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by William H. Benson

January 20, 2011

     On January 20, 1953, on the steps of the Capitol, General Dwight David Eisenhower, or “Ike” took the oath of office and was sworn in as our nation’s thirty-fourth President. Before delivering his Inaugural Address, he broke tradition and read a brief prayer—something that no other President had done—that he had composed that same morning, asking God to “make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people in this throng, and their fellow citizens everywhere.”

     In attendance that day was the newly-elected Vice-President Richard Nixon, Nixon and Ike’s personal friend Billy Graham, and the retiring thirty-third President, Harry Truman, who did not hide his displeasure for Eisenhower. Truman predicted, “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

     One of Ike’s first actions once installed in the White House was to select and then join a church, the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D. C. The pastor, Ed Elson, instructed Ike for one hour a day for five days and then on Sunday, February 1, at the church, Ike was baptized and brought into membership of the church, the first time a president had been baptized after taking office.

     Ike quickly grew comfortable making decisions from the Oval Office, unlike what Truman had forecast. Ike had served his country well as a general, devised the idea and executed the plan for D-Day during the dark days of World War II, and had said then, “I hate war, but I hate the Nazis worse.”

     After one day in office, Ike wrote in his diary: “My first day at the president’s desk. Plenty of worries and difficult problems. But such has been my portion for a long time—the result in that this just seems (today) like a continuation of all I’ve been doing since July 1941—even before that.”

     Ike dealt with at least six problems throughout his presidency: taxes, a balanced budget, ending the war in Korea, which he would accomplish, reigning in defense spending, foreign aid, and world peace.

     Because Ike was the first Republican President elected since Hoover left the White House in disgrace in March of 1933, twenty years before, Congress’s Republicans were very anxious to slice the Democrats’ onerous tax rates, but Ike would not hear of a tax cut until he and Congress worked toward balancing the budget. The Republicans in Congress reluctantly agreed to leave tax rates alone, mainly because of Ike’s promise to bring down federal spending, especially that of military spending.

     Eisenhower’s eight years in the White House quickly passed, and it was remarkable that due largely to his judgment and decisions on the issues, there were no wars, no riots, no inflation, just peace and prosperity. Certain things that did not happen that should have, included greater progress in school desegregation, reducing tensions with the Russians, and disarming the nuclear arsenal.

     Suddenly, it was time for Ike to leave the White House, but before leaving he decided to issue a Farewell Address. On January 17 at 8:30 P. M., he spoke on television and radio and said:

     “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry in new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplace power exists and will persist.”

     Ike’s words fell on deaf ears, for Americans were not prepared to listen to a General say negative things and issue warnings about their powerful military, and they still are not willing to listen. His pointed words in his Farewell Address were those most remembered and quoted from his Presidency.

     On January 20, 1961, fifty years ago today, John F. Kennedy, the President-elect, arrived at the White House dressed in a black top hat, and he and President Eisenhower rode together to the Capitol. “The oldest man ever to serve as President, to that date, gave way to the youngest man elected to the office.” Billy Graham was there, and so was Richard Nixon, and together with Ike they watched as Chief Justice Earl Warren administered the oath of office to JFK and then listened as he spoke:

     “My fellow Americans: ask now what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

     Eisenhower was at last free of his duties, after a lifetime of service in the Army and in the Oval Office, and so he and his wife Mamie returned to his beloved farm outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a well-deserved retirement.

     In 1967 shortly before Ike’s passing, he was meeting with another general who told him, “Herodutus said this about the Peloponnesian War, ‘You cannot be an armchair general 28 miles from the front.’” Ike replied, “Well, that’s interesting. Herodutus? The Peloponnesian War?” Later, someone qizzed Ike about the quote, and Ike replied, “It wasn’t Herodutus. It was Aemilius Paullus, and it wasn’t the Peloponnesian War. It was the Punic Wars with Carthage.”


     When asked why he had not corrected the general, Ike replied, “I got where I did by knowing when to hide my ego and when to hide my intelligence.”