Article

The 1956 Presidential Election

smiling woman holding umbrella stands next to laughing President Eisenhower
A photo from the September 12, 1956 campaign rally at the Eisenhower farm. President Eisenhower stands next to an attendee wearing a dress and carrying an umbrella in IKE campaign fabric

credit ENHS

The Decision to Run Again

For most presidents, it is almost a begone conclusion that they will run for a second term. However, for President Eisenhower, the 1956 election was a huge question mark laying over his first term that was not answered until the very last moment. There were many compelling reasons for him not to run again. He accepted the presidency out of a sense of duty and obligation to his nation and some of those obligations had been met. However, Eisenhower's age weighed heavy in the decision. He had entered the White House at the age of 62 and at the time was the oldest president to serve. He had put off a long-desired retirement to become president. Perhaps the most compelling argument for Eisenhower not to run again was his health. In September of 1955, Ike had suffered a debilitating heart attack which left him bed ridden for weeks and unable to resume full time work until months later. For many, that heart attack was the nail in the coffin for any reelection campaign.Still as the weeks passed and 1955 became 1956, the president did not make any definitive announcement about a second term. Eisenhower was conflicted and sought advice from political and medical professionals to help him make this all-important decision. He turned to friends and family who counseled him both for and against a run. In the end the decision was his alone. On February 29, 1956 Eisenhower gave America his decision. In a televised conference he assured them his health would not be an obstacle to him completing a second term in office. The president strongly believed his job was not done and there was no strong Republican candidate who could successfully finish the work he had started.

The 1956 Campaign

The 1952 campaign had been a dynamic campaign in the traditional whistle stopper style. The 1956 campaign was very different. It was a much more subdued affair with the president preserving his strength and making few public appearances. Vice President Nixon hit the campaign trail harder than president himself. There was an air of confidence in this election, that Eisenhower's charm and popularity would carry him through to victory once again.

The Democratic Party in 1956

Once again Eisenhower faced off against Adali Stevenson as the Democratic nominee for president. Stevenson's message was a simple one, that Eisenhower was an ineffectual leader. The president either by his ill health or his golfing habit was rarely at work and this had left the country without strong leadership. Stevenson ran a campaign that championed a ban on above ground nuclear testing and new treaties with the Soviet Union to combat the escalating Cold War. He also proposed ending the draft and shifting to a completely all volunteer army. All of these points Eisenhower opposed, which only strengthened the president’s conviction that he was the one to lead the country at this pivotal moment.

Crisis during the Campaign

The 1956 campaign proved challenging for the administration as several new crises arose. In early June, the president would have another health crisis and required surgery to remove a blockage in his small intestine. The Republican Party flew immediately into damage control to ensure that this medical crisis did not add fuel to the Democratic fires about the president’s chances of surviving another four years. The president took over a month to fully recover from this operation.The greatest crisis of 1956 was undoubtedly the one caused by the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The British, the French, and the Israelis were all outraged by this action and demanded retaliation. For Eisenhower this was a complex and difficult situation. He had little desire to alienate his old war time allies but was equally loathe to commit the United States to any type of armed combat in the Middle East.The situation over Suez came to a head at the end of October when at the same time revolution broke out in Hungary. The days leading up to the election would be tense and uncertain not only for the world but for the United States. In this period of strife, the American people watched and went to the polls. In another landslide, Eisenhower won a second term. The American people had spoken. His leadership was what they felt they needed to ensure peace and prosperity for their nation.

Last updated: September 22, 2020