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Eisenhower, Dwight D. (United States of America)

Reference work entry

Introduction

Dwight David Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States was elected President in 1953 and again in 1957. He achieved military distinction as supreme allied commander of the invasion of Europe in 1944. As President, Eisenhower struggled to implement his policies against opposition from a Democrat controlled Congress.

Early Life

Born on 14 Oct. 1890 in Denison, Texas, Eisenhower’s parents were members of a fundamentalist Christian group known as the River Brethren. After graduating from High School in 1909 Eisenhower entered the US Naval Academy at West Point, which he attended from 1911. A talented American football player, Eisenhower’s sporting ambitions were curtailed by injury. After graduation from West Point in 1915 Eisenhower was made ND Lieutenant of Infantry. On 1 July 1916 he married Mamie Geneva Doud, with whom he would have two children, one of which died in infancy.

During World War I, Eisenhower earned a Distinguished Service Medal. In 1933 he was appointed assistant to chief of staff General Douglas MacArthur, and spent 4 years in the Philippines working on the islands’ defences. In 1940 Eisenhower was made a lieutenant colonel and in 1941 he was promoted to brigadier general and his chief of staff George Marshall gave him responsibility for the United States’ War Plans division in the Far East. On 25 June 1942 Eisenhower was made commander of all the United States forces in Europe and head of the Operation Division a year later.

Eisenhower led the Allied invasion of North Africa in Nov. 1942. In July 1943, he led the Allies into Sicily, proclaiming the capture of Palermo as ‘the first page in the story of the liberation of the European continent’. On 8 Sept. he announced that Italy had unconditionally surrendered. On 24 Dec. 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Eisenhower as supreme allied commander of the invasion of Western Europe, with Briton General Montgomery as his field commander.

On 6 June 1944 allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies on the northern coast of France. Operation Overlord was the largest ever-combined land, sea and air military operation. By July German forces had been driven from Normandy and on 25 Aug. Allied forces retook Paris. The Germans attempted to hit back with an offensive in the Ardennes in Dec., but Eisenhower marshalled his troops and the Nazi counter-attack was over by the early part of 1945. The Germans eventually surrendered on 8 May 1945. Eisenhower remained in Europe for several months as head of the occupational forces until returning to America to become chief of staff.

After presiding over the demobilization of the American army Eisenhower was briefly the president of Columbia University before he was appointed supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1950. As a presidential candidate he was a popular choice of both Democrats and Republicans. In Jan. 1952 he threw his hat into the political ring, announcing that he would be prepared to run as a Republican. He won the Presidential nomination in July and resigned from the Army. One of his first acts was to select Senator Richard M. Nixon as his running mate.

Career Peak

In an election campaign that utilised the fast-developing medium of television, Eisenhower defeated Democratic opponent Adlai E. Stevenson by a majority of 6.45 m. votes. On 20 Jan. 1953 he was inaugurated as President.

One of his first acts on assuming control of the White House was to deal with the Korean war that he had inherited from Truman. A ceasefire followed soon after Eisenhower’s inauguration. Domestically, Eisenhower’s aim was to balance the federal budget. His other chief task was to try and limit the damage created by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into undercover communism. In Aug. 1954, Eisenhower outlawed the Communist Party while distancing himself from McCarthy whose excesses earned him a congressional censure.

For the first 2 years of Eisenhower’s Presidency, Republicans marginally controlled both Houses of Congress, but power shifted to the Democrats in 1954, forcing Eisenhower into a delicate balancing act as he sought to implement legislation. Mild civil rights proposals were defeated but Eisenhower did succeed in balancing the nation’s budget in his first term.

In Sept. 1956 the assumption that Eisenhower would run for re-election was put in doubt after he suffered a heart attack. He recovered slowly but was sufficiently in command to intervene in the Suez crisis of 1956, by refusing to support the invasion of Egypt by British, French and Israeli forces.

On 6 Nov. Eisenhower defeated Adlai E. Stevenson for the second successive election, this time by more than 9 m. votes and 457 electoral votes to 73. Both at home and abroad, Eisenhower faced a difficult second term in office. Troublesome relationships with Congress continued and the Democrats increased their majorities in the Senate and Congress in 1958. Eisenhower’s attempts to thaw the Cold War met with frustration. Anti-American feeling was particularly strong in Cuba, where Communist Fidel Castro had seized power. Just as a Big Four summit in Geneva in 1955 had ended in stalemate, so Eisenhower’s attempt in 1960 to agree an accord with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was thwarted when the shooting down of an American U-2 plane over the USSR caused Khrushchev to boycott the meeting.

Eisenhower handed over the Republican presidential candidacy to his vice-president Richard Nixon—who would ultimately lose the 1960 election by a slim margin to John F. Kennedy.

Later Life

In retirement, Eisenhower was consulted by his successors Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1965, he suffered a major heart attack, and his health continued to deteriorate thereafter. After another heart attack in 1968 Eisenhower died in hospital in Washington, D.C. on 28 March 1969.

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