Dwight Eisenhower, often referred to as “Ike,” served as president from 1953-1961 and is best remembered as the one who implemented school desegregation laws and launched NASA as well as helping construct Interstate Highway Systems and negotiate an armistice in Korea during his term that still held when he left office.
At the conclusion of his presidency, Eisenhower had become severely worn down. Initially he had hoped for a nuclear test ban with Russia and peace negotiations; but was dismayed when the U-2 incident derailed those hopes and further stained his reputation. Eisenhower had also attempted to reign in an extravagant military establishment; unfortunately however he could not manage budgetary requirements from every direction.
Sputnik came as a shock and increased popular anxieties, prompting President Eisenhower to dismiss it as no threat to national security; but that did nothing to ease American concerns; rather it led many people demanding education reform, fallout shelters and increased space exploration following Sputnik.
Eisenhower’s personal life was another source of strain. Mamie, Eisenhower’s wife, had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was receiving treatment. Unfortunately, Mamie became increasingly reliant on narcotics to function without them, straining both their marriage and Eisenhower himself. By spring 1958 she had reached such a state of distress that Eisenhower ordered Mamie into a hospital for rest and rehabilitation.
John Foster Dulles had also been suffering from cancer, yet decided to stay at work despite feeling in great pain and feeling weak. By late February however, Dulles’ narcotics no longer offered relief and was forced to take leave of absence from his post. Eisenhower was furious over Dulles’ resignation due to knowing many Democrats would use the chance presented by his impending demise as an opportunity for criticism of policies or resignation demands by taking advantage of being on his deathbed.
Richard Nixon succeeded Eisenhower, and their relationship was often tenuous. Eisenhower did not trust Nixon’s judgment and saw him more as a politician than as an army commander. To reduce risk from negative perceptions surrounding their administration, Nixon did not campaign actively during early 1960.