All the Way with Adlai

Adlai Stevenson campaign poster 1956

Last week, I found a set of slides from my parents’ wedding in a box with a batch of Eisenhower campaign materials. There was nothing particularly surprising to be found. The ceremony was held at my grandparents’ house. A good friend of the family, a judge officiated. Everyone wore tasteful summer wedding attire. The only odd part was that both sets of my grandparents were together. This rarely happened. I remember my paternal grandmother disagreed with my maternal grandmother’s resignation from the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) over their segregation policy until 1952. And they held polar opposite political views. My maternal grandmother, being a good Virginian, was an old guard Jeffersonian Democrat. My paternal grandparents were friends of the Reagans and staunch Republicans.

One of my maternal grandmother’s many cousins was Governor Adlai Stevenson, II. Until her last days, she lamented about “cousin Adlai’s” loss in the 1952 and 1956 United States presidential election. After she passed away, I found one of my favorite posters for Stevenson at her house. The poster is so unusual. It’s missing the red, white, and blue flag motif, and is candid. Of course, Stevenson is looking backwards, which maybe was a bad choice. In both campaigns he lost to Dwight Eisenhower. There has been conjecture that Stevenson was too much of an “egghead”. Or that he didn’t understand the importance of television as a medium (true). But it was highly unlikely he could win. There had been a Democratic president for almost 20 years, since FDR took office in 1933. The Republican Party needed to win the 1952 campaign to remain viable. And then, there was Eisenhower. After losing the 1956 campaign, Stevenson said, “Never run against a war hero.”

President John F. Kennedy appointed Stevenson as the US Ambassador to the United Nations in 1961. After the United States discovered offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, Stevenson confronted Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin in an emergency meeting of the Security Council, challenging him to admit the existence of the missiles. This is the moment, for me, that defines my grandmother’s “Cousin Adlai.” Without Stevenson’s aggressive and intelligent confrontation, the crisis might have taken a fatal direction, and I would not be writing this post.

Dwight Eisenhower campaign

Adlais Stevenson 1956