Adlai Ewing Stevenson, the grandson of the former vice president, Adlai E. Stevenson (1893-97), was born in Los Angeles on 5th February, 1900. After studying at Princeton University, Stevenson worked as a journalist and as a lawyer in Chicago.
In July 1941 William Knox persuaded Stevenson to join the Navy Department. During the Second World War Stevenson took part in several European missions for the State Department and from 1945 served on the American delegations to the foundation conferences of the United Nations Organization.
In 1948 Stevenson was elected governor of Illinois, where he developed a reputation for honesty and efficiency. He introduced a series of reforms including a merit system for the state police, improvements in state mental hospitals and greater state aid for schools.
While governor of Illinois Stevenson became a target for Joe McCarthy. Stevenson was attacked for appearing as a character witness for Alger Hiss, the alleged communist spy, in his perjury trial. Stevenson also upset a group of Conservative senators, including Pat McCarran, John Wood, Karl Mundt and Richard Nixon, when they sponsored a measure to deal with members of the Communist Party. Stevenson argued that "The whole notion of loyalty inquisitions is a national characteristic of the police state, not of democracy. The history of Soviet Russia is a modern example of this ancient practice. I must, in good conscience, protest against any unnecessary suppression of our rights as free men. We must not burn down the house to kill the rats." Despite the opposition of liberals such as Stevenson and Harry S. Truman, the Internal Security Act became law in 1950.
Stevenson was chosen as the Democratic Party candidate for the 1952 presidential election. It was one of the dirtiest in history with Richard Nixon, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, leading the attack on Stevenson. Speaking in Indiana, Nixon described Stevenson as a man with a "PhD from Dean Acheson's cowardly college of Communist containment." In an attempt to link Stevenson with the Soviet spy ring he added: "Somebody had to testify for Alger Hiss, but you don't have to elect him President of the United States."
Joseph McCarthy also attacked Stevenson as being soft on communism and claimed that he would like to spend sometime with him so that "I might be able to make a good American out of him." Stevenson retaliated by pointing out the dangers of "phony patriots", "ill-informed censors" and "self-appointed thought police". At one meeting he told his audience: "Most of us favour free enterprise for business. Let us also favour free enterprise for the mind."
Stevenson also had the added problem of having criticised J. Edgar Hoover and the efficiency of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1949. Since that date Hoover had been collecting information on Stevenson and when he became the Democratic Party candidate in 1952, the FBI compiled a nineteen-page memorandum on material that could damage his campaign. The FBI agent, Donald Surine, passed this onto Joseph McCarthy. This included false information alleging Stevenson was a homosexual and a Marxist. Faced by this smear campaign and the popular wartime hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Stevenson lost by 33,936,252 votes to 27,314,922.
In early 1954 Stevenson began attacking Eisenhower for not condemning the activities of Joseph McCarthy. Although McCarthy had now started investigating army commanders, he was unwilling to directly attack the man who had helped him win victory in 1952. Instead he delegated the task to his vice president, Richard Nixon. On 4th March, 1954, Nixon made a speech where, although not mentioning McCarthy, made it clear who he was talking about: "Men who have in the past done effective work exposing Communists in this country have, by reckless talk and questionable methods, made themselves the issue rather than the cause they believe in so deeply."
With the worst aspects of McCarthyism now over, Stevenson was selected as the Democratic Party candidate in 1956. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a popular president and with the economy in good shape, Stevenson had little chance of defeating his Republican Party opponent and lost by 35,585,316 to 26,031,322.
Over the next few years Stevenson concentrated on writing books on politics. This included Call to Greatness (1954), What I Think (1956), Friends and Enemies (1958) and Looking Outward (1963).
When John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he appointed Stevenson as the U.S. representative to the United Nations. Adlai Ewing Stevenson served in this post until his death in London on 14th July, 1965.