Adlai Ewing Stevenson: An Urbane, Witty, Articulate Politician and Diplomat
2 Defeats Served To Add To Stature
He Won World-Wide Praise in 4 Years at the U.N. as Debater and Negotiator
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
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
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
Coleman, 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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mr. Stevenson, then Governor of Illinois, had insisted repeatedly that
he would "rather not" be President. He was quoted as having said that he
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 Hearts 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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."