The Kennedy family has long been plagued by tragedy and scandal. The patriarch of the Kennedy’s, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, outlived five of his own children. Many Kennedy offspring grew up not knowing their father. Kennedy administrations have long been wracked with scandal. Despite all of this, the Kennedy’s have long been thought of as America’s “royal family”. What is it about the many misdeeds and tragedies of this particular family that has drawn America towards them? Why it is that America has been fascinated by the royal status of the Kennedy, and just what is it about this beleaguered dynasty that has mesmerized generations?
The patriarch of the Kennedy political dynasty, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, better known as Joe, came from very humble beginnings. His father, Patrick Joseph Kennedy, came to America during the great potato famine in Ireland. He was in the U. S. only nine years when he died of tuberculosis. After the death of his father, Joseph’s mother Bridget began working at a saloon and was eventually able to earn enough money to buy her own saloon, which was quite prosperous. The money from this saloon went to support Joseph’s education at Harvard.
After graduating from Harvard, Joe went into the liquor business, and from the liquor business he got into the movie business, all the while racking up large sums of money and making himself a very rich man. On October 7, 1914, Joe married Rose Fitzgerald and began the greatest political dynasty in American history. Joe used his fabulous wealth to further his own ambitious political career. He was able to earn favors from powerful politicians, and even formed a relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt by being one of his major supporters during his first bid for president.
After FDR was in office Joe expected to be rewarded for his large contributions by being nominated for either Secretary of Treasury or Ambassador to England. Although it was the Secretary of Treasury position that he really wanted, he was barely able to finagle the Ambassador position out of Roosevelt, and he only managed this by using his powerful influence in the media. Joe was a horrible politician, and many of the comments he made prior to World War II prevented him from ever holding a high public office, (The Kennedy Curse; page 43) including the one that was his ultimate goal, president. While ambassador to England, Joe made comments indicating that he sympathized with Nazi Germany and supported their extermination of the Jewish people.
He also said that democratic countries should bribe dictator countries in order to avoid war, and also made many other statements that indicated that he did not support democracy. Soon after the war started Joe returned to the United States where he was relieved of his title and banished from all aspects of going-ons’ in Washington, D. C. After his aspirations of holding high office were dashed, Joe Kennedy placed all his expectations on his eldest son, Joseph Kennedy Jr. Born on July 15, 1915, Joe Jr. received all the benefits of coming from a wealthy and influential family. He graduated from the best schools, and was almost through with law school when World War II broke out, which prompted him to drop out, join the navy and become a pilot. He was awarded his wings in May of 1942, and was sent to England in September of 1943. He flew many missions and collected many accolades.
He was on the verge of being offered leave when his younger brother, John F. Kennedy won a heroic battle in the Pacific and stole his limelight. This upset Joe Jr. more than many people realized (The Kennedy Curse; page 36). Instead of accepting his offered leave and going home, Joe Jr. stayed in Europe and continued to fly, often taking more and more risks. In 1944 he volunteered for a top-secret mission, in which the odds of him living were only 50-50. His mission was to take a bomber loaded with 21,170 pounds of explosives and fly over England to Normandy and crash-dive on a German V-2 rocket-launching site.
Shortly after take-off on August 12, 1944, his plane exploded killing both Joe Jr. and his co-pilot. Joe was awarded the Navy Cross and the Air Medal posthumously (countrystudies. us). While World War II was raging in Europe, another Kennedy was frolicking in England. Kathleen (Kick) Kennedy was prominent in London society during England’s war era. She had succeeded in capturing the heart of William Robert John Cavendish, who was the son of Edward William Spencer Cavendish, who was the present Duke of Devonshire.
By marrying William Cavendish, better known as Billy Hartington, Kick would secure a place at the top of British society and become a duchess in the process. Even though Billy was engaged to Sally Norton for a while, Kick was able to use her charm to win Billy’s heart. The only problem that seemed to exist was the fact that Billy was a member of the Angelican Church of England, which had a reputation for being notoriously anti-Catholic. However, Kick was a Kennedy and therefore everything would work out in her favor, because that’s what happened to Kennedy’s.
Normally the Cavendish’s would never have allowed the marriage, but because of the fact that while the war raged on and taxes were increased and the fortune that was once the inheritance of Billy was slowly trickling away, the Cavendish’s were willing to allow the marriage due to the fact that Kick’s father was named the fourth wealthiest man in America. So even though Kick would be able to marry Billy, she would break many Catholic laws, and would be condemned to eternal purgatory. Billy made several compromises, such as getting married in a civil ceremony instead of an Angelican Church.
However, one of Billy’s major stipulations was that his children would not be raised Catholic. After they were married on May 6, 1944, Billy offered Kick another compromise regarding the rearing of their children. He said that if Britain’s rigid class structure survived the war, then their children would have to be part of the Angelican Church; but if the class structure was gone then their children could be raised in the Catholic faith. Despite all these agreements, Kick’s entire family except for Joe Jr. condemned her decision, especially her mother Rose.
Shortly after Kick and Billy married, Billy was called off to fight while Kick was left to her own devices. A few months after her wedding she received bad news; her favorite brother had been killed in a plane accident. She flew to the U. S. for Joe’s memorial service and remained there for several weeks. Subsequently, she was still in the U. S. when she received news that Billy had been killed in action on September 9, 1944. She immediately flew to England for the memorial service. She remained there even after his service, and was still prominent in British affairs.
Even though she was no longer married to the future Duke of Devonshire, she still had several responsibilities, including planning balls and dances. It was at one of these dances that she first met Peter Fitzwilliam, a returning war hero and eighth earl. Pretty much everything Billy had been, but more exciting. For Kick and Peter it was considered love at first sight, although there were several obstacles, such as the ever-present problem of religion, and more importantly the fact that Fitzwilliam was married to Olive Dorothea.
Even though Fitzwilliam was in the process of seeking a divorce when he first met Kick, he pursued a relationship with her while still being married to Olive. Kick’s relationship with Fitzwilliam, deemed a ‘scandalous affair’ by most prominent people, was violently condemned by her mother. Her mother threatened to cut off Kick’s allowance and pretty much kick her out of the family. Kick decided to seek her father’s support and arranged to meet him in Paris. During their trip they ran into several delays, which caused them to run into bad weather.
It was on May 13, 1947, that the plane carrying Kick, Peter, and two pilots crashed in the French countryside, killing all people on board (The Kennedy Curse; page 55). Even though he had lost two children already, Joe Kennedy still harbored aspirations of having one of his sons in the White House. Since his oldest son had died, the mantel fell on his next oldest son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. After returning to the United States, John Kennedy, also known as Jack, used his war hero title as a springboard to get into politics. His first victory was in 1946 when he was elected into the U. S.
House of Representatives, into which he was reelected in 1948 and 1950. In 1956 he unsuccessfully tried for vice president on the democratic ticket, but was successful in winning the primary for the democratic presidential nomination in 1960. In campaigning for the presidency, he used his New Frontier Program to garner support. The New Frontier promised an extension of economic benefits, an increase in federal aid for education, better health insurance for the elderly, a new department of urban affairs, an end to recession and a restoration of growth, a tax cut to stimulate the economy, and also funding for the space program.
Due to the fact that JFK had a narrow victory over Richard Nixon, he often faced opposition in congress, especially from conservative southern democrats (Encarta. msn. com). Even though he is today viewed by many people as an influential figure in American history, JFK’s administration was far from ideal. When he first took office he inherited a problematic situation with Cuba and its dictator, Fidel Castro. His failed attempt to overthrow Castro is known as the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The Bay of Pigs is actually the place where U. S. acked Cuban exiles unsuccessfully tried to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. The exiles were quickly defeated by Castro’s forces, resulting in a very public embarrassment for the Kennedy administration.
The Bay of Pigs fiasco almost in turn led to the Cuban missile crisis, which was a confrontation between the then U. S. S. R. and the United States, the closest the world has ever come to seeing nuclear war (Encarta. msn. com). The confrontation started when U. S. intelligence learned that the Soviet Union was supplying Cuba with long-range nuclear weapons, capable of hitting several U. S. targets. JFK was able to negotiate with the Soviet president, Khrushchev, and convinced him to take back the weapons from Cuba in exchange for the removal of several nuclear weapons located in Turkey that belonged to the U. S. Even though JFK was able to avoid nuclear war, one of his greatest legacies was his penchant for womanizing. This supposedly left him with chronic venereal disease, which is blamed for the death of his infant son, Patrick. JFK was able to cover up all his affairs because he had a close trusting relationship with most members of his secret service.
This close relationship with his bodyguards was more of a hindrance than anything else because it prevented the agents from performing at their best. Security was very relaxed during JFK’s administration, which may have been one of the contributing factors to his assassination in 1963 (The Kennedy Curse; page 106). JFK originally went to Dallas in order to secure votes from this crucial state for his reelection. His approval rate in Texas was at an all time low, and JFK hoped a visit there would up his public opinion. Preparation work for his parade was sloppy; very few of the buildings along the parade route were inspected or secured.
The night before his planned parade several of his secret service members went to a club where they drank and didn’t come back to the hotel until three or four o’clock in the morning (The Kennedy Curse; page 112). The next day, November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot in the head by Lee Harvey Oswald as his open car made its way down the parade route. The assassination of JFK has long been disputed as a conspiracy involving almost all of Washington and even the Mafia rather than just a mad act by a lone gunman. Evidence to support the conspiracy theory includes the trajectory of Oswald’s’ bullets.
Many people say that the number of bullets and the directions of the wounds inflicted to JFK indicate another gunman (How Did It Really Happen? ; page 270). All these conspiracy theories sprang up after the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby, which prevented Oswald from ever being questioned. Even though the family was still reeling from the death of the young president, life went on and there was still the push to have a Kennedy in the White House again. This time the mantel fell on the next brother, the former attorney general under JFK himself, Robert Kennedy, better known as Bobby.
Bobby had begun his career much as his older brothers had, graduating from prestigious colleges including Harvard and the University of Virginia. After completing his education he was made an attorney in the U. S. Department of Justice, where he worked for a year before leaving his post to become the manager of his older brother’s presidential campaign. After the election was over he was appointed to the position of attorney general where he gained prominence for his determination to crack down on organized crime.
He is especially remembered for his investigation of teamsters David Beck and James Hoffa, as well as his activism for civil rights (Encarta. msn. com). After the assassination of JFK he resigned his post but remained active in politics, representing New York in the United States Senate. He continued working on civil equality and trying to improve the lives of the poor. In 1968 he began his campaign to be elected as the democratic candidate for president. His campaign was going well and many people thought that he would be the next president and carry on the Kennedy name in the White House.
However, when walking through the pantry in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, on June 6, 1968 he was fatally shot by Sirham Bishara Sirham, an Islamic extremist (Encarta. msn. com). He left behind ten children and a pregnant wife. As with the assassination of JFK many people suspected that there was a large complicated conspiracy behind the murder of Bobby Kennedy. Many witnesses say that there were more than one gunman in the pantry at the time that shots went off, and others say that they saw a couple running out of the hotel yelling, “We shot him, we shot him! ” (homepages. com. cp. co. uk/~dlewis/crime. htm). However, as with the assassination of his older brother, we may never know the whole truth of the murder of Bobby Kennedy. One would think that after so many tragedies, the Kennedy’s would give up having their name in the White House. However, they still had one hope that lay in the youngest brother, Edward Kennedy, better known as Ted.
Ted followed the same path as his brothers before him, graduating from the best schools and getting straight into politics. His career started off when he became district attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts in 1960 (Encarta. sn. com). In 1962 he was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by his older brother, JFK. In 1969 after his two older brothers had been assassinated, he made plans to begin campaigning for the democratic nomination for president. However, his plans were cut short, not because of another tragedy but because of a scandal that happened at Chappaquiddick Island. Ted Kennedy was driving to a rented beach house on the island with a young woman that had worked on Bobby’s campaign, Mary Jo Kopechne. The only way to the island was over a bridge that connected Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick Island.
No one is sure if he was drunk or just inattentive, but either way he drove off the bridge, killing Kopechne in the process. Instead of sticking around and waiting for someone he left the scene. Not only did he leave, but he also failed to report the crime until his car was found in the water several days later. He was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, driving without a license, and reckless driving, as well as having to pay $90,000 to Kopechne’s family. Many people think that he should have received a harsher punishment, such as manslaughter charges, and that the only reason he was able to avoid these harges was the power and influence of the Kennedy name. Even though his aspirations for president were extinguished, Ted remained in the Senate, representing Massachusetts even to this day. The people discussed are only a small majority of the Kennedy family, and the incidents only a small portion of the numerous scandals and tragedies that plague the Kennedy’s. Even through so many tragedies, the Kennedy name remains an influential sound in politics, and the remaining members of the clan part of a royalty all their own.
•Reader’s Digest How Did It Really Happen? Copyright 2000
•Klein, Edward The Kennedy Curse
oSt. Martin’s Press, NY, copyright 2003