwhelming victory” and invited him to the White House for talks. One of the new president’s most pressing challenges was to deal with the war in Korea. During the campaign, he promised to visit that nation and planned to do so within the next 10 days.
West Point Graduate
Dwight David Eisenhower, nicknamed “Ike,” grew up in Abilene, Kansas, on a farm with six brothers. His early education was rudimentary. He attended Abilene High School and graduated in 1909. Then, he landed a job as a night foreman at the Belle Springs Creamery. After working for two years to support one brother’s college education, a friend urged him to apply to the Naval Academy. He passed the entrance exam, but was over the age of eligibility for admission.
A Kansas senator recommended him for an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1911. Eisenhower graduated in the upper half of the class of 1915, known as “the class the stars fell on” because 59 members eventually became officers.
Eisenhower long wanted to play professional baseball. At West Point, he tried out for the team, but failed to make it. He would later say that “not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest.” But he made the football team, and played on the varsity as a running back and linebacker.
As president, Eisenhower oversaw the cease-fire in the Korean War, made nuclear arms a higher defense priority, launched the space race, kept up the pressure on the Soviet Union, signed legislation enlarging Social Security and supporting Negro civil rights, and began the Interstate Highway System, the largest public works project in history.
He signed the bill that became the Federal Aid Highway Act authorizing 41,000 miles of thruways in 1956, justifying them as essential to U.S. security during the Cold War. It was believed that big cities would be targets in any future war, and the new highways were designed to evacuate citizens and enable the military to move in.
On the day after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which segregated schools were ruled unconstitutional, Eisenhower told District of Columbia officials to make Washington a model for the nation in integrating black and white schoolchildren. He also proposed to Congress the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, and signed them into law.
After the Suez Crisis, the United States became the protector of Western interests in the Middle East. As a result, Ike proclaimed the Eisenhower Doctrine in January 1957, after he was re-elected in another landslide to a second term as president. In relation to the Middle East, the United States would be “prepared to use armed force … to counter aggression from any country controlled by international Communism.”
Eisenhower ranks highly, usually in the top 10, among U.S. presidents in terms of approval rating. On January 17, 1961, he delivered his televised farewell address to the nation from the oval office, saying: “We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method …”
But then the former general warned all Americans about an equally dangerous domestic threat: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”