Answer: Adlai Stevenson
On Easter Sunday, during a Meet the Press interview with Former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, Time-Life reporter John Steele said he had to turn to a “rather dark and ominous” subject: the issue of religion in the 1960 Presidential election. The interview with Stevenson, who had been the Democratic nominee in the previous two elections, took place in the middle of his party’s primary race between Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy. The campaign had recently taken a personal turn, focusing on Kennedy’s Catholic faith. Though Kennedy had repeatedly claimed that his religion would not be an issue in the election, it became one of the main focuses in the primaries leading up to that Meet the Press program. During the Wisconsin primary at the beginning of that April, Kennedy had fielded questions from reporters about whether he would take direction from Catholic leaders as president – you can read an account of one such exchange from a 1960 Sarasota Journal article here, when Kennedy “bristled” in response to the question from a reporter, and had to insist, “I will not take dictation from any source.” The issue would stay in the race past the Democratic Convention, culminating in Kennedy’s famous September 12 speech about his faith to Protestant ministers in Houston (you can watch the video of that speech through the JFK Library here).
MTP panelist Steele said that religion “seems to hang over the whole business of selecting a President this year” and asked Democratic Party statesman Adlai Stevenson, “Has this really got any place in the business of politics?” Stevenson immediately replied that he was personally deeply distressed by the discussion on Kennedy’s faith, and urged both the media and other politicians to abandon it for the rest of the primary process. Though Stevenson – who denied he was running for the Presidency– would later face off against Kennedy for the nomination, he made a point on Meet the Press to try to unite his party against personal attacks on the candidates. Stevenson’s message to the Meet the Press audience was a point he said was overlooked in that election: That religion “isn’t relevant, it isn’t even relevant to any of the great issues of our time.” He said the Democratic candidates knew what the greatest issue was: the search for peace and that Catholics and Protestants were united on seeking greatness and security for the United States. Stevenson ended by quoting Psalm 19:14: “Instead of talking about religion in this campaign, it would be a might good thing if candidates and people alike were to recall a prayer, which is common to both Catholics and Protestants, so far as I know. You know the one I mean, ‘May the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord.’ I hope we don’t have to discuss that any more here today.”
You can watch more of Adlai Stevenson’s discussion of religion in 1960 presidential politics in the clip below.
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