Adlai Stevenson's Second Run: August 16th, 1956

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Adlai Stevenson's Second Run: August 16th, 1956


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


WHEN THE 1,372 DELEGATES to the Democratic Party's national convention gathered in Chicago on August 13th, 1956, Adlai E. Stevenson was a sure thing for the nomination as the Party's candidate against the incumbent President Eisenhower.

It was his second chance, as he had run against Eisenhower unsuccessfully four years before. Now fifty-six, Stevenson came from an Illinois family with a distinguished record in Democratic politics: his grandfather had been Vice-President in the 1890s. With a successful law practice in Chicago and varied experience in Washington, he had taken a hand in the organization of the United Nations after 1945 and been elected Governor of Illinois in 1948. In 1952 after a brilliant speech to the Party convention he was chosen to run against Eisenhower. He had the support of the Chicago city bosses, who much preferred him to Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, whose investigations of organized crime had perturbed them. Eisenhower won the 1952 election easily, with 55 per cent of the popular vote and a huge majority in the electoral college.

Over the next four years, Stevenson was the country's leading Democrat. Intelligent, civilized and sophisticated, he was a witty and stylish speaker and the darling of Democratic intellectuals. It was entirely typical of him to say that 'the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.' When 1956 came, Senator Kefauver started campaigning with a flourish, winning the Democratic primaries in New Hampshire and Minnesota, but then Stevenson bestirred himself. He took the crucial state of California handsomely and in July Kefauver withdrew from the contest and announced his support for Stevenson. At the convention Governor Stevenson's candidature was moved by Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Ex-President Harry S. Truman, who said that Stevenson was 'too defeatist to win', nominated Governor Averell Harriman of New York, but Stevenson won easily on the first ballot with 905-and-a-half votes, which was two-thirds of the total, far ahead of Harriman with 210, Senator Lyndon B. …

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