82. Governor Adlai Stevenson's Veto of the "Cat Bill" (1949)

Background: Governor Adlai Stevenson proved to be a rare politician in 20th century America. A witty and articulate man who wrote his own speeches and books, he knew, in the parlance of the time, how to "turn a phrase." Stevenson became the Democratic candidate for President of the United States in 1952 and 1956. He lost both races to popular World War II general and Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1961, after returning to the private sector, President John F. Kennedy named Stevenson the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He was serving as ambassador when he died in London in 1965. Stevenson is buried in the family plot in Bloomington.

The Document: The 1949 veto of Senate Bill 93, known as "An Act to Provide Protection to Insectivorous Birds by Restraining Cats," displays Governor Stevenson's expert mixture of logic and wit as he seeks to explain why he opposes a law requiring leashes on cats. He wryly notes "to escort a cat abroad on a leash is against the nature of the cat . . . . Cats perform useful service . . . in combating rodents – work they necessarily perform alone and without regard to property lines." Stevenson's last two paragraphs are particularly eloquent examples of summation, sympathy with the opposition, humor, and persuasive argument. His veto was not overridden and thus the bill never became law.

Note: Since then, Illinois has never enacted any law regarding the "restraining" of felines. Governor Stevenson's veto message is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of General Assembly Record Series 600.001, "Bills, Resolutions, and Related General Assembly Records."