Parades, Protests and Politics

1956 Democratic National Convention

Stevenson sign left in an auditorium after the 1956 convention.

Stevenson sign left in an auditorium after
the 1956 convention. (CHS, ICHi-26410)

After losing the presidential election to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, Gov. Adlai Stevenson still rallied for the American people. He gave speeches to clear his party's campaign deficit and took a five-month world tour, speaking in 30 countries. He opened a law firm and spent time at his farm in Libertyville, Illinois. But he was far from through with politics and declared himself a candidate for the presidency in November 1955.

Stevenson's major opponents at the 1956 Democratic Convention were Averell Harriman, governor of New York, and Estes Kefauver, a senator from Tennesee. The critical issues of the time were civil rights and school integration, and the Stevenson-Kefauver debate on these topics during the primaries was the first one aired on national television.

Kefauver pulled out after a poor showing in the California primary on August 1, 1956, leaving a strong Stevenson to battle a weak Harriman. Then Harry Truman unexpectedly endorsed Harriman two days prior to the opening of the convention. Eleanor Roosevelt countered this surprise by throwing her support and admiration to Stevenson. Once the convention started, Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts nominated Stevenson, who went on to win on the first ballot with 905 votes. A motion was made and passed to make the nomination unanimous.

Stevenson then did something unprecedented--he threw the decision of his running mate to the convention. The leading contenders for VP were Kennedy, Kefauver, and Hubert Horatio Humphrey. On the third ballot, Kefauver won with 755 votes. His nomination was made unanimous.

Stevenson and Kefauver were soundly defeated (457 to 73 votes in the electoral college) in November by sitting president Eisenhower.

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