The 1952 Republican Convention: How a Beaumont attorney helped Ike become president

Marilyn Tennissen Jun. 12, 2012, 7:00am

The 1952 Republican Convention in Chicago

When Texas Republicans gathered in Fort Worth for their state convention June 7-9, it was reported that there was contention between conservative and moderate party members. But the boos and arguments that erupted last week seem tame compared to a particularly contentious convention 60 years ago helped Gen. Dwight Eisenhower become president.

In 1952, Democratic President Harry S. Truman decided not to run for reelection. While his party worked to find a replacement, the GOP saw their first opportunity to put a man in the White House since 1932.

As the July Republican convention in Chicago approached, the party was under the control of the old guard supporters of Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, son of the former President William Howard Taft. But a growing number of Republicans were beginning to "Like Ike," the popular World War II leader.

The battle between Ike supporters and "Taft men" was particularly heated in the South. Taft machine had "widespread influence" over Southern Republicans.

After the primaries, Taft finished with more delegates than Eisenhower, but polls were showing that Ike had stronger voter appeal.

In Texas and other Southern states like Louisiana and Georgia, tales of Taft men "strong arming" delegates at county and state conventions were emerging. Ike's men claimed the Taft leaders were denying delegate spots to Ike supporters and putting Taft supporters in their place.

During Texas caucuses leading up to the state convention, Ike supporters organized thousands of Independents and Democrats to vote in the Republican primary.

The Ikemen, ralled by Houston oilman Jack Porter, had turned out in record-breaking numbers for the precinct caucuses and county conventions.

The Taft men called these men "Republicans for a Day," and accused them of being party outsiders trying to pack the convention. But Ike's men claimed they were being shut out and steam rolled in local party meetings.

To settle things, 12,000 Republicans squeezed into Mineral Wells (pop. 7,763) on May 28 for the state convention. Several counties and the cities of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth had two sets of delegates – one set for Taft and another for Eisenhower.

Both sides told their story to the Republican State Executive Committee in the ballroom atop the ballroom atop Mineral Well's Baker Hotel.

Of the 519 contested delegates, the committee seated only 30 Ikemen, and gave the rest to Taft. That afternoon, the pro-Taft Credentials Committee went further, giving 21 more seats to Taft. Then the convention voted 762-222 to confirm the Credentials Committee seating.

After that, most of the Ikemen rose and walked out. In the community center across the street, they raised placards reading "Rob With Bob" and "Graft with Taft."

The Republican brass met in Chicago the week before the convention to decide the delegate issue. Ike's men were out to reclaim the delegates lost to Taft in what they called the "Texas steal."

Lamar Cecil, a Beaumont attorney and a leader of the Texas pro-Ike faction, opened the debate on the Texas contest.

Cecil told the committee that the issue before it "is not which candidate shall receive the Republican nomination. It involves the honor and integrity of the Republican Party."

According to a July 10, 1952, article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Cecil asked the committee to "wipe out the infamy of Mineral Wells so that we can go before the American people with clean hands."

The pro-Taft argument was led by Washington attorney Monte Appel, who said that Texas law gave the state political committee the right to determine contested delegates at state conventions.

The committee denied the seating of the Texas Ike delegation.

But when the national convention got underway, Eisenhower's campaign manager, Henry Cabot Lodge, and New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, proposed new rules that would forbid many of the contested delegates from voting. They called it the "Fair Play" amendment.

Although Taft angrily denied having stolen any delegate votes, the convention voted to support Fair Play 658 to 548, and the Texans voted 33-5 for Eisenhower as a result.

The Fair Play measure was passed in a floor vote, and Taft lost many Southern delegates.

When the delegates favoring Eisenhower were seated, Ike won the nomination on the first ballot. The following day the convention affirmed the selection of Richard Nixon for vice president.

On Election Day, Nov. 4, 1952, Eisenhower won in a big victory, taking more 55 percent of the popular vote and winning 39 of the 48 states.

He took three Southern states that the Republicans had won only once since Reconstruction: Virginia, Florida and Texas.

President Eisenhower didn't forget supporters like Lamar Cecil. Cecil, who had been in private practice in Beaumont since 1927, received a recess appointment from Ike to the Eastern District of Texas in 1954.

Judge Cecil made it into history books by ruling to allow blacks into Beaumont's municipal parks and golf courses in 1955. He also approved opening Lamar State College (now Lamar University) to blacks in 1956.

He served the Eastern District of Texas until his death on Feb. 14, 1958.

Sources include "Fair Ways: How Six Black Golfers Won Civil Rights In Beaumont, Texas" by Robert J. Robertson, National Politics: Republican Primaries and Convention 1952; History of the Baker Hotel: Steamroller in Texas; Racial Terror & the Attempt to Stop the Desegregation of Lamar State College of Technology by Amilcar Shabazz; and special thanks to the Rev. James Vanderholt, Diocese of Beaumont.

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