Title Reviewed:
Adlai Stevenson of Illinois: The Life Of Adlai E. Stevenson

Author Reviewed:
John Bartlow Martin

Edward H. Ziegner


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 72, Issue 4, pp 380-381

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

Adlai Stevenson of Illinois: The Life Of Adlai E. Stevenson. By John Bartlow Martin. (Garden City, N.Y.: Double-day & Company, Inc., 1976. Pp. ix, 828. Notes, illustrations, appendixes, source notes, index. $15.00.)

Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson had a splendid idea for his 1952 campaign: appeal to the best in people. He told Archibald MacLeish, one of his speech writers: "I get so sick of the everlasting appeals to the cupidity and prejudice of every group which characterizes our political campaigns. There is something finer in people; they know that they owe something, too. I should like to try, at least, to appeal to their sense of obligation as well as their avarice" (p. 653). He did just that, at least in most of his speeches in his first campaign for the White House. That he did was due in large measure to the hard work and brilliance of a small group of speechwriters, one of whom was John Bartlow Martin.

Martin, who grew up in Indianapolis, went to DePauw University, and prior to World War II worked on the IndianapolisTimes, has written this exceptionally well done political biography. A gifted writer and reporter with an especially skillful eye for detail, he has drawn a candid, sometimes brutally honest portrait of a Democratic politician who stirred the American intellectual and academic community as no one had since Woodrow Wilson.

The first of two volumes, the book covers the period from Stevenson's birth in 1900 through the 1952 presidential campaign. Martin shows that Stevenson was a great man, although not wholly the man the public believed him to be. He was wealthy but parsimonious, haggling with a tenant over $12.50 in rent. Although he appeared reluctant to get into politics, that was a false picture. He wanted to get in for years before he did and constantly angled for political opportunities. He appeared indecisive, vacillating, even timid. But often he had made his mind up long before, merely playing the public role of indecision for effect.

His marriage broken and ending in divorce in 1949, his first year as governor of Illinois, he carried on simultaneous love affairs with Alicia Patterson and Dorothy Fosdick, the daughter of Harry Emerson Fosdick. Despite the admiration intellectuals lavished on him, he rarely read a book. He was a late bloomer, a man who matured slowly as he wandered away from the life of a LaSalle Street lawyer and suburban commuter in prewar Chicago to win a landslide victory as governor of Illinois in 1948 and the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956.

His speeches, letters, and public statements were often moving, graceful, and witty. They were not as spontaneous as it seemed. He worked like the very devil to get them just right. He never achieved the presidency; he might not have been a good one had he made it to the White House. But he elevated the quality of American politics.

Martin's first volume is superlative; it whets the appetite for the second.

Indianapolis News Edward H. Ziegner

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.