March 8th, 2020


Past Campaigns: Adlai Stevenson's Second Bid for the White House

In 1952 the establishment of the Democratic Party, led by President Harry Truman, banded together to block the nomination of Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver as the party's presidential candidate, despite the fact that Kefauver had won more primaries than any other candidate. The Tennessee Senator has led the Kefauver Commission, which exposed the extent of organized crime in the United States, seemingly a good thing. The problem was that many of the crime bosses investigated by Kefauver had ties to the party bosses that controlled the delegates that picked the party's candidate for president.


That year they turned to Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II as their standard bearer. Stevenson was reluctant to enter the race at first. He was trounced in the election by popular General Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower won the popular vote by 55% to 45%. Stevenson carried only nine states and lost the Electoral College vote 442 to 89.

The year after his defeat, Stevenson went on a well-publicized world tour through Asia, the Middle East and Europe. He wrote about his travels for Look magazine, making connections with foreign leaders and dignitaries. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1953. In the 1954 mid-term elections Stevenson took went on the campaign trail for a number of Democratic congressional and gubernatorial candidates around the nation. The Democrats won control of both houses of Congress and picked up nine gubernatorial seats. More importantly for Stevenson, many of those candidates were in his political debt. This time it appeared that there was no reluctance on Stevenson's part. He had his eyes on his party's nomination once again in 1956, and on the presidency.

Unlike 1952, Stevenson was actively campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1956. At first many wondered why anyone would want the nomination. Polls showed Eisenhower heading for a landslide re-election. Competition among Democrats for the nomination wasn't fierce. No one else really wanted the 1956 nomination. Stevenson hoped that he could win the nomination without much of a fight and without entering any presidential primaries. This changed when, on September 24, 1955, Eisenhower suffered a serious heart attack. The President recovered and got medical permission to run for a second term, but concerns about his health led two prominent Democrats, Kefauver and New York Governor Averell Harriman, to challenge Stevenson for the Democratic nomination.

Stevenson's advisers recommended that he enter several primaries to establish momentum by defeating Kefauver and Harriman. Stevenson ran in the Minnesota, Florida, and California primaries. Stevenson was upset by Kefauver in the Minnesota primary. Kefauver relied on his crime busting credentials and was able to successfully portray Stevenson as what he called a "captive" of corrupt Chicago political bosses and "a corporation lawyer out of step with regular Democrats."

The two candidates had their rematch in the Florida primary, where Stevenson agreed to debate Kefauver on radio and television. Stevenson eked out a win, narrowly defeating Kefauver by 12,000 votes. His knockout punch came when he won the California primary over Kefauver with 63% of the vote, effectively ending Kefauver's presidential bid.

But Stevenson was dealt another blow when at the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, former President Harry Truman endorsed Governor Harriman. To counter this, Stevenson once again relied on the endorsement of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who continued her enthusiastic support of the intellectual Stevenson. Stevenson easily defeated Harriman on the first ballot, winning his second Democratic presidential nomination. He had strong support from younger delegates at the convention, who formed what was dubbed the "New Politics" movement.


In a bid to raise enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket, Stevenson employed the tactic of leaving the selection of his running mate up to the convention delegates. This attracted a number of prominent Democrats who competed for the position, including Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, and Estes Kefauver. Kennedy mounted a surprisingly strong challenge, but in the end, Kefauver narrowly won the vice-presidential nomination on the second ballot.

Stevenson waged an energetic presidential campaign, delivering 300 speeches and traveling 55,000 miles. He crossed the nation three times before the election in November. Robert F. Kennedy traveled with the Stevenson campaign. Kennedy later expressed disappointment with Stevenson's campaign. Kennedy said "I thought it was ghastly. It was poorly organized. My feeling was that he had no rapport with his audience, no comprehension of what campaigning required, no ability to make decisions. In 1952 I had been crazy about him. Then I spent six weeks with him on the campaign and he destroyed it all." Kennedy said that he voted for Eisenhower in the November election.

Against the advice of many of his political advisers, Stevenson called for an international ban to above-ground nuclear weapons tests, and for an end to the military draft. He was criticized by President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon, who attacked his proposals for being naive. Eisenhower said that Stevenson's policies would benefit the Soviet Union in the cold war. Stevenson did not retreat from this position. He held his ground despite the criticism, saying: "Earth's atmosphere is contaminated from week to week by exploding hydrogen bombs. We don't want to live forever in the shadow of a radioactive mushroom cloud."

Stevenson also lost support on the issue of civil rights. He urged caution and warned against aggressive enforcement of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, doing so in an effort to gain Southern white support. The strategy helped Stevenson to win most of the southern states in the fall campaign, but it cost him some of the African-American vote, a constituency which usually voted for the Democrats since the Roosevelt administration.


Stevenson lost the election to Eisenhower by a landslide. Although Eisenhower suffered from heart problems, the economy was in good health. In October, Eisenhower's doctors gave him a clean bill of health. As international crises developed in the Suez and Hungary, the public had more confidence in the steady hand of the man who had led the Allied forces in the second world war. They were not convinced that a change in leadership was needed. Stevenson lost his second bid for the presidency by a landslide, winning only 42% of the popular vote and losing the electoral college vote by 457 to 73. Stevenson won just seven states, Missouri and the rest in the solid Democratic South.

Remembering Millard Fillmore

On March 8, 1874 (146 years ago today) Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States and the last Whig President, died at his home in Buffalo, New York at the age of 74.

Millard Fillmore (no middle name) was born in Moravia, Cayuga County, in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, on January 7, 1800. His parents were Nathaniel Fillmore and Phoebe Millard. Millard was the second of nine children and the eldest son. he became a lawyer and practiced law in Buffalo. He was also an early member of the Whig Party. Fillmore served in the New York State Legislature from 1829 to 1831, as served a U.S. Representative for two non-consecutive terms (1833–1835 and 1837–1843). He was the New York State Comptroller (1848–1849). In 1848 the Whig convention chose Fillmore for the second spot on the presidential ticket and he was elected Vice President of the United States in 1848 as Zachary Taylor's running mate. He served from 1849 until Taylor's death in 1850, when he became the second president in history to assume the office following the death of the incumbent.

Fillmore became President in the middle of what was known as the "Crisis of 1850" over slavery. He was considered to be an anti-slavery moderate, but during the 1850 debate, he opposed abolitionist demands to exclude slavery from all of the territory gained in the Mexican War. Instead he supported the Compromise of 1850, which briefly ended the crisis, but at a price that included the Fugitive Slave Law, which required northerners to turn in runaway slaves.

In foreign policy, Fillmore supported U.S. Navy expeditions to open up trade relations with Japan. He opposed French designs on Hawaii, and was faced with adventurer Narciso López's filibuster expeditions to Cuba, the nineteenth century's version of the Bay of Pigs. He sought re-election in 1852, but was passed over for the nomination by the Whigs.

After leaving office, Fillmore embarked on a tour of Europe, which included an audience with Queen Victoria in 1855. There is a disputed story in which it is said that the queen though that Millard was pretty hot stuff. Here is what biographer Robert Rayback says about this in his book Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President at page 397:

"A visit to the London docks turned into a tour of the winehouses. For the first and only time in his life - for he was a temperate man - Fillmore became 'slightly fuddled by merely moistening his lips with such a variety of liquids.' Like all tourists, he walked through Westminster Abbey; but at the Bank of England, unlike other tourists, he had the guidance of the Bank's governor, who encouraged him to 'heft' a million pounds sterling. Fillmore left no account of his presentation at the Court of St. James, though tradition developed in America that Her Majesty Victoria pronounced him the handsomest man she had ever seen."

When the Whig Party broke up in 1854–1856, Fillmore and other conservative Whigs joined the American Party, sometimes called the "Know-Nothing" Party. He was the American Party candidate for President in 1856, but finished third in the election. During the American Civil War, Fillmore denounced secession and agreed that the Union must be maintained by force if necessary, but was also very critical of some of the war policies of President Abraham Lincoln. After the war, he supported the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson.

Millard Fillmore died at 11:10 pm on March 8, 1874, from a stroke. His last words were alleged to be in reference to some soup he was being fed. He said "the nourishment is palatable" before he shuffled off this mortal coil. On January 7th of each year (his birthday), a ceremony is held at his grave site in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo.

Remembering William Howard Taft

On March 8, 1930 (90 years ago today) William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, died in Washington D.C. at the age of 72. He is the only person to have served in both of these offices.

William Howard Taft was born on September 15, 1857, near Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Louisa Torrey and Alphonso Taft. His father was a prominent Republican who served as Secretary of War and Attorney General under President Ulysses S. Grant. Before becoming President, Taft was appointed to serve as a judge of the Superior Court of Cincinnati in 1887. In 1890, Taft was appointed Solicitor General of the United States in the Benjamin Harrison administration and in 1891 he was appointed as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 1900, Taft left the bench to take an appointment by President William McKinley as Governor-General of the Philippines. He performed well in that position and was highly regarded by the local population.

In 1904, Taft's good friend Theodore Roosevelt appointed Taft as Secretary of War in an effort to groom Taft, then his close political ally, into succeeding Roosevelt as President. Besides managing his own department, Taft assumed a troubleshooter's role for Roosevelt, on some occasions acting as Secretary of State. He reluctantly turned down two offers from Roosevelt to serve on the Supreme Court, even though serving on the court had been a longtime dream of his.

Riding a wave of popular support for fellow Republican Roosevelt, Taft won an easy victory in his 1908 bid for the presidency. As President, Taft's domestic agenda emphasized trust-busting, civil service reform, strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission, improving the performance of the postal service, and passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, which allowed the imposition of income tax. In foreign relations, Taft sought to further the economic development of nations in Latin America and Asia through "Dollar Diplomacy", and showed decisiveness and restraint in response to revolution in Mexico, when he mobilized troops at the border. Taft seemed oblivious to the political ramifications of his decisions, many of which offended his former mentor Theodore Roosevelt, who challenged Taft for the GOP nomination in 1912 and who ran against Taft as a third party candidate.

Taft was overwhelmingly defeated in his bid for a second term in the presidential election of 1912. After leaving office, Taft spent his time as a law school professor, as an arbitrator, and the pursuit of world peace through his self-founded League to Enforce Peace. In 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft Chief Justice of the United States. He served in this capacity until shortly before his death in 1930. Taft seemed much happier in his new role. He lost approximately 74 pounds, dropping from 354 pounds to 280.


Following is an accounting of the end of Taft's life by his biographer Harry F. Pringle in the second of the two volume set William Howard Taft: His Life and Times at page 1079:

Taft could take little nourishment. He recognized hardly anybody. But a fragment of life would linger for a month. On February 11, Secretary Mischler came into the bedroom with the draft of a letter which must, if conceivably possible, be signed. It was to the justices of the Supreme Court and it was in answer to a final, moving tribute.

"We call you Chief Justice still, for we cannot give up the title by which we have known you for all these later years and which you have made dear to us," wrote Justice Holmes, and all the members signed it. "We cannot let you leave us without trying to tell you how dear you have made it. You came to us from achievement in other fields and with the prestige of the illustrious place that you lately had held and you showed us in new form your voluminous capacity for getting work done, your humor that smoothed the tough places, your golden heart that brought you love from every side and most of all from your brethren whose tasks you have made happy and light. We grieve at your illness, but your spirit has given life an impulse that will abide whether you are with us or away."

With difficulty, the former Chief Justice scratched his signature to the reply which had been drafted for him. The phrases were conventional. He could not "adequately say how deeply I am touched." His chief regret in leaving the court had been "the ending of those pleasant associations with each and all of you, which during the past nine years have been so dear to me. Only the advice of my doctors and my own conviction that I would be unable to continue adequately the great work of the court, forced me to leave you. That work, in your hands, will go on well without me."

He died on Saturday night, March 8, 1930.