The Wit and Wisdom of Adlai Stevenson

The wit and wisdom of Adlai Stevenson

Few people came to political life with a quicker wit than Adlai Stevenson II (1900-1965). He made his mark in politics as governor of Illinois from 1949 to 1953 and received the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1952 and 1956. After failing to get the nomination again in 1960, he received a consolation prize when John F. Kennedy appointed him as ambassador to the United Nations.

His many years in public life gave him ample opportunity to let his wit and wisdom shine:

  • “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.”
  • “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.”
  • “I offer my opponents a bargain: if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them”
  • “You can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad.”
  • “Someone asked me…how it felt and I was reminded of a story that a fellow-townsman of ours used to tell — Abraham Lincoln. They asked him how he felt once after an unsuccessful election. He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”
  • “In America, anybody can be president. That’s one of the risks you take.”
  • “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
  • “If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is not a barking dog, to be tethered on a ten-foot chain.”
  • “Newspaper editors are men who separate the wheat from the chaff, and then print the chaff.”
  • “In quiet places, reason abounds.”
  • “Man is a strange animal, he doesn’t like to read the handwriting on the wall until his back is up against it.”
  • “The first principle of a free society is an untrammeled flow of words in an open forum.”
  • “We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present.”
  • “There was a time when a fool and his money were soon parted, but now it happens to everybody.”
  • “On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died.”
  • “Some people approach every problem with an open mouth.”
  • “A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.”
  • “I’m not an old, experienced hand at politics. But I am now seasoned enough to have learned that the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.”
  • “Flattery is all right, so long as you don’t inhale.”
  • Law is not a profession at all, but rather a business service station and repair shop.
  • “We must recover the element of quality in our traditional pursuit of equality. We must not, in opening our schools to everyone, confuse the idea that all should have equal chance with the notion that all have equal endowments.”
  • “I have tried to talk about the issues in this campaign… and this has sometimes been a lonely road because I never meet anybody coming the other way.”
  • “Those who corrupt the public mind are just as evil as those who steal from the public purse.”
  • “We mean by ‘politics‘ the people’s business — the most important business there is.”
  • “An Independent is a person who wants to take the politics out of politics.”
  • “The best reason I can think of for not running for President of the United States is that you have to shave twice a day.”
  • “Freedom rings where opinions clash.”
  • “Every age needs men who will redeem the time by living with a vision of the things that are to be.”
  • Communism is the corruption of a dream of justice.”
  • “Communism is the death of the soul. It is the organization of total conformity — in short, of tyranny — and it is committed to making tyranny universal.”
  • “Laws are never as effective as habits.”
  • During the 1956 Presidential campaign, Normal Vincent Peale made headlines for condemning Stevenson as being unfit for the presidency. Stevenson remarked, “Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling.”

Read more great quotations.
Read more fun facts about politics.

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