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Adlai Ewing Stevenson II 1
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05 Feb 1900 1
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Stories

Adlai Ewing Stevenson: An Urbane, Witty, Articulate Politician and Diplomat

Adlai Ewing Stevenson was a rarity in American public life, a cultivated, urbane, witty, articulate politician whose popularity was untarnished by defeat and whose stature grew in diplomacy.

He graced the Presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956, and his eloquence and his wit won him the devoted admiration of millions of Americans.

In more than four years as the nation's chief spokesman at the United Nations, he gained the same sort of admiration from the world statesmen for his ready tongue, his sharp mind and his patience in dealing with the grave issues that confronted the world organization.

As chief United States delegate, with the rank of Ambassador, Mr. Stevenson was in the thick of debate and negotiations during the Bay of Pigs and Cuban missile crises, disarmament talks, upheavals in the Congo, the war in South Vietnam and the revolt in Santa Domingo.

One of Mr. Stevenson's greatest satisfactions was the signing in 1963 of the treaty banning all but underground testing of nuclear devices. He was a member of the United States delegation that traveled to Moscow to sign the document.

When he ran for the Presidency in 1956, Mr. Stevenson suggested a world agreement to ban the testing of hydrogen bombs. It was attacked by the Republicans at the time as visionary, and it may have hurt his campaign.

TV Would Show Him Intent During Council Sessions

During television coverage of Security Council debates, Mr. Stevenson's tanned, freckled and balding head was a familiar sight as he sat at the Council's horseshoe-shaped table. He looked intent as he crouched over the table to listen to the remarks of another delegate.

But he relaxed when it came his turn to speak. His words flowed easily and steadily in a voice that, for its precision and diction, reminded some of Ronald Colman, the movie actor.

His logic and his words could be coruscating, as when he was disputing Soviet spokesmen or they could take wings of idealism, as when he was expounding the importance of the United Nations as the keeper of the world's peace.

However much Mr. Stevenson might berate the Soviet Union at the council table, he refrained from banal personalities. The result was that he was on good social terms with the Soviet diplomats, as he was with those of other countries whose views he found more congenial.

Mr. Stevenson was appointed to his United Nations post in 1961 by President Kennedy and reconfirmed in the job by President Johnson. The appointment came in response not only to Mr. Stevenson's deep knowledge of foreign affairs but also to the pressure from influential Democrats who had backed Mr. Stevenson for the Presidential nomination in 1960.

Mr. Stevenson held Cabinet rank, but there were indications that his role as a policy-maker was limited. In the Bay of Pigs crisis in 1961 he suffered grave embarrassment in Security Council debates because the White House had not briefed him truthfully on the United States involvement in the invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles. It was a measure of his popularity in the diplomatic community that he recovered from that incident with little loss of prestige.

He Said U.N. Assignment Was a 'Terrible Drill'

There was some hint that Mr. Stevenson was less than ecstatic about his United Nations responsibilities.

"This job has been a terrible drill," he told Martin Mayer in an interview earlier this year for an article in The New York Times Magazine.

"In my own life I've been accustomed to making policy," he continued. "I've sometimes been a little restless in this role of executing and articulating the policies of others.

"There is a disadvantage in being anywhere other than the seat of power. And every issue that comes to the U. N. has its antecedents before it gets here. The State Department has been involved in the negotiations, and now the situation has become insoluable, so it gets dumped onto us."

Mr. Stevenson also expressed the belief that he had become "an old and familiar face" at the United Nations headquarters building in New York.

"You take on the coloration of your country, your country's face, and you become predictable," he said adding:

"You lose some of the rosy glow you brought with you. Apart from my taste for creative aspects, the time comes when you should bring in a fresh face and a new outlook."

Despite these reservations, Mr. Stevenson, with his Hamlet-like ability to state another proposition, said that "it's easy to reconcile a sense of duty with this job." He conceded that his decisions had "always come about more by circumstances and events than by conscious calculation."

As a diplomat, Mr. Stevenson put in punishing hours. Most days he was on the go from an appointment at 8:15 A.M. to well after midnight.

After an official working day, he would go on the cocktail-party-and-dinner circuit for the rest of the evening--social duties that his post required of him. In these he had a truly awesome stamina, for he was as eruditely charming late at night as he had been at breakfast.

A good part of Mr. Stevenson's charm rested in his ability to discuss himself without pomposity. Although he was badly beaten for the Presidency by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, he was not bitter. Talking to a group of volunteers after his defeat in 1956, he said:

"To you who are disappointed tonight, let me confess that I am too. . . . Be of good cheer and remember, my dear friends, that a wise man said: 'A merry heart doeth good like a medicine but a broken spirit dryeth the bones.'"

Mr. Stevenson, although he dressed well, was not happy as a fashion plate. As Governor of Illinois he preferred to work in his office in a brown tweed sports jacket, odd trousers and a striped shirt. His favorite footgear then was a pair of old golf shoes with the spikes removed.

His predilection for informal attire was not only a matter of personal comfort, but also an expression of the fact that, although he was well-to-do, he was not a conspicuous spender.

During his gubernatorial term, which began in 1949, he purchased only one new suit. A hole in his shoe, which was a trademark of his White House campaign in 1952, was another example of his frugality.

After his defeat in 1956 Mr. Stevenson practiced law and traveled extensively on business, visiting more than 30 countries. On one trip he spent three weeks in the Soviet Union and had a long conversation with the then Premier, Nikita S. Khrushchev.

Although Mr. Stevenson had chided General Eisenhower in 1956 as "a part-time President" and had been critical of the Eisenhower foreign policy, the President appointed him consultant to the Secretary of State in preparation for a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's council in Paris.

Eggheads' Idol in 1960 As in 1952 and 1956

In 1960 many liberals and intellectuals in the Democratic party urged him to seek the Presidential nomination. He was then, as he had been in 1952 and 1956, the idol of the eggheads, men and women who were not ashamed to confess to a college education and to ideas more profound than those ordinarily passed at the bridge table.

Professional politicians, however, were less enthusiastic, because he seemed reluctant to work with them and because they though he talked over the heads of his audiences.

Mr. Stevenson vacillated, and it was not until the last minute that he agreed to let his name be placed before the convention. By then, it was too late. He got the applause of the gallery while Mr. Kennedy reaped the delegates' votes.

Some of Mr. Stevenson's ambivalence toward politics sprang from a feeling that glad-handing was a species of hokum. He expressed this sentiment to an old friend after one hard day of handshaking in the 1952 campaign in these words:

"Perhaps the saddest part of all this is that a candidate must reach into a sea of hands, grasp one, not knowing whose it is, and say, 'I'm glad to meet you,' realizing that he hasn't and probably never will meet that man."

When he went into the 1952 campaign, Mr. Stevenson was virtually unknown nationally, but in the election he polled more than 27 million votes, a surprising figure. However, this won him only 89 electoral votes as General Eisenhower swamped him with nearly 34 million popular votes and 442 in the Electoral College.

The Democratic candidate emerged from the campaign with the grudging respect of many Republicans for the quality of his speeches--he wrote most of them himself--and for his good manners.

For all his politeness and his patrician birth and education, Mr. Stevenson became, after 1952, one of the hardest-hitting adversaries of the late Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin, a notable exponent of jugular-vein politics.

Moreover, Mr. Stevenson turned into an articulate spokesman for internationalism and an active titular leader of his party.

To the shallowness of practical politics, he added a philosophy of liberalism that was almost Jeffersonian in its literate defense of the rights of the individual, its educated revulsion against mob-inflaming demagoguery.

"When demagoguery and deceit become a national political movement," he asserted, "we Americans are in trouble; not just Democrats, but all of us."

Genial, with a touch of shyness, this product of Princeton, Harvard and Northwestern University seemed so out of place in practical politics that a more seasoned politician tutoring him for active campaigning recalled, "Godawmighty, we almost had to tear off the starched dickeys and the Homburg hat he used to wear."

Trained to the law and diplomacy, he was a realist at dealing with essential political compromise. But when moved deeply by principle he risked political sabotage and personal obloquy for his convictions.

Thus, during 1952, when he was asked why, in 1949, he had signed an affidavit speaking well of the reputation of Alger Hiss, later convicted of perjury, Mr. Stevenson replied:

"I am a lawyer, I think that one of the most fundamental responsibilities, not only of every citizen, but particularly of lawyers, is to give testimony in a court of law, to give it honestly and willingly, and it will be a very unhappy day for Anglo-Saxon justice when a man, even a man in public life, is too timid to state what he knows and what he has heard about a defendant in a criminal trial for fear that defendant might be convicted. That would to me be the ultimate timidity."

On July 25, 1952, what was described as the first "open" Democratic National Convention in 20 years nominated Mr. Stevenson as its Presidential candidate and Senator John J. Sparkman of Alabama as his running mate. They opposed General Eisenhower and the then Senator Richard M. Nixon of California.

Mr. Stevenson, then Governor of Illinois, had insisted repeatedly that he would "rather not" be President. He was quoted as having said that he was not fitted mentally, temperamentally or physically for the office.

The Stevenson boom began in the spring of 1952, after he had visited President Truman in Washington. But keeping outwardly aloof from the scramble for convention delegates, he refused to identify himself as a candidate down to the moment the voting began.

In his acceptance speech to the convention the candidate told the cheering delegates:

"Sacrifice, patience, understanding and implacable purpose may be our lot for years to come. Let's face it. Let's talk sense to the American people."

His candor cost him many votes. On the question of who should receive the benefit of royalties from offshore oil deposits, he took his stand with President Truman that the Federal Government had "paramount rights" in the deposits. This cost him much support in Texas Florida and Virginia.

He refused to take a stand in favor of continuing discrimination against Negro citizens, which antagonized "white supremacy" elements in the Democratic party in the South. At the same time his firm belief in states' rights and responsibilities cost him some Negro votes.

Among other issues that influenced the vote substantially were corruption in Washington, Communist infiltration, the Korean war, high taxes and the high cost of living, fear of inflation and the growth of Federal centralism. These were pressed by Republican campaigners.

But the greatest obstacle to Mr. Stevenson's success was the popularity of his opponent.

Analyses of the vote indicated that although labor had gone solidly for Mr. Stevenson and although he had retained much of the farm vote, he had lost the support of women voters and particularly the so-called independent voters of both sexes.

But the strength of Mr. Stevenson's candidacy was shown in the fact that under circumstances that should have produced an overwhelming Republican landslide--a popular candidate, popular issues and an incumbent Administration whose party had been in power for 20 years--the Democratic candidate rolled up 3,000,000 more votes than were received by President Truman in 1948 in his victory over Thomas E. Dewey.

With the 1952 election over, Mr. Stevenson took the role of Opposition leader, although he admitted that he envied one man--the Governor of Illinois.

His first speech and a four-day visit to Washington rallied nearly all Democrats to his side. He received such an admiring welcome from the jubilant Republicans at the capital that political opponents jested that he could not have been feted more if his candidacy had been successful.

Part of the tribute arose because he took immediate steps to heal the wounds of the bitter phases of the campaign and did what he could to rally his fellow Democrats behind the incoming President.

During the visit, Mr. Stevenson met with Democratic leaders and mapped plans to unite the party in opposition. He also conferred with leaders of the Republican Administration about his plans for a nonpolitical world tour, covering particularly the Far East.

On the five-month tour he talked with leading figures and studied conditions in Korea, Malay, Burma, India and the then Indochina, as well as in various European countries. He said the real purpose of his tour had been self-education.

Mr. Stevenson underwent a kidney stone operation in Chicago in April, 1954. A month later it was reported that he had completely recovered.

Taking a vigorous part in the bitter Congressional election campaign of 1954, he hammered in his speeches at the three principal issues of foreign policy, domestic economy and internal security. This confirmed him as his party's chief national spokesman. The Democratic victory in the elections made him the leading contender for the 1956 Presidential nomination.

He Said Republican Party Was 'Half McCarthy'

His attacks on the Republicans concentrated on the influence of Senator McCarthy. The Republican party, he charged, had become "half McCarthy and half Eisenhower" and Vice President Nixon, the principal Republican campaigner, he accused of preaching "McCarthyism in a white collar."

Mr. Nixon declared that Mr. Stevenson had "not changed since he testified for Alger Hiss," and he accused Mr. Stevenson of unconsciously having spread Communist propaganda.

After the election of 1954 Mr. Stevenson announced that he was returning to the private practice of law in Chicago. "I have done what I could for the Democratic party for the past two years," he said, "and now I shall have to be less active and give more attention to my own affairs."

Mr. Stevenson was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court and was engaged by the Radio Corporation of America to defend it in a $16,000,000 antitrust suit. He lost the first two legal skirmishes of the case.

He still kept in touch with political and foreign affairs, however. In April, 1955, after a long Democratic silence, he made a national radio address opposing the defense of the Chinese Nationalist islands of Quemoy and Matsu. He also called for a joint declaration by the United States and its Allies pledging united defense of Taiwan pending its final disposition.

Although Mr. Stevenson repeatedly refused to say whether he would be a candidate for the Presidential nomination in 1956, he had won the support of the party's most influential leaders. However, many in the South who had opposed him in 1952 still did so.

In sharp contrast with his preconvention attitude of indifference toward the 1952 nomination, Mr. Stevenson quickly jumped into the fight for the 1956 nomination. He formally announced his candidacy on Nov. 15, 1955.

Moderation was the keynote of his campaign, particularly with respect to enforcement of the Supreme Court's decision abolishing racial segregation in public schools, but generally with respect to all issues, foreign and domestic.

Mr. Stevenson took an early lead in the race for the nomination. The support of political organizations in large-population states gave him an imposing list of delegate strength. However, he suffered setbacks in early 1956 states primaries, where Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee showed surprising popular support.

These reverses stimulated Mr. Stevenson to more aggressive tactics. Instead of holding aloof from the crowds, he began to make hand-shaking tours asking the voters for support. As the primaries continued, he began to fare better, and by May the political observers seemed to agree that he had reversed the tide, which then appeared to be running in his direction.

Mr. Stevenson's campaign managers from the beginning claimed victory for him. They asserted that more delegates had been pledged to him than the majority necessary to nominate at the Democratic National Convention.

In 1952 Mr. Stevenson had surrounded himself largely with "amateurs," but in the 1956 campaign he put more emphasis on practical politics in choosing top aides at his Chicago campaign headquarters.

He pitched his early campaign speeches to a vigorous attack on President Eisenhower's foreign policy. Whenever possible he ignored his Democratic opponents for the nomination, and sought to draw the issue from the beginning as Stevenson versus Eisenhower.

In the election, he was defeated by a greater margin than in 1952, polling 26 million popular votes to more than 35.5 million by President Eisenhower. The Electoral College figures were 73 to 457.

His Father Was Executive Of Hearst Enterprises

Mr. Stevenson was born on Feb. 5, 1900, in Los Angeles, where his father, Lewis Green Stevenson, was at the time an executive of Hearst newspapers, mining and ranching properties. His family roots went back to the pre-Revolutionary War period.

He was a grandson and namesake of a Vice President of the United States--the Adlai Stevenson who held the office in the second term of Grover Cleveland's Administration. Through his mother, he was a fifth-generation Illinoisan, a grandson of Jesse Fell, who was the first to propose Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency.

When Adlai was 6 years old, the family moved back to their home town of Bloomington, Ill., where Mrs. Stevenson's family owned The Daily Pantagraph. Adlai's father later became State Secretary for Illinois and, from 1914 to 1917, served as chairman of the State Board of Pardons.

Mr. Stevenson went to the Choate Preparatory School, Wallingford, Conn., and Princeton University, from which he was graduated in 1922. He was managing editor of The Daily Princetonian.

After leaving Princeton, Mr. Stevenson went to Harvard Law School for two years. He got passing marks but was disinterested in his studies.

A legal case that evolved from the death of an uncle redistributed shares in The Pantagraph between members of the family. As a result, Mr. Stevenson and his cousin, Davis C. Merwin, decided they would learn the newspaper business.

Mr. Stevenson spent a couple of years on the paper in various editorial posts, but by the time the courts had ruled that the Stevenson and Merwin families should have equal shares of ownership, his interest in becoming a newspaper editor had waned.

He decided to finish his law course and, having fallen a year behind his classmates, who already had been graduated from Harvard, he entered the law school of Northwestern University. He received his law degree in 1926.

Soon after his graduation, he settled in Chicago to practice law.

In December, 1928, Mr. Stevenson married Ellen Borden of Chicago. Her father, a socialite and financier who made the first of several fortunes as a colleague of John Hertz in the Yellow Cab Company, later became active in mining in St. Louis.

The Stevensons were divorced in 1949. His wife was said to abhor politics and to have wished to devote herself to the world of art and literature. No other person and no scandal were involved in the legal proceedings, held in Las Vegas, Nev.

The couple had three sons, Adlai Ewing III, Borden and John Fell.

Soon after the 1952 Presidential boom started for Mr. Stevenson, he was approached by a would- be biographer. The man told the Governor he was going to write a book about him.

"I don't see how you are going to do it," Mr. Stevenson said. "My life has been hopelessly undramatic. I wasn't born in a log cabin. I didn't work my way through school nor did I rise from rags to riches, and there's no use trying to pretend I did. I'm not a Wilkie and I don't claim to be a simple, barefoot La Salle Street lawyer. You might be able to write about some of my ancestors. They accomplished quite a lot at one time or another but you can't do anything much about me. At least, I'd hate to have to try it."

Mr. Stevenson had laid the groundwork for his political career by public service that began in 1933, when he first went to Washington as one of the many bright young lawyers President Franklin D. Roosevelt had summoned to help formulate the New Deal.

For two years, Mr. Stevenson was special counsel to the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, touring the country, holding hearings and advising regional groups of farmers, ranchers, orchardists and dairymen how to utilize the measure and then returning to Washington to try to work out marketing agreements.

At the end of the two years he went back to private law practice in Chicago. He served as president for one term of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations--a post in which he got considerable experience as an after-dinner speaker--and he also became Chicago chairman of the William Allen White Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies.

Mr. Stevenson brought people like Wendell Willkie, Carl Sandburg and Dorothy Thompson to address meetings, one of which, in 1941, filled the Chicago Stadium. In the summer of that year the late Frank Knox, then Secretary of the Navy and a close friend of Mr. Stevenson's, telephoned.

Mr. Stevenson later quoted Mr. Knox as saying, "Everyone else around Washington has a lawyer and I guess I ought to have one too."

He was in Washington within a few days, starting to prepare legal machinery whereby the Navy, in case it became necessary, could take over the strike-bound Kearny shipyards in New Jersey, then building essential warships. He continued to do similar legal work for the Navy Department until 1943, when he led a mission to Italy to plan occupation policies.

Later he served as an assistant to Secretaries of State Edward Stettinius and James Byrnes. He also was a representative to the San Francisco United Nations Conference, and then was an aide to the United States delegation in the United Nations General Assembly.

At the meeting of the General Assembly held in London in January, 1946, Mr. Stevenson was senior adviser to the American delegation. He resigned after the session ended in March, but President Truman appointed him alternate delegate to the second session that fall.

Mr. Stevenson returned to Chicago in 1947. His friends backed him as a "clean-up" candidate against the Republican administration of Gov. Dwight. W. Green.

Winning the backing of Jacob M. Arvey, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Committee, Mr. Stevenson was nominated for Governor. Paul Douglas, then Professor of Economics at Chicago University, was named for Senator.

The Democratic "clean-up" team swept into office, Mr. Stevenson defeating Mr. Green by 572,000 votes, while President Truman was nosing out Thomas E. Dewey in Illinois by a mere 34,000. The self-styled "amateur" in politics consecrated his Government in an inaugural address to "plain talk, hard work and prairie horse sense."

Drive on Gambling Listed Among Acts as Governor

During his term in office Mr. Stevenson was credited with the following accomplishments:

He sent state policemen to stamp out commercial gambling downstate when local officials failed to act. He lopped off 1,300 non-working politicians from the state payroll. He set up a merit system in the state police force that ended the system of political by preferential appointments. He increased state aid to school districts. He started a broad road improvement program that included enforcement of truck-weight limits, a higher gasoline tax and increased truck licenses to pay construction costs. He overhauled the state's welfare program, placing it on a merit basis and forcing financially able relatives to pay for the care of patients. He streamlined the state Government by pushing through 78 reform measures. He converted the political State Commerce Commission, the utility rate-fixing agency, into a bipartisan body.

An attendant at the birth of the New Deal, Mr. Stevenson supported Mr. Truman's successor Fair Deal, but his differences with the Administration on some phases of domestic policy were implicit in his own record in Illinois. The variance was evident in his stand on the cost of Government, taxation and negligence toward official irregularities and corruption.

"I think government should be as small in scope and as local in character as possible," he said on one occasion.

Mr. Stevenson was the author of seven books: "Major Campaign Speeches, 1952," "Call to Greatness," "What I Think," "The New America," "Friends and Enemies," "Putting First Things First" and "Looking Outward."

 

 




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