Adlai E. Stevenson Stevenson's parents, John Turner Stevenson and Eliza Ewing Stevenson, were Presbyterians of Scotch-Irish descent. John Turner Stevenson's grandfather, William, migrated from Northern Ireland about 1748, settling first in Pennsylvania and then in North Carolina. The family moved to Kentucky in 1813. Stevenson was born on the family farm in Christian County, Kentucky. He attended the common school in Blue Water, Kentucky. In 1852, when he was 16, frost killed the family's tobacco crop. His father set free their few slaves and the family moved to Bloomington, Illinois, where his father then operated a sawmill. Stevenson attended Illinois Wesleyan University at Bloomington and ultimately graduated from Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky. His father's death prompted Adlai to return from Kentucky to Bloomington to run the sawmill.
Stevenson was admitted to the bar in 1858, at age 23, and commenced practice in Metamora, in Woodford County, Illinois. As a young lawyer, Stevenson encountered such celebrated Illinois attorneys as Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, campaigning for Douglas in his 1858 Senate race against Lincoln. Stevenson also made speeches against the "Know-Nothing" movement, a nativist group opposed to immigrants and Catholics. That stand helped cement his support in Illinois' large German and Irish communities. In a predominantly Republican area, the Democratic Stevenson won friends through his storytelling and his warm and engaging personality.