Back with the Stevensons
Written August 2018
go back in time, step by step. First
August 6, 1970. That's when I received my Syracuse University
Wagner (right), who had been one year behind me at Oberlin College
and had recently graduated, wrote me from Illinois that month.
is hectic as usual, she reported. I'm working on
Adlai Stevenson (III)'s campaign for Senator, three nights a week and
lots of other times too. It's fun and better than being
depressed about having nothing to do.
efforts were successful. Adlai III (right), the son of a former
Illinois governor, went on to serve in the United States Senate for
the next ten years.
go further back to October 25, 1962. I was a sophomore in high
school during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
III's father, Adlai Stevenson II (left), was our Ambassador to the
United Nations and participated in a famous Security Council debate.
way, Adlai III's great-grandfather, the original Adlai (near left),
had been Grover Cleveland's Vice President in the 1890s. You
can see why some people called this family a bunch of eggheads.
go even further back to September 16, 1954. I was in second grade.
date, Adlai Stevenson II dropped in at the home of his cousin William
E. Stevenson in Oberlin, Ohio.
Bill (right) had won a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics in Paris as
part of the 4x400 meter relay team, setting a world record of 3:16.0.
He now was
the president of Oberlin College.
to the President's House at 154 Forest Street was described for the
student newspaper by George Von der Muhll of the Class of '56.
He later became a professor of political science at the University of
California, Santa Cruz.
Muhll's article appeared in the Oberlin Review on September
18, 1954. I've quoted it in gray below.
Stevenson stole into Oberlin early Thursday morning and hid himself
so successfully that for 24 hours the College remained unaware of the
presence of its famous visitor.
visitor had been the Democratic nominee for President of the United
States only two years before. Republicans scorned him as an
elitist, and they had the more popular candidate: Dwight Eisenhower.
his defeat, Stevenson made a world tour in 1953, writing about Asia,
the Middle East and Europe for Look magazine. He was
still considered the head of the Democratic Party. He was
campaigning for its candidates in the midterm elections, and would
himself head the national ticket a second time in 1956.
But as of
1954, Stevenson noted, I haven't even been offered the
nomination. He had a speech to make in Indianapolis
on Saturday night, and he needed privacy to write it.
Friday afternoon, the speech was barely finished when a couple of
local politicians showed up at the college president's home
along with a large gathering of local reporters.
a frustrated newspaperman myself, Stevenson quipped.
I'd rather talk newspaper than answer questions on
politics. My life's ambition was to work for my local newspaper
(the Bloomington Pantagraph), but there wasn't room for my
cousin and me, so they shipped me off to Chicago and I've been in
trouble ever since.
on the speech he had prepared for Indianapolis, he revealed It
will be brilliant, as usual!
serious for a moment, he said that in the speech he would discuss
the basic similarities of the two major parties. There
are more ties to unite us than issues to divide us, he
observed. But I shall also have one or two things to say
about the Republican Party which won't be entirely flattering.
Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) says he won't do any campaigning this fall.
(grinning), all I can say is that he's got three speeches already
booked in Illinois.
about Richard Nixon, the Republican Vice President?
speeches have been of incalculable aid to the Democratic Party.
the approaching midterm elections, will the Democrats win back
control of the House of Representatives?
feel wholly optimistic. I anticipate a majority in the House
of from 20 to 40 seats.
number turned out to be 29.
also spoke to individual journalists. For example, WOBC radio's
Jerry Nelson, a college junior, interviewed him on the president's
reporter Von der Muhll also was granted a one-on-one
interview. He asked about a Republican bill to privatize atomic
energy. The Democrats tried to block it, but Sen. Lyndon
Johnson (D-Texas) had just called off the filibuster. Should
this be considered a defeat?
we got everything we wanted. We were able to make several
revisions in the bill, including striking out the provision granting
private patent monopolies. Besides, I never have liked
filibusters, and I felt quite embarrassed when we were forced to use one.
Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota), not wanting to abandon the anti-Communist
issue to McCarthy's Republicans, had introduced Communist Control
legislation in August. Humphrey's bill would have imprisoned
for five years anybody who willfully became or remained a Communist
Party member. This provision, probably unconstitutional, was
don't like the bill at all, and I told him so at the time.
President Truman's technical assistance program for developing
countries, Point Four, had been in operation for five years.
Stevenson said it was a great success as far as it went. He
recalled his recent world tour.
does something to you to walk down a hot, dusty road in Java and
find the local blacksmith under a bamboo tree using tools made in
Lorain, Ohio. Everywhere I went I found heartening evidence of
the results obtained by constructing hydroelectric dams and
sanitation projects and administering community self-help projects.
reporter wrote, Stevenson reiterated his faith in the
long-range value of economic aid over military aid in checking
Communism in Asia, although he conceded that both were
necessary. American anti-neutralist campaigns were doing us
further harm in India, he warned, and the United States was actually
exercising far less leadership than he imagined in Asian
affairs. But Asian resentment against Americans arising out of
hatred of the white race had been greatly exaggerated.
is true, however, that the first question I was always asked was
sure to be concerned with our discrimination against Negroes.
spent half an hour that day campaigning on Oberlin's Tappan Square,
shaking hands with freshmen and townspeople.
finally, let's go back even further yet to November 4, 1952. I
was in kindergarten.
was living in Newark, Ohio, at the time. I stayed in the car
that evening while my parents went inside a local armory to mark
their ballots. When they got back, I asked them, So who'd
you vote for?
they told me.