The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Eleanor Roosevelt to Mary Lasker

August 15, 1960

Dear Mary:

I had a talk with Senator Kennedy yesterday - an hour alone during lunch, and at the very end he called in Mr. Walton for a few minutes before going over to address the Golden Ring Clubs.1

I want to report that at the airport he was met by a very large group and the enthusiasm was great. I did not go myself to meet him but sent Edna and David. Edna circulated among the people and asked them if they were Democrats or just curiosity seekers. Almost invariably they answered that they were Democrats. The enthusiasm at the big house was tremendous, and I think he made a very good speech on the expansion of Social Security.

I did not ask the Senator for any definite promise as I felt that this would be almost impossible. But I told him that he needed the Stevenson votes in New York and California and that he had to carry these two states or he would be in trouble because he probably could not hold the solid South.2 This was brought about by his telling me that he had not realized before the fragmentation of the Democratic party and the fact that the majority in Congress did not give the leadership that holds the party together, and that since my husband's time there was no unity. The newly elected governor of Florida3 came in to see him and said: "I want you to know that I am a conservative, I am against integration, and I am for the Right-to-Work Law".4 Whereupon Sen. Kennedy said: "Why don't you join the Republicans?"!

I gather that his understanding of the difficulties of the campaign that face him have matured him in a short time. He told me that he had phoned Adlai this past week and asked him to set up a small group to do research in the area of foreign policy. I told him that this was not enough, that he would have to give the people who were for Adlai the assurance that they were working together. All of us know that unless Adlai felt their philosophies were similar he would not accept the Secretary of State post. Therefore, I felt that he had to prove by working in the campaign and appearing on the same platforms, and perhaps by references and quotation, that there was close cooperation. Bringing both Chester Bowles and Adlai in whenever he could would mean that these were the men he was counting on for advice. He agreed and said he would try to do this.5

We then spoke about Chester Bowles and he said he had asked Chester not to resign. I had had a letter Saturday from Chester in which he gave me his reasons for resigning. He said he thought Adlai was the best man for the Secretary of State post, that he (Chet) would rather be in the executive than in the legislative branch, so he would rather work for Kennedy than be a candidate for Congress.

Kennedy likes Chester Bowles and finds him easy to work with. He also seems to realize that his own mind is so quick he may perhaps be hasty in making decisions and he needs Adlai there.

Now, I have no promises from him, but I have the distinct feeling that he is planning to work closely with Adlai. I also had the feeling that here was a man who could learn. I liked him better than I ever had before because he seemed so little cock-sure, and I think he has a mind that is open to new ideas.

I agreed that I would go on the citizens committee here as honorary chairman,6 and that I would do what I could here. Whether I would take any trips or become more involved will depend on whether or not I am happy with the way he progresses as a person in the campaign.

My final judgement is that here is a man who wants to leave a record (perhaps for ambitious personal reasons, as people say) but I rather think because he really is interested in helping the people of his own country and mankind in general. I will be surer of this as time goes on, but I think I am not mistaken in feeling that he would make a good President if elected.

Much love, and I hope this report will help you make up your mind.


Eleanor Roosevelt

(Mrs. F. D. Roosevelt)

Mrs. Albert D. Lasker
Villa Fiorentina et Jean
Cap Ferrat, France


     1. The Golden Ring Club was an organization for senior citizens in Hyde Park whom ER had invited to lay a wreath at FDR's grave during the ceremony commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the passage of the Social Security Act
     2. ER warned JFK that because of anti-Catholic bias he could probably not be assured of the solid support of southern Democrats. To beat Nixon in a closely contested race, she thought he must revive the Democratic coalition, especially African Americans and labor. ER urged him to assure black Americans of his commitment to civil rights and, therefore, advance his civil rights policy as strongly as he could. She thought this would help carry New York, Illinois, and California, states where Adlai Stevenson had a strong influence and which would hold the key to victory in 1960. [Allida Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), pp. 188-191; Herbert S. Parmet, The Democrats: The Years After FDR (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp. 162-165, 187; Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960 (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1988), p. 48.]
     3. Cecil Farris Bryant succeeded LeRoy Collins (known as "Liberal LeRoy" for his strong support of civil rights legislation) as governor of Florida in January 1961.
     4. The right-to-work law was one of the most controversial aspects of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. The act, while affirming the principles of the Wagner Act and expanding the membership of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), regulated what employers deemed unfair labor practices, outlawed the closed shop (a workplace where employers could hire only members of a union or require employees to join a union), and permitted states to enact right-to-work laws that allowed companies to hire non-union employees and to campaign against unions prior to the NLRB providing they made "no threats or promises." [George T. Kurian ed., A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 415.]
     5. When Adlai Stevenson withdrew his last-minute convention challenge to Kennedy, many prominent Democrats (among them George Ball, Agnes Meyer, and Eleanor Roosevelt) hoped that Kennedy, if elected, would appoint Stevenson secretary of state. Some argued that an early statement to this effect would strengthen the Democratic ticket because of Stevenson's foreign policy expertise. ER disagreed, arguing that what was important was both a solid working relationship between the two and the public appearance of close cooperation between Kennedy, Stevenson, and Chester Bowles. Kennedy then established a foreign affairs advisory committee consisting of Stevenson, Bowles, Ball, and Harlan Cleveland. (Mary Lasker hosted its major meeting.) Stevenson, who very much wanted to be secretary of state and who despised Nixon, campaigned diligently for JFK, delivering almost 100 speeches between the convention and the election. However, the stark differences in their approaches (Stevenson preferred more negotiation rather than military and economic confrontation and urged more attention to the crises confronting the Third World); Stevenson's fame, independent thinking, and indecisiveness; and Kennedy's desire to act as his own secretary of state, precluded Stevenson's appointment. Although very disappointed that Kennedy offered him the ambassadorship to the United Nations instead of secretary of state, he accepted the position and played a key role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis. [John Barlow Martin, Adlai Stevenson and the World: The Life of Adlai Stevenson (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1977), pp. 533-565 passim; Porter McKeever, Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy (New York: William Morrow, 1988), pp. 311-390.]
     6. New York Citizens Committee, see ER to JFK, 8/16/60, n2.

Index to this Document: Bowles, Chester: JFK's relationship with; Mary Lasker and; ER's support for; Bryant, Cecil Ferris: JFK on; California: supporters for Stevenson; Democratic Party: lack of leadership within; ER on; Eisenhower, Dwight D.: New York State support of; Golden Rings Club: JFK's address to; Gurewitsch, David and Edna: on JFK; Kennedy, John F.: address before Golden Rings Club; Chester Bowles and; on Cecil Ferris Bryant; David and Edna Gurewitsch on; Mary Lasker and; on party leadership; popular support for; on right to work laws; ER Val-Kill meeting and, 1960; ER's advice to; ER's assessment of; on Social Security; Southern opposition to; William Walton, accompanies to Val-Kill, 1960; Lasker, Mary: Chester Bowles and; lobbied by ER for JFK; Stevenson and; New York Citizens Committee for Kennedy; New York: support for Eisenhower; supporters for Stevenson; Right to work laws: defined; JFK's opposition to; Roosevelt, Eleanor: on Chester Bowles; JFK, appraisal of; JFK, political advice to; JFK, Val-Kill meeting with, 1960; Mary Lasker and Stevenson; political advice of; Stevenson, ER on JFK's need for; Roosevelt, Franklin D.; South (U.S.): opposition to JFK within; ER's political advice on; Stevenson, Adlai E.: as possible Secretary of State; California supporters and; Mary Lasker's support for; New York supporters; popular support for; ER on JFK and; U.S. Government: Secretary of State, Stevenson as possible; U.S. Congress; Walton, William: accompanies JFK to Val-Kill, 1960

Published by the Model Editions Partnership

Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .

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