Commentary Magazine

Dinner With Butler and Eisenhower

One does not hear the word “dignity” anymore, except in the curious phrase “dying with dignity.” Nobody speaks of living with dignity. And dying with dignity has only a negative meaning: pulling the plug or the tubes. It could mean something positive, like bidding a moving farewell, but it doesn't. Even great men and women, from whom we expect and in the past received memorable last words, now die in hospitals, instead of at home surrounded by family and friends and followers. One is drugged, unconscious, impersonally attended if at all. Einstein said something in German, a language the nurse didn't understand. You're lucky to be in bed: Adlai Stevenson toppled over in a public place.

Stevenson is certainly one of those who lived with dignity, except on one—to me disappointing—occasion. In the 1950's a photographer for Life persuaded various public figures to leap up in the air, with arms raised. There were pages of jumping jacks, feet off the floor, Stevenson among them. I forget what it was meant to show. Herbert Hoover refused to pose, thereby rising in my estimation.

Had he been alive, Nicholas Murray Butler, who was president of Columbia University from 1901 to 1945, would also have refused. He was by far the most dignified person I ever had contact with, the most solid of images of a university president. Now they look like insurance salesmen, if not hippies. But dignity is fragile, as valets know. The university magazine, Columbia, of all periodicals, recently set out to lower “Nicholas the Miraculous” (as he was called on campus) by harking back to him as candidate for public office.
1 We know what that does to a man. He becomes an atrocious slogan: “Pick Nick for a Picnic in November.” And we are told in the article that his wife was a shrew. She did not seem so to me on the one evening I spent with them. But of course he was the one who would know. (He had fair warning: her name was Kate.) I can't imaginehim ever telling. He dedicated the second volume of his memoirs, Across the Busy Years (1940), “To Her who for more than three and thirty of these busy years has been my companion, my inspiration, and my guide.”

I have three diplomas signed by him: A.B., 1939; M.A., 1940; Ph.D., 1943. The first is in Latin, the others in English. I actually could read the Columbia College one: that was what graduating in liberal arts once meant. I offered to translate—for fifty cents, for some of my classmates on commencement day. I was A.B. but needy. That the postgraduate diplomas were in the vulgar tongue recalled a barb by philosophy professor Irwin Edman in an undergraduate course in aesthetics that admitted a few graduate students as auditors. Professor Edman would drop a French phrase—mélange des genres, for example—and add, “Since there are some graduate students present, I will translate.”

Earlier in 1939 I had had my first glimpse of the president, moving with black derby and cane-measured steps past The Thinker outside Philosophy Hall. I knew he had been a professor of philosophy in the 19th century and was now in his thirty-eighth year as president, awesome facts both. I have antiquarian tastes and even when young was prone to respect old ideas, old languages, old men and women, and longevity for its own sake. It was tempting to approach that grave, solitary figure, but what appropriate noises could I make? Ten years later a student whistled “Roar Lion Roar” at the new president of the university, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and won a smile. I had a feeling that Butler did not easily smile, at least not at seventy-seven or subsequently.

After that first commencement, favored with the usual fine “Columbia weather,” a scene where thousands upon thousands were carefully and colorfully mustered and each school stood up for its collective blessing, I got to wondering about Butler's signature on my diploma. It was obviously not a stamp. My alma mater does not do things cheaply. But how could he personally sign thousands of these documents? I went over to the registrar's office to inquire. At the window I was told he “was present” when they were signed. What? Your signature is yours as long as you are present when someone else signs it? This did not satisfy. I had worked hard, paid much, for that quality paper. I returned the next day and got a different official who spoke of some sort of writing gadget, a pen attached to many pens, all moving at the same time over a vast table. Having majored in English I thought of the death of Fal-staff in Henry V: “His nose was as sharp as a pen and a table of green fields” (according to the somewhat puzzling First Folio text). The green fields were Florida, where our president wintered before facing that scribbling ordeal. “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, / Moves on.”

A few days later he moved on to the biggest ceremony ever, one which I was privileged to witness, the convocation on campus, on the afternoon of June 10, for the King and Queen of England, George VI and Elizabeth. Tickets to that were as hard to obtain as now to the Superbowl. As a mere degree-holder I was not entitled to one. As a very lowly employee I was. I had taken a job as a page in the library, then called South Hall, to tide me over until the fall, when I would receive a stipend as Proudfit Fellow in Letters. I was ashamed of my gray cotton coat of servitude; when my teacher and idol Mark Van Doren came up to the circulation desk for a book and had a shock of recognition it was as nothing to my impulse to drop to the floor. It was honest employment, but what shall I say—undignified? But it did get me a grandstand seat (no, let us not exaggerate, a grandstand stand—I peered over shoulders) for the convocation, as the comely royal couple were, as it were, crowned again by “Miraculous” in his scarlet—was it Cambridge University?—gown and pancake black velvet hat. She wore the same sort of feathery side-tilted hat she still wears forty-seven years afterward—oh beautiful longevity, dear Queen Mum! George VI was in a cutaway and striped pants.

They had motored up from the Battery, where they had been welcomed by Governor Herbert H. Lehman and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia and a twenty-one-gun salute. They were guarded by 13,383 policemen (would that suffice today?). They spent four hours at the World's Fair, which had been much alluded to in our commencement speeches, with the Trylon and Perisphere hailed as symbols of peace and progress—three months before the invasion of Poland.

I am unable to envision Nicholas Murray Butler doing what the King and Queen next did as weekend guests of the Roosevelts at Hyde Park—eating hot dogs and drinking beer at a picnic. (No picnic for Nick! Besides, his Roosevelt was Theodore.) “It was said that the King asked for a second helping of the great American snack.”

The Columbia convocation is pictorially pre-served in a mural (with a key to the dignitaries) in what is now called Butler Library. I am not in it.

But I did get into the presidential mansion at 60 Morningside Drive, twice. Both times were fiascos.


The first time was in the fall of 1940, when fellowship holders were invited to tea. As I stood in the reception line I failed to notice what those in front of me were correctly doing. They were moving toward Butler with his red-vested butler standing beside him and passing on to the president the name that each guest was supposed to announce. I brushed past Butler's butler and shook the hand of the grand old gentleman, not giving my name to either. Then, anonymous, possibly to be called gate-crasher (for someone had a list), I went on to the petits fours, which were excellent. It wasn't that I thought the etiquette insufferably devious, recalling the Roman nomenclator who whispered into the ear of a consul. No palace revolutionary I—just thoughtless. My wife Mia had parallel trouble when we went to Berkeley in the autumn of 1945. At a reception I escorted a female first-year student, and she a male, to be introduced to a dean named Stone. Mia gave his name as Strong: “No, no, Stone!” said the dean, with patent annoyance. Mia couldn't comprehend why he was so fussy. “‘Strong’ is a much better name than ‘Stone,’” she remarked to me. “He should have been glad I called him ‘Strong’.”

I became an instructor in English (then the bottom full-time rank which, with inflation, is now assistant professor) at Columbia College in 1943, got married at the beginning of 1945. I had last seen the president at the commencement of 1944, a deaf, blind figure in the distance, holding on to the microphone stand. His public speaking was a feat of memory or improvisation as he faced blank space. He had turned eighty-two. He would never resign of his own will. He would have to be pushed out.

For the spring semester of 1945 I added to my full-time teaching a course in 18th-century English literature at Sarah Lawrence, one that Jacques Barzun had just relinquished. I could use the money and the experience—of women students again (I had started as an assistant at Barnard) and progressive education. With their shirt-tails out, the girls came one at a time to my very small office for a thirty-minute conference, which they insisted on claiming even when—as too often happened—they hadn't done the assignment. Nor could I grade them C, D, or F; I had to compose amateur psychoanalyses instead, which, moreover, they were shown. It was there on a bright April afternoon, as nearby a pupil and teacher worked on Beethoven's 32 Variations in C-minor, that I received a surprising phone call. It was from the social secretary of the Butlers. Could I come to dinner one week from today?

She had phoned our West 105th Street apartment and got Mia, who did not identify herself any more than I had in 1940. Mia passed on the Sarah Lawrence number. Clearly the invitation was for me alone. Now why would a mere instructor (and one caught moonlighting at that) be accorded the privilege of 60 Morningside Drive? I made a leap into the dark: I was still on their books as a bachelor, and they needed a young one to sit beside some dowager.

I mentioned that I was married. That gave pause—oh, did that give pause! The secretary said she would get back to me. It was not very many minutes later that she did. Mrs. Le Comte was of course included in the invitation. Kate La Montagne Butler did not have to consult Emily Post to know she was stuck with both of us.

Little did they know what we in turn went through. We had to be clothed. My wife still had a black velvet skirt from her native Prague, but it needed setting off with a white silk blouse with black stripes from Saks Fifth Avenue. I needed a dinner jacket from Brooks Brothers, since the one my father had handed down looked funny. My extra salary from Sarah Lawrence was dwindling. I was determined to make do with the ancient dickey and collar.

It was all a fearful rush since I couldn't cancel the Sarah Lawrence afternoon. With minutes to go we found that the dickey kept detaching from the collar. We hadn't enough safety pins; Mia did the best she could. The taxi got us there late. They were waiting for us, the youngest couple, who ought to have been among the first to arrive. Among a dozen guests I recognized Harry Morgan Ayres, the 16th-century specialist.

(To compare small things with great, our host unavoidably kept the Kaiser waiting at their first meeting at the palace at Wilhelmshöhe in the summer of 1905. The appointment had been put ahead without warning. “For a few minutes there was great scurrying, as I was not dressed for the meeting.”)


I was uncertainly dressed. Without ever pinpointing my imagined dowager I spoke animatedly at the oval dining table, too animatedly, with gesticulations. Mia, opposite me, suddenly burst into laughter. The man on her right, an anthropologist who hadn't been saying anything funny (do they ever?), looked at her in bewilderment. She pointed at me. In my exuberance I had, all unknown to myself, come apart—dickey, tie, collar, shirt. It was too funny for words, and my wife, her hand on her mouth, had none.

After the finger bowls—perhaps the last finger bowls in the West—Ayres escorted me to a bathroom and put me together again, somehow. Mia started to follow us; he forbade. Then, when the men headed for the smoking room, she wanted to follow them. Ayres had to direct her to stay with the ladies.

So Mia and all the ladies missed the historic part of the evening, historic in every sense of the word, as President Butler reflected on some sixty-five years of his own and world history, which were intertwined. He had known everybody who was anybody, the movers and shakers, beginning with Gladstone, Bismarck, Cardinal Newman, Pope Leo XIII. He knew all the statesmen and politicians but also Longfellow, Whittier, James Russell Lowell, Mark Twain. Close to such European statesmen as Gustav Stresemann, Thomas Masaryk, Aristide Briand, he helped shape treaties. He was president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and an interventionist in both world wars. He had warned against Hitler throughout the 30's.

He had known all the Presidents since Rutherford B. Hayes and most of the 20th-century Prime Ministers of Britain. The only President who was a stranger was the one who had just assumed office with Roosevelt's death two days before. It was Truman's deficiency that he didn't know Butler. Our host wondered out loud what sort of President he would make, Truman the upstart, the haberdasher from Kansas City. (Years later I would hear ex-President Truman deliver a lecture on government at Columbia that I believe even an inveterate Republican would have liked.)

From Truman he went on to Warren G. Harding and repeated the story from Across the Busy Years of being summoned to the White House for a revelation that never came, this just before that President took the trip to Alaska that mysteriously killed him. To quote the book: “Evidently there was something very much on his mind and he was trying to bring himself to tell me what it was. Several times during the morning, afternoon, and evening he seemed to be on the point of unbosoming himself, but he never did so.”

In an ordinary situation of conversation, where frivolity was permitted and apropos of the theory that Harding was deliberately poisoned, I might have cited the maid Bridget in the Lizzie Borden murder case, who in 1943, stricken with pneumonia, said she had a secret to tell her best friend, but by the time that friend had made her way to her bedside Bridget had recovered and changed her mind.

Of course none of us tried to say anything to Butler—who would have had great trouble hearing anyway—except to prompt him, who needed little prompting. The monologist was about to pass from the Columbia scene that he personally had totally changed. In two and a half years, at eighty-five, he would depart the earthly scene. Only a fool would fault the egotistical sublime of beginning a sentence, “As I said to Prince Bismarck.”

Irwin Edman complained of Across the Busy Years,” Didn't he ever meet anybody who wasn't famous? A bellboy, for instance.” As for me, I don't mind pomp, when it has substance. A personage in a lofty position should look and act the part: that's just another definition of being fit for it. To be sure, Butler was no writer. He never even tried for the wit and grace of an Edman, for example. Look at the first two sentences of Across the Busy Years:

One who has had and is having the inestimable pleasure and satisfaction of a busy, an interesting, and a happy life, and who has enjoyed and is enjoying worldwide contacts and associations of the greatest possible charm and importance, may easily overestimate the value to others of even an imperfect record of those things which he has seen and heard. On the other hand, there is no more interesting branch of literature than biography, with its record, often ingenuous and vain, of the interplay of heredity and environment, of natural capacity and opportunity, with their resulting activities and achievements in the field of reflective thought or in letters or in science or in public service, whether official or unofficial.

The second sentence might be a translation from the German, the language of the author's postdoctoral study (at the University of Berlin). It could be late 19th-century institutional prose. It is inexcusable for 1939. Edman helped John Dewey write less cumbersomely. Some similar angel of the light should have been at Butler's side. Fame is fleeting, especially if the prose is slow. At my local public library in Lenox, Massachusetts the last time Across the Busy Years was taken out was 1941. Butler keeps his distance, as he did in life. He never even tells when he was born. “My mother's memory is too sacred to be made the subject of record.” If the reader is to be treated as an impertinent intruder, why write at all?


Butler was a snob who was sometimes accused of anti-Semitism. For an individual so far from coarse, the attitude, if it existed, would not be easily detected. Without even mentioning the accusation, Diana Trilling rebutted it in “Lionel Trilling, A Jew at Columbia” (COMMENTARY, March 1979). It turns out that six years before I and my Jewish refugee wife were the somewhat baffled guests in the president's footmanned dining room, the Trillings were invited for a reason that fulfilled a fantasy Diana had had. The fantasy was that President Butler read and liked Lionel's dissertation on Matthew Arnold—was not Butler himself a 19th-century figure?—and arranged for Lionel's promotion to assistant professor. And that was exactly what happened. Moreover, when the male guests repaired to the library for cigars and brandy Butler told a story for the particular benefit of the chairman of the English department, Ernest Hunter Wright. It concerned a proposed exchange of philosophy professors between the Universities of Berlin and Columbia that had the Berlin Chancellor objecting to receiving Felix Adler:

Lionel recreated the scene. Having got this far in his narrative, Butler had put down his brandy glass and firmly planted his hands on his knees, fixing his eyes on Professor Wright as he boomed: “And I, gentlemen, I wrote back: ‘At Columbia, sir, we recognize merit, not race.’”Silence.

The Felix Adler story, like most of Butler's stories, was thirty years old, but nonetheless pointed for 1939. The next year he was to proclaim that Columbia should and would enter the war “between beasts and human beings.”

Jews who were not promoted or who were let go sometimes focused their suspicions on Butler when, I suspect, the trouble lay closer to home with departmental chairmen or colleagues. In the department of Greek and Latin, for instance, when all the elderly professors retired at about the same time, that fine and learned teacher, Moses Hadas, should have succeeded to a full professorship. Instead, a Scot who had been to Oxford and a German from Munich received appointments. Apart from the department of philosophy, in which Butler took a personal interest (full professor Edman looked like a boy and comparatively was), promotion was notoriously slow at Columbia in the 1935-45 period (as it was, also, in the English department at Berkeley in the 1930's). Meyer Schapiro was held back, but so were Jacques Barzun and Mark Van Doren and Ruth Benedict. Marjorie Nicolson was the first woman to be a full professor (1941): they could accord her no less, since she had been a dean at Smith. When I entered Columbia College in 1935 the English department had only one full professor, the departmental representative, Harrison Ross Steeves. It was shocking that Van Doren had not been given that rank (an unfairness so painful Van Doren does not mention it in his autobiography). I heard from a later chairman that Wright took some thirty of Van Doren's books into Butler's office and laid them out on the desk.

Diana Trilling's memoir, exempting Butler, points a finger at some of Lionel Trilling's colleagues, such as Emery Neff, who “came to say .. . that now that Lionel was a member of the department, he hoped that he would not use it as a wedge to open the English department to more Jews.” She mentions Raymond Weaver as “outspokenly hostile until a long time afterward when his enmity changed into affection as precipitously as it had appeared.” I don't know what date Mrs. Trilling would give for the change. Once I asked my brilliant friend and colleague Andrew Chiappe why Weaver perfumed himself so much. (I should add that there were more whispers in those days about homosexuality in the department than about anti-Semitism.) Weaver had volunteered an explanation to Andrew: he did it in self-defense because “Trilling's office smells like a delicatessen.” Weaver must have taken leave of one of his senses, at least, to say something so wide of the mark about the very epitome of elegance and fastidiousness.

Credit Across the Busy Years for observing: “The Eighteenth Amendment was the result of one of those mad outbursts of emotion and passion which from time to time sweep over the American people. The Ku Klux Klan movement with its hatred and persecution of Roman Catholics and the anti-Semitic movement are two other outstanding demonstrations of this type of feeling.” Butler's wife was Roman Catholic (he, of course, was Episcopalian) and Benjamin Nathan Cardozo was a friend whom he recommended to President Coolidge for the United States Supreme Court as “an absolutely ideal judge.” (Coolidge replied that “he could not appoint Cardozo despite his merits because there was already one Jew upon the Court [Brandeis] and the appointment of another would excite criticism.”) The 865 pages of the memoirs include two Jewish jokes that are not worth repeating and two references that place the author in the role of reporter (which he once was): In 1927 Kerensky “stated that the influence of the Jewish element in the Soviet government had largely declined with the passing from power of Trotsky and Zinoviev.” In 1912 the Kaiser held forth on why the Titanic sank and why Germany would never compete in that area:

He was most emphatic in denouncing the bad navigation of the ship, which he ascribed to Ismay's [managing director of the White Star Line, who was among those rescued] control over Captain Smith and the former's determination to make a good record for the maiden trip. He denounced Ismay as a coward and as a Greek Jew from whom nothing better could be expected. . . . He said that ships were big enough and fast enough then and there was no object to be gained in driving them faster to save a few hours' time for greedy Jewish passengers on business bent.

Butler's only comment is: “During this whole talk the Kaiser was at his best. He was not only vivacious, but brilliant and animated in high degree.” No doubt. If that was the Kaiser at his best, a good many of us would rather listen to him chop wood in Doorn.

I think the human problem with Butler was insulation, or elevation, from ordinary mortal struggle. He remarks of a ship that took him from Alexandria to Jaffa:

That ship is of evil memory, particularly because of its discomforts and especially because of its filth. It was a Russian vessel called the Korniloff, crowded with Russians of every sort and kind on their way to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Greek Easter festival. A few years later I read, with entire resignation, that this vessel had been wrecked and ruined in a storm off the coast of Crete.

The mayor of Vienna, who had been hospitable to him, gets a fleeting sigh: “When the government of Austria fell [in 1938], Burgomeister [sic] Seitz was ejected from office and I fear did not have a happy time thereafter.” Well, the man did survive Hitler after all, not that Butler knew it at the time. Silence on the Kaiser's clichés; litotes on Seitz; jocosity over a wrecked Russian ship filled with filthy people. No wonder no one warmed to the autocrat of Morningside Drive—whose last gesture was to approve the charmer, Ike Eisenhower.


Leaving its readers with the impression that Butler seized any and all occasions to flee his wife and go speechifying (had she bullied him into that dedication?), Columbia next undertook, in a later issue, to raise our estimate of his successor.
2 The logic is that, since in the last two decades Eisenhower has been reevaluated more favorably by historians as President of the United States, isn't it time to modify the common view of him as a disaster at Columbia?

The interregnum between Butler and Eisenhower, 1945-48, was exactly the time I was away teaching at Berkeley. Thus I was spared the faculty anxiety and agitations as the astonishing appointment drew near to reality. One almost didn't need to be informed of the reaction; it was predictable. A general (some said, not a very good general at that) as president of Columbia? One whose so-called education occurred at West Point? What was his class ranking? Yes, just as expected. At least substitute MacArthur, first in his class, with that undeniably keen mind and gift for oratory. How nostalgic they suddenly were for old Miraculous. He may have been autocratic or senile, but he lived the intellectual life. Eisenhower—a bad joke. That idiot trustee, Thomas J. Watson of IBM (what academic ever admired a businessman?), must have misunderstood and approached the wrong Eisenhower. Wasn't he supposed to set up an appointment with Eisenhower's brother, Milton, then president of Kansas State College? As for Dwight, his “ear-to-ear grin was a natural to draw funds,” asserted Newsweek, funds sorely needed, but his acceptance was viewed by the disgruntled and unconsulted faculty as crass opportunism. He was using Columbia as the next step up. The public was to think he had brains. Butler never said no to the 1920 Republican convention, and his predecessor, Seth Low, resigned in 1901 to become mayor, but both had bettered the university with years and years of distinguished service. Butler's voice was heard from beyond the grave in a letter he wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904: “Nothing injures a University so much as to give the University itself and the public reason to believe that the President looks upon his position as a stepping-stone to political office.”

Yet in fact, Professor Eli Ginzberg of Columbia, who is also interviewed in the February 1985 issue of Columbia, along with Professor Henry Graff, exonerates Ike of such strategy: it “could never have been more than an outside gambit, since almost everybody expected Dewey to win in 1948 and run again in 1952. The first opportunity for Eisenhower would have been in 1956, when he would be pushing seventy—in that era, an unsuitable age for a first-time presidential candidate.”

The Columbia article, an apology of sorts, admits what has to be admitted:

Eisenhower began his Columbia career with some obvious handicaps. He had spent his entire adult life in the U.S. Army and had never taken any particular interest in either the modern academic disciplines or the complex intellectual community in New York City, whereas his distinguished predecessor at Columbia, Nicholas Murray Butler, had published some nineteen books and had enjoyed close ties with many of the faculty. Butler had been in harmony with the city's intellectual currents in a way that Eisenhower would never be.

The general was concerned: “Mamie and I have had great difficulty in believing that I possess any particular qualifications for the distinguished position to which the Trustees have appointed me.”

So he was modest. Indeed, I once remarked to Irwin Edman, who had become my friend, that our university president was “too modest.” “He couldn't be!” came the lightning retort.

Ike was modest when I had dinner with him. Again it was a special set of circumstances that got me into the exalted company. I returned to Columbia in the fall of 1948 as an assistant professor of English. All faculty newcomers were invited to a gala dinner in a great hall on campus. Eisenhower was a newcomer, too, sitting, of course, at the head table. Typically no evening dress was required. Before our entry, Mia and I freshened up at the nearby apartment of F. W. Dupee, the critic, who was returning to Columbia from Bard, a place that I once thought of attending (that small-college-versus-large issue) until someone spelled it backward. Fred kept close to us for company; his wife was too pregnant to be present. Mamie Eisenhower wasn't there, either.

A professor of history made a short boring speech of welcome, which he read. Then Ike rose and spoke off the cuff. “I feel like the batboy coming up after Lou Gehrig,” he began. He probably was not being ironical. That is all I recall of either speech, but it suffices to fix Ike for me as the great tactician—in the sense of master of tact—with his apt allusion to Columbia's greatest athlete for the purpose of disarming an audience that doubted his credentials. “I have no pretensions, but wait and see—give me the chance to make good”—that was the coded message.


Although Eisenhower was our president until December 1950, when he took leave to be commander of NATO, I never saw him again. I should have seen him, at the faculty meetings over which it was his duty to preside. He never turned up. There was always some excuse, the usual one being that he was called to Washington. Some sneered that he was probably on a golf course. There was a rumor about what he had done to 60 Morningside: taken out the library and put in a pool table. In fact he used the top floor for his new hobby of painting.

Mia dutifully went to one faculty wives' university tea. There she stared at a woman holding over her stomach a bouquet of violets. “Who is that? My mother wouldn't have had her as a maid,” exclaimed my wife all too loudly. It was Mamie Eisenhower.

I was in perpetual danger of seeing Eisenhower in one of my classes in Hamilton Hall. He had become close to Dean Harry Carman of Columbia College; they took to dropping in without warning to check—what would it be called?—“the educational process” at first hand, sitting “unobtrusively” (“Don't mind us,” ha, ha) in back. I had tried (in vain) to teach composition to General MacArthur's son, Arthur, who was chauffeured up from the Waldorf-Astoria in a limousine, but this was a different kettle of fish. I would be torn, if faced with it, between refusing to be intimidated or copying a colleague, who immediately announced a written test. But my nerve was never tested.

Henry Graff, professor of American history, relates the outcome that many had bitterly foreseen:

When [Eisenhower] started to run for the Presidency, he and Taft, who lost the nomination to him, kissed and made up with each other at a meeting held in 60 Morningside Drive. Later, using 60 Morningside as a launching pad, Eisenhower started off on a campaign trip, with all the pols and all the sirens going. One of my witty colleagues remarked, “You know, Butler did a lot of things wrong, living like a medieval baron, but he never stained the place with politics.”

Memories are short; I'm not sure that that conclusion is true; but it has a Platonic validity.


What remains is to mention the sequel, the Battle of the Ads. During the campaign the faculty was, as Graff puts it, “very hot for Stevenson.” When the one-sided results were in, Mark Van Doren went so far as to say, “I felt as if God had gone to sleep.” I myself thought the enthusiasm for Stevenson misplaced. I declared he should be president of Columbia. He was too vacillating (as Truman also thought) for the other position. I found it in deplorable taste when there appeared in the New York Times a full-page ad for Stevenson signed by nearly all the leading Columbia lights. They were stating, in effect, “We who have experienced Eisenhower as president are against him 99 to 1.” That was to mix up two utterly different positions. So, when I was approached by Harry Carman to sign a counter-ad, I did, despite dire warnings from my wife that my career at Columbia—and anywhere else—would be forever blighted. The next time Lionel Trilling saw me he hissed. “Republican!” Dupee, with whom I shared an office, grunted, “Me like Ike, eh?” Irwin Edman was disillusioned with his once-promising protégé. When I told a story about trying to phone the Liberal Arts Press and getting the wrong number, the man at the other end saying, “We're not liberal anything,” Irwin stabbed, “That must have made you happy.”

It was contended that our ad, labeled “Faculty and Staff,” consisted almost entirely of typists and maintenance workers—university plumbers, carpenters, elevator operators, gardeners, and the like.

And that was true.


1 “Have Speech, Will Travel,” by Richard M. Gammere, Jr., October 1984.

2 “Eisenhower's First Presidency,” by Lewis Galambos, Daun van Ee, Elizabeth S. Hughes, February 1985.

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