Ike’s letters in Phila. to go online

This article original appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. By Edward Colimore, Inquirer Staff Writer

Ike's Letters to Go On Sale in Philly

The letters weren't meant to be seen by the public. Some are marked "Personal & Confidential" and are on stationery of the Supreme Allied Command Headquarters or of the White House.

They reside in three large binders stored in the climate-controlled safe of a Center City bank. Some have been quoted over the years in books and scholarly articles; others have been on exhibit.

But much of the private collection of 250 letters between Dwight D. Eisenhower and his older brother Edgar from 1941 to 1967 has not been fully studied as a group or available to a wide online audience.

That's expected to change next year.

Once largely the domain of historians and hard-core history buffs, the letters are expected to be posted online, following in the path of similar efforts to provide Internet access to the papers of the Founding Fathers.

The correspondence presents a telling picture of Eisenhower as supreme Allied commander in World War II and as 34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961, dealing with issues such as America's image abroad, the media, and government controls over the economy. Eisenhower died in 1969.

Making the collection more unusual are Edgar's responses, which offer a glimpse into the close, sometimes prickly, relationship between the brothers.

Nathan Raab, left, and Jonas Raab are shown with the collection of 140 letters from former President Dwight Eisenhower

Nathan Raab, left, and Jonas Raab are shown with the collection of 140 letters from former President Dwight Eisenhower

"They dealt with sensitive subjects over a broad range," said Nathan Raab, vice president of the Raab Collection, a Center City firm that curates the letters. The owner, a California history buff who prefers to remain anonymous, "wants to bring them to a wider audience online."

Raab intends to post the collection next year on americashistory.org, the owner's Web site. "He wants to do it in a way that people can take it in," he said. Selecting the best correspondence and providing context will be important. "So many letters can be overwhelming. . . .

"The museum as a place you visit is rapidly evolving into an institution framework that exists online as much as it does in real life," Raab said. "Museums are more than addresses on the street. Many people can't visit them in person, but they can spend hours on the Web site."

Much of Eisenhower's correspondence is in The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, a multi-volume set published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, and at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kan. But Ike's originals, along with carbons of Edgar's letters, are part of the collection in Philadelphia.

One of the president's missives from May 2, 1956, addresses concerns – which some feel today – that the country was creeping toward socialism.

"I am interested in your statement . . . 'that the Government is rapidly drifting into a socialistic state,' " Ike wrote to Edgar, a lawyer in Tacoma, Wash., who was more conservative than his younger brother.

"A statement such as this seems [an] indication to me that you are not studying the march of events with as clear an eye as you should; you are talking from impressions and prejudices without giving the important factors serious examination."

Eisenhower also wrote that fears of socialism had spurred calls for him to run for president.

The reasons his supporters gave "all boiled down to something as follows: 'The country is going socialistic so rapidly that, unless Republicans can get in immediately and defeat this trend, our country is gone. Four more years of New Dealism and there will be no turning back. This is our last chance.' "

But, Eisenhower wrote, "it is silly to believe that any individual in the world – or, indeed, any party – can actually turn a whole population back from a course it has pursued in the belief that that course is assisting the majority of the population."

"I haven't seen the letters, but I have seen correspondence between them," said Valoise Armstrong, an archivist at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. "We have carbon copies of letters Ike wrote. . . . You can learn lessons if you would only look to see what happened in the past."

On Jan. 14, 1951, Edgar wrote, apparently urging Ike into politics:

"If we had a man in this country, whom all the people could say was honest and sincere, we would rally behind him with such force that no country would dare attack us."

Ike was not sure he was that man.

On Dec. 6, 1951, he wrote to Edgar, "My personal ambition has remained unchanged for a number of years. It includes a hope that I may withdraw into a more reasonable tempo of daily duties and pressures than I have been confronting during this entire decade."

He said he wanted "to go a farm" and occasionally to "meet with people whose opinions I respect. . . . I should like to remain completely nonpartisan and devoted to the good of our country. To live this kind of life with Mamie would, to my mind, constitute about the last word in contentment."

But that was not yet to be.

As he moved closer to the presidency, he wrote to Edgar on May 15, 1952, "I think I have drifted into one of the most difficult and complex situations of my life. Yet, as I go back over the developments step by step, I don't see how I could have done otherwise . . . ."

Part of what makes the Eisenhower collection so unusual is its informal tone. Edgar offered advice and sometimes got under the skin of his more famous brother, sparking spirited replies.

Ike was perturbed by a letter from Edgar and responded on April 1, 1953, "You seem to fear that I am just a poor little soul here who is being confused and misled by a lot of vicious advisers who are trying to draw unacceptable people into government."

On April 7, Edgar backed off. "I had no intention of making you feel I was lecturing you, or that you hadn't grown up. I am fully aware of the fact that you can look after yourself . . . ."

During Ike's presidency, Edgar encouraged his brother to consider three candidates for the Supreme Court and told him on Oct. 27 that he was disturbed by the long hours the president was putting in "without a break" and "the number of secretaries pulling at him."

Ike made his own choices and grew as president, gaining a strong appreciation for the Constitution and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in creating a balance among the branches of government.

On Jan. 12, 1954, he wrote, "This country began functioning under the Constitution in 1789, and we have done pretty well. That successful record does not argue for serious tampering with the system that produces such results."

Eisenhower noted on Nov. 22, 1955, how ignorant other nations were about America and "how important it is to us that some of the misunderstandings be corrected."

"Europeans have been taught that we are a race of materialists. . . . Our successes are described in terms of automobiles and not in terms of worthwhile cultural works of any kind. Spiritual and intellectual values are deemed to be almost nonexistent in our country.

"We are believed to be bombastic, jingoistic, and totally devoted to theories of force and power as the only worthwhile elements in the world."

When he left office, Ike got a long-held wish: He retired to a working farm next to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa.

"When you read these letters," Raab said, "you are opening a door and walking into a room where the most powerful man in the world is having frank and private conversations with his brother about issues that were not only at the forefront then but are relevant and important now."

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