The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Adlai Stevenson
Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago
August 17, 1956
Mr. Chairman, Senator Kefauver, President Truman, distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen of the convention:

Well, I'm frank to say that that's more calisthenic exercise than I've had in several months.

I come here on a solemn mission.

I accept your nomination and your program. And I pledge to you every resource of 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 I did not seek the honor that you've bestowed upon me. This time, as you may have noticed, it was not entirely unsolicited.

And there's another big difference. That time we lost. This time we will win!

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

To you here tonight and you all across the country who have sustained me in this great undertaking for months and even years, I am deeply and humbly grateful; and to none more than the great lady who is also the treasurer of a legacy of greatness-Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. She has reminded us so movingly that this is 1956, not 1932, not 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 at their peril.

I salute also that distinguished American who has been more than equal to the hardest test of our times, more than equal to the test of disagreement, who has now reaffirmed our common cause so graciously–President Harry Truman. I might say that I am glad to have you on my side again, sir! I think your heart can feel what is difficult to express–how much you and how much Mrs. Truman are beloved in this room and in this country.

Can I just say, too, what every Democrat has known for a generation–that your Chairman will live forever in the memories of Democrats and among all who love the political institutions of this land, Mr. Sam Rayburn.

I am sure that the country is as grateful to this Convention as I am for its actions this afternoon. It has renewed and reaffirmed our faith in free democratic processes.

The exalted office of the Vice Presidency, which I am proud to say my grandfather once occupied, has been dignified by the manner of your selection as well by the distinction of your choice.

Senator Kefauver is a great Democrat and a great campaigner–and I have a better reason to know that than anybody here.

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 the respect of the American people and of the world.

Perhaps honesty, dignity, convictions, and respect are only simple virtues, but there are times when simple virtues deserve comment. This is such a time. So I am grateful to you, my friends, for my running mate–an honorable and an able American–Senator Estes Kefauver.

And may I add that I got as excited as any of you about that photo finish this afternoon–and I want to pay my respects, my profound and sincere respects, to that great young American statesman, Senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts.

When I stood before you that hot night four years ago we were at the end of an era–a great era of restless, forward movement, an era of unparalleled social reform and of glorious triumph over depression and tyranny. It was a Democratic era.

And now tonight, after an interval of marking time and of aimless drifting, we are on the threshold of another great, decisive era. History's headlong course has brought us, we devoutly believe, to the threshold of a new America–to the America of the great ideals and noble visions which are the stuff our future must be made of.

I mean a New America where poverty is abolished and our abundance is used to enrich the lives of every family.

I mean, my friends, a New America where freedom is made real for all without regard to race or belief or economic condition.

I mean a New America which everlastingly attacks the ancient idea that men can solve their differences by killing each other.

These are the things I believe in. These are the things I will work for with every resource I possess. These are the things I know you believe in and will work for with everything that you have. These are the terms on which I accept your nomination.

I say that our objectives are not for the timid. They are not for those who look backward, who are satisfied with the things as they are, who think that this great Nation can ever sleep or ever stand still.

The platform, the program you have written is, I think, something more than a consensus of the strongly-held convictions of strong men; it is a sign-post toward that New America. It speaks of the issues of our time with passion for justice, with reverence for our history and our character, with a long view of the American future, and with a 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 our national life. Of course there is disagreement in the Democratic Party on desegregation. It could 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 spoken the only way a truly national Party can, in by substituting realism and persuasion for the extremes of force and nullification. Thereby 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 can.

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

I don't propose, in the forthcoming campaign, 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 an issue as far as I am concerned, the condition and the conduct of the President's office and of the Administration he heads is very much an issue.

The men who run the Eisenhower Administration evidently believe that the minds of Americans can be manipulated by shows and 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.

Now, 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. We Democrats must also face the fact that no President and no Administration has ever before enjoyed such an uncritical and enthusiastic support from so much of the press and the organs of comment as this one.

But let us ask the people of our country: what great purpose for the Republic has the President's popularity and this unrivaled opportunity for leadership been put? Has the Eisenhower Administration used this opportunity to elevate us? To enlighten us? To inspire us? Did it?

Audience. No!

Stevenson. Did it, in a time of headlong, world-wide revolutionary change prepare us for stern decisions and for great risks?

Audience. No!

Stevenson. Did it, in short, give men and women a glimpse of the nobility and the vision without which peoples and nations perish?

Or did it, on the other hand, just reassure us that all is well, that 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 an easy job?

Now, I shall have to confess, that the Republican administration has performed a minor miracle–after 20 years of incessant damnation of the New Deal they not only haven't repealed it, but they have swallowed it, or at least most of it, and it looks as though they might be able to keep it down until at least after election.

Now, 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 our economic advancement has ground to a halt and while our leadership and 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, my friends, that what this country needs is not propaganda and a personality cult. What this country needs is leadership and truth. And that is what we mean to give it.

What is the 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 we are not all 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 Republicans have done nothing to help him–until an election year.

The truth is that 30 million Americans live today in families trying to make ends meet on less than $2,000 dollars a year. The truth is that the small farmer, the small businessman, the teacher, the white collar worker, the retired citizen trying to pay today's prices on yesterday's pension–all these are in serious trouble.

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

The truth is not that our policy has the Communists on the run. The truth, unhappily, is not–in the Republican President's words–that our "prestige since the last war has never been as high as it is this day." The truth is that it has probably 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.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I, for one, am ready to acknowledge the sincerity of the Republican President's desire for peace and for happiness for all. But good intentions are not good enough. Our country is stalled on dead center. It's stalled in the middle of the road–a place I'm told that some Republicans like–while the world goes whirling past us. America, which has lifted man to his highest economic state, which has saved freedom in war and in peace, which has 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 that it is time to get up, to get moving again. It is time for America to be herself again.

And that, my friends, 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 of the New America!

What we need is a rebirth of leadership–leadership that 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 for anything in America just now; and it's time to elect a Democratic Administration, a Democratic Congress, yes, and Democratic Government in every state and local office all across the land.

In our hearts we know that the horizons of this new America are as endless, its promises 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 in a second industrial revolution; we live at a time when 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 banished. This is the age of abundance! Never in history has there been such an opportunity to show what we can do to improve the quality of living, now that the old, terrible, grinding anxieties of daily bread, shelter, and raiment, are disappearing.

I say that with leadership, Democratic leadership, we can do justice to our children, we can repair the ravages of time and neglect to our schools. We can and we will!

I say that with leadership, with 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. I say that we can and that our Party history proves that we will!

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

With 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– the doors of our factories and the doors of our school rooms. We can make this a land where opportunity is founded on responsibility and freedom on faith, where nothing can smother the lonely, defiant spirit of the free intelligence. We can, and by our conditions 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 time. 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 the 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 that has liberated more than half of all mankind in barely a generation. We must 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.

My friends, we must place our 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, practical necessity. Humanity's long struggle against war has to be won and won now. Yes, and I say that it can be won!

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

There is, as we all know, a spiritual hunger in the world today and it cannot be satisfied by material things alone–by better cars on longer credit terms. Our forebears came here to worship God. We must not let our aspirations so diminish that our worship becomes rather the material achievements of bigness.

For a century and a half, the Democratic Party has been the Party of respect for 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, who believes in a better future, and who loves his fellow man. I say that 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 our hearts we must unite them again to the ideals in which they have always believed and give those ideals the courage of our tongues.

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

Now I bid you good-bye and I hope that we can meet again in every town and village in America.

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.
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project