Would MacArthur or Eisenhower Make a Better President in 1948?

Both McArthur and Eisenhower were considered during the preparation for the 1948 presidential election.

Top image: Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur traveling together in a car in Tokyo, May 1946. Photograph by Tom Shafer.

Starting with George Washington, numerous US presidents had a military career before they entered the political realm. Their decisiveness, personal accountability, and problem-solving skills, as well as leadership experience and the ability to react to unplanned events, are great assets for the position of president. Largely responsible for command decisions that resulted in Allied victories in the South Pacific and in Europe, Douglas MacArthur and Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower each played a role in the 1948 election.

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General Douglas MacArthur signs Japanese surrender instrument aboard the USS Missouri, September 2, 1945. Courtesy of the National Archives.

Douglas MacArthur graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1903, ranking first in his class. He helped lead the 42nd Division in France during World War I and later served as superintendent of West Point. Named Chief of Staff of the Army by President Hoover in 1930, MacArthur sent Army troops to remove the so-called Bonus Army of unemployed World War I veterans from Washington, D.C. in 1932. The incident was a public relations disaster for the military and for MacArthur personally. Accompanied by his aide Dwight Eisenhower, MacArthur left for the Philippines where he helped create an efficient local armed force. He resigned from the US Army in 1937 and stayed in the Philippines to continue this mission. As Japanese aggressive military expansion continued, MacArthur was recalled to the United States in 1941 and named commander of U.S. Army forces in the Far East. He conducted a courageous resistance against the Japanese adavance in the Philippines after war erupted in December 1941 but his forces had to retreat to the Bataan peninsula. Ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt to escape to Australia, MacArthur famously promised “I shall return.” The US-Philippine forces fell to Japan in May 1942.

MacArthur was appointed supreme commander of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific Theater in April 1943. He oversaw a grueling island-hopping campaign in the Pacific for the next two and half years, before famously returning to liberate the Philippines in October 1944. In December 1944, he was promoted to the rank of General of the Army and soon given command of all Army forces in the Pacific.MacArthur officially accepted Japan’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, makring the end of World War II. He was then one of the most visible men of the Allied forces. He then acted as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in Japan and engineered a number of reforms in the country.

Eisenhower_DDay

General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day. U.S. Army photograph

After graduating 61st from West Point in 1915, Eisenhower did not see action in World War I as he commanded a unit that trained tank crews. He later graduated first in his class of 245 from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He served as a military aide to General John J. Pershing and later to Douglas MacArthur. During that time, Eisenhower learned to work with the strong-headed MacArthur and later described his association with him in the following terms, “I studied dramatics under him for five years in Washington and four years in the Philippines.” After the attack in Pearl Harbor, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall called Eisenhower to Washington, D.C. to work as a planning officer. A job he grew in and later excelled at. Ike was first responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942-43. He then directed the amphibious invasion of Sicily and the Italian mainland in 1943 that led to the fall of Rome in June 1944. Made a full general in early 1943, Eisenhower was appointed as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe later in December. As such, he oversaw the planning and the successful invasion of France when more than 150,000 Allied forces crossed the English Channel and stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, D-Day. He later became General of the Army, Military Governor of the U.S. Occupied Zone in Germany, and Army Chief of Staff.

Both men achieved unprecedented notoriety and the press and pundits speculated on their involvement in the 1948 presidential election.

The 1948 election
While Truman had successfully concluded the war against Germany and Japan, his popularity rapidly diminished. The Republicans triumphed in the mid-term elections of 1946, running against Truman as the symbol of the New Deal. Truman himself thought he had little chance of winning the vote and proposed that he and Eisenhower run together on the Democratic ticket, with Eisenhower as the presidential candidate and Truman in second position. Eisenhower, whose political views were unknown in 1948, rejected Truman’s offer as well as the Republican ones. A Republican grassroots movement worked to put Eisenhower's name into every state holding a Republican presidential primary. Ike stated that soldiers should keep out of politics, and he declined to run and requested that the Republican grassroots draft movement cease its activities

MacArthur had contemplated running for the presidency previously. His reputation, as the reformer of Japan, was as its highest in 1947. His plan was to have the US sign a peace treaty with Japan that year, which would allow him to retire on a high note and thus campaign for the presidency. When the peace treaty did not materialize, MacArthur decided not to resign, but he privately encouraged his supporters to put his name on the ballot and said he would accept the Republican nomination if it were offered to him. The Republican primaries were quite crowed with 11 eleven candidates. Despite MacArthur’s unwillingness to campaign, his supporters managed to win 34% of the votes in Wisconsin, behind the Former Governor of Minnesota Harold Stassen who gathered 39%. This would be MacArthur’s best results. The Republican primary quickly centered around New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, California Governor Earl Warren and Stassen. While Warren received the most votes in the primaries, carrying 27% of the votes, which consisted of 100% of the Californian votes, Dewey received the most delegates’ votes (515 in the second ballot) during the 1948 Republican National Convention, the first presidential convention to be shown on television. Having won only 3% of the votes, MacArthur withdrew during the convention.

Beating all prognoses, Truman won with 49.6% of the popular vote against the Republican Thomas E. Dewey and the Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond.

Everyone thought Eisenhower missed his chance to be president. In 1950, he became the Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Europe, and was given operational command of the Treaty Organization, Europe and of U.S. Forces, Europe. He retired from active service in the summer of 1952, before announcing his candidacy for the Republican Party nomination for President. Eisenhower ran with Richard Nixon as his Vice President, winning with 55% of the popular vote and again in 1956 with 57% of the vote.

MacArthur went on to lead the United Nations Command in the Korean War. The campaign earned initial success but the controversial invasion of North Korea provoked Chinese intervention. Following a series of major defeats, President Truman removed MacArthur from command on April 11, 1951.

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Christelle Le Faucheur

Christelle Le Faucher, PhD, is a Research Historian in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. She came to the Institute in 201...
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