• U.S.

National Affairs: The Speech

5 minute read
TIME

Harry Truman had just finished speaking when Adlai Stevenson walked down the steps on to the rostrum. Truman led him forward. It was the first glimpse most of the delegates—and most of the U.S.—had of the man who, Democratic orators told them fervently, would be the next President of the United States. While Truman introduced him, Stevenson stood ramrod stiff behind the President, occasionally rising on tiptoe. Then he began reading his speech. After a week of turgid oratory, Truman’s included, Stevenson’s words struck an entirely new, deeply appealing note. Most delegates had never heard anything like it.

Excerpts:

“None of you . . . can wholly appreciate what is in my heart. I can only hope that you may understand my words . . .

“I would not seek your nomination for the presidency because the burdens of that office stagger the imagination. Its potential for good or evil now, and in the years of our lives, smothers exultation and converts vanity to prayer.

“I have asked the merciful Father of us all to let this cup pass from me. But from such dread responsibility one does not shrink in fear, in self-interest, or in false humility.

“So, ‘If this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, Thy will be done . . .

“And now that you have made your decision, I will fight to win that office with all my heart and soul. . .

“But I feel no exultation, no sense of triumph. Our troubles are all ahead of us. Some will call us appeasers; others will say that we are the war party. Some will say we are reactionary; others will say that we stand for socialism . . .

“But we will hear nothing that we have not heard before. I am not too much concerned with partisan denunciation, with epithets and abuse . . . Nor am I afraid that the precious two-party system is in danger. Certainly the Republican Party looked brutally alive here a couple of weeks ago, and I mean both Republican parties! Nor am I afraid that the Democratic Party is old and fat and indolent. After 150 years it has been old for a long time, and it will never be indolent as long as it looks forward and not back . . .

“What does concern me, in common with thinking partisans of both parties, is not just winning this election, but how it is won … I hope and pray that we Democrats . . . can campaign not as a crusade to exterminate the opposing party, as our opponents seem to prefer, but as a great opportunity to educate and elevate a people whose destiny is leadership, not alone of a rich, prosperous, contented country as in the past, but of a world in ferment.

“And, my friends, more important than winning the election is governing the nation . . . When the tumult and the shouting die, when the bands are gone and the lights are dimmed, there is the stark reality of responsibility in an hour of history haunted with those gaunt, grim specters of strife, dissension and materialism at home, and ruthless, inscrutable and hostile power abroad . . .

“Let’s face it. Let’s talk sense to the American people. Let’s tell them the truth, that there are no gains without pains, that we are now on the eve of great decisions, not easy decisions, like resistance when you’re attacked, but a long, patient, costly struggle which alone can assure triumph over the great enemies of men—war, poverty and tyranny—and the assaults upon human dignity which are the most grievous consequences of each.

“Let’s tell them that the victory to be won in the 20th century, this portal to the golden age, mocks the pretensions of individual acumen and ingenuity. For it is a citadel guarded by thick walls of ignorance and mistrust which will not fall before the trumpets’ blast or the politicians’ imprecations . . . [They] must be directly stormed by the hosts of courage, of morality and of vision, standing shoulder to shoulder, unafraid of ugly truth, contemptuous of lies, half truths, circuses and demagoguery.

“The people are wise—wiser than the Republicans think. And the Democratic Party is the people’s party, not the labor party, not the farmers’ party, not the employers’ party—it is the party of no one because it is the party of everyone.

“That, I think, is our ancient mission. Where we have deserted it, we have failed. With your help there will be no desertion now. Better we lose the election than mislead the people; better we lose than misgovern the people . . .

“I ask of you all you have. I will give to you all I have … in the staggering task that you have assigned me. I shall always try ‘to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God.’ “

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