1956 Democratic National Convention

The 1956 Democratic National Convention nominated former Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois for President and Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee for Vice President. It was held in the International Amphitheatre on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois August 13–August 17, 1956. Unsuccessful candidates for the presidential nomination included Governor W. Averell Harriman of New York, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, and Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri.

1956 Democratic National Convention
1956 presidential election
Stevenson and Kefauver
Date(s)August 1317, 1956
CityChicago, Illinois
VenueInternational Amphitheatre
Keynote speakerGov. Frank G. Clement of Tennessee
Presidential nomineeAdlai Stevenson of Illinois
Vice Presidential nomineeEstes Kefauver of

As the unsuccessful 1952 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Stevenson had the highest stature of the active candidates and was easily renominated on the first ballot. Former President Harry S. Truman, whose support for Stevenson in '52 helped secure him the nomination, was opposed to his renomination in 1956, instead favoring Harriman. It did no good, as Truman was no longer a sitting President, and Stevenson was nominated on the first ballot.

After Stevenson decided not to reselect his 1952 running mate John Sparkman, the convention was marked by a "free vote" for the vice presidential nomination in which the winner, Kefauver, defeated Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The vice presidential nomination vote, which required three separate ballots, was (as of 2016) the last multi-balloted contest held at a quadrennial political convention of any major U.S. political party for the presidency or vice presidency.

The Democratic convention preceded the 1956 Republican convention in the Cow Palace, San Francisco, California. At the GOP gathering, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated for reelection.

The 1956 Democratic Platform

With regard to the growing Civil Rights Movement, the platform called for voting rights, equal employment opportunities, and the desegregation of public schools. Relative to the Republicans, the Democrats favored greater reliance on the United Nations, multilateral disarmament, more spending for programs relating to social welfare and agriculture, "a full and integrated program of development, protection, management and conservation of natural resources," and the use of peaceful atomic energy.

The presidential vote


The roll call, as reported in Richard C. Bain and Judith H. Parris, Convention Decisions and Voting Records, pp. 294–298:

Presidential Balloting, DNC 1956
Former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson905.5 (65.9%)
New York Governor W. Averell Harriman210 (15.31%)
Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas80 (5.83%)
Missouri Senator Stuart Symington45.5 (3.32%)
Kentucky Governor Happy Chandler36.5 (2.66%)
Georgia Congressman James C. Davis33 (2.41%)
Former Virginia Governor John S. Battle32.5 (2.37%)
South Carolina Governor George Bell Timmerman23.5 (1.71%)
Ohio Governor Frank J. Lausche5.5 (0.4%)

Vice-presidential nomination

The highlight of the 1956 Democratic Convention came when Stevenson, in an effort to create excitement for the ticket, made the surprise announcement that the convention's delegates would choose his running mate. This set off a desperate scramble among several candidates to win the nomination. A good deal of the excitement of the vice-presidential race came from the fact that the candidates had only one hectic day to campaign among the delegates before the voting began. The two leading contenders were Senator Kefauver, who retained the support of his primary delegates, and John F. Kennedy, who, as a first term Senator from Massachusetts, was relatively unknown at that point. Kennedy surprised the experts by surging into the lead on the second ballot; at one point he was only 15 votes shy of winning. However, a number of states then left their "favorite son" candidates and switched to Kefauver, giving him the victory. Kennedy then gave a gracious concession speech. The narrow defeat raised his profile and helped Kennedy's long-term presidential chances, yet by losing to Kefauver he avoided any blame for Stevenson's expected loss to Eisenhower in November. As of 2017, this was the last time any presidential or vice presidential nomination of either the Democratic or Republican parties, went past the first ballot.


The vote totals in the vice presidential balloting are recorded in the following table, which also comes from Bain & Parris.

Vice Presidential Balloting, DNC 1956
Contender: Ballot12 before shifts2 after shifts
Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver466.5551.5755.5
Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy294.5618589
Tennessee Senator Albert Gore, Sr.178110.513.5
New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr.162.59.56
Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey13474.52
North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges400.50
Pitt Tyson Maner of Alabama3300
Florida Governor LeRoy Collins2900
New Mexico Senator Clinton Anderson1600
Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement1400
California Attorney General Pat Brown100
Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson100
Missouri Senator Stuart Symington100

Election outcome

On November 6, Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver lost the election to President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon in a landslide.

See also

Preceded by
Chicago, Illinois
Democratic National Conventions Succeeded by
Los Angeles, California
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