The election of 1952 took place against the backdrop of the stalemate in the Korean War, which had been running since 1950 without any conclusion. President Harry S. Truman had been specifically exempted from the terms of the 22nd Amendment, but he chose not to run again. This left the field open to new candidates from both the major parties.
Adlai E. Stevenson had been elected governor of Illinois in 1948 by a margin of victory of more than half a million votes, an unprecedented result in that state. As the next four years went by, he became more often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, but he declined to pursue the nomination. Even after Truman declined in March to run again, and even after the 1952 Democratic convention began, Stevenson would not seek the nomination.
So when the nomination went to him on the third ballot, he became the presidential candidate to be genuinely drafted since Garfield in 1880. Stevenson's speech, accepting the 1952 Democratic nomination, was held up as a model of political rhetoric. It began:
I accept your nomination and your program. I should have preferred to hear those words uttered by a stronger, a wiser, a better man than myself. But after listening to the President's speech, I even feel better about myself. None of you, my friends, can wholly appreciate what is in my heart. I can only hope that you understand my words. They will be few.
I have not sought the honor you have done me. I could not seek it, because I aspired to another office, which was the full measure of my ambition, and one does not treat the highest office within the gift of the people of Illinois as an alternative or as a consolation prize.
I would not seek your nomination for the Presidency, because the burdens of that office stagger the imagination. Its potential for good or evil, now and in the years of our lives, smothers exultation and converts vanity to prayer.
The campaign for the 1952 Republican nomination pitted the "internationalist" wing, which favored World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower against the conservative wing led by Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. At the 1952 Republican convention in Chicago, Eisenhower supporters successfully pushed a "Fair Play" proposal, which removed a number of Taft supporters from Southern delegations. That, along with a great deal of pressure, persuaded a majority of delegates to provide a majority of support for Eisenhower on July 11.
Following the convention, Taft gave a perfunctory statement in support of Eisenhower and thereafter withdrew from the fray. Fearing that Taft supporters might not become involved in the election campaign at all, thereby giving a victory to Stevenson, Eisenhower backers arranged for a meeting in September in New York City. This resulted in Eisenhower promising to support many of Taft's positions on domestic policies.
Eisenhower's advantage in military experience gave him an edge in the public mind with regard to the Korean War. He put this to great advantage in a speech in Detroit on October 24, 1952. The following excerpt includes his most famous phrase:
The first task of a new Administration will be to review and re-examine every course of action open to us with one goal in view: To bring the Korean war to an early and honorable end. This is my pledge to the American people.
For this task a wholly new Administration is necessary. The reason for this is simple. The old Administration cannot be expected to repair what it failed to prevent.
Where will a new Administration begin?
It will begin with its President taking a simple, firm resolution. The resolution will be: To forego the diversions of politics and to concentrate on the job of ending the Korean war-until that job is honorably done.
That job requires a personal trip to Korea.
I shall make that trip. Only in that way could I learn how best to serve the American people in the cause of peace.
I shall go to Korea.
The phrase "I shall go to Korea" resonated with the American electorate and gave Eisenhower enough momentum in his campaign to handily carry the election in November.
The results from election day, November 4, 1952, were convincingly Republican at the presidential level but less so for Capitol Hill. There, Republicans managed to outscore the Democrats by just one vote in the U.S. Senate while gaining a 221-213 margin in the House of Representatives. Small those these margins might be, they gave Republicans control of all the levers necessary to pass legislation.
By Adlai E. Stevenson I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.
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Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith. In his magisterial bestseller FDR, Jean Edward Smith gave us a fresh, modern look at one of the most indelible figures in American history. Now this p...