Standing Fast in Liberty

Adlai Stevenson - Chicago, Illinois
Broadcast during the 1950s
Adlai Stevenson
Library of Congress

Former Illinois Governor and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson was guided by social, political, and religious ideals. But for him, having strong beliefs was easier than living up to them.

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What do I believe? As an American, I believe in generosity, in liberty, in the rights of man. These are social and political faiths that are part of me, as they are, I suppose, part of all of us. Such beliefs are easy to express. But part of me too is my religion, my relation to all life, and this is not so easy to talk about.

Religious experience is highly intimate, and for me at least, ready words are not at hand. I am profoundly aware of the magnitude of the universe, that all is ruled by law, including my finite person. I believe in the infinite wisdom that envelops and embraces me and from which I take direction, purpose, strength. First to my mind there spring those words of the 27th Psalm, my favorites: “For in the time of trouble, the Lord shall hide me in His pavilion, He shall set me upon a rock. I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart.”

Yes, I believe in and I have experienced His goodness in the land of the living, and I have found no rocks of certainty or safety but His. But having beliefs, or at least enunciating them, is only part of it. Living up to them, for me, is much harder, for as someone said, It is easier to fight for one’s beliefs than to live up to them. And I wonder if the chief cause of discord in human affairs is not so much the undesirable nature of beliefs as it is the fighting for them, the competitive indoctrination among them.

I believe in liberalism, in individualism, in freedom of conscience. And if there is anything that the whole idea of liberalism contradicts, it is the notion of competitive indoctrination. So I believe that if we really want human brotherhood to spread and increase until it makes life safe and sane, we must also be certain that there is no one true faith or path by which it may spread.
Difference is in the nature of life; it is part of our moral universe. Without difference, life would become lifeless. So I reject the idea of conformity, compulsory or complacent, the faith that is swallowed like pills, whole and at once, with no questions asked.

I believe in helping ourselves and others to see the possibilities in viewpoints other than one’s own, in urging the fullest, the most vigorous use of critical self-examination. Thus, we can learn to unite in our common search for the truth within a better and a happier world.

The basic faith in liberty of conscience is by no means exclusive with us. But I believe we are its ordained guardians in this age of assault and anxiety, when so many seem to believe their doubts and to doubt their beliefs.

Finally, I should like to live and not just believe these strong words of faith in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and not be entangled with the yoke of bondage.

Adlai Stevenson II was an American politician known for his keen intellect, eloquent public speaking, and promotion of liberal causes in the Democratic Party. He served as the 31st Governor of Illinois and received the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 1952 and 1956. He sought the nomination a third time in 1960 but lost to John F. Kennedy, who later appointed Stevenson as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Stevenson died in 1965.