5 February marks the birthday of Adlai E. Stevenson, the 31st Governor of Illinois and two-time Democratic nominee for President. Raised in Bloomington, Illinois he would later buy a 70-acre property in Libertyville, northwest of Chicago. The location of the farm earned him the media moniker, ‘The Man from Libertyville’.
A cheerful campaigner, Stevenson was an intellectual and the tone of his speeches particularly inspired college youth, but he was often dismissed by grizzled political reporters as an ‘egghead’. When asked about the challenges facing an intellectual in the rough and tumble world of politics, Stevenson replied in Latin – “‘Via ovicapitum dura est’—The way of the egghead is hard”.
Stevenson was a peculiar candidate as America embarked on the television age. While his humorous quips were well suited for what would be later known as the ‘soundbite’, his often rumpled appearance presented a contrast to other well-tailored candidates. At one event, Stevenson sat on a platform awaiting his turn at the microphone and casually crossed his legs. A photographer shooting from a low angle snapped a picture, which revealed the Governor to be wearing a pair of shoes in which a hole was worn through the sole. Stevenson’s supporters embraced the image of a frugal man unconcerned with material things. The Republicans on the other hand put out a campaign button depicting the shoe with the slogan, “Don’t let this happen to you!” Stevenson himself replied, “better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head.” When the photographer who snapped the photo won the Pulitzer Prize, Stevenson congratulated him on his, “hole in one”.
His 1952 and 1956 campaigns for President met with crushing defeats, but Stevenson would remain in the public eye as the Ambassador to the United Nations under President Kennedy. Having traveled to the city of Dallas only four weeks before President Kennedy’s fateful trip there in 1963, he cautioned the President not to go, as he himself having been booed and jeered by a crowd and struck on the head by a woman wielding a placard. At one point during the interruption of his speech he intoned, “Now friends, surely I don’t have to come here from Illinois to teach Texas manners do I?” When protestors continued their disruptions, Stevenson bade them the parting shot, “For my part, I believe in the forgiveness of sin and the redemption of ignorance.”
Stevenson was a Unitarian, and the last person of that faith to be nominated for President by a major Party. He died in 1965. Below is a short clip of him speaking…