The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

My Day

June 11, 1960

(Image of page 1 of this "My Day")
(Image of page 2 of this "My Day")

HYDE PARK. -- Because I decided on Thursday of this week to change my mind since I felt the world situation was so serious we needed to give the people of this country the opportunity to vote for the best possible man and the best possible ticket that the Democrats could put in the field, I came out for Stevenson and Kennedy, signed a petition addressed to the delegates of our Democratic National Convention, and made a statement1 explaining my action.

Ordinarily, I would think it did not make much difference what I did, but my political mail is of very great interest at the present time. The people seem to want a man of maturity with proved administrative ability and experience in dealing with the heads of government in all parts of the world, and this man is quite obviously Adlai E. Stevenson.

Two things made me feel that a simple citizen such as I am had an obligation to speak out. One was a statement on the part of Prof. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. of Harvard and Prof. Henry S. Commager and Joseph L. Rauh Jr.2 They said that as Stevenson was not a candidate they were coming out for Kennedy. At the same time Chairman Paul M. Butler told a California group for Stevenson that, since Stevenson was not a candidate, they were not entitled to any headquarters space in the area where other Democratic candidates would be accommodated during the Democratic National Convention.

This led me to decide that it would be wise to ask Mr. Stevenson to clarify his position on being a candidate, and I hope in my next column, or perhaps before that in a statement, to be able to give you his answer.

In the statement which I made, giving my reasons for my own personal decision to come out at this time, I explained that it was not a question of being against any one of the candidates in the field at the present time. But I had the feeling that as an individual and as a party we were obligated to offer the best we had, and I named the ticket I feel is the best and strongest.

That Adlai Stevenson is not a declared candidate on his own initiative seems to me quite natural, but he has never shirked public responsibility. I feel sure there is a growing ground swell among a great number of people in this country indicating trust and confidence in Mr. Stevenson in our present critical world situation.3 I think we should recognize this, for it will mean greater unity and strength for him as a President.

I have not mentioned the other Democratic candidates because it seems to me that Senator John Kennedy is the one who undoubtedly stands out as having the greatest chance for the nomination. I realize, of course, that Senator Lyndon Johnson has a number of votes he can control and that in the convention there can always be maneuvering if there is not a quick decision. But the likelihood of a quick decision and the fact that Senator Johnson is so much needed as the leader of the Senate and that Senator Stuart Symington is, on the whole, looked upon as a very useful and strong Senator but has not developed great national strength have given me the feeling that our strongest ticket would be Stevenson and Kennedy.

I realize that I am being presumptuous in expressing my opinion when there are so many people with greater political knowledge and experience than I can possibly hope to attain, but sometimes the voice of the average person needs to be heard. And this is a time when I think it is well for the average person who has strong feelings to speak out.


     1. ER campaigned for Adlai Stevenson at the 1960 Democratic National Convention and felt that the best possible ticket, the one most likely to beat Richard Nixon, was a Stevenson-Kennedy ticket. As she told readers of "My Day," not only would this be the strongest ticket but that it "would give confidence to the world in a way that no other ticket I can think of would do." [See "My Day" July 12, 1960, in Allida Black, Courage in a Dangerous World: The Political Writings of Eleanor Roosevelt (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), pp. 295-96.]
     2. In an open letter addressed to "Fellow Liberals" and published in the June 8, 1960, The New York Times, Amherst historian Henry Steele Commager, Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Americans for Democratic Action founder Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. – all of whom were members of what the Times labeled "a group of so-called eggheads closely associated with Adlai Stevenson in previous campaigns" – appealed to Stevenson supporters to endorse JFK. Their letter reads:
Until recently liberals have divided their support for the Presidency among Hubert Humphrey, John Kennedy, and Adlai Stevenson. All three men have demonstrated the kind of effective leadership which would make them great Presidents. The purpose of this letter is to urge, now that Senator Humphrey has withdrawn from the race and Mr. Stevenson continues to stand aside, that liberals of America turn to Senator Kennedy for President.
We are impressed by the fact that Senator Kennedy has won the primaries, but even more by the way he has campaigned in winning them. Day after day he has expounded with great force and clarity the great issues of the Nineteen Sixties and has given overwhelming evidence of his deep commitment to liberalism on the widest possible range of issues. We are now convinced that Senator Kennedy's adherence to progressive principles which we hold is strong and irrevocable. He has demonstrated the kind of purpose and toughness of mind that will make him a great world leader. . . .
All of us supported Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 and hope that he will be a leading foreign affairs figure in any new Democratic Administration. But he insists that he is not a candidate in 1960, and Senator Kennedy, a man of whom liberals can be proud, is an active candidate who has proved his appeal to men and women of all ranks and creeds. The time has come, we suggest, to unite behind John Kennedy as the candidate of the American liberal movement and to work with him to defeat Nixon in November.

["Text of Letter of Liberals on Kennedy," The New York Times, June 8, 1960, p. 1.]

     3. On May 1, 1960, just before both the West Virginia primary and the scheduled Soviet-American summit in Paris, the Russians shot down an American high-altitude reconnaissance U-2 aircraft flying over the Soviet Union. Although the Eisenhower administration claimed that the U-2 was merely a weather plane that had strayed from its charted course, Khrushchev produced photos of both the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, the aircraft, and the reconnaissance tools contained within the aircraft. The triumphant Soviets refused to attend the Paris summit and a chagrined Eisenhower administration promised the Soviets it would no longer fly over Soviet airspace. The Soviets released pilot Powers in 1962 when the Kennedy administration agreed to release convicted Soviet spy Rudolph Abel. [Paul S., et al., eds., The Oxford Companion to United States History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 791.]

Index to this Document: Americans for Democratic Action (ADA): Hubert H. Humphrey and; Butler, Paul: DNC 1960 petition from ER; Draft Stevenson forces blocked by; Commager, Henry Steele: JFK endorsed by; ER's criticism of; Draft Stevenson movement: forces blocked by Paul Butler; Eisenhower, Dwight D.; Galbraith, John Kenneth: JFK, endorsement of; Humphrey, Hubert H.: ADA and; Johnson, Lyndon Baines: ER on; Kennedy, John F.: Henry Steele Commager's endorsement of; John Kenneth Galbraith on; liberal support for; Joe Rauh on; ER's choice for vice president, 1960; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. on; Khrushchev, Nikita; Liberals: Commager, Galbraith, Rauh, Schlesinger letter to; My Day; Nixon, Richard; Powers, Francis Gary; Rauh, Joseph L.: ER's criticism of; JFK, endorsement of; Roosevelt, Eleanor: Henry Commager criticized by; DNC 1960, petition to Paul Butler; on LBJ; Joe Rauh criticized by; on Republican Party; on Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; Stevenson, ER's endorsement of; on Stuart Symington; on U-2 incident; Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr.: JFK, endorsement of; ER's criticism of; Stevenson, Adlai E.: popular support for; ER's approval to; ER's endorsement of; ER's opinion of; Symington, Stuart: ER on; U-2 incident: defined; Vice presidential contest, 1960: JFK, ER, and; von Abele, Rudolph

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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