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May 03. 2011 12:15PM

1956: Kefauver returns

As the Assistant to the President, Sherman Adams was installed just a dozen or so paces from the President's office in the West Wing of the White House.

With a broad range of duties, the Lincoln, N.H., politician was literally the "right-hand man" to Eisenhower.

He kept operations moving briskly. During the President's frequent absences from Washington, he would become in essence an acting president. His brusque, no-nonsense style and considerable power upset many and annoyed others, yet he enjoyed the full confidence of his boss.

It was no secret President Eisenhower disliked much of the detail work the job required. He also disdained the rough-and-tumble of partisan politics, and the patronage aspects the presidency was required to fulfill. He desired time and freedom to set the overall course of his administration — while leaving sufficient time for his frequent rounds of golf and many vacations.

In their book The Palace Guard, Dan Rather and Gary Paul Gates said of Adams' role: "The White House was command headquarters, and Sherman Adams was its chief adjutant. As such, he wielded considerable power in the day-to-day operation of Eisenhower's presidency. Seldom before, if ever, had a White House aide been given so much authority in administrative affairs. Adams was put in complete charge of Eisenhower's daily schedule, which meant, among other things, that he determined priorities. It was Eisenhower's belief that, while many matters required his personal attention, most did not — and it was up to Adams to know the difference: to know, for example, who should get in to see the President, and who should not."

During his first term, Eisenhower would not neglect the state that had helped launch him on the road to Washington. In June 1953 he traveled to Dartmouth College to receive an honorary degree. His commencement speech would be one of the rare occasions when he addressed the most controversial politician of that era, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. The senator's aides had convinced the State Department to ban all books by Communist authors from American libraries overseas.

After talking about college life, patriotism and golf, the President turned serious: "Don't join the bookburners. Don't think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend your own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship."

Two years later, on a three-day swing through northern Now England, the President would devote almost half that time to New Hampshire. He received a warm reception. The only interruption of the vacation trip through northern New England was the unprovoked shooting down by the Soviets of a Navy patrol bomber over the Bering Sea.

A second term was placed in doubt when Eisenhower suffered a heart attack while vacationing in Colorado in September 1955. Doctors guiding his recovery later announced that his health was sufficient to permit him to seek another term.

As he recovered, all the speculation about possible candidates if he decided not to run again faded. When the President permitted his name to go onto the ballot in this first primary state, that alone guaranteed his victory here — he ran unopposed and received 56,464 votes.

Senator Estes Kefauver also was able to duplicate his winning form of 1952.

Kefauver had become the unofficial leader of the state's Democrats, since the entire congressional delegation was Republican. Local Democrats would often turn to him for help with matters in Washington. That practice earned the Tennessean a reputation as New Hampshire's third senator.

He maintained his ties with his supporters when he returned in 1954 to help Tom McIntyre, the former mayor of Laconia, in his attempt to win the 1st District U.S. House seat from six-term incumbent Chester Merrow. McIntyre, a future United States senator, lost to the Ossipee Republican by only 468 votes.

Kefauver had such a hold on the White Mountain state that the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, 1952 nominee Adlai Stevenson, refused to enter the primary, although many leading party officials were prepared to assist him. A Stevenson write-in was thrown together, but with only a week of campaigning Kefauver was able to revive the magic he first performed against President Truman.

Kefauver trounced the write-in for Stevenson 21,701 to 3,806. He again swept the entire delegate slate.

The most significant story that March proved to be the generally spontaneous and surprising vice-presidential write-in vote among Republicans for the retention of Richard Nixon. Even then a center of controversy, Nixon was the subject of widespread speculation he might not be Ike's running mate for a second term.

Indeed, the President had requested that Nixon consider taking a position in the Cabinet to gain administrative experience, and when pressed at a March 7 news conference on what plans he held by Nixon, he answered that Nixon could "chart out his own course."

But on March 13 the news from New Hampshire revealed that if Nixon were pushed aside, Eisenhower could face a formidable backlash within his own party. For 22,936 Republicans endorsed another term for Nixon.

William Loeb, publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, wrote in one of his front-page editorials: "With no organized campaign of any kind whatsoever, this unheard-of write-in for Nixon was evidently the spontaneous expression of indignation over the apparent attempt by presidential hatchetman Sherman Adams, the White House palace guard, and such assorted New Deal characters as General Lucius Clay, Paul Hoffman, Milton Eisenhower and the rest of the Republican New Dealers to ditch Dick Nixon from the ticket."

Not only was the vice president's resolve to fight for his place on the ticket boosted, but the direction of the news reports on his future changed. No longer was the focus on the "liability" he presented; now it was on the outcome of the vote and how deep the division between the "modern and moderate Eisenhower" and "conservative Taft" wings would be if Nixon were dumped on transferred to the Cabinet.

At a news conference the day after the New Hampshire vote, President Eisenhower, miffed at the importance given to his refusal to endorse Nixon and realizing his options had been dramatically reduced, proclaimed: "I would be happy to be on any political ticket in which I was a candidate with him." The President's vote of confidence led Newsweek to conclude soon thereafter: "Last week the President virtually clinched Richard M. Nixon's renomination."

In 1952, the Granite State had played a crucial role in launching Dwight Eisenhower towards the Oval Office. In 1956, it helped keep him there. He won yet another landslide national victory (by almost 9.6 million votes) over Adlai Stevenson. New Hampshire had also assisted Richard Nixon remain as vice president; this greatly increased his chance of securing the Republican nomination for President in 1960.


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