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PRESIDENT EISENHOWER AND THE HISTORIANS: IS THE GENERAL IN RETREAT? JeffBroadwater In a 1962 poll of seventy-fivepresidential scholars by the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., Dwight D. Eisenhower ranked twenty-second among all American presidents. Eisenhower's rating placed him low in the "average" category, alongside the almost forgotten Chester A. Arthur and barely ahead of Andrew Johnson, the only president ever to be impeached. Eight years later, in a survey of members of the Organization of American Historians, Ike climbed to nineteenth in "general prestige," just below the Depression era's Herbert C. Hoover and, once again, just above the embattled Johnson. Yet in the early 1980s, a series of polls placed Eisenhower in or near the presidential top ten--an "above average" if not "near great" chief executive. 1 To his enthusiasts, there has since seemed to be no limit to the possibilities presented by the General's apparent resurgence. One of Eisenhower's most effervescent supporters, R. Gordon Hoxie of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, has recently suggested that "more and more Eisenhower's career and his presidency will be compared with those of Washington and Lincoln." 2 Ranking presidents like college football teams is, beyond question, a crude way to assess performance in the White House. Still,polls and surveys do measure some kind of scholarly consensus about standards of presidential leadership; Washington, Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt consistently score as the United States's three greatest presidents. 3 In the case of Eisenhower, poll results sketch in broad outline the vicissitudes of his reputation among serious students of postwar American politics. Simple rankings cannot, however, trace precisely the evolution of presidential historiography. Students of a particular chief executive,for example, tend to be more sympathetic to their president than do historians at large.4 I argue that among most writers Ike's reputation never sank as low or soared as high as the polls might imply. Indeed, a few recent straws in the historical winds suggest that the tides of Eisenhower revisionismmay be nearing their height. When his image was at its nadir, pundits often caricatured Eisenhower as an affable but inarticulate political innocent who loafed awayeight years in 48 Jeff Broadwater the Oval Office, golfing, fishing and reading western pulp novels. White House Chief of Staff Sherman Adams supervised the administration's cautious, unimaginative domestic program, while Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, the father of 11 brinkm.anship 11 and "massiveretaliation," pursued a reckless and militantly anti-Communist foreign policy. Popular mythology notwithstanding, the first book-length studies of the Eisenhower presidency sustained no such view. In Eisenhower: The Inside Story, the respected journalist Robert J. Donovan depicted a competent president pursuing a modest agenda with appropriate vigor.5 Another distinguished newsman, Merlo J. Pusey, predicted in Eisenhower: The President that Ike's standing might somedaybe "ashigh in the politicalworld as it already is in our military history." The smooth functioning of the government after the President's 1955heart attack, Pusey wrote, did not, as critics charged, give evidence of Ike's detachment from his own administration. It "was a tribute in part to Eisenhower's genius for organization"--an example of his prudence in delegating authority to able subordinates without relinquishing ultimate control.6 Other observers issued similar assessments. Political analyst Samuel Lubell called Eisenhower "as complete a political angler as ever fished the White House." Arthur Krock of the New York Times found him "remarkably well informed in a vast field of government operations. 117 At the end of his first term in office,with the Korean War ended, McCarthyism curbed and the economyseeminglyprosperous, President Eisenhower appeared destined for at least historical respectability. All that changed during Eisenhower's second term. From 1957to the end of his presidency, he faced a bewildering series of challenges and setbacks. There was the desegregation crisis at Little Rock Central High School. There was the launching of the Soviet Union's Sputnik satellite and later the downing of an American U-2 spy plane. The economy went into recessionand the administration became embroiled in an acrimonious debate with Congress over the federal budget. Caught in an alleged influencepeddling scheme, Sherman Adams...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 47-59
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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