The 1950s Government, Politics, and Law: Headline Makers

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The 1950s Government, Politics, and Law: Headline Makers

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Estes Kefauver
Joseph R. McCarthy
Rosa Parks
Adlai E. Stevenson
Robert A. Taft
Earl Warren

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) Before becoming the thirty-fourth U.S. president in 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower had an illustrious career in the military. He was the supreme commander of the Allied troops in Europe during World War II, and he led the D-Day invasion in 1944. Eisenhower, a Republican who was fondly nicknamed "Ike," was reelected in 1956. During and immediately after his years in office, he was viewed as a dull, grandfatherly president who spent the bulk of his time on the golf course. Yet history has most remembered him as a smart, sensible leader with a middle-of-the-road approach to decision making.

Estes Kefauver (1903–1963) During the 1950s, Tennessee's Estes Kefauver was a power in Democratic Party politics. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1938 and the Senate a decade later, Kefauver was an unsuccessful candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956, and its vice-presidential nominee in 1956. He was a political crusader who in 1950–1951 chaired a Senate investigative committee on organized crime. He also was an independent thinker. Kefauver took moderate-to-liberal stances on civil rights issues, which was quite daring for a Southern politician at the time.

Joseph R. McCarthy (1909–1957) Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was one of the most controversial figures in American politics, not only of the 1950s but also during the entire twentieth century. McCarthy's defenders viewed him as a patriot who zealously investigated and exposed communists. His detractors blasted him as a shameless publicity-seeker who saw subversives and communists everywhere: in the U.S. Army, for example, or the U.S. State Department. McCarthy's legacy, perhaps, is a term that has entered the American vernacular and that bears his name: "McCarthyism," which stands for the act of charging others with transgressions without offering proof, and accompanied by much publicity.

Rosa Parks (1913–) Rosa Parks is known as the mother of the Civil Rights movement. In 1955, Parks, an African American seamstress, refused to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white passenger. She was arrested and fined for disobeying a city ordinance that required her to do so. Parks's bravery and punishment resulted in a boycott of the Montgomery bus line by the city's black residents. The boycott and its aftermath brought to national prominence one of the twentieth-century's preeminent civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968).

Adlai E. Stevenson (1900–1965) In the 1950s, liberal Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson came into the national spotlight as a successful Illinois governor who attacked the excesses of McCarthyism. In 1952, he was named his party's presidential nominee. Stevenson's campaign was marked by his eloquent speechmaking and insistence on debating the issues, rather than relying on style and image. He lost the election to his Republican rival, Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson was so admired that the Democrats named him their nominee again four years later. Again, he lost to Eisenhower. In the 1960s, after the Democrats retook the White House, Stevenson served as ambassador to the United Nations.

Robert A. Taft (1889–1953) The eldest son of President William Howard Taft, Ohio's Robert A. Taft was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1938. During the post-World War II era, he emerged as a leader of the Republican Party's conservative wing. Known as "Mr. Republican," Taft was noted for his firm opposition to pro-union legislation and interventionist foreign policy, and for his efforts to lower top tax rates. Despite his immense power, Taft failed in his 1952 bid against Dwight Eisenhower to win his party's presidential nomination.

Earl Warren (1891–1974) Under Earl Warren's tenure as the Supreme Court's chief justice, the court practiced "judicial activism" by overruling earlier decisions and thereby greatly expanded the civil and individual rights of Americans. In 1954, Warren's court handed down one of its most famous and significant judgments: the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, in which school segregation was declared unconstitutional. Before his 1953 Supreme Court appointment, Warren had served as attorney general and governor of California. In 1948, he was the vice-presidential candidate on the losing Republican ticket. He retired in 1969.

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The 1950s Government, Politics, and Law: Headline Makers