Governor Adlai E. Stevenson
Adlai Ewing Stevenson, governor of Illinois (1949-1953),
Democratic candidate for President in 1952 and 1956, and United States ambassador to the
United Nations (1961-1965), was born in Los Angeles, California on February 5, 1900, the
son of Lewis G. Stevenson and Helen Davis Stevenson. He grew up in Bloomington,
Illinois, where his ancestors had been influential in local and national politics since
the nineteenth century. His paternal grandfather, Adlai E. Stevenson, served as
Grover Cleveland's Vice President during his second term, was nominated for the office
with William Jennings Bryan in 1900, and ran unsuccessfully for Illinois governor in 1908.
Stevenson attended preparatory school at Choate and went on to
Princeton University. He graduated in 1922 and matriculated at Harvard University
Law School. However, in July 1924, he returned to Bloomington to work as assistant
managing editor of the Daily Pantagraph while the Illinois courts probated his
grandfather's will, determining share ownership of the newspaper. While working at
the newspaper, Stevenson reentered law school at Northwestern University, and in 1926,
graduated and passed the Illinois State Bar examination.
In the early 1930s, Stevenson began his involvement in
government service. In July 1933, he became special attorney and assistant to Jerome
Frank, general counsel of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in Washington,
D. C. In 1934, after the repeal of Prohibition, Stevenson joined the staff of the
Federal Alcohol Control Administration (FACA) as chief attorney. He returned to
Chicago and the practice of law in 1935.
In 1940, Colonel
Frank Knox, newly appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as Secretary of the Navy,
offered Stevenson a position as his special assistant. In this capacity, Stevenson
wrote speeches, represented Secretary Knox and the Navy on committees, toured the various
theatres of war, and handled many administrative duties. From December 1943 to
January 1944, he participated in a special mission to Sicily and Italy for the Foreign
Economic Administration to report on the country's economy. After Knox's death in
1944, Stevenson returned to Chicago and attempted to purchase Knox's controlling interest
in the Chicago Daily News, but another party outbid his syndicate.
After the war, he accepted an appointment as special assistant
to the Secretary of State to work with Assistant Secretary of State Archibald MacLeish on
a proposed world organization. Later that year, he went to London as Deputy United
States Delegate to the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations Organization, a
position he held until February 1946. In 1947, Louis A. Kohn, a Chicago attorney,
suggested to Stevenson that he consider running for political office. Stevenson, who
had toyed with the idea of entering politics for several years, entered the Illinois
gubernatorial race and defeated incumbent Dwight H. Green in a landslide. Principal
among his achievements as Illinois governor were reorganizing the state police, cracking
down on illegal gambling, and improving the state highways.
Early in 1952, while Stevenson was still governor of Illinois,
President Harry S. Truman proposed that he seek the Democratic nomination for president.
In a fashion that was to become his trademark, Stevenson at first hesitated, arguing
that he was committed to running for a second gubernatorial term. Despite his
protestations, the delegates drafted him and he accepted the nomination at the Democratic
National Convention in Chicago with a speech that according to contemporaries,
"electrified the nation." He chose John J. Sparkman, an Alabama Senator,
as his running mate. Stevenson's distinctive speaking style quickly earned him the
reputation of an intellectual and endeared him to many Americans, while simultaneously
alienating him from others. His Republican opponent, enormously popular World War II
hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower, defeated Stevenson. Following his defeat, prior
to returning to law practice, Stevenson travelled throughout Asia, the Middle East and
Europe, writing about his travels for Look magazine.
Many Democratic leaders considered Stevenson the only natural
choice for the presidential nomination in 1956 and his chances for victory seemed greater
after Eisenhower's heart
attack late in 1955. Although his candidacy was challenged by Tennessee Senator
Estes Kefauver and New York Governor W. Averell Harriman, Stevenson campaigned more
aggressively to secure the nomination, and Kefauver conceded after losing a few key
primaries. To Stevenson's dismay, former president Harry S. Truman endorsed
Harriman, but the blow was softened by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt's continued
support. Stevenson again won the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in
Chicago. He permitted the convention delegates to choose Estes Kefauver as his
running mate, despite stiff competition from John F. Kennedy. However, Stevenson's
best campaign efforts could not overcome the popularity of incumbent Dwight D. Eisenhower.
On November 6, 1956, Stevenson was again defeated by Eisenhower, this time by a
Despite his two defeats, Stevenson remained enormously popular
with the American people. He also accepted an appointment on the new Democratic
Advisory Council, with other prominent Democrats, including Harry S. Truman, David L.
Lawrence, and John F. Kennedy. He continued to serve on the board of trustees of the
Encyclopedia Brittanica and to act as their legal counsel.
Prior to the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Stevenson
announced that he was not seeking the Democratic nomination for president, but would
accept another draft. Because he still hoped to be a candidate, Stevenson refused to
give the nominating address for relative newcomer John F. Kennedy, a cause for future
strained relations between the two politicians. Once Kennedy won the nomination,
Stevenson -- always an enormously popular public speaker -- campaigned actively for him.
Due to his two presidential nominations and previous United Nations experience,
Stevenson perceived himself as an elder statesman and a natural choice for Secretary of
State, an opinion shared by many.
In December 1960, Kennedy offered Stevenson the position of
United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Stevenson refused to accept or
decline the ambassadorship until Kennedy named the Secretary of State, deepening the rift
between them. After Kennedy appointed Dean Rusk as Secretary of State, Stevenson
accepted the U.N. ambassadorship. Although he was initially insulted by the offer,
once he accepted the appointment, Stevenson devoted himself wholeheartedly to his
responsibilities. He served as president of the Security Council and advocated arms
control and improved relations with the new nations of Africa. He established
residency in an apartment at the Waldorf Astoria, and threw himself into the busy social
scene of the city.
During the summer of 1961, Stevenson toured Latin America,
trying to convince leaders that Castro was a threat to all of Latin America as well as to
the United States. Just a year later, in October 1962, Stevenson demonstrated his
seasoned statesmanship during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the United States
discovered offensive nuclear weapons in Cuba, Stevenson confronted Soviet Ambassador
Valerian Zorin in an emergency meeting of the Security Council, challenging him to admit
that the offensive weapons had been placed in Cuba and that he was prepared to wait
"until Hell freezes over" for Zorin's answer.
In 1964, increasingly disillusioned with his inability to
participate in the formulation of policy at the United Nations, Stevenson considered
running for the U. S. Senate from New York, and was also regarded as a possible running
mate for President Lyndon B. Johnson. In late 1964 and 1965, Stevenson and Secretary
General U Thant began to discuss opening negotiations to end the war in Vietnam, although
Stevenson publicly backed Johnson's Vietnam policies. Amid much speculation that he
was considering resigning his post, Stevenson addressed the Economic and Social Council in
Geneva in July 1965. During a stop in London, Stevenson died suddenly on July 14,
Thank you to the Princeton Review for information about Mr. Stevenson.