In keeping with our Presidential visits to Rochester series (BELOW), on October 23rd, 1952, General Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke to a crowd of 20,000 at the New York Central Station. The next day, October 24th, his Democratic opponent, Adlai E. Stevenson, also spoke at the station during a “whistle stop” tour across New York state.
On November 4th, 1952, Eisenhower won easily 55 – 43%. Stevenson faced a difficult task as the nation had seen 20 years of Democratic rule — a streak only eclipsed by the 6 consecutive Republican victories from 1860 – 1884. (Although Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson was a Democrat and, technically, Lincoln won as the National Union Party candidate in 1864.)
The Democrat and Chronicle billed the Eisenhower-Stevenson visits as Act I and Act II.
In many ways, Eisenhower made the campaign a referendum on the Truman administration.
In his Central Station speech, Ike hammered away at a central theme of the campaign. The Truman administration was corrupt, profligate and unpatriotic — and Stevenson would be more of the same. Eisenhower accused the “desperate” Stevenson campaign of spreading a “slander a day.” Ironically, a few years before, Truman had urged Eisenhower to run as his replacement, presumably as a Democrat.
When Stevenson arrived at the station — on a whirlwind day of whistle stops across NY — he repeated what he said the day before in Cleveland. Eisenhower was looking the other way at — and failing to renounce — “sly insinuations” made by Ike’s supporters that Stevenson was somehow connected to Alger Hiss.
But by October 24th, the back-and-forth did little to change the campaign’s trajectory. The voters had already decided the Democratic regime has run its course.
In 1956, Eisenhower again defeated Stevenson, 57 – 42%.
Following William Jennings Bryan (against McKinkley in ’96 and ’00), Stevenson was the second major party candidate to be defeated by the same opponent in consecutive elections. Bryan also lost to Taft in 1908. Stevenson’s grandfather, Adlai E. Stevenson I served as the 23rd Vice President in the second Cleveland Administration. In 1900, Stevenson also ran for Vice President with Bryan. In doing so, Stevenson became the third man to run for vice president with two different nominee (after George Clinton and John C. Calhoun).
During the 1956, neither Eisenhower or Stevenson campaigned in Rochester. Stevenson’s planned visit — to be the first flying candidate to arrive in Rochester — was cancelled at the last minute. NY Governor Averell Harriman came in Stevenson’s place.
On October 10th, Stevenson’s running mate Senator Estes Kefauver from Tennessee spoke at West High School in the 19th, a Republican stronghold.To learn more about Eisenhower’s place in presidential history, I turned to local political observer Alex White. Alex is both a card carrying and office seeking member (Mayor and City Council) of the Green Party.
Recently, Alex reread Eisenhower’s WWII campaign autobiography Crusade over Europe (1948) and Richard Nixon’s Six Crises (1962) that covers Nixon’s two terms as Eisenhower’s Vice President.
Alex’s readings allowed him to reflect upon Ike’s legacy. Putting his Greenness aside, Alex says — with some exuberance — “Eisenhower was a Republican president I could dream of.” Adding, just compare Ike with Trump . . .
Alex praises Eisenhower as “a general who learned to hate war” — even broaching a possible label, a “pacifist general.” Eisenhower’s dislike of war extended to his (unheeded) 1961 Farewell Address warning against the “military-industrial complex.”
As further evidence, Alex offers Eisenhower’s determination to end the Korean War. Only two days after visiting Rochester, on October 25th Ike gave his famous “I Shall Go to Korea” speech , promising to end the Korean conflict. And, only 1 and 1/2 years into his administration, Ike did.
Fundamentally, Alex does not see Eisenhower as an anti-communist crusader or a fervent Cold Warrior. Alex says that in Crusade over Europe (1948) Eisenhower generally paints a portrait of wartime cooperation between the US and USSR. Alex notes that throughout the campaign history, Eisenhower refers to Stalin — as a sign of respect — as Generalissimo Stalin. For almost every other American commentator, Stalin was just Stalin.
Alex argues — as evidence in the spirit of cooperation presented by Eisenhower in Crusade — that Ike believed the agreements for a postwar global order forged at Yalta in 1944 could work. Along with knowing full well the costs of war, Ike believed engaging American troops in Korea threatened to ruin the promise of Yalta.
Ultimately, comparing the fierce Cold Warrior rhetoric before and after Eisenhower (Truman and Kennedy), Alex sees the Eisenhower Administrations as “a hiatus of the cold war.” Alex says Ike presided over a period of European colonial collapse. Ike had — but resisted — multiple opportunities to deeply involve the United States overseas.
For example, in the 1956 Suez Crisis, Eisenhower pressured the French and British to withdraw their forces in Egypt. In 1958 Eisenhower was faced with the Lebanon Crisis. While Eisenhower did commit American troops, he engineered a swift withdrawal.
In 1956, one day after Eisenhower’s re-election, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest to suppress the Hungarian Revolution. A year before, Hungary signed the Warsaw Pact. Then, in 1956, Imre Nagy’s government declared Hungary was withdrawing from the Pact.
Eisenhower chose not to directly support the revolutionaries. Alex thinks Eisenhower had no good options. Disputing the Soviet enforcement of the Warsaw risked atomic war.
The question whether Eisenhower’s policies were responsible for the deep and prolonged American involvement in Vietnam is a knotty one. Alex thinks that while Eisenhower supported the South Vietnamese government, he feared making Indochina a Cold War battleground.
By contrast, the creators of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Walk of Honor suggest Eisenhower’s policies led directly to the later escalations of Kennedy and Johnson. Two plaques referencing Eisenhower’s 1954 letter to Ngo Dien and a 1959 speech at Gettsyburg College point to Eisenhower’s role in that escalation.Adlai Stevenson is not completely forgotten in Rochester. On August 19, 1965, the Rochester Board of Education named the school on 88 Kirkland Road (19th Ward) in Stevenson’s memory.
Last week, the staff of School 29 was pleased to show the plaque holding the Board of Education statement. I was told that every September students are given a short history lesson on Stevenson, especially on his role as Ambassador to the United Nations from 1961 – 1965.
School 29 Principal Joseph Baldino also added his own presidential visit memory. The picture was taken at President George H. W. Bush’s May 18th, 1989 visit to Wilson Magnet High School. Principle Baldino is shaking President Bush’s hand. Behind Bush is then Wilson Principal Suzanne Johnston.
PRESIDENTIAL VISITS SERIES