- Historic Sites
Madly For Adlai
The masses and the media made waves for the Stevenson campaign of 1960 and almost upset John F. Kennedy’s bid for the Democratic nomination. The waves have been felt ever since.
August/september 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 5
“Christ, Adlai could’ve said anything but that and he would’ve stopped Pennsylvania from going to Kennedy. David Lawrence was the ace in the hole and we let him go. You know something? That might have been a watershed in American history. Think of it! No Vietnam War!”
AT NOON ON MONDAY , July 11, under this cloud of gloom, a limousine drove Stevenson, who had moved to the Sheraton West Hotel, back to the Beverly Hills Hotel for Eleanor Roosevelt’s luncheon in a large dining room filled to capacity. Mrs. Roosevelt, tall and, as one reporter would observe, grown beautiful in her ripest time, spoke with fervor about Adlai Stevenson to an audience of one, Adlai Stevenson. She incanted her theme that in our next President we needed “maturity, judgment, and the good will of the uncommitted peoples of world.” And she twice repeated her belief that the strongest and best ticket that the Democrats could offer to the nation was Stevenson and Kennedy. She rarely took her eyes from him. I made a note that he was “visibly impressed.” That was the make-or-break moment: Stevenson would fight for himself, now or never.
After lunch, standing with Mrs. Roosevelt and Stevenson, Monroney suggested that I should call a press conference for Stevenson at the Biltmore for the next afternoon. Mrs. Roosevelt volunteered to introduce him, and Stevenson quickly accepted. I realized he would fight.
Stevenson climbed back into his limousine to return to his hotel. Blair, Finney, Sharon, Attwood, and I crowded in with him. Then, as we moved along Wilshire Boulevard, Stevenson wondered aloud whether he would ever have a chance to go to the convention itself. Whether or not he quite approved of the fact, Stevenson’s mind had shifted; he was working for the campaign.
“I’m a delegate,” he said. “I should go, but perhaps an appearance will be misunderstood.”
“Go!” Finney enthusiastically agreed: Stevenson should take his rightful seat with the Illinois delegation, but not Monday night, better the next night. That would be Tuesday, July 12, scheduled for approval of the platform and listening to speeches by Chairman Collins and others.
No one objected. Tradition proscribed candidates from attending the convention until after the balloting, but tradition was not law. Besides, Stevenson’s status was unique; he was still a noncandidate.
He decided to take his seat.
The discussion had been very casual. No plans were made, no hour of arrival set, no talk of a demonstration. A newspaper would later describe the seating of Adlai Stevenson as a “deliberate attempt to stampede the convention.” But to my knowledge, no one in the limousine dreamed Stevenson’s appearance the next evening would electrify the convention. No one could know that an unpredicted crowd of Stevenson demonstrators outside the Sports Arena would be the talk of the convention when it opened a few hours later.
That night, as the delegates convened for the first time, they found the Sports Arena unexpectedly surrounded by a large, well-behaved, noisy crowd of perhaps a thousand Stevenson demonstrators. Inside, the convention opened in comparative dullness and quiet. Several delegates told reporters they could hear the cries and chants of the Stevenson crowd through the walls of the Sports Arena. Moreover, the sense that television was broadcasting the presence and purpose of these Stevensonians on prime time for an enormous audience of potential voters added a new dimension. Not only had there been no such demonstration outside a political convention in recent memory, but none in history had ever been seen “live.” It was bigger news than the keynote address. It was sensational! It could be, someone said, Los Angeles’s answer to the San Francisco earthquake.
TUESDAY MORNING , demonstrators cheered Stevenson as he left his hotel with Monroney to work a promising delegation for the first time. He had chosen Minnesota, which was in caucus at the Statler Hotel. I had alerted the press that Stevenson was off and running, but the word had already passed from the Minnesotans. In my press car following Monroney and Stevenson, the reporters told me that there were rebellions in California, Kansas, and Iowa. One said that headlines proclaiming CALIFORNIA’S BROWN ENDORSES KENNEDY had missed the real California story; Stevenson might even win a majority of the state’s delegates at the caucus scheduled for that night. The reporter showed me his latest column. He had written: ”… one more victory like California for Kennedy and he could lose the war.”
The Minnesota caucus met in a large dining room, but there was standing room only. Monroney had gone in alone, leaving Stevenson in a connecting office. Besides the 62 half-vote delegates, an equal number of alternates, plus spouses, reporters, and observers from all the contending camps had squeezed inside before the doors were closed. Among them was Eugene McCarthy, who had declared for Stevenson. Another spectator was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the historian and Kennedy aide, wearing seersucker and a bow tie and seated on a table at the rear of the room. Schlesinger had already addressed the caucus on Kennedy’s behalf. That spring, having served on Stevenson’s staff in two national campaigns and been considered both a protégé and close friend of Stevenson, he had joined Kennedy, saying he still thought that Stevenson was the best man, but “not a candidate.” Mrs. Roosevelt had damned such defections among former Stevenson intellectuals as “expediency.”