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The Draft Eisenhower movement was the first successful political draft of the 20th century to take a private citizen to the Oval Office. It was a widespread American grassroots political movement that eventually persuaded Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for President. The movement culminated in the 1952 presidential election in which Eisenhower won the Republican nomination and defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson to become the 34th President of the United States.
At the end of the War in Europe on May 8, 1945, Eisenhower had supreme command of all operational Allied forces. Eisenhower was named Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army in November 1945, and in December 1950 was named Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and given operational command of NATO forces in Europe. Eisenhower retired from active service on May 31, 1952. During this period Eisenhower served as president of Columbia University from 1948 until 1953.
The time from 1951 to 1952 has been called the American "Winter of Discontent". Americans were frustrated by the stalemated Korean War, with no clear end in sight, and unpopular President Harry S. Truman would not commit to seeking another term.
Draft Eisenhower movements had emerged ahead of the 1948 election, mostly in the Democratic Party; in July 1947 Truman offered to run as Eisenhower's running mate on the Democratic ticket if Douglas MacArthur won the Republican nomination. Eisenhower rejected all requests to enter politics. He considered making a statement "similar to Sherman's", but did not reject running for the presidency as definitively as William T. Sherman because, as he wrote to Walter Bedell Smith, "I do not believe that you or I or anyone else has the right to state, categorically, that he will not perform any duty that his country might demand of him". The movements reemerged in 1951 in both the Republican and Democratic parties, as Eisenhower had not yet announced any political party affiliation and believed that he needed to remain nonpartisan, citing Army regulation 600-10.18.i forbidding partisan political activity by serving officers.
Democrats sought a candidate who could help them retain the White House after Truman, who many felt could not win re-election. Hoping that Eisenhower would run on behalf of the Democratic Party, Truman wrote to Eisenhower in December 1951, saying: "I wish you would let me know what you intend to do." Eisenhower responded: "I do not feel that I have any duty to seek a political nomination." Republican New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. of Massachusetts meanwhile worked to persuade him to run. Lodge began encouraging Eisenhower to run more than two years before the 1952 Republican National Convention, and Dewey on 15 October 1950 had announced his support for the general. Republican admirers coined the phrase "I like Ike" (referring to "Ike", Eisenhower's nickname) in the spring of 1951 as a symbol of their hopes. The "I Like Ike" slogan was created when Peter G. Peterson of Market Facts (he would be Secretary of Commerce for Nixon), did research for the campaign and found out more people wanted to talk about how they trusted and felt comfortable with Ike, but didn't like to describe their views on all the issues. Thus, 'I Like Ike' went on all Ike paraphernalia.
Eisenhower had told Kansas newspaper editor Roy A. Roberts in 1947 that he was "a good Kansas Republican like yourself". Although Roberts disclosed their conversation in 1951, Americans remained uncertain of Eisenhower's politics. Although he believed that he would win the presidency more easily and with a larger congressional majority as a Democrat, Eisenhower believed that the Truman administration had become corrupt and that the next president would have to reform the government without having to defend past policies. The internationalist wing of the Republican party, in turn, saw Eisenhower as an alternative to the more isolationist candidate, Senator Robert A. Taft who, before the primaries, was widely considered by insiders to be the frontrunner for the nomination. While Taft had voted against NATO, Eisenhower believed that the United States and its allies needed to oppose Communism through NATO and other collective security efforts. He hoped to settle the issue before taking the NATO post in Paris and met with Taft at the Pentagon in January 1951. Eisenhower offered to make a Shermanesque statement rejecting any possibility of running for the presidency if Taft agreed to support collective security with Europe. Taft refused.
During 1951 more Republican politicians announced their support for Eisenhower, while Democrats continued to assure him that he could win the presidency as a Democrat. Taft announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination on 16 October. On 17 November Lodge became the campaign manager for the Draft Eisenhower movement, still without any authorization from its candidate. By December, the movement had grown to the point that Eisenhower had his friend Clifford Roberts secretly organize a political advisory group of close, trusted persons to watch it, and as momentum behind Taft's candidacy grew, Eisenhower's reluctance to run declined. Lodge was perhaps the most vocal, effective, and persistent supporter of the movement, and after months of argument, persuaded Eisenhower to at least not repudiate a draft movement; Eisenhower also told Lodge that he was a Republican, which Lodge revealed during a 6 January 1952 press conference. Eisenhower announced through the military that Lodge was correct, and that while he would not ask to be relieved of his NATO assignment for political reasons, if the Republican party gave him "a duty that would transcend my present responsibility" at the convention in July and nominate him, he would run.
On January 6, 1952, Lodge entered Eisenhower's name into the New Hampshire primary ballot without Eisenhower's permission. Soon 24 newspapers including The New York Times endorsed Eisenhower, and Senator Paul Douglas even suggested that both parties nominate Eisenhower with differing vice-presidential running mates. For several weeks Eisenhower was a non-participant, however, and would not speak out on his views or declare himself a candidate. Through January and February Eisenhower wrote to friends and family members saying that he was flattered by the movement, but did not really believe it was as widespread as the media implied.
On 8 February the movement demonstrated its size. A Draft Eisenhower rally was scheduled to be held in Madison Square Garden on that day. The event planners expected no more than the arena's 16,000-person capacity, but over 25,000 showed up, and the New York police and fire marshals could get very few people to leave. On 11 February, famous businesswoman and aviator Jacqueline Cochran flew to Paris to show Eisenhower Serenade to Ike, a tribute film she had made. The film visibly touched Eisenhower, who began to shed tears when, at the end of the film, Cochran toasted to Eisenhower, saying, "To the President of the United States." Eisenhower later wrote of the event, describing his inner turmoil by stating, "I've never been so upset in years."
Despite remaining in Paris and doing no campaigning other than stating that he would run if nominated by the Republicans, on 11 March, Eisenhower won the New Hampshire primary against Taft by 50% to 38% and captured all of the Republican delegates. Eisenhower announced that he was "astounded" and "moved" by the results and told a reporter, "Any American who would have that many other Americans pay him that compliment would be proud or he would not be an American." On 18 March, more than 106,000 voted for "Eisenhower", "Isenhowr", or "Ike" as a write-in candidate in the Minnesota presidential primary, only 20,000 behind favorite son Harold Stassen, who was on the ballot. That so many fellow citizens viewed him as "Ike" especially pleased the surprised general, who asked to be relieved of his NATO assignment and retired from the military on 2 June. On 4 June Eisenhower made his first political speech in his home town of Abilene, Kansas.