In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Adlai Stevenson Jr. '22, an exhibit chronicling the famous alumnus' life premiered Saturday at Firestone Library.
The opening of "A Voice of Conscience: Adlai Stevenson" was preceded by a panel discussion of Stevenson's life and political career.
More than a third of a century after Stevenson's death, former associates, friends and family related anecdotes ranging from his bids for the U.S. presidency in the 1950s to his somewhat hostile relationship with the Kennedys.
Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who served with Stevenson in the administrations of Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and worked on Stevenson's presidential campaigns, led the panel. He was joined by Stevenson's former law partners and political coworkers William Blair, Newton Minow and Willard Wirtz, as well as his son Adlai Stevenson, III.
One heavily discussed topic was Stevenson's bids for the presidency. Minow recalled that he first met Stevenson only minutes before reading a newspaper headline that read, "Truman asks Stevenson to run."
As the Democratic candidate in 1952 and 1956, Stevenson lost twice to Dwight Eisenhower. Though he was nominated again at the 1960 Democratic convention, John Kennedy won that year's Democratic nomination.
Stevenson's son commented on his father's qualifications for the job. "The country would not have endured the agony of Vietnam or Watergate," he said. "He had integrity. He may have been overqualified."
"He would have gone down in history as one of the greatest presidents the country has ever had," Wirtz added.
Minow remarked that in running for the presidency it may not have been Stevenson's primary goal to win, quoting him as saying, "There are worse things that can happen to a person than losing an election." Minow compared Stevenson to John McCain, in that they are both "honest" and "refreshing" as politicians.
Several members of the panel recounted the story of how Stevenson refused to cooperate with the Kennedy family by endorsing JFK for the Democratic bid in 1960. They cited Stevenson's decision, which represented the start of a hostile relationship with the Kennedy family, as an example of his character.
The panel members also talked about the first time they each met Stevenson and the impression he made on them. "When I first ran into him, I thought of him as one of the straightest shooters I ever met," Wirtz said.
"I thought I'd never been so charmed, guiled or gotten to know anyone so quickly," Schlesinger said of his first encounter with Stevenson.
Blair jokingly cautioned against over-praising Stevenson. "I think we shouldn't get carried away. He was not perfect," he said.
The panel discussion, held in Dodds Auditorium in Robertson Hall, was followed Saturday afternoon by a lecture from Wirtz entitled "The Politics of Integrity and Conscience."
Curator Susan Illis organized the exhibit.