Eisenhower the President

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

In this work William Bragg Ewald, Jr., a literary critic and former Harvard English Professor, analyzes the Eisenhower presidency and joins a rising group of Eisenhower revisionists who would seek to demonstrate that Eisenhower was a more skillful politician and a stronger chief executive than earlier observers thought.

Drawing on his long association with President Eisenhower, first as a speech writer and member of the White House Staff, then as an aide to a Cabinet offical and later as a research assistant in the writing of the president’s memoirs, Ewald reconstructs effectively the internal dynamics of the Eisenhower era and refashions markedly the popular Eisenhower image.

Deprecators of Eisenhower viewed him as a passive, aging, apolitical, inarticulate, inept, but affable president who had little impact on foreign or domestic policy and who was prone to assign away his authority, particularly to his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and to his Chief Assistant, Sherman Adams.

Ewald portrays an Eisenhower who was in control, active, intelligent, informed, politically astute, impressively organized, and formidable, a man who could and would unhesitatingly decimate subordinates, adversaries or ideologues if they got in his way.

The author has relied not only on his intimate White House relationships and experience but also on a mass of manuscripts, documentary materials, oral history collections, and interviews. Ewald had initial access to the Whitman File, named after Eisenhower’s personal secretary, Ann Whitman, wherein is contained a vast amount of information concerning the Eisenhower presidency. Included in the file, located in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, are detailed documentations of daily appointments, confidential memoranda, transcripts of speeches, summaries of telephone conversations, Eisenhower’s personal diary and letters, and many homey observations by the secretary herself.

The result of Ewald’s extensive research and reminiscence is a frequently insightful and lively episodic account that centers on Eisenhower’s personality and leadership; examines his strengths as a strategic decision-maker; reveals the dimension of his political alignments; and assesses the impact of his foreign policy. Moreover, Ewald also affords intimate glimpses of Eisenhower’s crafty behind-the-scenes endeavors to quiet the demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy; force the resignation of Sherman Adams; and replace Richard Nixon with Frank Lausche, a Catholic and a Democrat, in the vice-presidency at reelection time.

In retrospect, the Eisenhower presidency was a time of calm and abundance. Eisenhower gave the country eight good years. Ewald believes they were the best in memory, for in the midst of the Cold War and between the wars in Korea and Indochina, Eisenhower temporized and held in check incipient governmental activism and adventurism. In addition, he provided the nation with two balanced budgets, kept inflation at a low minimum, and curbed military spending.

The first year of the Eisenhower presidency saw Joseph McCarthy, the junior Senator from Wisconsin, at the peak of his virulent power. McCarthy had ruthlessly exploited one of the potentially divisive issues of the Eisenhower years—domestic Communism. He made unfounded assertions that there were Communists in the State Department and in the Army as well. He conducted a search for spies in the Signal Corps and at the Monmouth laboratories and enlisted unidentified employees in the federal agencies to supply him with information about their colleagues and superiors. He also waged an extreme attack on the integrity and patriotism of General George Marshall, Eisenhower’s friend and mentor. In campaign stops in Wisconsin, Eisenhower agreed at the urging of his speech writers to delete from his prepared text a passage of praise for General Marshall to avoid alienating McCarthy, who was campaigning for reelection. Historians have faulted Eisenhower for this capitulation. Ewald explains that it was thought the Marshall paragraph was gratuitous and out of place. Later, in his book Mandate for Change (1963), Eisenhower was to deny that he had capitulated. He insisted that “if I could have foreseen this distortion of facts, a distortion that even led some to question my loyalty to General Marshall, I would never have acceded to the staff’s arguments, logical as they sounded at the time.”

Ewald reveals that just prior to the Wisconsin speech Eisenhower took McCarthy aside and excoriated him in “white-hot” anger for half an hour and then proceeded to a buffet dinner with his staff to which McCarthy was not invited. In an interview with reporters McCarthy insisted that his conversation with the President was “very, very” pleasant.

Seemingly, the Administration vacillated between...

(The entire section is 1996 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Best Sellers. XLI, May, 1981, p. 57.

Booklist. LXXVII, April 15, 1981, p. 1136.

Business Week. March 16, 1981, p. 14.

Choice. XVIII, June, 1981, p. 1476.

Christian Science Monitor. LXXIII, April 15, 1981, p. 17.

Library Journal. CVI, April 1, 1981, p. 787.

National Review. XXXIII, May 1, 1981, p. 498.

The New York Review of Books. XXVIII, September 24, 1981, p. 54.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, June 28, 1981, p. 12.

The Wall Street Journal. CXCVII, June 18, 1981, p. 26.