“And That’s The Way It Was”

Chicago Literary Club – 11/5/12


Sixty years ago it was 1952 and perhaps this is a good time to look back at the past.


In 1952 the Democrats had been in power for twenty years instead of just four.  Although the incumbent Harry Truman is now rightly considered a great president, that was not true at the time.  His popularity rating was at 22%, the lowest in history.  This was due to the continuing war in Korea, the raging anti-communism of the period including the perceived disloyalty of some federal employees, spy exposures and a series of minor scandals (some of the President’s aides had received deep freezers and mink coats for their wives in return for favors).  As a result, many people felt it was time for a change.


To that end, Dwight Eisenhower (then a General of the Army and the Military Commander of NATO) had a visitor at his residence near Paris.  Jacqueline Cochran, a noted aviatrix, showed General and Mrs. Eisenhower a film of an enthusiastic midnight rally held at Madison Square Garden in support of an Eisenhower candidacy.  Placards saying “I LIKE IKE” and chants of “WE WANT IKE!!!” filled the air.  After the film was complete Ms. Cochran raised a glass and drank a toast “To the President”.  General Eisenhower teared up at that point saying he would run.


Eisenhower had been approached many times about running for president.  At first he turned it down with the usual soldier’s disdain for politics but moderate republican leaders kept coming to him saying “You’ve got to save the party from Joe McCarthy and Bob Taft”.  Robert Taft was the leading senate Republican and the most important leader of the party’s ultra conservative “Old Guard” wing.  I do not fault Ike for changing his mind and deciding to run.  After all, one would have to be superhuman to resist the constant pressure on him to “save the country and the party”.


Both conventions met here in Chicago in 1952 at the International Amphitheater.  It was the last time Chicago hosted both conventions in the same year.  The Republicans met first and it seemed that Bob Taft had the nomination sewed up.  But the Eisenhower forces successfully challenged the credentials of some of the Taft delegates under the cover of a “Fair Play Amendment” which passed on the floor of the convention.  At that time in the South there were not many Republicans.  Most southerners were ancestrally Democrats.  Republican Party organizational structures in the south were weak.  Normally when it became time to choose delegates to the national convention the same group of Regular Republicans would meet in the home of the local county chairman to pick the delegates.  In 1952, Eisenhower’s supporters in several southern states met independently of these groups with the intention of picking their own convention delegates.  At the convention, Ike’s campaign manager Henry Cabot Lodge II then alleged that the regular party groups in the south which picked the Taft delegates were not elected and did not represent the majority sentiment of the Republicans in their county.  The “Fair Play” amendment that Lodge introduced provided for the replacement of the Taft delegates with those loyal to Eisenhower.  The convention would have preferred to nominate Bob Taft but accepted the amendment because they knew their chances of winning the general election would be greater if they nominated Dwight Eisenhower.


On the first ballot Ike fell nine votes short of the 604 votes needed for the nomination, however several delegations then switched their votes giving Eisenhower a victory without a second ballot.  Ike approved the selection of California senator Richard Nixon as his running mate.  Nixon, who had played a pivotal role in passing the “Fair Play” amendment, was picked because he was younger than Eisenhower and because he still provided a link to the “Old Guard” wing of the party.


The Democrats met two weeks later.  For some months previous to the convention, President Truman had been trying to get Adlai Stevenson II (the Governor of Illinois) to run for President.  When the convention met, Stevenson in his capacity as the host governor addressed the convention.  Among other things, he said “Here my friends on the prairies of Illinois and of the Middle West, we can see a long way in all directions.  Here there are no barriers…to ideas and to aspirations.  We want none”.  Stevenson was nominated after the third ballot.  In his acceptance speech Stevenson uttered a phrase that would become famous for its simple eloquence: “Let’s talk sense to the American People”.


Among the things the general election campaign is remembered for are:


Joe McCarthy’s mudslinging, including his constant cry “One communist in the State Department is one communist too many”.


Eisenhower’s failure to defend retired General of the Army and former Secretary of State George C. Marshall in a speech in Milwaukee.


And the “Checkers Speech”.


Joseph McCarthy and other old guard Republicans had wrongly denounced General Marshall as a traitor.  In a speech in Milwaukee Dwight Eisenhower was going to include a line defending Marshall but at the last minute he deleted the line at the urging of party leaders who felt it would split the party.


The last thing the campaign is remembered for is Richard Nixon’s “Checkers Speech”.  The New York Post ran a headline story by a screenwriter inaccurately portraying a Nixon campaign fund as a slush fund used to support Nixon’s personal and family life.  In fact, none of the money went to them personally.  It was used to defray the usual political campaign expenses such as postage, audio recordings of speeches, etc.  Nevertheless a considerable furor resulted.


Nixon made as everyone knows a televised speech in which he spelled out the details of what the fund was for and how it was run as well as a complete break-down of his finances and those of his family.  The reference in his speech to “Checkers” was to a cocker-spaniel that his children received as a gift from an admirer.  The speech, whatever one may think of it, was a resounding success.  By the breakdown of his finances, Nixon had showed himself to be a person that millions could identify with, that this was somebody who knew what it meant to have to worry about the costs of raising a family, including braces for the children and college expenses.


On election night Ike won the election receiving 55.1% of the popular vote to Stevenson’s 44.4% and receiving 442 electoral votes to Stevenson’s 89.  Nevertheless Stevenson polled more popular votes than any other losing presidential candidate up to that time.


In his concession speech Stevenson quoted the Abraham Lincoln story about the boy who had stubbed his toe: “He was too old to cry but it hurt too much to laugh”.


“And that’s the way it was Tuesday November 4, 1952.  Good night”







Ambrose, Stephen E.


Eisenhower Volume One

Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect  1890-1952


New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983





Manchester, William


The Glory and the Dream


Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1974