The governor of Illinois is an uncommon man with the interests of the common man at heart.
When the politically unknown Adlai E. Stevenson was elected Governor of Illinois in 1948 by a record-breaking plurality of 572,000 votes, many local political observers contended that the magnitude of his victory should be attributed less to his own strength than to his opponent’s weakness. They may have been partly right. But today few persons would bet against Stevenson’s ability to repeat the accomplishment, regardless of who his rival might be.
A poll taken in Chicago several months ago by a professional agency at the behest of Republican ward leaders indicated that Stevenson would get 10 per cent of the votes cast by registered Republicans if he ran for reelection. That his stock as a Presidential candidate has been boosted by Truman’s withdrawal is small comfort to the Grand Old Party in Illinois and offers no cause for rejoicing to Republicans nationally. For here is one Democratic office-holder who seems almost immune to the ills that now rack his party at various levels throughout the country. This political amateur who looks and talks like a kindly professor of English has aroused amazement, apprehension, and grudging admiration among the professionals since he first stepped before a hostile legislature early in 1949.
Although his name meant nothing to most Illinois voters in 1948, Stevenson had had experience in important but unglamorous federal offices, and his ancestors had been prominent in politics, both state and national, for generations. His grandfather, for whom he was named, was Vice President during Grover Cleveland’s second term in the White House, and his father Lewis Stevenson, was Secretary of State of Illinois from 1914 to 1916. A great-grandfather on the maternal side, Jesse W. Fell, was a close associate of Abraham Lincoln.
Born fifty-two years ago in Los Angeles, where his father was then a newspaper executive, Stevenson was brought to Bloomington, Illinois, at the age of six. He grew up in that college and farm-market town of 40,000 inhabitants, where his mother’s family owned the Daily Pantagraph, still one of central Illinois’s leading newspapers. At Princeton he was managing editor of the campus newspaper and seemed to be headed for a career in journalism after his graduation in 1922. He worked for a short time in the editorial department of the Pantagraph, and then, yielding to his father’s wishes, entered Northwestern University’s law school. He got his degree in 1926 and began the practice of law in Chicago. While a young attorney, Stevenson met and married Ellen Borden, whose family owns the dairy products firm. Public life never appealed to Mrs. Stevenson, and the divorce she demanded soon after he became Governor is pr9bably his greatest political liability.
Stevenson entered government service in the early days of the New Deal, George N, Peek, an Illinoisan who had been associated with Stevenson’s father in pressing for better farm legislation, was appointed administrator of the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and he took the youthful lawyer to Washington as his special counsel in 1933. Stevenson had early become interested in international affairs, and gave up the presidency of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations to go with Peek. Back in Chicago in 1935, he was elected to that office for two more terms. After France fell in 1940, he became active on the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies and through promoting rallies for this group came into dose contact with the foreign staff of the Chicago Daily News and with its publisher, Colonel Frank Knox. As soon as Knox was named Secretary of the Navy, he pressed Stevenson to become his special assistant and personal counsel. Stevenson joined him late in 1941 and remained with the Secretary until his death in 1944. He served as special assistant to Secretaries of State Stettinius and Byrnes in 1945 and was a member of the United States delegation to the San Francisco Conference on International Organization. At the first U. N. General Assembly he was senior adviser to the United States delegation; he attended the General Assemblies of 1946 and 1947 in New York as a delegate.