The news about Stevenson’s death reached John Bartlow Martin, who had worked as a speechwriter in his 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns, while he and his family were vacationing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That night he and his wife, Fran, took a train to Chicago, where they spent time in Adlai Stevenson III’s office working with Newton Minow and others on funeral arrangements before taking a flight to Washington, DC, to attend a service for Stevenson at the National Cathedral. There, offering his condolences to Martin on the loss of his friend, President Lyndon B. Johnson said of Stevenson, “He showed us the way.” Flying back on the presidential plane taking Stevenson’s body home to Illinois, Martin fell into a conversation with his friend and fellow Stevenson speechwriter Arthur SchlesingerJr., who told Martin he should write a biography on the two-time Democratic presidential candidate.
At first, the Stevenson family turned to another person close to their father, Walter Johnson, a longtime University of Chicago history professor, as its choice to write the definitive Stevenson biography. Johnson certainly had the knowledge to accomplish the task, as he had been national cochairman for the movement to draft Stevenson as the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and became a close friend of the former governor.
Instead of tackling a biography, however, Johnson decided to serve as editor of a collection of Stevenson’s letters, writings, and speeches. “I felt it was time to get the solid material out,” Johnson later said. “When I began I was thinking of two or three volumes. But there was so much good material, and it soon became evident that it would require several more volumes.” The Papers of Adlai Stevenson, published from 1972 to 1979 by Little, Brown and Company, grew to eight volumes under Johnson’s editorship, assisted by Carol Evans, Stevenson’s secretary for many years.