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Adlai Stevenson: Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago
Adlai
Adlai Stevenson
Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago
August 17, 1956
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Illinois
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Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Convention, My Fellow Citizens:

I accept your nomination and your program. And I pledge to you every resource mind and strength that I possess to make your deed today a good one for our country and for our party.

Four years ago I stood in this same place and uttered those same words to you. But four years ago we lost. This time we will win!

My heart is full tonight, as the scenes and faces and events of those busy years in between crowd my mind.

To you here tonight and across the country who have sustained me in this great undertaking for months and even years, I am deeply, humbly grateful: and to none more than the noble lady who is also the treasurer of a legacy of greatness -- Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who has reminded us so movingly that this is 1956 and not 1932, nor even 1952; that our problems alter as well as their solutions; that change is the law of life, and that political parties, no less than individuals ignore it as their peril.

I salute also the distinguished American who has been more than equal to the hard test of disagreement and has now reaffirmed our common cause so graciously -- President Harry Truman. I am glad to have you on my side again, Sir!

I am sure that the country is as grateful to this Convention as I am for it's action of this afternoon. It has renewed and reaffirmed our faith in free democratic processes.

The office of the Vice-Presidency has been dignified by the manner of your selection as well as by the distinction of your choice. Senator Kefauver is a great Democrat and a great campaigner -- as I have reason to know better than anybody!

If we are elected and it is God's will that I do not serve my full four years, the people will have a new President whom they can trust. He has dignity; he has convictions, and he will command respect of the American people of the world.

The program you have written is, I think more than a consensus of the strongly held convictions of a strong man; it is a signpost toward that New America. It speaks of the issues of our time with passion for justice, with reverence for our history and character, with a long view of the American future, and with sober, fervent dedication to the goal of peace on earth.

Nor has it evaded the current problems in the relations between the races who comprise America, problems which have so often tormented out national life. Of course there is disagreement in the Democratic Party on desegregation. It would not be otherwise in the only party that must speak responsibly and responsively in both the North and the South. If all of us are not wholly satisfied with what we have said on this explosive subject it is because we have only spoken the only way a truly national party can -- by understanding accommodation of conflicting views.

But in so doing, in substituting realism and persuasion for the extremes of force or nullification, our party has preserved its effectiveness, it has avoided a sectional crisis, and it has contributed to our national unity as only a national party could.

As President it would be my purpose to press on in accordance with our platform toward the fuller freedom for all our citizens which is at once our party's pledge and the American promise.

I do not propose to make political capital out of the President's illness. His ability to personally fulfill the demands of his exacting office is a matter between him and the American people. So far as I am concerned that is where the matter rests. As we all do, I wish deeply for the President's health and well being.

But if the condition of President Eisenhower is not and issue as far as I am concerned, the condition and the conduct of the President's office and of the administration is very much an issue.

The men who run the Eisenhower administration evidently believe that the minds of Americans can be manipulated by shows, slogans and the arts of advertising. And that conviction will, I dare say, be backed up by the greatest torrent of money ever poured out to influence an American election -- poured out by men who fear nothing so much as change and who want everything to stay as it is -- only more so.

This idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal -- that you can gather votes like box tops -- is, I think, the ultimate indignity to the democratic process. And we Democrats must also face the fact that no administration has ever before enjoyed such uncritical and enthusiastic support from so mush of the press as this one.

But let us ask the people of our country to what great purpose for all the Republic has the President's popularity and this unrivalled opportunity for leadership been put? Has the Eisenhower administration used this opportunity to elevate us? To inspire us? Did it, in a time of headlong, worldwide, revolutionary change, prepare us for stern decisions and great risks? Did it, in short, give men and women a glimpse of the nobility and vision without which peoples and nations perish?

Or did it just reassure us that all is well, everything is all right, that everyone is prosperous and safe, that no great decisions are required of us, and that even the Presidency of the United States has somehow become as easy job?

I will have to confess that the Republican administration has performed a minor miracle -- after twenty years of incessant damnation of the New Deal they not only haven't repealed it but they have swallowed it, or most of it, and it looks as though they could keep it down at least until after the election.

I suppose we should be thankful that they have caught up with the New Deal at last, but what have they done to take advantage of the great opportunities of these times -- a generation after the New Deal?

Well, I say they have smothered us in smiles and complacency while our social and economic advancement has ground to a halt and while our leadership and the security in the world have been imperiled.

In spite of these unparalleled opportunities to lead at home and abroad they have, I say, been wasting our opportunities and losing our world.

I say that what this country needs is not propaganda and a personality cult, what this country needs is leadership and truth. And that's what we mean to give it.

What is truth?

The truth is that the Republican party is a house divided. The truth is that President Eisenhower, cynically coveted as a candidate but ignored as a leader, is largely indebted to Democrats in Congress for what accomplishments he can claim.

The truth is that everyone is not prosperous. The truth is that the farmer, especially the family farmer who matters most, has not had his fair share of the national income and the Republican have done nothing to help him -- until an election year.

The truth is that thirty million Americans live today in families trying to make ends meet on less than $2,000 a year. The truth is that the small farmer, the small businessman, the teacher, the white collar worker , and the retired citizen trying to pay today's prices on yesterdays pension -- all these are in serious trouble.

The truth is that in this government of the big men -- big financially -- no one speaks for the little man.

The truth is not that our policy abroad has Communist on the run. The truth, unhappily, is not -- in the Republican President's words -- that our 'prestige since the last World War has never been as high as it is today.' The truth is that it has never been lower,

The truth is that we are losing the military advantage, the economic initiative and the moral leadership.

The truth is not that we are winning the cold war. The truth is that we are losing the cold war.

Don't misunderstand me. I, for one, am ready to acknowledge the sincerity of the Republican President's desire for peace and happiness for all. But good intentions are not good enough and the country is stalled on dead center -- stalled in the middle of the road -- while the world goes whirling by. America, which has lifted man to his highest economic state, which has saved freedom in war and peace, which saved collective security, no longer sparks and flames and gives off new ideas and initiatives. Our lights are dimmed. We chat complacently of this and that while, in Carlyle's phrase, 'Death and eternity sit glaring.' And I could add that opportunity, neglected opportunity, sits glaring too!

But you cannot surround the future with arms, you cannot dominate the racing world by standing still. And I say it is time to get up and get moving again. It is time for America to be herself again.

And that is what this election is all about!

Here at home we can make good the lost opportunities; we can recover the wasted years; we can cross the threshold to the New America.

What we need is a rebirth of leadership -- leadership which will give us a glimpse of the nobility and vision without which peoples and nations perish. Woodrow Wilson said that 'when America loses its ardor for mankind it is time to elect a Democratic President.' There doesn't appear to be much ardor in America just now for anything, and it's time to elect a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress, Yes, and a Democratic government in every state and local office across the land.

In our hearts we know that the horizons of the New America are as endless, Its promise as staggering in its richness as the unfolding miracle of human knowledge. America renews itself with every forward thrust of the human mind.

We live at a time when automation is ushering in a second Industrial Revolution, and the powers of the atom are about to be harnessed for ever greater production. We live at a time when even the ancient spectre of hunger is vanishing. This is the age of abundance. Never in history has there been such and opportunity to show what we can do to improve the quality of living now that the terrible, grinding, anxieties of the daily bread, of clothing and shelter, are disappearing. With leadership, Democratic leadership, we can do justice to our children, we can repair the ravages of time and neglect in our schools. We can and we will!

With leadership, Democratic leadership, we can restore the vitality of the American family farm. We can preserve the position of small business without injury to the large. We can strengthen labor unions and collective bargaining as vital institutions in a free economy. We can and our party history proves we will!

With leadership, Democratic leadership, we can conserve our resources of land and forest and water and develop them for benefit of all. We can and the record shows that we will!

With leadership, Democratic leadership, we can rekindle the spirit of liberty emblazoned in the Bill of Rights; we can build this New America where the doors of opportunity are open equally to all, yes, the doors of our school rooms. We can make this a land where opportunity is founded only on responsibility and freedom of faith, and where nothing can smother the lonely defiant spirit of the free intelligence. We can, and by our traditions as a Party we will!

All these things we can do and we will. But in the international field the timing is only partially our own. Here the 'unrepentant minute' once missed, may be missed forever. Other forces, growing yearly in potency, dispute with us the direction of our times. Here more than anywhere guidance and illumination are needed in the terrifying century of the hydrogen bomb. Here more than anywhere we must move, and rapidly, to repair the ravages of the past four years to America's repute and influence abroad.

We must move with speed and confidence to reverse the spread of Communism. We must strengthen the political and economic fabric of our alliances. We must launch new programs to meet the challenge of the vast social revolution that is sweeping the world and turn the violent forces of change to the side of freedom.

We must protect the new nations in the exercise of their full independence; and we must help other peoples out of Communist or colonial servitude along the hard road to freedom.

And we must place out nation where it belongs in the eyes of the world -- at the head of the struggle for peace. For in this nuclear age peace is no longer a visionary ideal. It has become an absolute, imperative necessity. Humanity's long struggle against war has to be won and won now. Yes, and I say it can be won.

It is time to listen again to our hearts, to speak again of our ideals, to be again our own great selves.

There is a spiritual hunger in the world today and it cannot be satisfied by material things alone. Our forebears came here to worship God. We must not let our aspirations so diminish that our worship becomes rather a Bigness -- bigness of material achievement.

For a century and a half the Democratic Party has been the party of respect for the people, of reverence for life, of hope for each child's future, of belief that 'the highest revelation is that God is in every man.'

Once we were not ashamed in this country to be idealists. Once we were proud to confess that an American is a man who wants peace and believes in a better future and loves his fellow man. We must reclaim these great Christian and humane ideas. We must dare to say again that the American cause is the cause of all mankind.

If we are to make honest citizens of out hearts we must unite them again to the ideals in which they have always believed and give those ideals the courage of out tongues.

Standing as we do here tonight at this great fork of history, may we never be silenced, may we never lose our faith in freedom and the better destiny of man.



Citation: Adlai Stevenson: "Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago," August 17, 1956. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=75172.
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