‘Stewardship’ Is The Fundamental Theme Of Candidate’s Major Campaign Speeches (Vol. 18, Issue 2)
A collection of the major speeches by Adlai E. Stevenson from July through September has recently been published.* Included are a foreword by John Steinbeck and a short biography of the candidate. Steinbeck’s work, while interesting as a personal statement, offers us no new insight into these documents. The biography, which should be a .completely objective outline of the governor’s life, has been turned into a bold campaign pamphlet that hardly conforms to the honest ideals of the speeches themselves. It does become valuable, however, when quoting from two of Stevenson’s pre-campaign talks. One finds in them the same philosophy that is present in even the smallest of his recent political utterances. The consistency is amazing.
The appeal of these speeches lies not in the voice or personality of the speaker, but rather in the words themselves. For this reason they are perhaps even better to read than to hear. (To those who have been reading them in the papers, let me say that the large clear type of this book is vastly superior to eye-straining newsprint.) Those who would compare Stevenson’s speeches to those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, will find that while Roosevelt’s were good, they relied for their success upon the hypnotic effect of his voice, and that that voice was remembered long after the words themselves were forgotten. Not so with Stevenson. The result of a Stevenson address has not been frantic capping and wild cheering, but rather a call to calm thinking and contemplation.
While most of Stevenson’s basic ideas have already been dissected by the commentators, there remains one that underlies his entire philosophy and that appears in almost every speech. That is the two-fold idea of the inseparability of power and responsibility and of America’s summons to greatness. This idea is primarily a religious one and finds its basis in the Biblical verse, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. . .” This theory, as adapted by Protestant circles, is called the idea of Stewardship. We have our possessions as a loan from the Divine Power and we have been appointed stewards over them, charged with their wise use. Possessions then are not to be considered a matter of personal pride, for the more we have, the more is required from us. This theory, usually meant for individuals, has been transferred by Stevenson and applied now to America. America has been called to leadership by Destiny, and its power, rather than being a source of pride, is only a cause for humility. Responsibility is the inescapable partner of power; without it we may lead the world to destruction; with it we can bring mankind into the greatest age yet imagined. We must be willing to assume the burden of our greatness and thus to justify our exalted position in the world.
Stevenson has truly challenged America to think, to consider its place in the world. And win or lose, his words will have a profound effect on political philosophy for decades to come.
* Stevenson: Speeches, Random House, $1