Description

    Robert F. Kennedy's handwritten notes from his first presidential campaign in 1956

    [John F. Kennedy]. Robert F. Kennedy's Personal Notes from Adlai Stevenson's 1956 Presidential Campaign. Eighteen pages (ten sheets) of handwritten notes on 6" x 9" notepad paper, ca. September 1956, taken during the six weeks that Robert Kennedy worked on Adlai Stevenson's 1956 presidential campaign. In these notes, Kennedy records his observations of speeches, audience reactions, politicians met, and political conversations. After one conversation, he notes what was said regarding John Kennedy's bid for vice president at the 1956 Democratic National Convention. Robert Kennedy also records part of a speech he gave in Little Rock, Arkansas, in which he said, "we Kennedys have taken to singing Dixie before breakfast every morning."

    At the August 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the party's presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson surprised the party by announcing that he would let the convention's delegates choose his running mate. Only one day was allowed for the vice presidential candidates to win the nomination. After the hectic scramble, Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy, a virtual unknown to the national party, placed a surprising second. While Tennessee Estes Kefauver won the nomination, the defeat propelled Senator Kennedy into the national spotlight. Kennedy's defeat turned out to be a blessing by allowing him to avoid being on Stevenson's losing ticket.

    As the nation learned about John Kennedy in the fall of 1956, his younger brother Robert was learning how to manage a presidential campaign. Earlier in 1952, he had managed his sibling's successful senate campaign. Then in September 1956, candidate Stevenson asked Robert to help with his campaign. Stevenson, hoping the young Kennedy's involvement would be a positive signal to fringe Democrats, was in the unenviable position of being a Democrat running against the popular Republican incumbent Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy saw this as an opportunity to educate himself on national politics, particularly how to run a presidential campaign.

    To that end, Kennedy took copious notes while on Stevenson's campaign trail. According to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., "One's memory was of Bobby making notes, always making notes, whether huddled by the window in the rear of the bus or plane or even sitting on a railroad track while the candidate spoke from the rear of the train." (Schlesinger also served on Stevenson's doomed campaign. In 2002, he published Robert Kennedy and His Times.) Eighteen pages of Robert Kennedy's handwritten notes are included here. The pages are unnumbered and contain little punctuation. Following are some examples of Kennedy's observations recorded in his notes; all are reproduced as written:

    "I have been travelling now with Gov. Stevenson for only a few days. I have been amazed however with the enthusiastic response with which he has been received. In June where Eisenhower & Stevenson s paths crossed the reporters who covered both affairs have told me that the Stevenson reception was far more[?] enthusiastic. In Colorado where the chance of carrying the State are admittedly not great the people report a big change over 1952. In Oklahoma everyone seems completely confident.

    Monday Morning Up at 6:30 A.M. --8:00 Depart for Oklahoma. Organization that is needed to get things going is terrible. Timetable made for every minute of day. Timetable in Oklahoma bad - Group in Tulsa fairly good. More & more of opinion that Stevenson should give speech off cuff. Speeches well enough delivered by little enthusiasm engendered. People don't seem enthusiastic after speech. No discussion. Made two stops on way to Oklahoma. Schedule to[o] fast. We were supposed to average over 70 mph. Loud speaker at first place did not even work. Second meeting good but delay meant 1 hr late reaching fair at Oklahoma City. Result was many people ready to go home for dinner & after Adlai introduced 2 or 3 thousand people out of a crowd of approx 18,000 left. In addit[ion] Stevenson had to speak across 100 ft of empty track to talk to them. Spoke for 25 minutes & people leaving all time. Adlai I don't feel he engenders enthusiasm. Met editors of small dailies in Ok. Good guys. . . . Stevenson made a good speech off the cuff.

    Arrived from Boston in Denver 11:15 Sat night. The stewardess said 'Well here we are' & I wondered -- Met at plane & taken to Cosmopolitan hotel. Sunday morning after 8:15 mass went by to see Bill Blair. Asked me for breakfast and as I was hungry ate the Governor's. Upon finishing the . . . [illegible] he came in & asked for his. I told him Bill Blair had eaten it & skurried off. Stevenson talked mostly about the shoe pins & the cos[?] that were trying to muscel in on the business. He has a tremedous stomach & conversation was certainly not impressive. Bill very friendly however. . . .

    Ruskin suggested arranging for Stevenson to meet the Archbishop which after some fumbling around I did for 8:00 Sunday night. Before that we had a reception at Woolhunt Club & then Bill Blair Daly & myself drove back into town. Conversation very light. Stevenson in answer to a question said he was tired but even if he wasn't he would have to answer that way to keep up appearances. He was aghast at possibility of leaving Milwaukee at 10:00 at night en route to Washington & said he could miss church on grounds that something secret & special to do which made it necessary to leave early. . . . Talk with Arch bishop also about school problems & no [number] of Catholics in Colorado -- 20 to 25%. . . . Conversation with Archbishop about Suez ques[tion]. Adlai said he thot it most serious & deplored the Admin[istration's] efforts to assure U.S public everything going well throughout the world while we had this gt difficulty. He pointed out Russians able to do overnight what they had been trying to do for many years ie obtain a major role in running of Canal. Adlai said he thot the taking issue to UN would mean it would gradually peter out unless one side or the other committed provocative act. Time for action by French. . . . Stevenson said he could see no solution to Refugee problem. The Archbishop indicated that the handling of this prob might lead to a certain amount of Ante Semitis in country.

    Back at hotel three efforts of the Detective & Chief of Police got bottle of bourbon. . . . Crowd at K.C. more enthusiastic before Stevensons speech than afterwards. Good crowd at the auditorium not filled. Band & students made a difference in enthusiasm. S attacked big bus & McCarthy.

    Received a request to get off plane & speak in Little Roc[k] to money raising affair. McClellan said good idea if I did so. Jack - in charge. I spoke of Dems prospects & need for money to counties in Ark and some of their quotas 4 or 500 dollars. Hope to raise $65,000. Motorcade to McArthur park. No people on way. 5 or 600 at Park. Stevenson spoke on segregation & well received by all. Attacks big bus corporats & money.

    It is a gt pleasure & honor to be here with you today. As a matter of fact Since the convention in Chicago we in Massachusetts look upon the States of the South as our second hand. As a matter of fact we Kennedys have taken to singing Dixie before breakfast every morning. We are particularly grateful to Arkansas & to Governor Faubus, Sen Fulbright & to my employer & good friend Sen McClellan. . . . My speech in Little Roc & story about singing Dixie on front pg of Denver Post under title 'They might take it but what do the neighbors say.' Stevenson[?] kept introducing me as Sen Kennedys bro. & when I raised a quest about it asked me if there was something wrong. He told me McCarthy had asked him over for dinner but [?] wife felt Joe had hurt him so wouldn't let him go.

    Indianapolis - Speech before 18,000 people in Mem. Sq. Part on high cost of living got big response, but rest of speech against gov. etc too long; wordy & again the speech was an attempt to make too many points.

    Much enthusiasm for Jack.

    Meeting in Kansas City good - attacked McCarthy Students added a lot to enthusiasm but again after it is all over people seem blah Trumans introduction extremely short & felt by most people to be cold. Bill Blair told me how he went to Trumans suite after convention & he put head in hands & said Why did I do it - Why did I do it. - almost crying.

    Talking to Arthur Hadley yesterday at convention he said he was on phone & they were trying to get thru to Puerto Rico after 2nd ballot to get them to shift all they could get however was Wagner who kept saying Why did you do it so soon - evidentally mad as hell. He wanted to hold out as he felt he still had a chance. [Senator Stuart] Symington again spoke to me re Convention & that although his first choice was [Senator Hubert] Humphrey he was for Jack second over [Senator Estes] Kefauver. He said H[?] led fight against Jack first on the farm bill & then on his vote on Dixon Yates [an energy contract] & then Taft Hartley [a federal law]."

    Ultimately, Robert Kennedy considered Stevenson's campaign a disorganized disaster and the candidate, whose speeches were too long and embellished, a disappointment. On election day, Robert Kennedy voted for Dwight Eisenhower. The campaign, though, was important for Kennedy because it taught him much of what worked and what didn't work in national politics. Lessons certainly used four years later.


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    October, 2010
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