debate video now available online
Lincoln Presidential Library digitizes
first televised presidential debate, from 1956 primary
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[June 16, 2016]
– Rare footage of the first televised presidential debate in U.S.
history has been put online by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum, giving voters a chance to see the dramatic
change in debate tone and style since 1956.
The video captures a debate between Adlai Stevenson II and Estes
Kefauver during the 1956 Democratic primary campaign. ABC broadcast
it May 21 from Miami just before Florida voters went to the polls.
It was moderated by journalist Quincy Howe.
Only two copies of the debate are known to exist, and neither has
been generally available to the public until now. The ALPLM has made
a digital version of its 16mm film copy of the hour-long debate.
It can be seen on YouTube at bit.ly/1956debate.
"This video captures two politicians from an earlier era
experimenting with a powerful new force – television. The Lincoln
Presidential Library is proud to dig into its huge collection and
make this video available to the world," said Nadine O'Leary, the
ALPLM's acting executive director.
In contrast to today’s frequently negative and personal political
debates, the Stevenson-Kefauver debate shows candidates stressing
their common views and staying polite when disagreeing. Each got
three minutes for an opening statement and five minutes – an
eternity in modern debates – to close.
Stevenson, the former Illinois governor, won the Democratic
nomination over Kefauver, a Tennessee senator. He went on to lose
the general election to Dwight Eisenhower.
Stevenson’s son, former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III, speaks
Thursday at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
about his family’s 150-year legacy in state and national politics.
Information is available at www.PresidentLincoln.illinois.gov under
“special event reservations.”
Debate topics included school desegregation, small business, nuclear
energy and the news that America had detonated a hydrogen bomb.
"The future is either going to be a future of creativity and great
abundance or it’s going to be a future of total incineration, death
and destruction," Stevenson said, advocating American leadership in
controlling atomic weapons.
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Both men promised support for the Supreme Court’s ruling that schools could no
longer be segregated by race.
“This is something where you can’t use military coercion. We’ve got to appeal to
the hearts and minds and to the fairness of people,” Kefauver said, 16 months
before President Eisenhower used troops to enforce desegregation of an Arkansas
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a division of the Illinois
Historic Preservation Agency, is dedicated to telling the story of America’s
16th president through old-fashioned scholarship and modern technology.
The library holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln books, documents,
photographs, artifacts and art, as well as some 12 million items pertaining to
all aspects of Illinois history. The museum uses traditional exhibits,
eye-catching special effects and innovative story-telling techniques to educate
[Shanta Thoele, Communications and
Public Affairs, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]