Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and the Fund Crisis of 1952

By Malsberger, John W. | The Historian, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and the Fund Crisis of 1952


Malsberger, John W., The Historian


THE "FUND CRISIS," as Richard Nixon referred to it in the first volume of his memoirs, Six Crises, caused more tension in the long and often troubled political partnership between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon than any other single event. For six days after the New York Post charged on 18 September 1952 that "Secret Rich Men's Trust Fund Keeps Nixon In Style Far Beyond His Salary," the Vice-Presidential candidacy of Richard Nixon seemed in jeopardy. (1) The allegation threatened to blunt one of the major pledges of Eisenhower's Presidential campaign to "clean up the mess in Washington," a reference to claims that aides to President Truman had traded their political influence for vicuna coats and freezers. (2) And when public pressure to resign intensified on Nixon, even from within the inner circle of Ike's advisers, the general offered only vague, noncommittal public statements that reiterated his pledge for high ethical standards and that half-heartedly vouched for Nixon's honesty. The climax to the Fund Crisis came on 23 September when, during thirty minutes of television time purchased by the Republican National Committee, Richard Nixon bared his financial soul to American viewers. The speech that became known as the Checkers Speech produced an outpouring of popular support for Nixon and erased any doubts about his candidacy. The following day, Ike met his vice presidential nominee in Wheeling, West Virginia, to confirm the inevitable. With his famous grin, the general put his arm around Nixon and told him, "you're my boy!" (3) The team of Ike and Dick went on to win the elections by a landslide in November.

There is near unanimity among historians that the Fund Crisis established a foundation of distrust between Eisenhower and Nixon that influenced their political partnership ever after. Stephen Ambrose has argued, for example, that "from the time of the fund incident onward, the relationship between the two camps was always characterized by tension, hostility, mistrust." (4) Garry Wills similarly maintained that after the Checkers Speech "there would never be any trust between them." (5) But one aspect of the Fund Crisis remains unresolved nearly sixty years late. That aspect is, of course, Ike's true sentiments about his running mate. Did he actually want to replace Nixon to maintain the high ethical standards of the campaign he called a crusade, or did he understand that the political risks of alienating the more conservative wing of the Republican Party (then headed by Robert A. Taft) were so great that replacing his Vice-President was never a viable option? Because there is, to borrow a Watergate metaphor, no "smoking gun" that definitively reveals Ike's true intentions, this essay attempts to shed some new light on the Fund Crisis by comparing how the general dealt with Nixon in 1952 to his actions regarding the resignations of his Chief of Staff, Sherman Adams, in 1958, and the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), John Doerfer, in 1960. Based on the strong similarities in all three cases, this essay will argue that Eisenhower did, in fact, want Nixon to resign from the Grand Old Party (GOP) ticket.

Because the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket won by a landslide in 1952 it is easy in retrospect to underestimate the impact the Fund Crisis initially had on the campaign. Much of the general's electoral appeal rested on the image of integrity and honor he gained as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Second World War. In July 1952, Paul G. Hoffman, the first administrator of the Marshall Plan and a close personal friend, reminded Ike of the importance of that image to the presidential campaign: "One of your great appeals is your total integrity [, which] can be maintained undiluted only if all those associated with you ... are men of similar integrity." (6) Campaigning in Florida in early September Ike emphasized that theme. Recalling an instance where it had taken President Truman eighteen months to dismiss an appointee accused of wrongdoing, Ike promised that ". …

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