Politics was in his blood. Adlai Ewing Stevenson II was a member of the two most influential political families in the region; the Republican Fell and the Democratic Stevenson families. He distinguished himself in politics as his ancestors had done before him. His maternal great-grandfather Jesse Fell was a founder of the Republican Party in Illinois and helped elect Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. Presidency. His paternal grandfather, Adlai E. Stevenson I, was vice president of the United States under Grover Cleveland. His father, Lewis Green Stevenson, served as Secretary of State for Illinois. Adlai II distinguished himself as the 31st Governor of Illinois, two-time Democratic nominee for President of the United States, and served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the turbulent 1960s. In his own words he had a “bad case of hereditary politics.” He was a man of conviction who spoke his mind but who questioned his qualifications for positions of power. He was honest, forthright, politically minded, and inspired others to follow in his footsteps. He will be remembered as a politician who held himself, and America, to high ideals.
Adlai (pronounced Ad-lay) Ewing Stevenson II was born on February 5, 1900 in Los Angeles, California. He was the second child born to Lewis Green and Helen Louise (Davis) Stevenson. Adlai had one older sister, Elizabeth, who was nicknamed Buffie because Adlai had a hard time saying her name due to a slight lisp he had as a child. The nickname remained with Elizabeth for her entire life.
When Adlai was born, his family was living in Los Angeles while his father was working for the Hearst Newspaper Company managing estates for Phoebe Hurst. Helen’s pregnancy with Adlai was a difficult one, thus she did not want to jeopardize her or Adlai’s health by traveling back to Bloomington for his birth like she had done for the birth of her daughter Buffie. Shortly after Adlai was born, Helen wrote a letter to her father William Davis stating that “producing an heir to the House of Stevenson was the effort of my life...” In response, her father wrote to her to congratulate her on “the successful launching of this little Presidential craft.”
Adlai’s parents were both born and bred in McLean County and met while they were young. His father Lewis was the only son born to Adlai Ewing Stevenson I (whom Adlai II was named after) and Letitia Green Stevenson. Adlai’s mother Helen was the daughter of William O. and Elizabeth Fell Davis. Helen’s father was the publisher and proprietor of the prominent Republican newspaper, The Pantagraph, which Jesse Fell founded in 1837. While the two of them did not attend the same schools, Lewis and Helen met most likely because they both came from affluent and well respected families in town, were the same age, and enjoyed some of the same activities such as card parties, dancing, picnics, ice skating, and tobogganing. Ultimately, Lewis and Helen’s marriage on November 21, 1893 was the merger of the two of the most influential political families in the region: the Fell and Davis sides were Republican Quakers from Pennsylvania and the Stevenson side was Democratic Presbyterians from Tennessee and Kentucky.
Lewis and Helen’s marriage was not a happy one. They both suffered from health issues, and Lewis was frequently away from home to seek treatment for his health problems or because of the variety of jobs he held throughout his life. Perhaps because of these absences on the part of her husband Lewis, Helen devoted most of her time to supervising and guiding her children, particularly Adlai.
In 1906, with an inheritance from her mother’s estate and help from her father, Helen purchased a home at 1316 East Washington Street in Bloomington; this became the permanent family home. Adlai attended nearby Washington Elementary School, which was just two blocks away from the Stevenson home. In the fall of 1913, Helen enrolled Adlai at the Thomas Metcalf Training School on the campus of Illinois State Normal University (the teacher training college) in Normal, Illinois. After attending Metcalf, Adlai went on to University High School, which was also part of the teacher training program at ISNU.
Sometime between 1910 and 1915, Helen hired Alverta Duff as a housekeeper and caregiver for Adlai and his sister Buffie. Alverta was the oldest daughter of Peter Duff, a former slave turned carpenter and friend of Jesse Fell--Adlai’s great-grandfather. While Alverta worked for Helen she developed a close relationship with the Stevenson children, especially Adlai. As Adlai got older, he continued to write to Alverta and mentioned her in his correspondence. Alverta kept a close eye on Adlai’s career, especially when he entered politics. She saved newspaper clippings and photographs about his political career. During the 1952 presidential campaign when Adlai ran against the Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, she temporarily changed her vote from Republican to Democratic to vote for Adlai. In addition, she was so confident that Adlai would defeat “Ike” that she said to Adlai, “if they don’t make a good cup of coffee at the White House, you let me know and I’ll come make some coffee for you.” Alverta worked for the Stevenson family (first Helen and then Buffie) for a total of 25 years until her retirement in the 1960s.
In 1912, tragedy struck the Stevenson family with the accidental death of Adlai’s cousin Ruth Merwin. On the evening of December 30, 1912, the Stevensons held a supper party for some of Buffie’s friends. During the course of the evening when there was a lull in activity, Helen and Lewis indulged in a walk by themselves, leaving the children to be tended by other guests. A number of boys in attendance at the party were home for the holidays from military school. According to an account of the incident published in The Pantagraph, some of the boys “wished to show some of their proficiency in the manual of arms.” An old repeating rifle was brought from the rear of the house (or the attic) before dinner to make the drills appear more realistic. Before the boys began demonstrating their skills, the gun was reportedly “snapped several times in order to make sure that all cartridges had been removed.” A neighbor boy, Robert Whitmer, was also demonstrating to Adlai and others “the manual of arms” he had learned in military school. As Adlai took the gun to return it to the attic, he mimicked his friend’s movements. Adlai took aim from the landing and squeezed the trigger just as Buffie’s friend and cousin Ruth came into the hallway from the library. Unbeknownst to the children, an old bullet was lodged in the chamber of the gun and was jarred loose by the boys playing with it. The gun fired when Adlai had it aimed right at Ruth, and she fell to the floor dead with a bullet in her head. When Adlai’s parents returned from their walk, his father Lewis asked, “What boy did this?” to which Adlai replied, “I did.”
Though a coroner’s inquest held the day after the accident concluded that the shooting was a tragic accident, thus clearing the young Stevenson of any blame, the incident had a profound and lasting impact on him for the rest of his life. Stevenson was too grief stricken (and possibly scared) to attend the inquest, though it is doubtful that his mother would have allowed him to participate. His mother Helen was determined to not let Stevenson be blamed for Ruth’s death or to let the accident destroy his life. One week after the shooting, Stevenson, his mother, and several others traveled to Chicago with the hope that, in time, this tragic event would be forgotten. The family eventually moved on from this incident as if it never happened. It was not until the 1952 presidential campaign that William Glasgow of Time magazine came across the account of the tragic accident in the pages of The Pantagraph while doing research for a possible cover story on Stevenson. In an interview Glasgow hesitantly asked the presidential hopeful about the incident. After a long and painful silence, Stevenson replied that Glasgow was the “first person who has ever asked me about that since it happened—and this is the first time I have ever spoken of it to anyone.” Stevenson proceeded to recount the whole story “in a quiet matter-of-fact way.” In addition, Stevenson wrote a letter to a woman, whom he did not know, whose son had been involved in a similar incident in 1955. In the letter he told her to tell her son “that he must live for two.”
As a child, Stevenson had little interest in school, and he was absent often due to illness and travel with his family. As a result, his grades were not good. In the fall of 1916, Stevenson left Bloomington to attend The Choate School, a private all-male boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, to better prepare for college. There he was an active student, becoming managing editor of the newspaper and taking part in many social and political events. After completing his studies at Choate, Stevenson finally passed the rigorous entrance exams and was accepted to Princeton University. Stevenson was a very active student at Princeton. He wrote for the university’s newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, like he had done at Choate; and by his junior year, he was the managing editor. Stevenson’s interest in newspapers largely stemmed from his family’s longtime connection to, management of, and eventual partial ownership of The Pantagraph in Bloomington. Following graduation from Princeton, Stevenson attended Harvard University Law School. Stevenson, however, was still not a very serious student. At Harvard, Stevenson’s grades suffered, and he was forced to drop out in his second year.
After Stevenson flunked out of Harvard Law School, he returned to Bloomington. During the summer of 1924, he began working at The Pantagraph where he had previously spent a good portion of his summer college vacations working in the editorial office. Stevenson began working in the business office and handling newsgathering duties ranging from telephone operator to feature writer. When that career choice did not work out, Stevenson turned his sights on resuming his legal studies for a career as a lawyer. In the spring of 1926, Stevenson graduated from Northwestern University Law School and went on to pass the Illinois Bar. After a summer abroad, he returned to Illinois, settled in Chicago, and began to work on establishing a law career. He quickly found employment as a clerk in one of Chicago’s most prestigious law firms—Cutting, Moore, and Sidely.
It was during this time that Stevenson met and married Ellen Borden, one of Chicago’s most eligible debutants and a member of one of the city’s wealthiest families. In December 1928, Stevenson and Ellen were married at the Forth Presbyterian Church on Chicago’s north side. Neither Stevenson’s mother nor his sister attended the wedding. At the time, Stevenson’s mother was visiting his sister and her husband Ernest Ives, and their new baby, Timothy, in Constantinople, where Ernest was stationed as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service. It is unclear whether or not Stevenson’s father was in attendance. Stevenson and Ellen had three sons: Adlai E. Stevenson III, Borden, and John Fell. In 1937, the couple relocated their family out of Chicago to Libertyville, Illinois. The house they purchased was located along the Des Plaines River. This house would remain Stevenson’s home (outside of the time he spent living in Springfield and Washington D.C. while serving in political office) for the rest of his life. Stevenson’s marriage to Ellen, like that of his mother and father, was stormy and ended in divorce in 1949. Stevenson never married again. Because of his divorce, Stevenson’s sister Buffie played the role of “first lady” when he served as governor of Illinois.
Seemingly, Stevenson was destined to be involved in politics, regardless of his father’s words of warning on his death bed in 1929 when he told his son that “politics was a hazardous business, but that he expected his son’s participation as part of an ancestral obligation.” In the 1930s and 1940s, Stevenson began to intermittently involve himself in politics and foreign relations during his legal career. In 1933 into 1934, he began doing legal work for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Agricultural Adjustment Administration. A short time later, Stevenson became a member of (and later president of) the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, a group that was dedicated to educating the public about the United States’ role in world affairs and to generating an interest in foreign policy among average Americans.
In 1939 when tensions were building in Europe with the outbreak of World War II, Stevenson became involved with the Chicago branch of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding Allies. The goal of the committee was to garner public support for sending military and economic aid to Great Britain and the other European Allies. As Stevenson and other members of the committee saw it, “American’s first line of defense” was Britain, and therefore the neutrality legislation that was in place should be repealed. During World War II, Stevenson spent much of his time as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, Colonel Frank Knox. While working for Knox, he wrote speeches, represented Knox and the Navy on committees, toured the various theaters of war, and handled many administrative duties. In 1943, Stevenson led the Foreign Economics Administration mission to war-ravaged Italy to investigate Italy’s economy and politics under Benito Mussolini’s successor, Marshal Pietro Badoglio. He then served as assistant to the Secretary of State in 1925.
After the war ended, between 1945 and 1947 Stevenson played an important role in the formation of the United Nations. He was a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations organizing conference in San Francisco and attended the UN conferences in San Francisco, London, and New York. The United Nations was founded by a group of 51 countries after the end of Second World War. Leaders in the United States and abroad believed a “viable world organization could do much to foster international cooperation.” These countries made a commitment to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, and to promote social progress, better living standards, and human rights. This new organization was roughly based on the principles of the League of Nations, which was the brain child of Stevenson’s idol and political hero, President Woodrow Wilson. The League of Nations’ was founded after World War I. The objective of the organization was much like the United Nations in that the member nations would make a pact to maintain universal peace so that another devastating war (like World War I) would never happen again. It was Stevenson’s hope that the newly formed United Nations would not fail like the League of Nations had in 1920. Stevenson often referred to himself as “one of the jubilant midwives of the United Nation’s birth and one of its anxious nurses during its infancy.”
When Stevenson returned to Chicago in 1947, Illinois was in trouble. Corruption was rampant throughout the state government. Newspapers were filled with “charges of bribery, payroll padding, and other political shenanigans” in the administration of Governor Dwight Green, who was in the middle of his second term as governor of Illinois. Though Stevenson’s family heritage was rich with political experience (at a Jackson Day dinner in Bloomington, Stevenson made reference to the deep heritage of politics in his family, stating that he “had a bad case of hereditary politics”), Stevenson himself was a “rank amateur” when it came to practical politics. It is most likely because of this lack of “practical political” experience and that Stevenson was not a career politician that his admirers suggested he run for governor in the next election in 1948. Stevenson would have much rather served in a national post—such as senator—for Stevenson believed that as a senator, “he could inform Americans on national and international issues.” However, his chances of being nominated as a candidate for senator were slim to none. His nomination as the Democratic candidate for Governor of Illinois in 1948 was a done deal, if he accepted the nomination.
Jacob “Jack” Arvey was an influential political leader in the Democratic Party in Chicago at this time. He was the one who approached Stevenson about running for Governor. Avery was looking to end political corruption and was looking for liberal minded men of his choosing to serve in political office. Avery was also looking to appoint candidates he knew would win votes. A new type of voter was emerging—voters who “opposed patronage, believed in participating in politics…for good government, measured their votes according to the man and the issues, and proclaimed their pursuit of the public interest.” These were the votes that Avery wanted to get for his Democratic Party; and in his mind, Stevenson was a candidate that could do that. When Avery approached Stevenson about accepting the nomination, Stevenson asked for a few days to think it over. Five minutes before the deadline on December 29, 1947, and after much soul searching and debate, Adlai E. Stevenson II accepted his party’s nomination. Throughout his campaign, especially in the early days, Stevenson made sure to establish that he was different from “greedy politicians.”
Stevenson kicked off his campaign for governor back in his hometown of Bloomington. On February 23, 1948, he gave the first speech of his campaign to a group of McLean County Democrats at the Jackson Day dinner. In his speech, he told listeners that he was so proud to start his campaign for governor in his hometown. He reiterated throughout his speech that he did not seek the nomination, but that he was approached by the Democratic State Central Committee to be their candidate for Governor. He said they selected him because “they respected my record in private life and my public service in the war and the peace, and knew I could win, and that as Governor I would be a credit to our party.” Stevenson continued in saying that he had “no other interest in politics than to do what I can, with your help, to clean up Illinois, to administer its affairs in the interest of all the people, be they downstaters from whence I come or Chicagoans where I work, and to put Illinois in the forefront of the best governed states of this republic.” He did not care “whether you’re Democratic or Republican—we must recapture for Illinois the commanding and dignified position she once held among her sister states. She is entitled to it by virtue of the quality of her people, her wealth, her power, and her exalted traditions. It can be done, but not with a party boss sitting in the Governor’s chair—at least for a little while longer.” Stevenson promised to clean up politics, reform education, get rid of the gambling rackets, and decrease patronage and political shakedown by state employees. He said that “as Governor, I shall act as the servant of all the people, without regard to race, color, creed, or political affiliation.” His speech made his fellow McLean County Democrats jump for joy and several shouted, “Go get ‘em Ad!” Those in attendance and many others who read about his speech knew that a political star had been born.
On September 15, 1948, Stevenson was back in Bloomington. This time he was welcomed home with a torch-light parade, bands, floats, and a huge crowd to hear him speak. In his speech, Stevenson said that it had been a huge advantage to him to have grown up in Bloomington. He said that the most important lesson that he learned from growing up in Bloomington was “that in quiet places, reason abounds; that in quiet people there is vision and purpose; that many things are revealed to the humble that are hidden from the great. My home town taught me that good government and good citizenship are one and the same, that good individuals make a good town and that nothing else does.” The rally held in Bloomington was a turning point in his campaign. Before, many people did not consider him as a serious candidate. Afterwards, “Chicago Democrats who had traveled to Bloomington now untied their purse strings” to support him.
His rival, incumbent and Republican candidate Dwight Green, had little to attack Stevenson on. Instead, Green was forced to tie his opponent to the National Democratic Party, led by President Harry Truman, and to the national scandals, big spending on New Deal programs, and softness on communism. Stevenson, on the other hand, had plenty of ammunition in his campaign to attack Green and his policies, and to “revive the people’s faith in the integrity of democratic government.” Green was known for being part of the legal team (as a special assistant to the U.S. attorney) that finally put Al Capone behind bars and was attributed with several other accomplishments like the establishment of the Chicago Transit Authority and the improvement of veteran programs. However, his campaign platform of running an “anticorruption administration” was far from true. Green’s administration was repeatedly accused to have mob connections to such notorious gangsters like Carl and Bernie Shelton, and the Centralia mine disaster (in which 111 miners were killed in a massive explosion) was a huge blemish on his administration. State mine inspectors had been paid off by the coal companies to look the other way and give mines passing safety inspections when in fact there were many deadly safety concerns. Also, Green’s administration was rife with patronage jobs and filled with excessive amounts of state purchases of supplies and land. Throughout his campaign, Stevenson used a variety of stinging one-liners towards his opponent: “we will clean house of ‘Greed, Grime, and Green and the state house gang,” or “Pete—the man who never said no to a payroller and never said yes to honest government.”
Adlai E. Stevenson II was elected the thirty-third governor of Illinois on November 2, 1948. He soundly defeated Dwight Green with 570,000 votes statewide (or 58 percent of votes cast). Stevenson was elected with the largest margin of total votes ever received by a candidate for any office in the predominately Republican state. This can be attributed to a large number of Illinois Republicans who “abandoned their party” to vote for Stevenson the man, rather than for the party he was affiliated with. In addition, Stevenson won over a large number of independent voters too. In Stevenson, they saw a bright new future. Stevenson became only the fourth Democratic governor of Illinois since the Civil War. In his inaugural address in January 1949, Stevenson called for “a new constitution, more aid to education, a state Fair Employment Practices Act, and better men in government.” He stated that he would have “no reluctance to break boldly with the complacent, quiet past.” Stevenson wanted to “set our house in order” and cleaning up became the organizing and guiding principle of his four years as governor. Stevenson, however, had a hard road ahead of him. Eight years of “machine dominated Republican rule riddled with inefficiency and corruption” left behind a huge mess.
As governor, Stevenson did much to “clean house” and improve the quality of life in Illinois as promised in his campaign. To begin cleaning up Illinois, he needed to find good men to work in Illinois politics to help him accomplish this enormous task. Adlai did not care if a person was a Republican or a Democrat. He appointed people based on their experience and training that best suited them for the positions. He felt that Illinois needed “more responsible people….to know, explore, and understand our state of government.” Stevenson stated that he was not a person who strictly held beliefs or voted only along party lines. Stevenson was loyal to the people of Illinois and not to party politics; “If the Democratic Party is not good for Illinois and the nation, it is not good for me.” He also felt that “honest government would subsequently descend in a trickle down arrangement, as good men in town chose upstanding subordinates.” “Good government is not a matter of party, it’s a matter of will,” he said. But, good men were hard to keep because politics did not pay well enough. In an attempt to circumvent what had been the cause of corruption in previous administrations, Stevenson did work to increase some state employee salaries in an effort to attract and keep good workers.
Early on in his career as governor, Stevenson began “his crusade for a new Illinois Constitution.” The existing constitution dated back to 1870 when the population of Illinois was less than the city of Chicago in 1950 (over 3.6 million people). The 1870 constitution was also written to meet the needs of a largely rural and agrarian society. In 1950, the state had become much more urban and industrialized so the antiquated constitution needed to be brought up to date to meet the needs of the modern era. Stevenson had a daunting task ahead of him. Not only did he need the legislature and two-thirds of state voters at a special election to approve emendation of the constitution, but a special constitutional convention made up of elected delegates had to be convened to rewrite the constitution, and then a majority of Illinois voters needed to vote on the final document. This proved to be an impossible task as Stevenson failed to even get a new constitution drafted. He did, however, succeed at getting the “Gateway Amendment” passed. The “Gateway Amendment” made it easier for the constitution of Illinois to be amended. This allowed for any proposed amendment receiving two-thirds of the vote to become part of the Illinois State Constitution. This success would “placate those pressing for a new constitution for the time being.” Stevenson admitted that if he had been more willing “to trade off other desirable legislation, it [the constitution] would have been passed, but I don’t think that is right…” It would not be until 1970 that Illinois would adopt a new constitution, 100 years after the existing one had been in place.
Another battle Stevenson waged while in office was against the patronage system. Patronage meant that the person that was in power, or held political power, controlled appointments to offices in their administration. There was a long history of political appointments based on patronage in Illinois and the United States. By Stevenson’s calculations of the 30,000 state employees in Illinois at the time, 10,000 to 15,000 of them were appointed based on the patronage system. In his opinion, he considered patronage “the curse of all public officials.” Stevenson was best able to eliminate patronage appointments within the Illinois State Police.
Before Stevenson took office, State Police officers were “appointed on a purely political basis” and when the party in power changed, the entire force of 500 men was subject to dismissal. Stevenson was determined to take the politics out of the State Police. When he took office, Stevenson immediately formed a plan calling for the creation of a new board to make an equal division of appointments between the two parties until January 1951, at which time all appointments after that would be made on a strict merit based system with rigid exams. The plan was adopted by both parties as a fair solution. Upon the reorganization of the State Police, Stevenson proclaimed that the state of Illinois was “striking off its political shackles. We have taken a long step towards better law enforcement in the state. In doing so, we are contributing to the eradication of a national shame.”
In addition to restructuring the State Police, Stevenson took steps to improve local law enforcement throughout Illinois. When local law enforcement and officials did not heed his call to improve the enforcement of local laws and ordinances, Stevenson began using the State Police. He gave the State Police more power and authority. He also expanded their jurisdiction using them to enforce truck weight limits on highways (also manning the roadside weigh stations), patrolling highways, chasing stolen cars, and directing congested traffic.
Stevenson also utilized the State Police in his major efforts to crack down on commercial gambling. At the time, slot machines were illegal in Illinois. The Federal Government, however, deemed them legal and collected a $150 tax per year on each machine in the nation. Yet, while Congress taxed the machines and considered the machines legal, the Federal Government prohibited their interstate transportation. Stevenson wanted to eliminate the commercial gambling industry, and his efforts to do so stemmed from his belief that government must be used to improve the ethical tone of life in Illinois. That being said, gambling was one of the state’s biggest industries. Cook County was the heart of the gambling machine manufacturing industry.
Since local law enforcement officials would not handle the prosecution of illegal gambling as much as Stevenson wanted, Stevenson had the State Police engage in periodic raids throughout the state, even though the force was stretched thin. Stevenson stated that as long as there was a gambling problem and locals did not enforce the law and crack down on offenders, he would have the State Police enforce the law so “the hoodlums don’t get a green light to exact their grim toll of our purses, our morals, or our public life.” Stevenson also tried to get the Illinois Legislature to pass a supplemental act to the law that the U.S. Congress had previously passed prohibiting the interstate shipment of slot machines. This supplemental act would outlaw the manufacture of slot machines in the state of Illinois. However, the bill never got out of committee. There was very strong opposition to Stevenson’s actions against commercial gambling. Most people viewed this as Stevenson’s own personal crusade rather than something that was for the good of the people of Illinois. Powerful members of the state legislature and the Democratic Party opposed his efforts against gambling as many of them conducted business at the clubs where drinking, gambling, and entertainment flourished. Fraternal organizations, private clubs, and veterans’ organizations were opposed to his efforts too. Plus, the biggest obstacle to gambling law enforcement was the compliance of the people who played the machines—respectable citizens who felt there was no harm in having gambling machines in private clubs and that those machines had no effect on crime in general. Stevenson had lost the general public in his crusade against commercial gambling. As he had said, “all that is needed to overcome it [gambling] is for otherwise good citizens to show the sense of responsibility they themselves expect of others.
As evidenced by his stance on the operations of the State Police, Stevenson was politically brave. He was not afraid to use his veto power (especially when it came to bills he deemed were frivolous), and he began demonstrating that from day one when he took office. On April 23, 1949, Stevenson vetoed “An Act to Provide Protection to Insectivorous Birds by Restraining Cats,” the so-called “Cat Leash Law.” A small but devoted group of bird lovers were able to introduce to the Illinois General Assembly a bill designed to protect birds by restraining cats (making it so all cats had to be on a leash when outside). The bill had been introduced before but never made it through both houses. This time, however, it managed to successfully pass both houses and made its way to Stevenson’s desk for final approval, which he withheld. In his message to the Illinois Senate explaining his veto of the bill; Stevenson also demonstrated his knack for using humor while getting a valid point across. Stevenson said that he could not:
“agree that it should be declared public policy of Illinois that a cat visiting a neighbor’s yard or crossing the highway is a public nuisance. It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming…to escort a cat abroad on a leash is against the nature of the owner. Moreover, cats perform useful service particularly in the rural areas. The problem of the cat vs. the bird is as old as time. If we attempt to resolve it by legislation, who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age-old problem of dog vs. cat, bird vs. bird, or even bird vs. worm. In my opinion, the State of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency. For these reasons, and not become I love birds the less or cats the more, I veto and withhold my approval from Senate Bill No. 93.”
It was Stevenson’s opinion that this proposed law did not violate the constitution of Illinois, but rather violated a higher law—that of nature.
Stevenson did much to improve the quality of life for many of the people of Illinois. He nearly doubled the amount of state aid to schools, and increased the benefits to “needy persons” such as the elderly, disabled, and dependent children. He improved the Department of Welfare that oversaw state mental hospitals, correctional institutions, children’s hospitals, and schools for the blind and the deaf. He also implemented the construction of new facilities for the mentally ill and other needy persons, and improved conditions at existing facilities. He also saw there was a need for more doctors and nurses in Illinois so he helped get laws passed that would allow more doctors from other states and countries to practice medicine on a limited basis in the state. Stevenson tightened the relief administration and purged hundreds of fraudulent welfare cases and increased workman’s compensation benefits. He fought to avoid frivolous spending and did not allow unnecessary new state agencies to be formed. He held state contractors to their bids and eliminated payroll padding with persons contributing little or no service. He pushed 78 bills through the legislature (which was made up of a majority of Republicans at the time he took office) to help streamline state government. He reorganized the State Commerce Commission (the utility rate setting agency) to make it bipartisan. He also repaired and expanded the highway systems throughout the entire state. He did all of this without raising taxes.
Stevenson had accomplished much in his four short years as governor and was recognized as one of the best governors in the history of Illinois up to that point. That said, two major scandals marred his term as governor: bribery of state meat inspectors to pass horse meat off as beef and the counterfeiting of state cigarette stamps. With regard to the horse meat scandal, in 1952 it was rumored from federal inspectors that state employees with the Illinois Department of Agriculture were being bribed to accept horse meat as cow meat, and that the superintendent of the Illinois State Division of Foods and Dairies took up to $3,500 to look the other way. The scandal was uncovered by The Chicago Tribune in which it was determined that “40 percent horse meat has been found in hamburgers sold in at least 25 Chicago eating places.” “Adlaiburgers” quickly became a state joke. The Chicago Tribune gave the nickname “Horsemeat Adlai” to Stevenson, a moniker he desired to get rid of quickly. Stevenson quickly took action and fired the corrupt individuals involved. In the end, six state employees were indicted for bribery and malfeasance during the scandal. But the damage had been done.
Stevenson announced that he would seek a second term as governor of Illinois. At the same time, he was also “drafted” to be the Democratic candidate in the 1952 presidential election. Again, Stevenson was a reluctant candidate. In fact, he was unwilling and flabbergasted when then President Harry Truman offered him the chance to be the Democratic candidate (as Truman declined to run for a second full term as president). “I just don’t want to be nominated for the Presidency. I have no ambition to be President. I have no desire for the office mentally, temperamentally, or physically,” Stevenson said. He felt he did not have enough political experience under his belt (with only three years of practical experience as Governor of Illinois) to be a candidate. He felt that if he was able to serve a second term as governor, then maybe he might have enough experience to run in 1956. Furthermore, Stevenson had a few other reasons why he did not want to run for president. For one, he did not like the idea of running against the Republican candidate General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose reputation as an enormously popular war hero would make Stevenson’s odds of winning the election very small. Stevenson was also confident in his reelection as governor of Illinois. Finally, some (possibly including Stevenson) thought that an endorsement from Harry Truman, who was an unpopular president and whose administration was tainted by corruption, would hinder Stevenson’s chances to become president rather than help him.
True to his traditional self-deprecating style, in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in July 1952, Stevenson told attendees that he had not sought the honor which they had bestowed upon him. “I could not seek it because I aspired to another office (meaning a second term as governor of Illinois). I should have preferred to hear those words uttered by a stronger, wiser, better man than myself. Now that you have made your decision, I will fight to win the office with all my heart and soul.”
Stevenson’s opponent was none other than General Eisenhower. He was a hugely popular war hero, former commander of the allied forces in Europe during World War II, was president of Columbia University, and commander of the NATO forces in Europe after the war. The Republican Party deemed “Ike” (as he was nicknamed) an unbeatable candidate. Eisenhower’s campaign managers were bent on “packaging” their product with the help and guidance of experts in advertising. They wanted to merchandise his “frankness, honesty, and integrity.”
Eisenhower’s campaign platform was that he and the Republican Party would halt communism’s uncontrollable spread and clean up Washington. The Republicans stated that the Democrats had been “soft” on communism since the election of FDR. The Republicans wanted to liberate the world from communism and not simply keep it from spreading like the Democrats supposedly wanted. Other members of Eisenhower’s campaign, including his vice presidential candidate Senator Richard M. Nixon, made many attacks against Stevenson and the Democratic Party. They took the opportunity to make voters think that all Democrats, including Stevenson, were sympathetic towards communism. They used Stevenson’s acquaintance with Alger Hiss (who was accused of being a communist spy) and the fact that he vetoed the anti-subversion Broyles Bill (which would have made all teachers in Illinois public schools sign loyalty oaths) to make it look like Stevenson was a communist sympathizer. In his veto of the Broyles bill, Stevenson stated, “The whole notion of loyalty inquisitions is a national characteristic of the police state, not of democracy. The history of Soviet Russia is a modern example of this ancient practice. I must, in good conscience, protest against any unnecessary suppression of our rights as free men. We must not burn down the house to kill the rats.” This would have made many potential voters suspicious of Stevenson during an era when people were being accused left and right of being communists or communist sympathizers.
Stevenson’s platform was he wanted to “talk sense to the American people.” He took the high road and would not stoop to the level of “low blows” that some Republicans used against him during the campaign. Stevenson established early on that he would not bargain for votes despite “the demands of modern electoral politics.” He felt that it was better to lose the election “than mislead the people” (which sounded similar to how he ran his campaign for governor four years earlier). He also would not “wear masks.” He wanted to show his true self to the American voters. He would not allow himself or his image to be marketed to voters like his opponent Eisenhower had done. Stevenson said “the men surrounding Eisenhower have dealt the ultimate indignity to the democratic process; they seek to merchandise candidates like breakfast cereal” to win the election.
Stevenson promised to continue the tradition of a “strong national defense and a continuation of American leadership” abroad. He pointed out that “Republican talk about liberating captive peoples from communism was either reckless or meaningless.” Stevenson felt that Republicans were trying to use scare tactics and dupe the American people. He said the “American people are wiser, wiser than the Republicans think. And the Democratic Party is the people’s party, not the labor party, not the farmer’s party, not the employer’s party. It is the party of no one because it is the party of everyone.” In addition, Stevenson included some of the policies of the previous Democratic administration under Truman. He campaigned for “a repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act (which was a policy that restricted the activities and power of labor unions), came out in support of federal control of offshore tidelands, and said that he would “use his influence to change the Senate’s rules so that a majority, instead of two-thirds, of the membership could shut off a filibuster.” Stevenson supported and defended the domestic and foreign affairs record of the Truman Administration. He also established his stance on communism; he would continue to secure the United States against communism both at home and abroad.
Stevenson’s image was hard to promote to the American people. Because of his background and upbringing, as well as the intellectual and highbrow language of his speeches, many Americans saw him as an aristocrat who could not relate to “regular people.” His followers were dubbed “eggheads” because many of them were middle or upper middle class and educated. Stevenson’s dignified, issue oriented approach to public affairs in his campaign was somewhat lost on the average voter. Many thought that a man of such eloquence could not govern successfully. However, some of these opinions changed with one, simple photograph. While Stevenson was sitting on a stage during a 1952 Labor Day campaign stop in Flint, Michigan, Bill Gallagher, a photographer from the Flint Journal, noticed a hole in Stevenson’s shoe and no sole on his heel. The reporter took a photograph of Stevenson who was sitting there examining his speech, making last minute modifications before he took to the podium. The next day, Gallagher’s photograph was published in newspapers throughout the country. The photo was intended to portray Stevenson’s notorious frugality and hard work. His campaign even adopted the “hole in the shoe” image and had the photograph reproduced on posters and lapel pins. The image helped to change Stevenson’s popular image more into that of an everyman. Stevenson’s response to the picture was “better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head.”
One of the final blow’s to Stevenson’s campaign was the bombshell that Eisenhower dropped during a speech in Detroit on October 24, 1952. In that speech, Eisenhower promised that if he was elected president, he would end the Korean War, which had been going on for the last two years. Eisenhower stated that he would go to Korea himself to facilitate the end of the war (which was a contradiction of the Republican platform to free people from communism and not contain it). He said that “only in that way could I learn how best to serve the American people in the cause of peace.” Prior to this, Eisenhower had only a slight lead in the polls ahead of Stevenson. Afterwards, all polls gave Eisenhower certain victory. Stevenson responded to this by stating that “if it hadn’t been for that going-to-Korea business, I might have beaten him.” Stevenson may have partially believed that he had a chance to beat Eisenhower, but in all likelihood he had his doubts too. Eisenhower was far too popular because of his image as a war hero, and the image of the Democratic Party had been tarnished by years of Republican accusations of corruption and being soft on communism.
To the surprise of no one, Adlai E. Stevenson II was soundly defeated by Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 4, 1952. Eisenhower won in a massive landslide; winning almost 56 percent of the vote and the electoral votes of 39 out of the 48 states. Stevenson fared even worse in his home territory, Republican-dominated McLean County. Eisenhower defeated Stevenson by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent. By the early evening on the eve of the election, Stevenson was ready to concede defeat regardless of the fact that it was a close race on the West coast and the polls were still open. Stevenson knew that he was defeated. Later that night, Stevenson gave a congratulatory message to Eisenhower and said to him that he felt like Abraham Lincoln (who was one of Stevenson’s personal heroes) after losing an election. Stevenson quoted Lincoln and said “like the little boy who stubbed his toe in the dark and said he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”
But this was not the end of Stevenson’s political career, nor was it the last time he would run for president. Stevenson returned in 1956 to challenge Eisenhower again, though this time he sought the nomination. Stevenson wanted to be president. At the time he announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination, it was not clear whether or not Eisenhower intended to run again due to the fact that he had suffered a heart attack in September, 1955. Despite that and because he made a good recovery, Eisenhower threw his hat in the ring again and announced he would run for reelection. Had Stevenson known for sure that he would be facing Eisenhower again; he may not have chosen to run again because it would have been a daunting task to run against a candidate as popular as Eisenhower.
Stevenson took a different approach for his campaign platform for the 1956 election. He was no longer the “reluctant candidate.” He called for a “New America” where poverty was abolished; freedom was made real for everybody, and the “ancient idea that men can solve their differences by killing each other is discarded.” Stevenson’s “New America” centered on extending the Depression era New Deal programs to other areas such as senior citizens, health, natural resources, economic policy, and education. Stevenson also put special emphasis on ending the draft, developing a highly trained professional and volunteer defense force, and proposed an end to nuclear weapons testing. These were lofty goals, ones that do not appear to have inspired the American electorate.
Eisenhower’s platform, on the other hand, emphasized peace, prosperity, and unity that the United States had largely known during his administration. Eisenhower did less campaigning because of his health and relied on his widely established image to do the talking. In his campaign, Eisenhower pointed out with pride the successful record of his administration: ending the Korean War (which he had promised in 1952), launching a gigantic interstate highway system (today known as the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System), extending Social Security (a legacy of the New Deal), remodeling the defense establishment, freeing the economy of many “repressive controls,” and achieving a surplus in the 1956 budget. The nation was prospering under Eisenhower, so why would the American public want to change presidents and possibly disrupt this prosperity?
During the summer of 1956, Eisenhower’s health was in question again when he underwent an operation for Chron’s disease. Some people thought he might not make it or that, if elected, he might die in office. His running mate was again Richard Nixon. Many people did not like him or the thought of him becoming president. Stevenson especially did not like Nixon. He said Nixon had “no standard of truth but convenience and no standard of morality except what will serve his interest in an election.” Stevenson also said that “Nixon was the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree and then mount the stump to make a speech for conservation.” In addition to Nixon’s “red baiting” and attacks on the Democratic Party and Stevenson, Nixon also had been involved in a scandal dealing with the misuse of campaign funds in the previous election. While he had cleared his name by offering explanations as to how those funds were used to maintain his Senate office, as well as a few other personal reasons, many people had not forgotten this smooth-tongued orator, who had been nicknamed “Tricky Dicky” during the previous campaign. Because of Nixon’s reputation, Stevenson’s chances looked better, especially if Eisenhower had to drop out of the race and Stevenson faced Nixon instead.
If there was still a question remaining as to who would be better, “Ad or Ike,” that question was laid to rest during the final days of the campaign. Eisenhower received an unexpected boost to his popularity when Israel, France, and England moved against Egypt to take control of the Suez Canal and the Soviets quelled the revolution in Hungary. Even though both crises were a blow to U.S. policy interests abroad, the American people rallied behind Eisenhower. They knew he would be the better person to handle situations like these with his military expertise and political experience in foreign relations.
However more promising Stevenson’s second campaign appeared to be to some, there was no chance he would defeat such a popular and seemingly good politician like Eisenhower. Eisenhower had helped America flourish once again like he said he would do. Stevenson was defeated by an even larger margin in 1956 than in 1952. The American people really did “Like Ike,” and Eisenhower won the election with almost 58 percent of the popular vote. Stevenson only won the electoral votes of seven out of 48 states, all seven states being in the Democratic South like before. He fared even worse in his home turf of McLean County, receiving only 32 percent of the vote. This did not come as much of a surprise since McLean County had backed the Republican Party in 34 of the last 38 presidential elections since the formation of the Republican Party in the mid-1850s.
After another resounding defeat, what would Stevenson do next? He did not give up on politics, though he would never run for president again. He had thought about trying for a third time in 1960, but he stepped aside so that John F. Kennedy (then junior U.S. senator from Massachusetts) could run as the Democratic candidate for president. Stevenson was told that should he not throw his hat into the ring for president (so as to not further divide his party), that he would be offered a position in Kennedy’s administration should Kennedy defeat former Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate and hopeful successor to Eisenhower. During the early days of his campaign, Kennedy announced that Stevenson would be advising him on foreign policy and campaign strategy. Kennedy said he wanted “to take advantage of his [Stevenson’s]presidential and foreign experience.” Stevenson did his part to help his party capture the White House, making numerous speeches and attending fundraisers to support Kennedy. Stevenson predicted it would be a “rough, tough, and dirty campaign” (which it was), but Kennedy came out victorious.
After the election, Stevenson hoped that Kennedy would make him his Secretary of State. However, Kennedy had other plans. A short time after the election, Kennedy and Stevenson met at Kennedy’s home in Georgetown, MA to discuss Stevenson’s role in Kennedy’s administration. After the meeting, Kennedy announced to a crowd that was gathered outside that he would appoint Stevenson as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Kennedy said that he could think “of no other American who would fill this responsibility with greater distinction…I regard this as one off the three or four most important jobs in the entire administration…” Stevenson saw this as a slap in the face for all he had done for Kennedy during the campaign. Stevenson felt that he could do more in regards to foreign relations and policy as Secretary of State than as an ambassador to the United Nations. In an undated memo in Stevenson’s files, Stevenson wrote a list of his qualifications to be Secretary of State. He also listed all that he had done to contribute to Kennedy’s election including delivering “60-75 speeches in 12 states during the campaign, host and speaker at fund raising affairs” to benefit Kennedy’s campaign, and “keeping out of the contest [the presidential election] and strictly neutral for” the four years between elections. Even though in the memo he stated that he would only take the job if Kennedy wanted him, “and badly,” Stevenson wanted to be Secretary of State badly.
In response, Stevenson stated to Kennedy and the crowd that he appreciated Kennedy’s “confidence and I share his view about the difficulty and the importance of this assignment. The United Nations is the very center of our foreign policy, and its effectiveness is indispensable to the peace and security of the world. While I have not sought this assignment, I want to be helpful.” But, Stevenson had to think about this offer more and talk to Kennedy more before making his final decision. Stevenson would only accept the position on his terms. Some of his demands before accepting the post included to be a member of Kennedy’s cabinet and to have an option to attend the National Security Council when foreign policy matters were being considered. He also wanted a clear definition of the attitude towards the U.N. and a conceptual idea of missions, a promise that the U.N. will be used more and maintained as the center of U.S. foreign policy against Soviet attacks, and that the U.S. get on the offensive and not just be on the defensive. Furthermore, he wanted the U.N. to not just function as an organization against communism but as an organization that would promote the improvement of standards of living, literacy, health, etc… in the world. It would appear that some or many of these conditions were met as the day after the announcement, Kennedy spoke again that Stevenson had accepted the position as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. While U.N. Ambassador was the appointment Stevenson least wanted, it is the position that most established his reputation.
Stevenson served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for the rest of his life until his death in 1965. The 1960s were turbulent times, both at home and abroad. During his dignified career as a U.N. Ambassador, Stevenson was involved in two major international incidents: the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, both of which involved Cuba and the Soviet Union.
In April 1961, just three months after Stevenson had become ambassador, a plan was in the works for a group of Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro, the communist leader of Cuba. The plan had been developed during the Eisenhower administration in March, 1960. Kennedy authorized the plan in February 1961, shortly after he took office. However, U.S. involvement in this plan was to be covered up. Stevenson was briefed about the plan on April 8 by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Stevenson’s former speech writer who became his liaison with the White House, and Tracy Barnes of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). However, the report was vague and “left Stevenson with the impression that no action would take place during the U.N. discussion of the Cuban complaint” to the U.N. Security Council. Previously, Cuban Foreign Minister Raúl Roa García had complained several times about “American Adventurism” in reference to U.S. support of Cuban exiles in an attempt to overthrow Castro or make aggressions towards Cuba. Later, Stevenson was also briefed that “something was likely to happen on the shores of Cuba but that the financing was to be by Cuban émigrés; no U.S. facilities or forces were to be involved.” However, this was a ruse by the CIA to cover up what was really going on.
On April 15, 1961, eight bombers left Nicaragua to bomb Cuban air fields. The CIA had used obsolete World War II B-26 bombers and painted them to look like Cuban Air Force planes. The bombers missed most of their targets and did little damage to Castro’s air force. Because of this, an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York City was called. As instructed, Stevenson delivered the CIA cover story and told members of the council that “the United States had committed no aggression against Cuba and no offensive had been launched from Florida…No Americans were involved.” He then pointed out the two planes in the photograph that were made up to look like Castro’s own air force to demonstrate the veracity of the testimony he had given on behalf of the United States. Stevenson had unknowingly lied to the entire world.
Two days later the 1,400 men strong Cuban exile force, known as Brigade 2506, landed on the beaches along the Bay of Pigs and immediately came under attack. It was a disastrous rout. Again, at another emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Minister Roa informed members that Cuba had been “invaded by a force of mercenaries organized, financed, and armed by the Government of the United States” through the CIA. Again, Stevenson repeated the CIA cover story and stated that no attack had been launched from Florida or any other part of the U.S., and that furthermore, no Americans were involved in any action inside Cuba. But, Stevenson knew he was not telling the truth, at least not the whole truth. The truth was that the planes had been furnished by the United States, were flown by Cuban exiles that had been trained in the United States, and that the first frogmen that walked onto the beach were Americans, despite an explicit order from President Kennedy against direct involvement by Americans.
Stevenson was terribly upset and angry at Kennedy. Stevenson told a friend that “I take this job at the President’s request on the understanding that I would be consulted and kept fully informed on everything. I spoke in the United Nations in good faith on that understanding. Now my credibility has been compromised and therefore my usefulness. Yet how can I resign at this moment and make things worse for the president?” In Stevenson’s eyes, all men make honest mistakes, but “how could any man with moral sensitivity, with power to control the event, have permitted so criminal a violence to proceed in so soiled and tattered a cloak of lies?” In Stevenson’s opinion, this was the kind of mistake no honorable or moral man would ever make. While Stevenson’s colleagues in the U.N. did not lose their respect for him, the damage had been done. Stevenson finally realized that he did not wield the kind of power and influence he had been led to believe he had in the beginning. Lasting damage had been done to Stevenson’s relationship with Kennedy; but tempers did cool after Stevenson found out that even Kennedy had been misled to a degree by his advisers, and when Kennedy realized that he must keep Stevenson fully apprised of any development regarding the U.N.
A little over a year following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Stevenson and Kennedy would be involved in another incident with Cuba that would lead the world to the brink of nuclear war—the Cuban Missile Crisis. For 13 days in October 1962, all the eyes of the world were on the United States, Cuba, and the Soviet Union.
Tensions began to rise in September, 1962 when the Soviet Union and Cuba announced jointly that the Soviet Union would begin to send arms and specialists to train Cuban military personnel on the island of Cuba “exclusively for defensive purposes.” In reality, the Soviet Union had been doing this secretly since July of that year. The Soviet Union and Cuba also warned the U.S. against any action to prevent the transfer of arms, missiles, and military personnel to Cuba, or the Soviet Union and Cuba would take that as an act of war. Because of the earlier attempts by U.S. backed forces to overthrow Castro, the Soviet Union and Cuba claimed it was doing this to deter any further attempts at invasion or to overthrow Castro. Because of this action, Kennedy authorized increased surveillance flights by U-2 spy planes over Cuba. On October 16, Kennedy “was given clear evidence that the Soviets had begun construction of a base for medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Washington D.C., St. Louis, Dallas, and all Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases south and east of that arc.” The rate of construction suggested that the missiles and launchers would be operational in two weeks or less.
Stevenson was in Washington D.C. to make a speech at a White House luncheon when Kennedy pulled him aside to talk to him privately to apprise him of the growing crisis. Kennedy initially suggested an air strike to wipe out the missiles and bases before they became operational. Stevenson told him that would be a mistake. He told Kennedy that he should not even consider something of this magnitude “until every peaceful solution” had been explored.
After a series of secret meetings and difficult decisions, the U.S. decided to place a naval blockade, or ring of ships, around Cuba. The blockade was called a “quarantine” because according to international law, a blockade was regarded as an act of war. The goal of the quarantine was to prevent the Soviet Union from bringing additional military materials and personnel to Cuba. The ships en-route to Cuba were to be inspected for military materials. If none were found, the ships could continue on to Cuba. If any military materials were found, the ships would be forced to turn around and go back to the Soviet Union. On the evening of October 22, Kennedy went on television to announce his plan and sent a letter to Premier Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, declaring the U.S. would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and to demand the removal of all missiles already there and the destruction of the launch sites. At the same time Kennedy was speaking to the nation, Stevenson delivered a formal request to the president of the U.N. Security Council to call an emergency meeting. Ironically, the president of the Security Council that month was Ambassador Valerin Zorin of the Soviet Union.
At the Security Council meeting the next day, Ambassador Zorin stated that the question about the missiles and personnel from the Soviet Union in Cuba that the United States had raised was “made up out of whole cloth.” Zorin stated that this was an attempt to cover up aggressive acts carried out by the U.S. against Cuba, meaning the “arbitrary and illegal naval blockade” of Cuba. In response to this, Stevenson then presented a resolution passed by the OAS (Organization of American States) supporting the quarantine and calling for the immediate dismantling and withdrawal from Cuba all missiles and offensive weapons. Furthermore, the resolution recommended that “all member states take all necessary measures to make sure that the government of Cuba cannot continue to receive military materials and supplies from the Soviet Union which may threaten the peace and security of the Continent.” To make sure that the Soviet Union and Cuba would dismantle the missiles and launchers, the OAS asked the Security Council to authorize the U.N. to send observers to Cuba. With this move, the US naval blockade (quarantine) became legitimate in the eyes of international law.
On October 24, the day the quarantine was set to begin, Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s message saying that the U.S. blockade of Cuba was an act of aggression and that Soviet ships bound for Cuba would be ordered to proceed as planned. The Cuban government also denounced this blockade as an act of war, and demanded that the Security Council recall all military personnel and ships en-route to Cuba and to end the blockade. The quarantine went into effect at 10 a.m. that day.
When the U.N. Security Council reconvened on October 25, an epic showdown began between the United States and the Soviet Union with Stevenson leading the charge. At the meeting, Stevenson presented his case for maintaining the quarantine to which Ambassador Zorin responded that not only did the U.S. have no evidence of missiles, troops, and other military supplies from the Soviet Union in Cuba, but that any evidence they claimed to have “was fake,” harkening back to the phony evidence Stevenson had presented during the Bay of Pigs incident.
Stevenson immediately asked to take the floor to respond to Zorin’s accusations in perhaps the most memorable speech he ever gave. Stevenson emphatically stated to Zorin and the entire Security Council that he did have evidence of missiles in Cuba, and that it was “clear and incontrovertible.” Stevenson again repeated that those weapons must be taken out of Cuba. Stevenson continued by saying that it was the Soviet Union that had created the danger and upset the balance of power in the world, not the U.S. Furthermore, Stevenson also pointed out to Zorin that the other day:
“you did not deny the existence of these weapons. Instead, we heard that they suddenly had become defensive weapons. But today—again if I heard you correctly—you say they do not exist…Sir let me ask you one simple question: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no? Do not wait for the interpretation. Yes or no?”
To which Zorin replied that he was not in an American court of law and therefore did not have to answer. Stevenson fired back to Zorin, “You are in a courtroom of world opinion right now and you can answer Yes or No. You have denied that they exist and I want to know whether I understood you correctly.” Again, Zorin refused to answer to which Stevenson replied, “I am prepared to wait for my answer until Hell freezes over, if that is your decision. I am also prepared to present evidence in this room.”
Zorin, in attempt to change the subject, called upon the Chilean ambassador who had asked to speak earlier. However, the ambassador from Chile also said that he would like to hear Zorin’s answer to Stevenson’s question and yielded the floor back to Stevenson. Stevenson continued hammering into Zorin and then set up an easel to show the photographic proof of missiles in Cuba, not only to the entire Security Council, but to the entire nation because the meeting was televised. Zorin continued to deny these were offensive weapons. Zorin also kept saying that the photographs Stevenson was presenting were probably faked by the CIA like they had been in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs incident. Stevenson replied that if Cuba and the Soviet Union would allow U.N. inspectors to go to the sites where the missiles were supposed to be, that the U.S. could direct those teams very quickly as to the exact locations of the missiles, thus proving that the photos were legitimate. Stevenson ended his speech with a plea to Zorin that their job “here is not to score debating points; our job, Mr. Zorin, is to save the peace. If you are ready to try, we are.” Overnight, the man who was accused of being “too soft on communism,” became “a stalwart spokesman for standing up to the Russians.”
In the days following Stevenson’s speech and presentation, cooler heads began to prevail and the two sides began to talk. On the morning of October 28, Khrushchev issued a public statement that the Soviet missiles would be dismantled and removed from Cuba. The crisis was over but the naval quarantine remained in place until November 20 when the Soviets removed their IL-28 bombers from Cuba as well. As part of the agreement (which the U.S. did not publically acknowledge), the United States removed their Jupiter missiles from Turkey in April, 1963 (which was an idea Stevenson suggested in the early days of the crisis). The world was no longer at the brink of nuclear war, thanks in part to Stevenson’s skills as a diplomat.
Stevenson remained an ambassador for the U.S. to the United Nations for three more years. He was one of the most respected diplomats in the world because of his actions during these times of crisis. In addition to his efforts during the crisis with Cuba, he made many other contributions to the betterment of the world. One of those included spearheading the movement for the creation of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This treaty (which Stevenson had actually proposed a version of during his 1956 presidential campaign) was signed on August 5, 1963 by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. While Stevenson did not sign the treaty, he was a member of the American delegation that traveled to Moscow for the final negotiations and signing. The treaty prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons or other nuclear devices underwater, in the atmosphere, and in outer space; allowed nuclear testing underground as long as no radioactive debris falls outside the boundaries of the nation conducting the test; and specified that the nations who signed the treaty would work towards “complete disarmament, an end to the armament race, and an end to the contamination of the environment by radioactive substances.”
Stevenson also became concerned about the negative impact the growth of nations was having on the environment and the world. He and scholars like economist and writer Barbara Ward, became advocates of “sustainable development,” or “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” The planet had a finite amount of resources and those resources were being over utilized by both industrialized nations (like the United States and the Soviet Union) and developing nations like India and China. Stevenson said that the United Nations should become more involved with the conditions in developing nations, how those nations were utilizing resources, and the negative impact it was having on the planet in many cases. Throughout Stevenson’s world travels as a politician and diplomat, he had seen firsthand the negative impact that the growth of developing nations was having on the environment and people. This included hunger, “grinding rural poverty, urban squalor, religious and ethnic pogroms, environmental devastation, and other issues.” Stevenson and Ward called upon the industrialized nations of the world to share their resources and technology so that developing nations would not use up as many of the planet’s resources in their attempts to industrialize. It would be a benefit of the industrialized nations to help the developing nations because the unsustainable practices of the developing nations had a negative impact on the entire planet. Just a few days before his death, Stevenson gave his last major speech before the United Nations Economic and Social Council in Geneva, Switzerland. In his speech, Stevenson compared the planet Earth to a spaceship, which has finite resources that all the inhabitants must share equally in order to survive. He said:
“We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserve of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave—to the ancient enemies of man—half free in the liberation of resources undreamed of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the survival of us all.”
Again, it appears that Stevenson was a man ahead of his time. His call for “greater global equality in the service of planetary stewardship” almost 50 years ago, is something that the nations of the world continue to struggle with to this day.
However, all of the long hours, hard work, and exhaustive travel schedules began to take a toll on the dedicated diplomat. Stevenson also did not maintain a healthy lifestyle. He would not listen to his doctor who told him to eat better (and less), to exercise, and to cut back on drinking. Stevenson did take his medication regularly (in particular to combat his high blood pressure), regularly missed doctor appointments, and began smoking again—something he had not done since 1954. Stevenson had the habit of staying out late at parties filled with “wit, humor, verse, song, food and drink!” In addition, Stevenson had become more and more disillusioned about his role in the United Nations and with the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam. He felt like no one—in particular, President Lyndon B. Johnson—was listening to his advice and recommendations on foreign policy. Stevenson saw himself as something more than just the “agent of American foreign policy at the U.N.” In a lengthy conversation with Eric Sevareid, a journalist from CBS news, two days before he died, Stevenson said “he simply had to get out of the U.N. job. He was tired. He was 65 years old. He had stuck with the task that President John Kennedy had gave him for four and a half years—longer than U.N. ambassadorships usually ran for any government.” Stevenson decided it was time to retire from the United Nations.
But before Stevenson could take any action on retirement, he suffered a massive heart attack and died suddenly on July 14, 1965 while on a trip to London. He was 65 years old at the time. Stevenson traveled to London after the annual meeting of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council in Geneva, Switzerland. He was walking down a London street with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Marietta Tree. As the couple walked along, Stevenson “talked about his hope to resign after the General Assembly and of the job offers he had received.” Suddenly, Stevenson said, “Keep your head high!” for no apparent reason. As he continued to slowly walk along, he said quietly “I feel faint,” and fell to the ground. Marietta ran for help and came back to Stevenson’s side with a doctor. Despite efforts to revive him, Stevenson had died almost instantly before hitting the ground. Friends of Stevenson often said that he had died of exhaustion; that he just wore himself out.
Adlai Ewing Stevenson II was brought back to his boyhood home of Bloomington to be laid to rest. President Johnson sent Air Force One to England to bring home the body off the former U.N. Ambassador. Among those who escorted the casket carrying Stevenson’s remains back to the United States were his three sons, U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. After a memorial service was held at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., Stevenson’s body was flown to Springfield and laid in state at the Illinois Statehouse. His casket was atop the very same “catafalque” (platform) that served Abraham Lincoln’s casket in Springfield 100 years prior. An estimated 42,000-plus mourners passed by Stevenson’s flag-draped casket. Stevenson’s body was then placed in a hearse and escorted back to Bloomington.
A funeral service was held at the Unitarian Church at 1613 East Emerson Street in Bloomington, the same church (in which the previous location was at 209 North East Street in Stevenson’s youth) that he and his mother belonged to. It is estimated that over 15,000 area residents passed by his casket to give their final respects. Not only did many of Stevenson’s friends and family attend the funeral (including his childhood caregiver and family housekeeper Alverta Duff), but dignitaries such as President Johnson and his wife, Noble Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, Vice President Humphrey, and Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Arthur Goldberg were also in attendance.
Following the service, Stevenson’s body was taken to its final resting place at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington. It was reported by the Illinois State Police that “some 50,000 spectators, at times 10-to-12 deep, lined city streets to catch a glimpse of Stevenson’s hearse and Johnson’s limousine” along the route the of funeral procession. Later that day, a crowd of 6,000 (mostly community residents) gathered at Horton Field House at Illinois State University to pay a final tribute to the life and distinguished career of Adlai E. Stevenson II. A tall, slender gray granite memorial (similar in shape to the United Nations Building in New York City) and U.N. flag, marks Stevenson’s final resting place at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery. To this day, people come from far and wide to visit his grave and pay their respects to the man who contributed so much to the nation and the world.
For a more in-depth look at the life and career of Adlai E. Stevenson II please see the following books: The Stevensons: A Biography of an American Family by Jean H. Baker, Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy by Porter McKeever, and The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson, Volumes 1 through 8 by Walter Johnson (editor), Carol Evans (editor) and C. Eric Sears (editor); and visit the website Adlai Today at www.adlaitoday.org.