ADLAI E. STEVENSON, "A NEW
DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION (17 AUGUST 1956)
Adlai Stevenson's most famous quip may have been his declaration of solidarity with his fellow intellectuals: "Eggheads of the world unite, lest we lose our yolks!" Not only does this betray the statesman's legendary self-deprecation but it also contains a playfully defensive look at his own legacy. The stigma of being labeled as an "intellectual" has been problematic for many an American public figure, but perhaps the "egghead" tag has never been associated more devastatingly with one individual than it was with Adlai Stevenson. At the time of his ascent into the public consciousness, this was a stinging epithet, which Stevenson accepted with trademark wit and humility. Over time, "eggheadism" became a lovable part of Stevenson's rumpled charm, which the Democratic Party would appropriate into its lore, if not its public image. Adlai Stevenson became an archaic ideal for the Party, a stumping preacher with sleeves rolled up, laboring for the cause, and seemingly from an era long past. Perhaps the most famous image of him comes from a Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph taken on the 1952 presidential campaign trail. In the photo, Stevenson is feverishly editing what appears to be a speech, with the tattered, worn sole of his shoe serving as the picture's focus. This is the face of gritty, no-nonsense politics, and Stevenson embodied this old-school tradition.
Yet, this very
image of Adlai Stevenson also points to the struggles that haunted him and the
defeats he faced in both of his presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956. As the
Cold War crisis unfolded during the rise of image politics in modern
advertising, Americans did not want to see the sweat and dirt of a politician
grappling with intellectual complexities. His penchant for self-questioning and
openly doubting his abilities may well have pointed to a nobility in
campaigning, but fell short in translating to votes for security and stability
in the new television age. He would be unable to translate his image as an
effective speaker into the role of a strong leader.
Because of this contested legacy, there is a respect and deference given Adlai
Stevenson over time that always assures he will be fundamentally disrespected.
Upon his death in 1965, even many of the tributes foreshadowed this disrespect,
painting him as a commendable but sad figure in American politics. On the day
after he died on a
Because of his two
successive presidential losses in 1952 and 1956, we tend to forget that
Stevenson was a man of ideas. His platform issues continued to shape the party
well beyond his 1950s campaigns. A reassessment of his political ideas shows
that his response to Eisenhower's Cold War
address to the Democratic National Convention in 1956 in
More than just a
source of new intellectual ideas, though, the speech also presented a forceful
language that would eventually infuse the Democrats with a new sense of
purpose. Rhetorically, Stevenson's use of moral appeals in the speech represented
the American genre of the jeremiad, a recurring fixture particularly in
political convention addresses. Governor Stevenson railed from his pulpit in
jarring for many at the time to see their beloved egghead in such a state of
spiritual outrage, Adlai Stevenson’s speech displayed a sober eloquence that
would thread itself into later Democratic triumphs, even if it proved
forgettable in the midst of a losing campaign. Biographer Herbert J. Muller
wrote later of Stevenson's 1956 convention address: "With its accent on
promise and decisiveness, it conveyed no such solemn sense of the difficulties
and responsibilities of world leadership. I doubt that it will be read by
future generations." This
analysis highlights some of those reasons why it deserves more attention. I
begin with an exploration of how the speech served as an integral part of
Stevenson's moral persona, followed by an interpretation of it as a reflection
of key Cold War values. The final section will explore the legacy of Stevenson's
New America in the discourse of the New Frontier and Great Society in 1960s
All the Way
Adlai: The New
investigating Stevenson's Democratic Acceptance Speech in
Party was a part of Adlai Stevenson's blood and a central part of his
would enter the public sphere after studying at
WWII, Stevenson's attitudes toward war would take an about-face, as he became
instrumental at the State Department in the early days of the United Nations.
Here he would help facilitate "the birth of [an] extraordinary infant,"
as he noted in a 1946 speech.
Originally selected as a delegate to the preliminary Executive Committee, he
would later become its chair and a key delegate in the United Nation's
Preparatory Commission. Stevenson's cosmopolitan outlook and constant pleas for
global dialogue surfaced from this early entry into UN politics and would shape
his conceptions of peace throughout his career.
As he would note of this period, "It was the most exacting, interesting
and in many ways the most important interval of my life. After almost four
years of preoccupation with war, the satisfaction of having a part in the
organized search for the conditions and mechanics of peace completed my circle."
Later, Stevenson would return to these themes as President John F. Kennedy's
education in domestic politics, though, was just as integral to his public
life, and it came primarily from his gubernatorial bid in 1948. On returning to
The Election of 1952: An Egghead Shows His Yolk
Adlai Stevenson only served one term as governor before his rise to the top of Democratic politics in the 1952 presidential election. For many, he became an intellectual cult hero almost overnight. Walter Johnson's book, How We Drafted Adlai Stevenson, told the story of how ordinary citizens convinced Stevenson to run for the Presidency in 1952 and how an entire movement of writers and intellectuals had faith in the Governor of Illinois' ability to continue Democratic dominance in the White House. Outside of his drafters, though, the relative unknown was often referred to as a "sacrificial lamb" in the 1952 campaign, as a man with class who would swallow an inevitable loss with nobility. The Republicans' successful characterization of President Harry Truman and the Democrats as the War Party crippled the Democrats. As John M. Murphy points out, the "perception was widespread that one party had been too long in power."
Despite his loss in 1952, Stevenson's command of the English language and his embodiment of democratic virtue made an unexpected mark on American political life. Murphy accentuates the principles of civic republicanism that characterized Stevenson's 1952 rhetoric, especially in his elevation of the "public good," the self-discipline of virtuous power, and a deep respect for republican institutions. These three qualities marked Stevenson as one who defied conventional campaign appeals and took the hard road of substantive debate. While Stevenson's detractors would accuse him of not being able to connect with the everyday voter, his willingness to speak on unpopular issues and to decry the normal conventions of politics positioned him as a refreshing political phenomenon in presidential politics.
Stevenson's speech accepting the 1952 Democratic nomination, in particular, would transcend the moment and, for many, would rise into the ranks of the great political speeches of the twentieth century. One of the major threads throughout the speech is Stevenson's use of humility and his recognition of the moral solemnity of the presidency. In the address, he paints his personal uncertainties as virtues, recognizing the enormous capacity of the office for both good and evil. The heart of the speech, though, lies in his pledge to share responsibility between the people and its government. As Stevenson put it:
That is the test of a political party--the acid, final test. When the tumult and the shouting die, when the bands are gone and the lights are dimmed, there is the stark reality of responsibility in an hour of history haunted with those gaunt, grim specters of strife, dissension and materialism at home, and ruthless, inscrutable and hostile power abroad.
Four years later, Stevenson's
next acceptance address would continue these themes of moral responsibility
but, through the New America concept, would propose a more concrete program
that would question whether the prosperity of 1950's
At the close of the
famous 1952 speech, however, Stevenson reflected on the political cost of
virtue, saying: "Better we lose the election than mislead the people; and
better we lose than misgovern the people."
And lose he did, by a significant landslide.
Yet, in defeat, the groundwork was laid for Stevenson's ubiquity as a moral
leader throughout the 1950s and 1960s. As Alden Whitman would reflect in the New York Times, "Not only did
Stevenson run, and run hard, but he also mounted a campaign singular in its
literateness, grace, and humor."
Despite the Republican triumph, Adlai Stevenson made his way out of
The Interim Period, 1952-1956: An Egghead in the Spotlight
The period between the two campaigns represented a time of formative reflection for Stevenson. This interim would also mark the gestations of the New America concept, as he observed the culture of the Eisenhower administration and came to terms with his own leadership style. As he would later say about the 1952 campaign,
The determining fact in my mind after the elections of 1952 was that I remained…the "titular head" of the Democratic party….The titular leader has no clear and defined authority within his party. He has no party office, no staff, no funds….Yet he has…an obligation to help wipe out the inevitable deficit accumulated by his party during a losing campaign, and also to do what he can to revive, reorganize, and rebuild.
His fiery, more deliberately divisive tone in the 1956 campaign, culminating in his convention speech, would come from these productive years of learning from defeat and planning a comeback.
celebrity status saw him speaking in public constantly through this period,
making 111 speeches and publishing 28 articles between the two campaigns.
During the 1956 campaign, scholars Russel Windes, Jr. and James A. Robinson
asked the question, "Where is there another man in the history of American
politics whose public image has been created and sustained so largely by his
He traveled extensively abroad as well, fine-tuning his foreign policy rhetoric
as the Cold War tensions raged around him. Stevenson would become an outspoken
critic of Joseph McCarthy and seethed at Eisenhower's appeasement of the
In addition to the torrent of public speeches, Stevenson and his staff planned for the future by establishing a frenzied pace of "issue preparation." His advising staff would meet with him regularly from 1954 until the start of the campaign, writing position papers on the issues that would frame the New America platform. The 1956 campaign would, as a result, see a more prepared and sharply focused Adlai Stevenson.
The Campaign of 1956: An Egghead in Distress
The New America also was designed to mark a clear break with the New Deal past. During a campaign event at Yale in October of 1956, Stevenson declared: "I do not believe that we Democrats have the answers for 1956 simply because we had them for 1932….I think the central issue in 1956…is that complacency contains the seeds of decay, not of growth." In the same address, Stevenson quoted Eleanor Roosevelt on the importance of moving away from the New Deal, as she warned that, "'it is a foolish thing to say that you pledge yourself to live up to the traditions of the New Deal and the Fair Deal--of course, you are proud of those traditions--but our party must live as a young party…[it] must have the courage to look ahead, to face new problems with new solutions.'" For Stevenson's New America, thus, the split with the New Deal was primarily a philosophical one; while the Democrats of 1932 were concerned with material fulfillment, the Democrats of 1956 needed to offer spiritual fulfillment as well. Stevenson's platform was more concerned with the moral imbalance of a rich nation that failed to properly distribute its wealth. Arthur Schlesinger and Seymour Harris marked these differences most distinctly when they acknowledged:
The fact that our contemporary troubles tend to be spiritual rather than economic should depress only those liberals who feel that liberalism is purely a phenomenon of depression. Spiritual unemployment can be as real and as painful a fact as economic unemployment….The moment is surely approaching for a new forward surge of liberalism. It will probably not come, as did the New Deal, from the breakdown of the economic system. It will more likely come, as did the Progressive movement of the turn of the century, from an attempt to meet the moral needs of a people beset by psychological unrest.
Stevenson's program was framed not only in terms of policy proposals but even more so as a state of mind and a dialogue of ideas, both moral and material. In turn, the major domestic planks of the New America, namely poverty, race, and education, would all be aligned with the country's moral responsibility to correct material inequities.
The other main
piece of the New America would be focused on the Cold War. Stevenson fully
believed that the most important choices facing the American voters were in the
foreign policy arena. His Godkin Lectures at Harvard in 1955, for example,
assailed the monolithic diplomacy of the Eisenhower administration, suggesting
that international relations need not "always exist in frozen hostility."
And in what Michael H. Prosser called "one of Stevenson's most potent
the 1956 campaign, Stevenson articulated an alternative vision of U.S. foreign
policy in an address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 21,
1956. Stevenson fumed about the real dangers to
In trying to
reinvent himself, Stevenson found himself in a different and altogether more
complex context. He was fifty-six by the time he stepped in front of the lights
for his encore in
In addition, Stevenson's tendency to micro-manage his campaign chafed at the public relations demands of the modern election. As Schlesinger and Harris have noted, Stevenson had a deep fear of boring both his audiences and himself. As a result, he spent vast amounts of time editing his speeches, and the painstaking editorial work would continue right up until delivery. In 1952, such intensity held a certain old-fashioned charm. Yet, by 1956, the perpetually revised scripts conflicted with the demands of message control. William Lee Miller, a speechwriter in the 1956 campaign, would later remark that "Stevenson wanted a fresh text each time in a way that candidates since then haven't done. Everyone since then has repeated the same speech….Stevenson couldn't do that. His temperament wouldn't allow it."
Stevenson also would often undermine his staff's attempts at image management by appearing awkward in front of television cameras, in stark contrast to President Eisenhower's campaign, which reflected the sophistication of Madison Avenue. Television was largely responsible for the advent of single-issue politics, as airtime could only highlight key selling points, but Stevenson was often unable to simplify his ideas to fit these parameters. A study conducted during the campaign surveyed a group of scholars and political professionals on whether Stevenson speeches were effective or ineffective. Those speeches deemed most ineffective were all multi-issue speeches, and they usually revolved around controversial subjects where Stevenson's position ran counter to public opinion. Porter McKeever put it succinctly, noting that Stevenson "overrated the voters' attention span." Stevenson wanted to remain the podium orator in a new age of television. He would later remark, "One of my keenest disappointments in the 1956 campaign was its failure to evoke any real debate of issues. In the climate of opinion which then prevailed, it was easy--and politically astute--for my opponents to brush them aside." To adjust the campaign to these political realities of 1956, Stevenson was forced to focus more on clarifying his key ideas and tempering his language. A more sober approach was needed in the new political era, and this helped contribute to the genesis of the Stevenson's New America.
And unlike in 1952, Adlai Stevenson actively sought the nomination in 1956. The 1952 campaign debuted a reluctant but heroic outsider who merely answered the call of the people to participate in the campaign. In 1956, Stevenson could no longer fall back on this Cincinnatus image of a reluctant political leader. Instead, he had to deal with questions of political ambition, thus calling into question the humility that was so central to his rhetoric. Eisenhower's calm, detached demeanor clashed with a harried Stevenson, laboring for the nomination, and this image was not lost on the voters. In order to separate himself from Eisenhower's shadow, Stevenson would have to rely on a more strict agenda of liberalism in this election, rather than the blend of civic republicanism and moral conservatism he used in 1952. Many complained of Stevenson becoming too straightforwardly partisan; in the long term, though, these liberal issues--poverty, race, education, and international responsibility--would come to define the Democratic Party for the next decade and beyond.
As the election
neared, two foreign policy issues, though, attracted considerable attention and
scorn for the former
In the end, these charges of weakness in foreign policy were symbolic of Stevenson's larger rhetorical problems. Yet, the "New America" convention address sought to present a tougher Stevenson. His early public life, the hunger to right the pitfalls of the 1952 campaign, the productive four years between campaigns, the desire to redefine the ideals of his Party, and the frustrations of image and economic realities, would all impact Adlai Stevenson's speech on that Friday night in Chicago. Any behind-the-scenes wavering and fatigue were masked by an organized and blunt resolve. This was the biggest speech of the campaign--perhaps of his entire career--and he treated this opportunity as a chance of redemption for 1952 and a chance at changing the path of his country some ten years after the Cold War began.
"Objectives Not For the Timid":
Assessing the New
In the middle of
Adlai Stevenson's convention acceptance speech on August 17, 1956, he derided
his Republican rivals who "fear nothing so much as change and who want
everything to stay as it is--only more so"(30).
Nothing could sum up the spirit of the New America more simply. Stevenson's
conflation of fear with stagnation represented the ultimate argument against
the complacency of
Stevenson's Political Jeremiad
One of Stevenson's
many biographers would refer to him as "The Last Puritan," a fitting
appellation for his persona in the acceptance speech.
Stevenson would draw from
however, still possesses prominent political importance. Kurt Ritter argued
that presidential nomination acceptance addresses have faithfully adopted the
jeremiad as an organizing principle for their relationship to the public.
Ritter posited that, "The presidential candidate offers to lead the people
through repentance back to their fundamental national values and, thereby,
noted, moral responsibility both as an individual and a collective constituted
a major part of Stevenson's upbringing and informed the rhetoric of his public
life. His prophetic stance in the New America was not a new persona for him,
but seldom before had he fused such a focused moral attack with a platform of
change. Throughout the analysis of the speech itself, Ritter's parameters for
the modern jeremiad are most evident and help inform Stevenson's lamentations
The Problems of Eisenhower's
The New America's
greatest exigence was the perceived national complacency of post-WWII
opportunity was a moral theme of significant importance to Stevenson. He argued:
"We chat complacently of this and that while, in Carlyle's phrase, 'Death
and eternity sit glaring.' And I could add that opportunity, neglected
opportunity, sits glaring too!" (47) In the jeremiad’s tradition, he lays out
a series of truths that exposed the wasted path
stark list of truths also targeted the international stage as well. He dispensed
with verbal courtesies, bluntly stating: "The truth is not that we are
winning the cold war. The truth is that we are losing the cold war" (46). Contrasting
Eisenhower's claim that
In addition to the domestic material problems and Cold War security failures in Stevenson's portrait of Eisenhower, there was an implied dearth of morality and spiritual fulfillment. At one point in the address, Stevenson used a call and response method to ask his audience a series of questions about wasted opportunity: "Has the Eisenhower Administration used this opportunity to elevate us? To enlighten us? To inspire us" (32)? After each question, the audience cried, "No!," as if Stevenson was a preacher in front of a fevered congregation (32). This expectation that politics should inspire the individual to a higher devotion served as a fulcrum of Stevenson's rhetoric in general, but was particularly crucial to the vision of the "New America" speech. In a time of peace and prosperity, Stevenson claimed that the government cannot stop there, but has the moral responsibility to challenge its citizens to live a better life. As he remarked, "There is a spiritual hunger in the world today and it cannot be satisfied by material things alone--by better cars on longer credit terms. Our forebears came here to worship God. We must not let our aspirations so diminish that our worship becomes rather the material achievements of bigness" (62). Stevenson's connection to the tradition of the jeremiad was explicit here, evoking his Puritan forbears and reminding his audience of the nation's spiritual roots. Like the Puritan preachers, he implored his audience to aspire to something greater than itself, and to enter into a renewed covenant against the sins of materialism.
Finally, Stevenson acknowledged that the Democratic Party of the New Deal no longer existed and that a replacement was needed to fit Cold War realities. Like all jeremiads, Stevenson's address indicated a new path away from the wayward choices of the past. Stevenson pointed out that "This is the age of abundance! Never in history has there been such an opportunity to show what we can do to improve the quality of living now that the old, terrible, grinding anxieties of daily bread, shelter, and raiment are disappearing" (53). A "glorious triumph over depression" (17) took place and now a new reality faced a changing party. Stevenson's case against complacency not only included his opponents, but his own party as well. The jeremiad preacher seeks to indict the foibles of his own congregation, and in this case, Stevenson was looking at the soul of his Democratic Party. Significantly, he furthered the decisive break from the New Deal by railing against the Republican Party's adoption of many New Deal principles:
I will have to confess that the Republican Administration has performed a minor miracle--after 20 years of incessant damnation of the New Deal they not only haven't repealed it, but they have swallowed it (34)….I suppose we should be thankful that they have caught up with the New Deal at last, but what have they done to take advantage of the great opportunities of these times--a generation after the New Deal? (35) Well, I say they have smothered us in smiles and complacency while our social and economic advancement has ground to a halt…(36)
Here, Stevenson strategically showed the need for the New America by accusing his opponents of stealing and corrupting the spirit of the New Deal. This perversion of the old path is contrasted with the moral urgency of the new path, fitting once again into the jeremiad framework.
sketch of the dark underbelly of the prosperous Eisenhower years is colored by
the themes of stagnation, material inequities, security challenges, spiritual
bankruptcy, and the perversion of a New Deal mentality. Each of these is used
by Stevenson to create a perceived need for change. As Ritter noted in his
The Answers of the New
Stevenson's command of language to connote "action" and "motion" in setting up his New America cannot be ignored. The symbolic uses of "belief," "paths," "roads," and "work" were also major threads throughout the address, just as they were central parts of Stevenson's life. There were many connections to faith in "free democratic processes" and devout belief in "history's headlong course;" such work shows in the constant references to motion and getting "moving again," and the danger of the "great Nation" sleeping or standing still. He also openly worried that, "Our country is stalled on dead center. It's stalled in the middle of the road…while the world goes whirling past us" (47). These devices of motion and the race against time gave the language an inescapable movement, leading the audience member to a belief that they were on the verge of something larger.
In the process
of invigorating his case with such racing language, Stevenson also sought to convince
Stevenson also used the abstract concept of "leadership" to define this community. In the section of the speech that laid out his platform, the redirection of prosperity was continually used as a device to represent strong leadership. He began with education as his first idea, continuing his "time" fixation: "With leadership, Democratic leadership, we can do justice to our children, we can repair the ravages of time and neglect to our schools" (54). The fate of the American worker was mentioned as the next New America policy concern: "With leadership, Democratic leadership, we can restore the vitality of the American family farm. We can preserve the position of small business without injury to the large. We can strengthen labor unions and collective bargaining as vital institutions in a free economy" (55). He even appealed to his audience's ecological concern and connected it to New America leadership: "With leadership, Democratic leadership, we can conserve our resources of land and forest and water and develop them for the benefit of all of our citizens" (56).
The final domestic
plank of Stevenson's New America platform involved the pursuit of racial and
economic equality on the home front. Stevenson contended that "With
leadership, we can rekindle the spirit of liberty emblazoned in the Bill of
Rights; we can build this new
language for his domestic vision also complemented the international scope of
the New America program. Time resurfaced once again in his conceptions of
reversing the damage of Eisenhower's Cold War: "Here more than anywhere
guidance and illumination are needed in the terrifying century of the hydrogen
bomb. Here more than anywhere we must move, and rapidly, to repair the ravages
of the past four years to
Finally, the close of Stevenson's platform for the New America left the realm of policy and turned back toward the concept of individual responsibility and spirituality. The prophetic tone had been maintained throughout, and here he was setting up the familiar convention of the jeremiad: the portrait of a "chosen people." He remarked near the close of his speech: "Once we were not ashamed to be idealists. Once we were proud to confess that an American is a man who wants peace and believes in a better future and loves his fellow man…We must dare to say that the American cause is the cause of all mankind" (65). Stevenson's convention address even ended with a sung recitation of the Lord's Prayer by Mahalia Jackson, making explicit his moral cause with the Democratic delegates. So, beyond the call for this new forward-thinking of wealth distribution, racial equality, and international battles to uphold peace, Adlai Stevenson was also calling for a personal return to an "Old America" with his emotional appeals to history and spirituality, a staple of the Puritan jeremiad.
"The Fork of History": Legacies
of the New
The legacy of both the ideas and the moral language that constituted Adlai Stevenson's New America justifies a re-evaluation of the 1956 Democratic convention speech. At the close of the address, Adlai Stevenson established a covenant with his audience, "standing as we do here tonight at this great watershed, this great fork of history" (65). So, what path did Stevenson's legacy follow at this fork of history? What were the long-term ramifications of his address?
At the time of its utterance, much of the coverage of Stevenson's speech expressed admiration for Stevenson's fighting words, yet wondered aloud if the New America could break the spell of his opponent. The Christian Science Monitor commented that, "Mr. Stevenson is well equipped to challenge citizens to think about such things as preparing too slothfully for crises which lie ahead…. But the problem for him in this campaign is to offer specific remedies for crises which to most Americans are not yet visible." A Baltimore Sun editorial expressed a similar ambivalence, calling the address a "high-minded and graceful statement of new Democratic ends. About the means to those ends Mr. Stevenson had less to say." And, perhaps most damningly, Walter Lippmann, writing in the New York Herald Tribune, went so far as to say that "The keynote speech…had no visible connection with what Stevenson is and with the way Stevenson deals with political affairs."
Such consistent ambivalence coupled with Stevenson's ensuing defeat to ensure that the 1956 convention speech was dubbed a rhetorical and political failure. Over time, the address became grossly overshadowed by Stevenson's much more famous 1952 convention address and is rarely mentioned in biographies; most critical analyses of his rhetoric either ignore it entirely or use it as a footnote for the botched 1956 campaign. Yet, still, the "New America" speech retained a sense of principled eloquence that seemed to stand on its own in Adlai Stevenson's canon, daring to make a potentially unpopular moral critique of a seemingly prosperous nation. And while Stevenson's moral rhetoric in the speech may have contributed to his unelectable image and may have rang hollow in the ears of influential journalists like Lippmann, the 1956 convention address featured a more longitudinal view that was rather unique for Stevenson. His fiery moral tone combined with a focused, policy-centered platform that his Party would adopt as its foundation in the post-Eisenhower era.
As Ritter pointed out, the prophets of Jeremiah's time were literally voices in the wilderness, standing apart from society. But in the American Puritan tradition, the prophets of today function within society and are at the heart of the political and social order. Even if Stevenson was not chosen to lead, his ideas lived on as prophecy for his country. For example, the two issues of foreign policy that were said to have doomed his candidacy came to the fore shortly after the election: the military draft and the dismantling of the H-bomb. In May 1957, a Pentagon task force endorsed an all-volunteer army, which would later become reality under Nixon. And in October 1958, Eisenhower announced a moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere and initiated negotiations for the eventual Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. While these advancements cannot be traced directly back to Stevenson's discourse, by sampling a few of the seminal texts of the leadership from Kennedy and Johnson, we can see how the platform of the New America lived on in the 1960s.
John F. Kennedy's famed 1960 Democratic acceptance speech as a modern jeremiad.
The New Frontier was the path that JFK offered his audience, and much of his
domestic and foreign program resembled Stevenson's New America. In
Our task is not merely one of itemizing Republican failures, nor is that wholly necessary. For the families forced from the farm will know how to vote without our telling them. The unemployed miners and textile workers will know how to vote. The old people without medical care--the families without a decent home--the parents of children without adequate food or schools--they all know that it's time for a change.
In itemizing farming concerns, urban squalor, education, racial discrimination, and the inequities of the elderly, JFK echoed Stevenson's distancing of his New America from the New Deal. Kennedy noted: "Here at home, the changing fact of the future is equally revolutionary. The New Deal and the Fair Deal were bold measures for their generations--but this is a new generation."
The international tenets of Kennedy's New Frontier also followed Stevenson's lead in advocating active efforts to liberate nations from communism:
Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and more terrible weapons--new and uncertain nations--new pressures of population and deprivation. One-third of the world, it has been said, may be free--but one-third is the victim of cruel repression--and the other one-third is rocked by the pangs of poverty, hunger and envy. More energy is released by the awakening of these new nations than by the fission of the atom itself.
Kennedy, like Stevenson, called
for correcting the imbalance of American prosperity in the foreign arena, and
he questioned the morality of creating more weaponry. JFK's Inaugural Address,
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny….If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
JFK's liberalism worked to rhetorically energize the 1960s, expressing Stevenson's framework for the Cold War, reinforcing that the burden of action rested on the shoulders of those who possessed the means.
New Frontier shared a discursive similarity with Stevenson's New America, LBJ's
Great Society brought many of Stevenson's ideas to actual fruition. In Johnson's
1964 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he argued, "the
ultimate test of our faithfulness to our past has not been our goods and has
not been our guns. It is the quality of our people's lives."
As Glenn Capp would note, the philosophy of the Great Society envisioned
reaching this standard of quality by properly using
commencement address at the
The struggle for equality must now move to a different battlefield. It is nothing less than granting every American Negro his freedom to enter the mainstream of American life….For it is not enough just to give men rights; they must be able to use those rights in their personal pursuit of happiness.
Adlai Stevenson's New America sought to enable Americans to make this personal pursuit and follow their own moral path through the rhetorical strategies of the jeremiad. His essential ideas on how to reach this path, which surfaced so boldly in the Democratic rise to power in the 1960s, were given voice during an exhausting and un-winnable campaign, and expressed in a speech that has largely been ignored. In retrospect, however, we see the legacy of Stevenson's at work in the rhetoric of those Democrats elevated to the office of the presidency in the 1960s. As Porter McKeever noted about the legacy of the New America:
advocated federal aid to education, it was regarded as heresy. Proposals in the
field of health care that were derided as fanciful in 1956 became Medicare in
the 1960s. His call for the end of the military draft, for which he was harshly
ridiculed, was enacted and signed into law by the very people who ridiculed him
for proposing it. His advocacy of the nuclear test-ban treaty helped to defeat
him in 1956, but in the 1960s he had the satisfaction of being in
Beyond igniting the new liberalism of the 1960s, Adlai Stevenson's New America still provides political lessons for today. Without question, some of these lessons stem from Stevenson's political failures. As Senator John Kerry experienced, intellectual nuance can still be a scarlet letter in a political campaign, showing how Stevenson's "eggheaded" rhetoric still casts a dark shadow. In addition, political candidates now face even larger obstacles of image-construction and single-issue politics than those Stevenson fought so fruitlessly against. Yet, as the forgotten legacy of the New America proves, a restructuring of ideas and moral conviction can prove immensely influential, even if political success is not immediately apparent.
The Democratic Party is at a crossroads similar to what Stevenson saw before him in 1956. Despite recent setbacks, President Bush remains a formidable political force against a Democratic establishment that is trying to redefine its identity. Like Stevenson waving goodbye to the New Deal, Democrats are still looking for a way to move out of Bill Clinton's shadow. And like the Cold War Republicans, the Bush administration hinges its popularity on a tough and unwavering foreign policy, while successfully redirecting attention away from some of its failed domestic initiations.
Last Updated—20 February 2007
Tim Barney is a graduate student
of rhetoric and political culture in the Department of Communication at the
 Michael H. Prosser, ed., "Introduction," in An Ethic for Survival: Adlai Stevenson Speaks on International Affairs 1936–1965 (New York: William Morrow & Company Inc., 1969), 19.
 Edward P. Doyle, ed., As We Knew Adlai: The Stevenson Story by Twenty-Two Friends (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), photo inset.
 Douglas Slaybaugh, "Adlai Stevenson, Television,
and the Presidential Campaign of 1956,"
 "Editorial: A True American," The Times, July 15, 1965, 11; James Reston, "Right Man, Wrong Time," New York Times, July 15, 1965, 1. See an account of these stories and others surrounding the death and legacy of Adlai Stevenson in: Alden Whitman and the New York Times, Portrait: Adlai Stevenson: Politician, Diplomat, Friend (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 257–82.
 Irving Howe, Steady Work: Essays in the Politics of Democratic Radicalism 1953-1966 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966), 222. Also, for more comments on Stevenson's "tragic" legacy, see: Rodney M. Sievers, The Last Puritan? Adlai Stevenson in American Politics (Port Washington, NY: Associated Faculty Press, 1983), xi.
Reston, New York Times,
 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and
 Herbert J. Muller, Adlai Stevenson: A Study in
Row, 1967), 178.
 Richard Murphy, "Adlai E. Stevenson:
 Whitman, Portrait, 116–117.
 Porter McKeever, Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1989), 49; Adlai E. Stevenson, Major Campaign Speeches of Adlai E. Stevenson 1952 (New York: Random House, 1953), xvi – xvii.
 Adlai E. Stevenson, Major Campaign Speeches of Adlai E. Stevenson 1952 (New York: Random House, 1953), xvii.
 Adlai E. Stevenson, An Ethic for Survival: Adlai Stevenson Speaks on International Affairs 1936–1965, ed., Michael H. Prosser (New York: William Morrow & Company Inc., 1969), 64.
 Prosser, "UNO Gets Under Way," in An Ethic for Survival, 62.
 Stevenson, Major Campaign Speeches, xx.
 Ibid., xx–xxi.
 Walter Johnson, How We Drafted Adlai Stevenson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955), vii, 5.
 John M. Murphy, "Civic Republicanism in the Modern Age: Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 Presidential Campaign," Quarterly Journal of Speech 80 (1994): 318.
 Ibid., 317.
 Ibid., 318.
 Many of the journalists, writers, and scholars who
have written on Stevenson have singled out this acceptance speech from
 Adlai E. Stevenson, "Speech of Acceptance
Democratic National Convention,
 Ibid., 10.
 In the 1952 campaign, Eisenhower received 33,936,234 popular votes to Stevenson's 27,314,992, the largest of any defeated presidential candidate. Stevenson was crushed, however, in the Electoral College, with 89 votes to Eisenhower's 442, carrying only 9 states. See: McKeever, Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy, 262. In the 1956 election, Eisenhower swept 41 states with a popular vote of 35,590,472 and an electoral vote of 457, while Stevenson took 7 states with a popular vote of 26,029,752 and an electoral vote of 73. For more details, see: Charles A.H. Thomson, and Frances M. Shattuck, The 1956 Presidential Campaign (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1960), 345–354.
 Whitman, Portrait, 4.
 Adlai E. Stevenson, What I Think (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1956), ix–x.
 Russel Windes, Jr. and James A. Robinson, "Public Address in the Career of Adlai E. Stevenson," Quarterly Journal of Speech 42 (October 1956): 227.
Whitman, Portrait, 116. In a two page spread in The New York Times on
 Prosser, "Introduction," in An Ethic for Survival, 22.
 Adlai E. Stevenson, The Papers of Adlai Stevenson: Volume IV, ed., Walter Johnson (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1974), 591–592.
 Ibid., 592.
 Adlai E. Stevenson, The Papers of Adlai Stevenson: Volume VI, ed., Walter Johnson (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1974), 261.
 Ibid., 261.
 Schlesinger and Harris, "Introduction," xxix-xxx.
 Sievers, The Last Puritan?, 11.
 Whitman, Portrait, 120.
 Prosser, "H-Bomb, Defense and Foreign Policy," in An Ethic for Survival, 220.
 Stevenson, "H-Bomb, Defense and Foreign Policy," in An Ethic for Survival, 222–234.
 Schlesinger and Harris, "Introduction," xvi.
 Brown, Adlai Stevenson: A Short Biography, 142.
 Porter McKeever, "Adlai Stevenson and the Campaigns of 1952 and 1956," in Lessons from Defeated Presidential Candidates, ed., Kenneth Thompson (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 119–20.
 Schlesinger and Harris, "Introduction," xix.
 Ibid., xxvi.
 Russel R.Windes, Jr., "Adlai E. Stevenson's Speech Staff in the 1956 Campaign," Quarterly Journal of Speech 46 (February 1960): 42.
 Lois J. Einhorn, "The Ghosts Talk: Personal Interviews with Three Former Speechwriters," Communication Quarterly 36 (1988): 97.
 McKeever, Lessons From Defeated Presidential Candidates, 127.
 Russel R. Windes, Jr., "A Study of Effective and Ineffective Presidential Campaign Speaking," Speech Monographs 28 (March 1961): 48.
 McKeever, Lessons From Defeated Presidential Candidates, 123.
 Slaybaugh, "Adlai Stevenson and Television," 8.
 Adlai E. Stevenson, "Author's Note," in The
 Murphy, "Civic Republicanism," 313–328.
 Jeff Broadwater, Adlai Stevenson and American Politics: The Odyssey of a Cold War Liberal (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994), 165.
 Schlesinger and Harris, "Introduction," xvi.
 Ibid., xvi.
 This point alludes to the success of Senator Joseph McCarthy's attempts to undermine the Democratic Party during his new "Red Scare" of the early 1950s. McCarthy, particularly in the 1952 campaign, was able to paint the Democratic Party as weak on foreign policy, insinuating that many public officials in the Truman administration were Communist sympathizers. While McCarthy was publicly disgraced by the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, his legacy of portraying Democrats as "soft" continued, as Stevenson's campaign underestimated in its military draft and H-bomb positions.
 All of the passages from Stevenson's
 Rodney M. Sievers, The Last Puritan? Adlai Stevenson in American Politics (Port Washington, NY: Associated Faculty Press, 1983).
 Perry Miller, The
 Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), 8.
 Kurt W. Ritter, "American Political Rhetoric and the Jeremiad Tradition: Presidential Nomination Acceptance Addresses, 1960–1976," Central States Speech Journal 31 (Fall 1980): 159.
 Ibid., 160.
 Ibid., 167.
 The audience responses of "No!" to Stevenson's questions are indicated in the copy text. Follow the link for the copy text in order to see the exact places where the audience audibly answers Stevenson’s rhetorical questions.
 Ritter, "American Political Rhetoric," 168.
Stevenson, "Address of the Honorable Adlai E. Stevenson Accepting the
Nomination for the Presidency of the
 Ritter, "American Political Rhetoric," 169.
 Joshua Freed, Allies of Convenience: The Political Relationship of Adlai and JFK,
PhD diss. (University of Maryland, 1997): 55.
 Official Proceedings of the Democratic National Convention, 511.
 "Democrats in
"The Acceptance Address," The Baltimore Sun,
 Walter Lippmann, "Today and Tomorrow,"
 Ritter, "American Political Rhetoric," 161.
 Broadwater, Odyssey of a Cold War Liberal, 172-173.
 McKeever, Lessons From Defeated Presidential Candidates, 126.
 Ritter, "American Political Rhetoric," 159.
 John F. Kennedy, "The Democratic National Convention Acceptance Address," Vital Speeches of the Day 26, no. 20 (August 1, 1960): 611.
 Ibid., 611.
 Ibid., 611.
 John F. Kennedy, "For the Freedom of Man," Vital Speeches of the Day 27, no. 8 (February 1, 1961): 226.
 Ritter, "American Political Rhetoric," 166.
 Glenn Capp, "Origin, Development, Analysis," in Great Society: A Sourcebook of Speeches, ed., Glenn Capp (Belmont, CA: Dickenson Publishing Co., 1967), 2.
 Lyndon B. Johnson, "
 Ibid., 19.
 Lyndon B. Johnson, "The Voting Rights Law of 1965--A Victory for Freedom," in Great Society: A Sourcebook of Speeches, ed., Glenn R. Capp (Belmont, CA: Dickenson Publishing Co., 1967), 102.
 McKeever, Lessons
From Defeated Presidential Candidates, 126. In addition, on the day after
Stevenson's death, the Times of