1956 Eisenhower VS. Stevenson

"Peace Is Non-Partisan"


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Peace is Non-Partisan," Stevenson, 1956

MALE NARRATOR: A Stevenson-Kefauver Campaign Committee presentation: Peace is non-partisan. Adlai E. Stevenson and Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts discuss our most vital problem.

STEVENSON: I think that's right, I think obviously that the major issue in this campaign and the major concern of the whole world is the subject of war and peace. And clearly everyone, whatever his politics, agrees that peace is, must be the goal of America and of our generation. So the point, Jack, is not ends - we're all in favor of the same ends, which are peace. The real point is the means of getting there.

KENNEDY: Yes, Governor, I think that obviously with the development of atomic and hydrogen weapons that war as a successful means of prosecuting policy has been eliminated. So that therefore, the central problem of all of us is to develop policies which will protect the security of the country without war, and which will check the advance of the Communists.

STEVENSON: There are two great factors at work at the same time. One of them of course is Communism as you have indicated — the growth, the spread of Communism all over the face of the earth. And the other is the revolution of the newly independent people. Many people forget, I'm afraid, that in a matter of a few years more than half the human race has attained political independence for the first time in hundreds of years. And this would go on whether there was any Communist problem at all.

KENNEDY: I think, Governor, that's demonstrated by the three severe crises, which the United States was involved in: Cypress, Suez, and North Africa do not directly involve Communism but involve the desire of these people to be independent. And unfortunately they regard the United States as the enemy of that effort and not its friend.

STEVENSON: Yes, and of course Communism always exploits these discontents and makes the most of it and turns them against us. What emerges in my mind perhaps more significantly than anything else is that these underdeveloped countries are going to develop. They're going to industrialize, they're going to have more of the good things in life, they're going to improve their standard of living one way or another. They're either going to do it our way, the free way, by consent of their people, or they're going to do it the Soviet way, the Communist way, by involuntary methods, by forced labor, forced savings, and so on. The important thing, it seems to me, Jack, is to persuade these people that they may preserve their independence, that they can keep free too, the way we have been. But to do that we're going to have to help them.

KENNEDY: And I think that there would be nothing more important than you could do as President is to show that the United States speaks with its traditional voice and puts out its hand of friendship to all these people.

STEVENSON: And after all, you don't stop ideas at boundaries, and you don't stop them with bullets, and basically this is a competition for people's allegiance because at heart we have all the advantage. Because we are on the side of freedom and individual liberty. We must exploit this advantage. We must make people, persuade them that we have their welfare, their improvement at heart too.

KENNEDY: This basic problem of maintaining the peace and holding our security seems to me has three elements — first, to maintain our traditional allies, the friendship of our traditional allies in Western Europe; secondly, to weaken the hold that the Soviet Union has on its satellite countries; and thirdly, to win as we've already discussed the friendship of these people now emerging.

STEVENSON: And that is the basic issue - the reassertion of American leadership. The annunciation of the pursuit of a coherent policy which commands the confidence of all of our friends in the world, and there are many. I think that is the first concern of any President of the United States, that it must be. If eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, it is also the price of peace, until that happy day that we can all look forward and pray for, when we can live in peace and security, when our sons will not have to fight again to preserve the independence of the United States.

MALE NARRATOR: We need a new leadership for a new America. Vote for Adlai E. Stevenson and Estes Kefauver.


"Peace Is Non-Partisan," Stevenson-Kefauver Campaign Committee, 1956

Video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1956/peace-is-non-partisan (accessed July 24, 2024).


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1956 Eisenhower Stevenson Results

For President Eisenhower, the only true emergency of his first term was the heart attack he suffered in September 1955. After his doctor pronounced him fully recovered in February 1956, Eisenhower announced his decision to run for re-election. The Democrats set up a replay of the 1952 contest by nominating Adlai Stevenson. The result was an even greater Republican landslide. Eisenhower was a popular incumbent president who had ended the Korean War. Two world crises helped cement his lead in the final days of the campaign: the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, and Britain, France, and Israel attacked Egypt in an effort to take over the Suez Canal. Eisenhower kept the United States out of both conflicts. As is traditional during a military crisis, American voters rallied behind their president. The events also undermined two of Stevenson’s key positions: the suspension of hydrogen-bomb testing and the elimination of the military draft.

Dwight D. Eisenhower for president
Richard Nixon for vice president

"Peace, Prosperity, and Progress"

Although Eisenhower was the incumbent president, his 1956 ads continued to portray him as an ordinary American. Capitalizing on his enormous popularity, they emphasized Ike’s personality even more than his accomplishments.

To counter Stevenson’s claim that the Democratic party was the party of the average American and the Republican "the party of the few," Eisenhower’s ads offered the testimony of ordinary citizens, whether in the dramatized ad "Taxi Driver and Dog" or the documentary-style "Women Voters." The latter ad was also an acknowledgment that women were crucial to Eisenhower’s 1952 landslide, supporting him by a greater margin than men.

The Eisenhower ads closed with an appeal to "all thinking voters" because a Republican victory was only possible with the support of Democrats and independents, who outnumbered Republicans in the general population. Conversely, Stevenson’s ads urged voters to uphold party loyalty, a common plea by Democratic candidates trailing in the polls.

Adlai Stevenson for president
Estes Kefauver for vice president

"Vote Democratic, the Party for You, and Not Just a Few"

In 1956, Adlai Stevenson was still publicly railing against the expanding role of television in politics. Yet Stevenson knew that he couldn’t compete without television, and the Democratic National Committee tried to hire one of the leading Madison Avenue agencies to handle the campaign. The account was turned down by all of the large firms, who feared offending their big-business Republican clients, and was finally accepted by Norman, Craig and Kummel, an agency with little political experience that ranked 25th in billings.

The main innovation in the commercials of the 1956 campaign was the five-minute spot. Stevenson appeared in a series of such spots, titled "The Man From Libertyville," which were filmed at his home in Libertyville, Illinois. The informal and folksy ads were designed to combat Stevenson’s image as an aloof "egghead." In an attempt to portray the divorced Stevenson as a family man, some of the ads featured his son and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, the Eisenhower campaign made frequent use of the president's Mamie and large extended family. Emanating from America’s heartland, Stevenson's Libertyville spots were designed to re-establish the Democratic party as the true voice of the American people.

The five-minute spot (actually four minutes and twenty seconds) resulted from cooperation between the networks and the candidates. Hoping to avoid the pre-emption of programs by half-hour speeches, the networks agreed to trim their shows to accommodate five-minute ads. To the candidates’ advantage, the spots were less expensive than half-hour broadcasts, and, as they could be sandwiched between popular programs, were likely to reach more viewers.

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