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Ending the debate: Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address not as haphazard as many historians thought

December 10, 2010 |  1:56 pm

Editorial Board member Jim Newton is wrapping up work on his biography of President Eisenhower. In his research, he discovered the insightful tale of Eisenhower's farewell address, a story that begins with "boxes full of pine needles, acorns, and mouse droppings, and [that] smelled of campfires." The boxes, recovered last fall from a Minnesota boathouse, belonged to Eisenhower's speechwriter Malcom Moos and in them contained the answer to questions that historians have been debating for years.

Newton writes:

Some historians have regarded the Farewell Address as an afterthought, hastily composed at the end of 1960 as an adjunct to the 1961 State of the Union. Others have regarded it as the soulful expression of an aging President who was determined to warn the American people of dangers ahead. But the Moos papers make clear that the address, far from being an afterthought, was among the most deliberate speeches of Eisenhower’s Presidency. Regarded in his day as inarticulate and detached, Eisenhower in these papers is fully engaged, grappling with the language of the text and the radical questions that it raised. […]

Eisenhower was a rigorous editor. Major speeches such as the State of the Union might be refined ten or twelve times. Even by those standards, however, the Farewell Address was special. Eisenhower personally rewrote the opening passages, and his brother Milton overhauled the entire speech. It was batted back and forth for months; in the end, it underwent twenty-nine drafts (twenty-one previously unknown drafts were found in the boathouse papers).

Learn more about the newly discovered documents, which "[rejoin] history just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of Eisenhower's address," in Newton's article over at The New Yorker.


Papers shed new light on Eisenhower's farewell address

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

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