Adlai Stevenson and the World

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

John Bartlow Martin, the author of this two-volume biography, is eminently qualified as an award-winning journalist, having written many articles on social and political issues since the decade of the 1940’s. He is qualified as a statesman, having served as presidential envoy twice and having been Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and most especially qualified as a close associate of Adlai Stevenson, having worked as his adviser and writer for many years, most notably from 1952 onward. Martin brings all of these faculties to bear and, with the help of voluminous written data gathered from personal records and many public papers, has produced a highly detailed, nearly day-by-day account of Adlai Stevenson’s hectic public and social life.

This second volume is divided into two phases of Stevenson’s public commitment, titled simply “The Nation” and “The World,” by which author Martin indicates that during the decade of the 1950’s, Stevenson’s major impact was in national politics, while after 1960, his achievements were in the field of international diplomacy. Hence, Adlai Stevenson and the World recounts the years of most prestige, most popularity, most challenge, and most fulfillment for this important American who became a world leader.

During the thirteen years covered in the second volume, Adlai Stevenson enjoyed ever-increasing world renown. He was always traveling, meeting with associates and friends, giving speeches—an informed, delightful, articulate, and inspiring spokesman for his political party and for his nation. His trips abroad were numerous, lengthy, and wide-ranging, during which he visited with most of the dignitaries on every continent. The quality and quantity of honorary degrees he began receiving became noteworthy. And yet, his career was paradoxical.

Despite having been twice defeated for the Presidency in 1952 and 1956, and not winning his party’s nomination as candidate in 1960, Stevenson seems never to have been regarded as a loser, but rather as a shining paragon of high-mindedness in public service, one of the most noble figures on the political scene, here and abroad, the like of whom, incidentally, we have not seen since. Reasons for this good opinion of him, according to biographer Martin’s suggestion, include the probable fact that Eisenhower’s popularity was unbeatable anyway and so to lose to him was no disgrace, and more specifically, the fact that Stevenson’s courage and determination were indomitable in the face of his upsets, becoming a sort of trademark of his, as he smilingly, gallantly, and eloquently continued the pursuit of important national and international goals.

Even though Stevenson was not in public office during 1952-1960, he affected public policy. Beginning shortly after the 1952 elections, in the spring of 1953, the political advisers of his first presidential campaign set about immediately after the defeat to remain in his service, and that of their party, by continuing to study major issues of the day and to draft position papers for Stevenson to present in speeches as the spokesman for the Democratic party, now that they were out of office and ex-President Truman had officially retired from active politics. These advisers included Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., George Ball, Averell Harriman, Chester Bowles, and Tom Finletter, among many other experts in several fields. They became known as the Finletter Group, met periodically for four years or more, and served their party and the nation well by researching and speaking out on important issues. Martin indicates that such assemblages of political adivsers as the Finletter Group, and other groups who continued during the entire eight years of the Eisenhower Administration, actually established critical attitudes in the nation and were responsible for many of the policies which later became enacted, especially under the following Democratic presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Therefore, as a figure about whom others gathered, Stevenson was both a catalyst and a prime mover himself, whose party leadership engendered many beneficial effects, even though he held no policymaking office in the federal government during these years.

A great part of Adlai Stevenson’s later life was taken up with campaigning, a facet of his endeavors which Martin knew intimately, and which is therefore reported here in the presidential election years of 1956, 1960, and to a lesser degree 1964, when one reads of the exhaustive travel and speechmaking schedule which national campaigning required. Stevenson not only accomplished these taxing assignments but seems to have thrived on that kind of public exposure, because even in off-year elections he was always ready to stump for the party candidates throughout the country; and he did so with verve, resilience, and, generally, widespread success. And yet, paradoxically again, although a fully committed national politician, his scope was never limited to this nation alone.

Frequent trips abroad to all parts of the world, coupled with a lifelong interest in world affairs, made Stevenson ever aware of international politics. It is the international scope of his endeavors which he seems always to have...

(The entire section is 2149 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 18)

Christian Century. XCIV, November 16, 1977, p. 1078.

New York Times Book Review. October 2, 1977, p. 1.

Newsweek. XC, October 24, 1977, p. 117.

Publisher’s Weekly. CCXII, July 25, 1977, p. 63.

Saturday Review. V, October 15, 1977, p. 34.

Wall Street Journal. CXC, October 26, 1977, p. 22.