H-Diplo Article Review 1055- "Under Your Inspired Leadership

George Fujii Discussion

H-Diplo Article Review 1055

28 July 2021

Asa McKercher and Michael D. Stevenson.  “‘Under Your Inspired Leadership’:  Dwight Eisenhower, Canadians, and the Canada-United States consensus, 1945-1961.”  International Journal 75:4 (Fall 2020):  471-486.

Article Review Editors: Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse | Production Editor: George Fujii

Review by Michael K. Carroll, MacEwan University

As historical memory goes in Canada, President Dwight Eisenhower was not a major player.  Mostly remembered as a hero for his important leadership during the Second World War, Eisenhower’s time in the Oval Office is often reduced to serving as a contrast to the toxic relationship that was to develop between his successor, President John Kennedy, and the Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.  There are important bilateral issues that took place during his tenure to be sure, but overall Eisenhower is simply remembered fondly in Canada as a good neighbour and friend (485).  

Of all the American presidents, Eisenhower’s image amongst historians has benefited most from a thorough examination of the documentary record.  A 1962 survey by Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. ranked the Eisenhower presidency 22nd, and one historian called Eisenhower “a barely average chief executive who was as successful as Chester A. Arthur and a notch better than Andrew Johnson.”[1] Few remember Arthur, and Johnson holds the dubious distinction of being the first American president to be impeached, so this is hardly the company to which one would assume Eisenhower aspired.  Whereas he was originally perceived as a friendly grandfather who was more comfortable on the golf course than in the White House, the documentary record reveals Eisenhower to have been an actively involved leader who directed the policy making process in Washington.[2] Presidential rankings have since seen Eisenhower rise to 12th place among Presidents in 1990, and in 2018 he ranked 6th.[3]   

Asa McKercher and Michael Stevenson’s article is valuable in its discussion of what contemporaries of Eisenhower actually thought of him at the time, without the benefit of subsequent historiography. Based primarily on newspaper accounts, along with some diplomatic correspondence and political memoirs to provide guidance[4] McKercher and Stevenson take the reader on an interesting journey from the end of the Second World War until the end of Eisenhower’s second term, demonstrating how Canadian public perceptions of Eisenhower and the United States changed over time.

In January 1946 General Eisenhower, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, arrived in Ottawa to a hero’s welcome.  He made three subsequent visits to Canada, once as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and twice as President, and while he always received a measure of respect and admiration for his wartime leadership, it was somewhat inevitable that his reputation would fade as he took on an overtly political role in American public life.

Canadians ‘liked Ike’ and, despite some reticence over his political affiliation with the Republicans, there were high hopes for the new president when he took office in 1953.  It was amidst an air of international hope and goodwill that Eisenhower began his first term as president, “a marker,” according to McKercher and Stevenson, “of his personal reputation” (477).  Yet for some Canadians, this quasi-reverence for Eisenhower’s reputation was not without its problems.  On his first official trip to Ottawa as President in November 1953, one Canadian diplomat felt there was a less than candid discussion on issues of trade and continental defence because of “the reluctance of Canadian ministers to take issue with a celebrated guest or to raise embarrassing questions” (479-480).  While McKercher and Stevenson rightly point out that for Canadians, “once in the While House, Eisenhower’s reputation began to suffer” (474), this was not something unique to public opinion in Canada, but rather was lock-step with prevailing opinion south of the border as well.[5]

By targeting the major political issues of Eisenhower’s presidency, McKercher and Stevenson highlight a general trajectory of Eisenhower’s public approval; from the “tickertape parade” and “rock star” (472) reception he received on his arrival in Canada in 1946 to the “faint praise” (485) as he left office in 1961.  Eisenhower, as with all politicians, clearly handled some issues better than others.  One may choose to quibble with the issues the authors have chosen to highlight Eisenhower’s presidency (such as McCarthyism, the Suez Crisis, civil rights in Little Rock, the shooting down of the U-2, among others), when other issues could certainly be brought to bear, but regardless one would be hard pressed to reach significantly different conclusions.

Perhaps what is most surprising is how quickly the tide shifted against Eisenhower, though again this followed the trends in the United States, which by 1954 had delivered control of both chambers of Congress to the Democrats.  By the start of Eisenhower’s second term in early 1957, editorials in Canada were wondering “Will the leader lead?” and by November were suggesting that the president should resign and pass the torch to Vice President Richard Nixon, “in fairness to himself, to his country, and to his country’s allies” (480, 481).

Much of this concern surrounding Eisenhower’s leadership, or lack thereof, had to do with the fact that his health was a constant source of interest and concern for Americans and allies alike.  Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in 1955 that sidelined him for six weeks, underwent surgery on his small intestine in June 1956, and suffered a ‘mild’ stroke in 1957.  Despite attempts by the White House to spin the events as trivial, none of these were insignificant medical issues.  Oddly, the president’s health issues are often overshadowed in historical memory by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’ health crisis sidelining him during the middle of the Suez Crisis, and his eventual death from colon cancer in May 1959.

By the time of Eisenhower’s second official visit to Ottawa in July 1958, appraisals of Eisenhower by the Canadian public were mixed and somewhat apathetic.  McKercher and Stevenson label Eisenhower as “elderly” and the Vancouver Sun depicted his address to a joint session of Parliament as “bland rather than pungent” (483).  Yet in retrospect Eisenhower accomplished a great deal with his visit to Ottawa by establishing close relations with Prime Minister Diefenbaker, even if it was only a case of “the squeaky wheel getting some grease,” (482) as journalist Charles Lynch aptly put it.

As mentioned, this article is primarily based on contemporary newspaper accounts of Eisenhower in the Canadian press.  There is an admirable attempt to provide geographic representation but in a country as large as Canada it is difficult, if not impossible, to provide a truly comprehensive outlook. The absence of articles from the Winnipeg Free Press is notable, though Western Canada is otherwise well represented.  A nod is also given to Quebec with the inclusion of articles from the Montreal Gazette but one suspects that French language sources may have had a slightly different outlook from their English counterparts especially in the period immediately preceding the Quiet Revolution.

McKercher and Stevenson accomplish their stated objective of “providing a lens through which to examine shifts in Canada-U.S. relations” (473).  Ultimately, however, the important and interesting issue of anti-Americanism within Canada is never really dealt with directly.  To be fair, by its very nature, the article was never meant to be an exhaustive account.  By utilizing contemporary newspaper reports of Eisenhower, McKercher and Stevenson do not directly engage the changing historiography of Eisenhower’s presidency.[6] This is perhaps the article’s greatest strength in that it reminds the reader, and historians, of what people actually thought about Eisenhower during the period 1945-1961. Much anticipated is the authors’ forthcoming study of Canada-U.S. relations in the 1950s, where answers to the larger issues should be found.

The late Greg Donaghy was an original collaborator to this project, and his loss to the field of Canadian foreign relations is immeasurable.  I have no doubt, however, that Greg’s memory will inspire his colleagues and collaborators for a long time to come to maintain his standards of historical and editorial excellence, absolute respect for the documents, and an unquestioned love of the Courier New font.

Michael K. Carroll is an associate professor of history and Chair of the Humanities Department at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada.  He is co-editor (with Greg Donaghy) of From Kinshasa to Kandahar: Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective (University of Calgary Press, 2016) and author of Pearson’s Peacekeepers: Canada and the United Nations, 1956-1967 (UBC Press, 2009).


[1] Chester J. Pach, Jr., “Dwight D. Eisenhower: Impact and Legacy,” The Miller Center, University of Virginia, accessed 3 February 2021, https://millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/impact-and-legacy.

[2] William I. Hitchcock, The Age of Eisenhower: American and the World in the 1950s (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018); Louis Galambos, Eisenhower: Becoming the Leader of the Free World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018); John W. Malsberger, The General and the Politician: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and American Politics (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014).

[3] “US Presidents Study Historical Rankings,” Siena College Research Institute, accessed 3 February 2021, https://scri.siena.edu/us-presidents-study-historical-rankings/

[4] See A.D.P. Henney, The Things That Are Caesar’s: The Memoirs of a Canadian Public Servant (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972) and John Diefenbaker, One Canada: Memoirs of the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, The Years of Achievement, 1957-1962 (Toronto: Macmillan, 1976).

[5] Hitchcock, The Age of Eisenhower; Jean Edward Smith, Eisenhower In War and Peace (New York: Random House, 2012); Jim Newton, Eisenhower: The White House Years (New York: Doubleday, 2011).

[6] Fred I. Greenstein, The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (New York: Basic Books, 1982); Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: The President, Vol. II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984); Stephen G. Rabe, “Eisenhower Revisionism: A Decade of Scholarship,” Diplomatic History 17:1 (Winter 1993): 97-115.