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Adlai Arguments

March 2023
1min read

In Tom Morgan’s memoir of the 1960 Democratic Convention, his unspoken premise is that, if Kennedy had not won on the first ballot, the nomination would have gone to Stevenson. This proposition is amply refuted by the statistics he himself provides—409 votes on the first ballot for Johnson, 79.5 for Stevenson. Had the Stevenson people succeeded in denying Kennedy the nomination, the inevitable beneficiary would have been Johnson. That is why a number of liberal Democrats, including Walter Reuther and Joseph Rauh, regarded the Stevenson effort as, in effect, a Johnson front.

However, that is a different matter from the conspiracy theory Mr. Morgan attributes to me regarding Eugene McCarthy. I have written twice at length about the convention (in A Thousand Days and in Robert Kennedy and His Times ), and I never set forth that particular thesis, which I would have done had I believed it. Mr. Morgan mistakes a hypothetical speculation for a declaration of belief. I was trying to explain to him how Kennedy liberals saw it at the time. I have no evidence that Eugene McCarthy was doing any conniving with Johnson, and I wholly accept Senator McCarthy’s own statement of the matter as printed in Mr. Morgan’s piece.

Mr. Morgan also repeats the canard that a Kennedy-Johnson ticket was “already in the works” before the presidential nomination. In fact, as Robert Kennedy’s oral history makes clear, the offer of the vice-presidential nomination was pro forma ; the Kennedys never dreamed Johnson would accept the offer; and, when he did, John Kennedy sent Robert Kennedy to do his best to persuade Johnson to change his mind.

Mr. Morgan wonders whether my tears after Stevenson’s appearance before the Minnesota caucus were tears of “regret or remorse.” If he had bothered to ask me, I would have said neither. Tears filled my eyes because I loved Adlai Stevenson and was sad that we were on opposite sides; but I never had any doubt that I was right to support Kennedy. Politics, like life, involves hard choices.

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