FLORIDA, 1956 : Many believe the first presidential televised debate was between Republican Vice President Richard Nixon, and Democratic Presidential nominee, Sen John F. Kennedy, broadcast from Chicago in 1960.
But four years before that race, in 1956 when President Eisenhower was running for re-election, former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, was again seeking the Democratic nomination. Stevenson was the Democratic candidate for President, when Eisenhower first ran for President in 1952.
But when Stevenson ran again in 1956, Tennessee Senator, Estes Kefauver, briefly challenged Stevenson for the Democratic nomination. And THAT, led to what was the first TELEVISED, debate between the presidential candidates, in May, 1956, as they campaigned in Florida.
The video, originally produced by ABC News on film, was recently digitized and posted by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This comes as former US Senator Adlai Stevenson III, will speak on his family’s political history at the Library on Thursday, June 16. Not only did Adlai III, serve as a US Senator, and earlier Illinois Treasurer, His father was twice the Democratic nominee for President, the governor of Illinois, and under President Kennedy, UN Ambassador. Beyond his and his father’s record, Adlai III’s great-grandfather was Vice President under Grover Cleveland.
After this debate, fmr Gov Stevenson again became the Democratic nominee for President. But to engender some excitement at the Democratic National Convention that summer, Stevenson didn’t pick a running mate. Instead, he opened up the selection of a Vice Presidential nominee to the convention, where the delegates would select Stevenson’s running mate.
At that convention, two names came to the fore: Sen Estes Kefauver , and Sen John F Kennedy of Massachusetts. For a while, it seemed that Sen Kennedy would be the VP nominee. Governor Stevenson’s son, Adlai III, ran up to Sen Kennedy’s suite, where the senator was then sitting in his hotel room in his boxer shorts, as his room was not air conditioned. Adlai III, who was later to represent Illinois in the US Senate, told Kennedy, “Jack, you’re about to be selected as the Vice Presidential candidate. Get your pants on!”
Kennedy quickly jumped into his trousers, and ran with Adlai Stevenson III down to the convention floor. But just as they arrived, they found the vote had swung away from Kennedy to Estes Kefauver.
Yet while Kennedy lost the nomination, the race for VP, raised Kennedy’s national name recognition. And four years later, in July 1960 at the Democratic National Convention, Kennedy became the Presidential nominee, and barely defeated Vice President Richard M Nixon in November, 1960 to become the nation’s 35th President of the United States.