The presidential election of 1952 is one that left a number of enduring impressions upon the American imagination. But while Americans today may remember it for Adlai Stevenson's high-toned campaign or Richard Nixon's famous "Checkers speech," one image stands out above all others: that of the genial, grinning face of Dwight D. Eisenhower. As the Republican nominee Eisenhower ended two decades of Democratic domination of the executive branch and began an eight-year presidency that has become indelibly associated with America in the 1950s.
While there are no shortage of books about Eisenhower or his years as president, nearly seven decades after his election there are only two histories about it. Indeed, John Robert Greene can rightfully be said to dominate the field, since he wrote both of them. As he explains in the introduction to his volume for the University Press of Kansas's American Presidential Elections series, however, this is no mere rehashing of his first book The Crusade
, but a thorough revision of his original arguments about Eisenhower's interest in becoming president based on a reexamination of the sources. It is not often that a scholar renounces his or her previous work and even rarer that they do so in a new monograph. That Greene does so warrants a greater degree of respect for the argument he makes here.
Greene begins the book by situating the campaign in the context of the politics of the early 1950s. With the nation mired in a stalemate in Korea and with headlines trumpeting Truman administration scandals and charges of Communist infiltration, there was a widespread sense that the nation was heading in the wrong direction. Republicans hoped to capitalize upon this in the upcoming election, with many viewing Robert Taft as the best standard-bearer. Yet while the Ohio senator was seen as the leading spokesman of the conservative wing of the party, his isolationist views concerned many in the moderate, internationalist branch of the party, who sought someone more representative of their views.
For them that candidate was Eisenhower. While Greene's previous study of the election saw Eisenhower as an active pursuant of the nomination from the start, here he stresses Eisenhower's reluctance to enter electoral politics. One of the strongest parts of Greene's book is his careful reconstruction of the efforts by Eisenhower's supporters to convince their hero to run, which he only agreed to do out of fear of Taft's desire to withdraw the United States from the recently created North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Eisenhower's nomination was far from a sure thing, however, as Greene stresses the dominant position enjoyed by Taft's supporters in the party hierarchy and the role the events in the convention played in winning it for the general.
As Greene demonstrates, though, the Republicans were not the only ones with a reluctant nominee. Having withdrawn from the race after his defeat in the New Hampshire primary, Harry Truman encouraged Adlai Stevenson to enter the race, viewing the Illinois governor as the man best positioned to carry on the president's Fair Deal agenda. Yet Stevenson hesitated to run, and did not emerge as the Democratic nominee until the party's convention. Though Stevenson went on to run a dignified campaign notable for his learned and polished speeches, Greene argues that in the end no Democrat could have triumphed that year against the twin factors of national dissatisfaction with the Truman administration and Eisenhower's enormous popularity with the American people, with the events of the campaign itself largely anticlimactic in terms of deciding its outcome.
Thanks to his willingness to revisit his earlier conclusions, Greene provides his readers with something far more than just an updating of his previous work on the 1952 election but a through and open-minded examination of the contest. In doing so, he benefits not only from the greater availability of archival materials but also the related scholarship that has emerged as a result. While there are a few surprising absences from his list of secondary sources employed, overall the book is a thorough work of scholarship that will likely be the standard by which future works on the subject are judged.