The Eisenhower Era
The Advent of Eisenhower
Lacking public support for Truman, Democrats nominated Adlai E. Stevenson to run for the presidency in the election of 1952. Republicans chose General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Richard M. Nixon was chosen for vice-president to satisfy the anticommunist wing of the Republican Party.
During the presidential campaign, reports of Nixon secretly tapping government funds arose. After Eisenhower considered dropping Nixon from the ballot, Nixon went on television and stated his apologies in the "Checkers speech"-this saved his place on the ballot.
The new technology of black-and-white television changed political campaigning. Television often over-simplified the complicated issues of the time.
Dwight Eisenhower won the election of 1952 by a large majority.
"Ike" Takes Command
True to his campaign promise, President Eisenhower attempted to end the Korean War. In July 1953, after Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons, an armistice was signed, ending the Korean War. Despite the Korean War, Korea remained divided at the 38th Parallel.
Eisenhower's leadership style of sincerity, fairness, and optimism helped to comfort the nation after the war.
The Rise and Fall of Joseph McCarthy
In February 1950, Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy made a speech accusing Secretary of State Dean Acheson of knowingly employing 205 Communist party members. Even though the accusations later proved to be false, McCarthy gained the support of the public. With the Republican victory in the election of 1952, his rhetoric became bolder as his accusations of communism grew.
Though McCarthy was not the first red-hunter, he was the most ruthless, doing the most damage to American traditions of fair play and free speech.
In 1954, McCarthy went too far and attacked the U.S. Army. Just a few months later, he was condemned by the Senate for "conduct unbecoming a member."
Desegregating the South
All aspects of life of African Americans in the South were governed by the Jim Crow laws. Blacks dealt with an array of separate social arrangements that kept them insulated from whites, economically inferior, and politically powerless. Gunnar Myrdal exposed the contradiction between America's professed belief that all men are created equal and its terrible treatment of black citizens in his book An American Dilemma (1944).
World War II had generated a new militancy and restlessness among many members of the black community. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled the "white primary" unconstitutional, undermining the status of the Democratic Party in the South as a white person's club.
In the Supreme Court case of Sweatt v. Painter (1950), the Court ruled that separate professional schools for blacks failed to meet the test of equality.
In December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest sparked a yearlong black boycott of the city busses and served notice throughout the South that blacks would no longer submit meekly to the absurdities and indignities of segregation.
Seeds of the Civil Rights Revolution
Hearing of the lynching of black war veterans in 1946, President Harry S Truman commissioned a report titled "To Secure These Rights." Truman ended segregation in federal civil service and order "equality of treatment and opportunity" in the armed forces in 1948.
When Congress and new President Eisenhower ignored the racial issues, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren stepped up to confront important social issues-especially civil rights for African Americans.
In the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unequal and thus unconstitutional. The decision reversed the previous ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
States in the Deep South resisted the ruling, and more than 100 senators and congressman signed the "Declaration of Constitutional Principles" in 1956, pledging their unyielding resistance to desegregation.
Crisis at Little Rock
President Eisenhower was little inclined toward promoting integration. He shied away from upsetting "the customs and convictions of at least two generations of Americans." In September 1957, Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas mobilized the National Guard to prevent nine black students from enrolling in Little Rock's Central High School. Confronted with a direct challenge to federal authority, Eisenhower sent troops to escort the children to their classes.
In 1957, Congress passed the first Civil Rights Act since Reconstruction Days. It set up a permanent Civil Rights Commission to investigate violations of civil rights and authorized federal injunctions to protect voting rights.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. It aimed to mobilize the vast power of the black churches on behalf of black rights.
On February 1, 1960, 4 black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina demanded service at a whites-only lunch counter. Within a week, the sit-in reached 1,000 students, spreading a wave of wade-ins, lie-ins, and pray-ins across the South demanding equal rights. In April 1960, southern black students formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to give more focus and force to their efforts.
Eisenhower Republicanism at Home
When dealing with people, President Eisenhower was liberal, but when dealing with the economy and the government, he was conservative. He strived to balance the federal budget and to guard America from socialism. True to his small government philosophy, Eisenhower supported the transfer of control over offshore oil fields from the federal government to the states.
In 1954, giving in to the Mexican government's worries that illegal Mexican immigration to the United States would undercut the bracero program of legally imported farmworkers, President Eisenhower rounded up a million illegal immigrants in Operation Wetback.
Eisenhower sought to cancel the tribal preservation policies of the "Indian New Deal," in place since 1934. He wanted to terminate the tribes as legal entities and to revert to the assimilationist goals of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. The plan was dropped in 1961 after most tribes refused to be terminated.
Eisenhower knew that he could not cancel all of the programs created in the New Deal and Fair Deal, because of the lack of public support. He actually supported the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, which created countless jobs and sped the suburbanization of America as 42,000 miles of highways were built.
Eisenhower only managed to balance the budget 3 times while in office, and in 1959, he incurred the biggest peacetime deficit in the history of the United States.
A New Look in Foreign Policy
In 1954, secretary of state John Foster Dulles proposed a plan in which Eisenhower would set aside the army and the navy to build up an air fleet of superbombers (called the Strategic Air Command, or SAC) equipped with nuclear bombs. This would allow President Eisenhower to threaten countries such as the Soviet Union and China with nuclear weapons.
At the Geneva summit conference in 1955, President Eisenhower attempted to make peace with the new Soviet Union dictator, Nikita Khrushchev, following Stalin's death. Peace negotiations were rejected.
The Vietnam Nightmare
In the early 1950s, nationalist movements had sought to throw the French out of Indochina. The leaders of the Indochina countries, including Vietnam leader Ho Chi Minh, became increasingly communist as America became increasingly anticommunist. In May 1954, a French garrison was trapped in the fortress of Dienbienphu in northwestern Vietnam. President Eisenhower decided not to intervene, wary of another war right after Korea. Dienbienphu fell to the nationalists and the conference at Geneva halted Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The pro-Western government in the south, led by Ngo Dinh Diem, was entrenched at Saigon as Vietnam-wide elections, which were promised by Ho Chi Minh, were never held. President Eisenhower promised economic and military aid to the Diem regime of the south.
A False Lull in Europe
In 1955, West Germany was let into NATO. Also in 1955, the Eastern European countries and the Soviets signed the Warsaw Pact, creating a red military counterweight to the newly-bolstered NATO forces in the West. In May 1955, the Soviets ended the occupation of Austria. In 1956, Hungary rose up against the Soviets attempting to win their independence. When their request for aid from the United States was denied, they were slaughtered by the Soviet forces. America's nuclear weapon was too big of a weapon to use on such a relatively small crisis.
Menaces in the Middle East
In 1953, in an effort to secure Iranian oil for Western countries, the CIA engineered a coup that installed Mohammed Reza Pahlevi as the dictator of Iran.
President Nasser of Egypt was seeking funds to build a dam on the Nile River. After associating with the communists, secretary of state Dulles pulled back U.S. monetary aid for Egypt. As a result, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which was owned by the French and British. In October of 1956, the Suez Crisis ensued as the French and British launched an assault on Egypt. The two countries were forced to withdraw their troops as America refused to release emergency supplies of oil to them.
In 1957, Congress proclaimed the Eisenhower Doctrine, pledging U.S. military and economic aid to Middle Eastern nations threatened by communist aggression.
In 1960, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela joined together to form the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Round Two for Ike
President Eisenhower was reelected in the election of 1956 as he beat his Democratic opponent, Adlai Stevenson.
In 1959, a drastic labor-reform bill grew out of recurrent strikes in important industries and corruption in unions. The Teamsters Union leader, "Dave" Beck was sentenced to prison for embezzlement. When his union replaced him with James R. Hoffa, the AF of L-CIO expelled the Teamsters. Hoffa was later jailed for jury tampering.
In 1959, President Eisenhower passed the Landrum-Griffin Act. It was designed to bring labor leaders to book for financial shenanigans and to prevent bullying tactics.
The Race with the Soviets into Space
On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched the Sputnik I satellite into space. In November, they launched the satellite Sputnik II, carrying a dog. The two satellites gave credibility to the Soviet claims that superior industrial production lay through communism.
In response, President Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
As a result of the new technological advances in the Soviet Union, it was thought that the educational system of the Soviet Union was better than the United States'; a move to improve the American education system was taken. In 1958, the National Defense and Education Act (NDEA) authorized $887 million in loans to needy college students and in grants for the improvement of teaching sciences and languages.
The Continuing Cold War
In March and October 1958, the Soviet Union and the United States, respectively, proclaimed a suspension of nuclear testing. In July 1958, Lebanon called for aid under the Eisenhower Doctrine as communism threatened to engulf the country. In 1959, Soviet dictator Khrushchev appeared before the U.N. General Assembly and called for complete disarmament. In 1960, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down in Russia, causing feelings of a possibly peaceful resolution to subside.
Cuba's Castroism Spells Communism
Latin Americans began to show dissent towards America as the United States seemed to neglect Latin America's economic needs for favor of Europe's. They also despised constant American intervention - the CIA directed a coup in 1954 that overthrew a leftist government in Guatemala.
Fidel Castro led a coup that overthrew the America-supported government of Cuba in 1959. Annoyed with Castro's anti-American attitude and Castro seizing valuable American properties in Cuba, the United States cut off the heavy U.S. imports of Cuban sugar.
Cuba's left-wing dictatorship quickly had the possibility to become a military satellite for the Soviet Union. In August 1960, Congress authorized $500 million to prevent communism from spreading in Latin America.
Kennedy Challenges Nixon for the Presidency
The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon to run for president and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for vice president in the election of 1960. The Democrats nominated John F. Kennedy to run for president and Lyndon B. Johnson for vice president.
The Presidential Issues of 1960
John F. Kennedy's Catholicism aroused misgivings in the Protestant, Bible Belt South.
Kennedy charged that the Soviets, with their nuclear bombs and the Sputniks, had gained on America in prestige and power. Nixon was forced to defend the dying administration and claim that America's prestige had not slipped.
Television played a key role in the presidential election as Kennedy's personal appeal attracted many. Kennedy won the election of 1961, gaining support in the large industrial centers where he had strong support from workers, Catholics, and African Americans.
An Old General Fades Away
America was prosperous during the Eisenhower years. Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959. As a Republican president, Eisenhower had further woven the reforms of the Democratic New Deal and Fair Deal into the fabric of national life.
Changing Economic Patterns
The invention of the transistor in 1948 sparked a revolution in electronics, especially computers. Computer giant International Business Machines (IBM) grew tremendously.
Aerospace industries also grew in the 1950s, thanks to Eisenhower's SAC and to an expanding passenger airline business.
In 1956, the number of "white-collar" (no manual labor) workers exceeded the number of "blue-collar" (manual labor) workers. Following suit, union memberships began to steadily decline.
The new white-collar employment opened special opportunities for women. The baby boom during the years after World War II caused the role of women to revert to the typical role of a mother and wife. But the majority of the clerical and service work jobs created after 1950 were filled by women. Women's new dual role as both workers and homemakers raised urgent questions about family life and about traditional definitions of gender differences.
Feminist Betty Friedan published in 1963 The Feminine Mystique, helping to launch the modern women's movement. Friedan spoke to many educated women who supported her indictment of the boredom of a housewife.
Consumer Culture in the Fifties
The innovations of the credit card, fast-food, and new forms of recreation were forerunners of an emerging lifestyle of leisure and affluence. In 1946, only 6 TV stations were broadcasting; by 1956, there were 146. "Televangelists" like Baptist Billy Graham, and Pentecostal Holiness speaker Oral Roberts, and Roman Catholic Fulton J. Sheen took to the television airwaves to spread Christianity.
As the population moved west, sports teams also moved west. Popular music was transformed during the 1950s. Elvis Pressley created the new style known as rock and roll.
Traditionalists were repelled by Presley as well as many of the new social movements during the 1950s. Many critics blamed the implications of "societal deterioration" to the consumerist lifestyle.
The Life of the Mind in Postwar America
Prewar realist, Ernest Hemingway continued to write as he authored The Old Man and the Sea (1952). John Steinbeck, another prewar writer, persisted in graphic portrayals of American society. Over time, realistic writing fell from favor and authors tended to write about the war in fantastic prose. Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1961) dealt with the improbably antics and anguish of American airmen in the wartime Mediterranean.
The dilemmas created by the new mobility and affluence of American life were explored by John Updike and John Cheever. Louis Auchincloss wrote about upper-class New-Yorkers. Gore Vidal wrote a series of intriguing historical novels.
Poetry and playwrights also flourished during the postwar era. Books by black authors made the best-seller lists. Led by William Faulkner, the South boasted a literary renaissance. Especially bountiful was the harvest of books by Jewish novelists.