Long before our current state of affairs – long before the scandals and accusations and domestic terrorist attacks, our Political climate, though far from perfect, was one of educated discourse and mannered statements. As Adlai Stevenson so aptly put it during this address:” We mean by “politics”, the people’s business the most important business there is”. This was the state of politics in America. Far from perfect, and in the midst of great upheaval – we were turning corners. We had the Red Scare (we were in the midst of it in 1955). We were making strides (however slight) in the area of Civil Rights and the protest movement was just getting underway and being met with substantial resistance.
In case you aren’t familiar with Adlai Stevenson – here’s some background to help get you up to speed via Wikipedia:
Adlai Ewing Stevenson II (February 5, 1900 – July 14, 1965) was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat.
Noted for his intellectual demeanor, eloquent public speaking, and promotion of progressive causes in the Democratic Party, Stevenson served in numerous positions in the federal government during the 1930s and 1940s, including the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), Federal Alcohol Administration, United States Department of the Navy, and the United States Department of State. In 1945, he served on the committee that created the United Nations, and he was a member of the initial U.S. delegations to the UN. He was the 31st Governor of Illinois from 1949 to 1953, and received the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in the 1952 and 1956 elections.
In both the 1952 and 1956 elections, Stevenson was defeated in landslides by Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. He sought the Democratic presidential nomination for a third time at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, but was defeated by Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. After his election, President Kennedy appointed Stevenson as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. He served from 1961 until his death. He died on July 14, 1965, from heart failure (after a heart attack) in London, following a United Nations conference in Switzerland. Following public memorial services in New York City, Washington, DC, and his childhood hometown of Bloomington, Illinois, he was buried in his family’s section in Bloomington’s Evergreen Cemetery.
The prominent historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who served as one of his speechwriters, wrote that Stevenson was a “great creative figure in American politics. He turned the Democratic Party around in the fifties and made JFK possible…to the United States and the world he was the voice of a reasonable, civilized, and elevated America. He brought a new generation into politics, and moved millions of people in the United States and around the world.” Journalist David Halberstam wrote that “Stevenson’s gift to the nation was his language, elegant and well-crafted, thoughtful and calming.” His biographer Jean H. Baker stated that Stevenson’s memory “still survives…as an expression of a different kind of politics – nobler, more issue-oriented, less compliant to the greedy ambitions of modern politicians, and less driven by public opinion polls and the media.” W. Willard Wirtz, his friend and law partner, once said “If the Electoral College ever gives an honorary degree, it should go to Adlai Stevenson.”
This address comes weeks before he official bid for the 1956 Presidential election. The mid-term elections of 1954 saw a shift in public opinion over which direction America was heading. The Civil Rights movement was just getting started. The Korean War was over (though not officially) and Vietnam was on a distant back-burner. It was a lull before a storm, so to speak.
Here is that address, delivered in Chicago, November 19, 1955.