News Local/State

1st-Ever Televised Presidential Debate From 1956 Now Online

Campaign button featuring Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver

1956 campaign button featuring Democratic Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson II and running mate (and former rival) Estes Kefauver USA Americana Auctions

The first televised U-S presidential debate was televised 60 years ago. And if you missed it the first time, you can now watch the replay online, thanks to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield.

The library says it’s put the rarely seen debate on YouTube, using one of the few surviving 16-millimeter kinescopes of the broadcast. It features the top Democratic presidential hopefuls of 1956 --- former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II and Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver.

Stevenson and Kefauver appeared together on ABC Television, sharing a table with moderator Quincy Howe, who referred to the two as “friendly rivals”.

Their appearance came just after the first U-S test of the dropping of a hydrogen bomb from an airplane. Both candidates supported a ban on further testing, if the Soviet Union would do the same. Senator Kefauver said if there was no test ban treaty with the Soviets, the U-S should continue its testing.

“We should however take the lead in proposing to the Soviet Union that we have an immediate cessation of further dropping of A and H bombs, when they show that they are willing to act in good faith,” said Kefauver.

But Stevenson said that since any nuclear tests could be easily detected, the U-S would know if the Soviets were testing or not.

“We could unilaterally proposal that we would discontinue testing the H bomb, on condition, of course, that if our enemies did not go along with this and do the same, we would know about it and we could resume the testing of the H bomb,” said Stevenson.

Stevenson would go on to win the Florida primary, and then the Democratic presidential nomination. Kefauver became his running mate. But Stevenson would lose the 1956 presidential election to incumbent President Dwight Eisenhower, who had also defeated Stevenson in 1952.

Stevenson's son, former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III, speaks Thursday at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum about his family's legacy in politics.