The 1952 Democratic National Convention was held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois from July 21 to July 26, 1952, which was the same arena the Republicans had gathered in a few weeks earlier for their national convention. Four major candidates sought the nomination: U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, Governor Adlai E. Stevenson, II, of Illinois, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia and Averell Harriman of New York.
The Democrats favored a strong national defense, collective security against the Soviet Union, multilateral disarmament, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, equal employment opportunities for minorities and public assistance for the aged, children, blind, and the disabled, expansion of the school lunch program, and continued efforts to fight racial discrimination.
Governor Stevenson, who stated that he was not a presidential candidate, was asked to give the welcoming address to the delegates. He proceeded to give a witty and stirring address that led his supporters to begin a renewed round of efforts to nominate him despite his protests. After meeting with Jacob Arvey, the boss of the Illinois delegation, Stevenson finally agreed to enter his name as a candidate for the nomination. The party bosses from other large Northern and Midwestern states quickly joined in support. Kefauver led on the first ballot but had far fewer votes than necessary to win. Stevenson gradually gained strength until he was nominated on the third ballot. The convention then chose Senator John Sparkman of Alabama, a conservative and segregationist, as Stevenson's running mate. Stevenson then delivered an eloquent acceptance speech in which he famously pledged to "talk sense to the American people."
Kefauver had the most delegates after the first round, but then President Truman weighed into the battle in favor of Stevenson. He persuaded Harriman to drop out and endorse the Illinois governor, thereby pre-empting support for Kefauver and Russell, whom Truman opposed. The President believed that nominating a Southern candidate from a state where Jim Crow laws were in force would forfeit potential support for the Democratic party from African-American and Northern white voters.
Stevenson was nominated on the third ballot. It was the last nomination contest of either major U.S. political party to require more than one round of voting to nominate a presidential candidate to date.
The following table from Richard C. Bain and Judith H. Parris, Convention Decisions and Voting Records,
Among those considered for the VP spot by Stevenson included:
After the delegates nominated Stevenson, the convention then turned to selecting a vice-president. The main candidates for this position were Kefauver, Russell, Barkley, Senator John Sparkman, and Senator A. S. Mike Monroney. After narrowing it down to Senator Sparkman and Senator Monroney, President Truman and a small group of political insiders chose Sparkman, a conservative and segregationist from Alabama, for the nomination. The convention largely complied and nominated Sparkman as Stevenson's running mate, though nominations were made for two other candidates for the Vice Presidency, Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee India Edwards of California, and District Judge Sarah T. Hughes of Texas. Both withdrew their names in favor of Sparkman. Stevenson then delivered an eloquent acceptance speech in which he famously pledged to "talk sense to the American people."
Adlai Stevenson and running mate John Sparkman lost the election to Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon on November 4, 1952. Despite the defeat, Stevenson was four years later again selected as the Democratic presidential nominee at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, with Kefauver as his running mate.