1952: A War Hero Leads GOP to Victory
It may have been the last time in memory when uncertainty still existed over who would win the presidential nomination at a political convention. Even with war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower in the running to head the GOP ticket, Republicans were undecided over who would be the best bet as they weighed their options with another candidate, the conservative hero from Ohio, Sen. Robert Taft.
Leading up to the 1952 Republican national convention in Chicago, the GOP had lost five elections in a row. The party was especially shell shocked over its loss four years earlier when their nominee, Thomas Dewey, lost to President Truman in a surprising upset that defied the polls and predictions by pundits across the country.
Ike and Mamie on the campaign trail|
Courtesy the Eisenhower Presidential Library
As Eisenhower and Taft jockeyed for the GOP nomination, their supporters battled over convention rules, platform amendments and delegate credentials. The division pitted two titans of the party against each other, Dewey, who backed Eisenhower, and Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois, who supported Taft.
At one particularly dramatic moment, Dirksen took to the podium and blamed Dewey for the losing the 1948 election. Republicans, said Dirksen in a fiery speech, no longer need to listen to Dewey.
"Reexamine your hearts," Dirksen told the convention. He then clearly singled out Dewey and his supporters. "We followed you before. And you took us down the road to defeat. And don't do this to us."
Listen to Dirksen at the RNC in 1952
Despite Everett Dirksen's plea, the delegates took to Ike -- the World War Two hero who led the liberation of Europe and could rally America. In his acceptance speech, Eisenhower recalled his service in war as a prelude to his future.
"Ladies and gentleman, you have summoned me on behalf of millions of your fellow Americans to lead a great crusade for freedom in America and freedom in the world," Eisenhower told the convention. "I know something of the solemn responsibility of leading a crusade. I have lead one."
Ike went on to win the presidential election of 1952 in a landslide over the Democrat, Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, and he lead the nation for the next 8 years during the prosperous 1950s, frequently referred to by historians as the Eisenhower years. It would be a time dominated by conservative values of mainstream America, while underneath a cauldron of discontent was brewing for increased civil rights and social change that would come to a boil in the 1960s.
Listen to Eisenhower at the same convention