Editorial: In Adlai E. Stevenson III, an example of integrity in government

Adlai Stevenson III followed a standard politicians should strive to meet, and voters should support

  • Adlai E. Stevenson III with his son Warwick at the Stevenson family home near Libertyville.

    Adlai E. Stevenson III with his son Warwick at the Stevenson family home near Libertyville. Daily Herald file photo / 2009

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted9/9/2021 1:00 AM

"An honorable man."

"Very kind and gracious."


"A true statesman and gentleman."

"Said and did what he thought was right."

"An unwavering voice for ethics in Springfield and Washington."

"The world is a better place because of men like him."

Tributes on Twitter and on Capitolfax.com after the death Monday of former U.S. Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson III at age 90 don't mention power and they don't mention money. He had both, along with intellect and an education that included a Harvard law degree, but he leveraged those assets in the pursuit of government service.

For all that he brought to the table as the heir to a political dynasty, Stevenson is remembered as an honest guy who acted nobly; as a 22-year politician whose life story includes no tinge of malfeasance or scandal or megalomania. He followed a standard all politicians should strive to meet, and all voters should strive to support.

Stevenson was born into the family business established by his great-grandfather, the first Adlai E. Stevenson, vice president under Grover Cleveland in the 1890s, and his father, Adlai E. Stevenson II, Illinois governor and twice the Democratic nominee for president who was known as "The Man from Libertyville" after building the Lake County estate where Adlai III spent time as a child, in what was then a heavily Republican area.

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The house, now owned by the Forest Preserve District of Lake County, is home to the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, a nonprofit established by Adlai Stevenson III. The family name (Adlai Stevenson IV is a business executive and former journalist) is on a high school in Lincolnshire, an elementary school in Elk Grove Village, an expressway in Chicago and a dorm at Northern Illinois University, to name a few.

Politics was a rough and tumble business in the heyday of Adlai III, making it no easier than today to keep to the high road. A former Marine who became a lawmaker and state treasurer in the 1960s, he built a reputation for independence from the boss politics of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. But Daley slated Stevenson as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in 1970 after Everett Dirksen died in office. Stevenson won and served four years as the Watergate scandal deepened, then won another six-year term by a landslide.

He eyed a presidential run, then ran for governor and lost to James R. Thompson by just 5,074 votes. A 1986 rematch derailed after two politically far-right candidates were voted onto the Democratic ticket and Stevenson withdrew to form a third party. He became an investment banker and expert on East Asia.

Stevenson leaves behind the legacy of the kind of leadership to which others can and should aspire. That he came from here should be, for Illinoisans, a source of pride.

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