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Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr

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Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr

"Joseph Kennedy" redirects here. For other uses, see Joseph Kennedy (disambiguation).
Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr.
44th United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
In office
January 17, 1938 – October 22, 1940
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Robert Worth Bingham
Succeeded by John Gilbert Winant
1st Chairman of the Maritime Commission
In office
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Emory S. Land
1st Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission
In office
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by James M. Landis
Personal details
Born (1888-09-06)September 6, 1888
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died November 18, 1969(1969-11-18) (aged 81)
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts
United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald
(m. 1914–1969; his death)
Relations see Kennedy family
Children Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Rose Marie Kennedy
Kathleen Agnes Kennedy
Eunice Mary Kennedy
Patricia Helen Kennedy
Robert Francis Kennedy
Jean Ann Kennedy
Edward Moore Kennedy
Alma mater Harvard University
Profession Businessman, investor, government official
Religion Roman Catholic
Cause of death Complications from a stroke

Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. (September 6, 1888 – November 18, 1969) was an American businessman, investor, and government official. Kennedy was an Irish American and was the father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, United States Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, United States Senator Edward M. Kennedy, naval officer Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Special Olympics co-founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith; paternal grandfather of U.S. Representatives Joseph P. Kennedy II and Patrick J. Kennedy; and patrilineal great-grandfather of U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III. He was a leading member of the Democratic Party and of the Irish Catholic community. He was the inaugural Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), and later directed the Maritime Commission. Kennedy served as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 until late 1940, including the early part of World War II.

Born to a political family in East Boston, Massachusetts, Kennedy was educated at Boston Latin School and Harvard University, and embarked on a career in finance, making a large fortune as a stock market and commodity investor and by investing in real estate and a wide range of industries.[1]

During World War I, he was an assistant general manager of Bethlehem Steel and developed a friendship with Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Kennedy made huge profits from reorganizing and refinancing several Hollywood studios, ultimately merging several acquisitions into Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) studios. After Prohibition ended in 1933, Kennedy consolidated an even larger fortune when he traveled to Scotland with FDR's son, James Roosevelt, to buy distribution rights for Scotch whisky. His company, Somerset Importers, became the exclusive American agent for Gordon's Gin and Dewar's Scotch. In addition, Kennedy purchased spirits-importation rights from Schenley Industries, a firm in Canada.[2] He owned the largest office building in the country, Chicago's Merchandise Mart, giving his family an important base in that city and an alliance with the Irish-American political leadership there.

His term as ambassador and his political ambitions ended abruptly during the Battle of Britain in November 1940, with the publishing of his controversial remarks suggesting that "Democracy is finished in England. It may be here, [in the US]."[3] Kennedy resigned under pressure shortly afterwards. In later years, Kennedy worked behind the scenes to continue building the financial and political fortunes of the Kennedy family. After a disabling stroke on December 19, 1961, at the age of 73, Kennedy acquired aphasia and lost all power of speech, but remained mentally intact. He used a wheelchair after the stroke. He died on November 18, 1969, two months after his 81st birthday. Kennedy was one of four fathers (the other three being Dr. George Tryon Harding, Nathaniel Fillmore, Jr., and George H. W. Bush) to live through the entire presidency of a son.[4]

Background and education

Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr. was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the elder son of politician Patrick Joseph "P. J." Kennedy and Mary Augusta Hickey. All four of Joe's grandparents had immigrated to Massachusetts in the 1840s to escape the Irish famine. Kennedy was born into a highly sectarian society, where Irish Catholics were excluded by upper-class Boston Brahmins. Boston Irish became thus active in the Democratic Party, including P. J. and numerous relatives.

P. J. Kennedy's home was comfortable, thanks to his successful saloon business, investments, and an influential role in local politics. His mother encouraged Joseph to attend the Boston Latin School, where Joe was a below average scholar but was popular among his classmates, winning election as class president and playing on the school baseball team.

Kennedy followed in the footsteps of older cousins by attending Harvard College. He focused on becoming a social leader, working energetically to gain admittance to the prestigious Hasty Pudding Club. While at Harvard he joined the Delta Upsilon International fraternity and played on the baseball team, but was blackballed from the Porcellian Club.

Marriage and family

On October 7, 1914, Kennedy married Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the eldest daughter of Boston Mayor John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (political rival of P. J.) and Mary Josephine "Josie" Hannon. The marriage joined two of the city's most prominent Irish-American political families. The couple had nine children. As Kennedy's business success expanded, he and his family kept homes in the Boston area, suburban New York City, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and Palm Beach, Florida.

Name Birth Death Brief biography Marriage and children Cause of death
Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Jr. July 25, 1915 August 12, 1944 United States Navy aviator Never married or had children, but was once engaged to Athalia Ponsell Naval airplane crash on August 12, 1944, over the English Channel
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy May 29, 1917 November 22, 1963 United States Representative (1947–1953)
United States Senator (1953–1960)
President of the United States (1961–1963)
September 12, 1953, to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, had four children (including a stillbirth). Assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.
Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy September 13, 1918 January 7, 2005 Underwent a lobotomy in 1941 which left her incapacitated; she was institutionalized from 1949 until her death. Never married or had children Natural causes
Kathleen Agnes "Kick" Kennedy February 20, 1920 May 13, 1948 Marchioness of Hartington Married on May 6, 1944, to William John Robert "Billy" Cavendish, never had children. Airplane crash over Saint-Bauzile, Ardèche, France.
Eunice Mary Kennedy July 10, 1921 August 11, 2009 International advocate for the developmentally disabled. Founded the Special Olympics. Married on May 23, 1953, to Robert Sargent "Sarge" Shriver, Jr., had five children. Natural causes
Patricia Helen "Pat" Kennedy May 6, 1924 September 17, 2006 Journalist and film production assistant Married on April 24, 1954, to English actor Peter Sydney Ernest Lawford, had four children; divorced in 1966. Complications from pneumonia
Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy November 20, 1925 June 6, 1968 United States Attorney General (1961–1964)
United States Senator (1965–1968)
Married on June 17, 1950, to Ethel Skakel, had eleven children. Assassinated in 1968 in Los Angeles, California by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan.
Jean Ann Kennedy February 20, 1928 United States Ambassador to Ireland (1993–1998) Married on May 19, 1956, to Stephen Edward Smith, had two sons.
Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy February 22, 1932 August 25, 2009 United States Senator (1962–2009) Married on November 29, 1958, to Virginia Joan Bennett, had three children; divorced on December 6, 1982. Remarried in July 1992 to Victoria Anne Reggie; had no children. Brain cancer

Rosemary's lobotomy

Kennedy allowed surgeons to perform a lobotomy (one of the earliest in the U.S.) on his daughter Rosemary Kennedy in 1941. Various reasons for the operation have been given, but it left her permanently incapacitated.[5][6][7] Rosemary has since been termed "mentally retarded," and she may have been "mentally ill" (for which no treatment other than incarceration was considered to exist in the 1940s).[8] The lobotomy severely damaged her, leaving her incapacitated for life. (She died in 2005 at age 86.) Rosemary's name "was never mentioned in the house", said Janet Des Rosiers, Kennedy secretary and mistress of Joseph for nine years.[9]

Business career

Kennedy made a large fortune as a stock market and commodity investor and by investing in real estate and a wide range of industries. He never built a significant business from scratch, but his timing as both buyer and seller was usually excellent. Sometimes he made use of inside information in ways which were legal at the time but were later outlawed. In fact, it was Kennedy who later assisted in outlawing the very manipulations he had once engaged in, in the course of his role on the SEC, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt had appointed him as its first-ever chairman.[10] After Kennedy's death, and only a week before his own death, gangster Frank Costello claimed to an author/collaborator that he had been associated with Kennedy in bootlegging during Prohibition.[11] But to this day, as Kennedy's most recent and most thorough biographer David Nasaw asserts, no credible evidence has ever been found that links Joseph Kennedy to any illegal bootlegging activities.[12] When Fortune magazine published its first list of the richest people in the United States in 1957, it placed him in the $200–400 million band[13] ($1.68 billion–3.36 billion today[14]), meaning that it estimated him to be between the ninth and sixteenth richest person in the United States at that time.

Early ventures

After graduating from Harvard in 1912, he took his first job as a state-employed bank examiner, allowing him to learn a great deal about the banking industry. In 1913, the Columbia Trust Bank, in which his father held a significant share, was under threat of takeover. Kennedy, borrowing $45,000 ($1,073,788 today[14]) from family and friends, bought back control and at age 25 was rewarded by being elected the bank's president. Kennedy told the press he was "the youngest" bank president in America.[15]

Kennedy emerged as a highly successful entrepreneur with an eye for value. For example, as a real estate investor, he turned a handsome profit from ownership of Old Colony Realty Associates, Inc., which bought distressed real estate.[16]

Although skeptical of American involvement in World War I, he sought to participate in war-time production as an assistant general-manager of a major Bethlehem Steel shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. There he oversaw the production of transports and warships critical to the war. This job brought him into contact with the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Wall Street and stock market investments

In 1919, he joined the prominent stock brokerage firm of Hayden, Stone & Co. where he became an expert in dealing in the unregulated stock market of the day, engaging in tactics that were later labeled insider trading and market manipulation. He happened to be on the corner of Wall and Broad Streets at the moment of the Wall Street bombing on September 16, 1920, and was thrown to the ground by the force of the blast.[17] In 1923 he left Hayden, and set up his own investment company, becoming a multi-millionaire during the bull market of the 1920s, and even more wealthy as a result of taking "short" positions in 1929.

David Kennedy, author of Freedom From Fear, describes the Wall Street of the Kennedy era:

[It] was a strikingly information-starved environment. Many firms whose securities were publicly traded published no regular reports or issued reports whose data were so arbitrarily selected and capriciously audited as to be worse than useless. It was this circumstance that had conferred such awesome power on a handful of investment bankers like J. P. Morgan, because they commanded a virtual monopoly of the information necessary for making sound financial decisions. Especially in the secondary markets, where reliable information was all but impossible for the average investor to come by, opportunities abounded for insider manipulation and wildcat speculation.

The Crash

Kennedy formed alliances with several other Irish-Catholic investors, including Charles E. Mitchell, Michael J. Meehan and Bernard Smith. He helped establish the Libby-Owens-Ford stock pool, an arrangement in which Kennedy and colleagues created a scarcity of Libby-Owens-Ford stock to drive up the value of their own holdings in the stock, using inside information and the public's lack of knowledge. Pool operators would bribe journalists to present information in the most advantageous manner. Attempts to corner stocks were made that would cause the price to go up, and bear raids could cause the price to collapse downward. Kennedy got into a bidding war seeking control of founder John Hertz's company Yellow Cab.[18]

Kennedy later claimed he knew the rampant stock speculation of the late 1920s would lead to a crash. It is said that he knew it was time to get out of the market when he received stock tips from a shoe-shine boy.[19] Kennedy survived the crash "because he possessed a passion for facts, a complete lack of sentiment and a marvelous sense of timing".[20] During the Great Depression Kennedy vastly increased his financial fortune by investing most of it in real estate. In 1929, Kennedy's fortune was estimated to be $4 million (equivalent to $54.9 million today[14]). By 1935, his wealth had increased to $180 million (equivalent to $3.1 billion today[14]).

Investments in movie production, liquor importing, and real estate

Kennedy made huge profits from reorganizing and refinancing several Hollywood studios. Film production in the US was much more decentralized than it is today, with many different movie studios producing film product. One small studio was FBO, Film Booking Offices of America, which specialized in Westerns produced cheaply. Its owner was in financial trouble and asked Kennedy to help find a new owner. Kennedy formed his own group of investors and bought it for $1.5 million (about $20.2 million today[14]).

Kennedy moved to Hollywood in March 1926 to focus on running the studio. Movie studios were then permitted to own exhibition companies which were necessary to get their films on local screens. With that in mind, in a hostile buyout, he acquired the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Theaters Corporation (KAO), which had more than 700 vaudeville theaters across the United States which had begun showing movies. He later purchased another production studio called Pathe Exchange, and merged those two entities with Cecil B. DeMille's Producers Distributing Corporation in March 1927.

In August 1928, he unsuccessfully tried to run First National Pictures.[22] In October 1928, he formally merged his film companies FBO and KAO to form Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) and made a large amount of money in the process. Then, keen to buy the Pantages Theatre chain, which had 63 profitable theaters, Kennedy made an offer of $8 million ($110 million today). It was declined. He then stopped distributing his movies to Pantages. Still, Alexander Pantages declined to sell. However, when Pantages was later charged and tried for rape, his reputation took a battering and he accepted Kennedy's revised offer of $3.5 million ($48.1 million today[14]). Pantages, who claimed that Kennedy had "set him up", was later found not guilty at a second trial.

It is estimated that Kennedy made over $5 million ($68.7 million today[14]) from his investments in Hollywood. During his three-year affair with film star Gloria Swanson,[23] he arranged the financing for her films The Love of Sunya (1927) and the ill-fated Queen Kelly (1928). The duo also used Hollywood's famous "body sculptor", masseuse Sylvia of Hollywood.[23] Their relationship ended when Swanson wondered why an expensive gift from Joseph had been charged to her account.[24]

A recurring story about Kennedy is that he made money in bootlegging, the illegal importation and distribution of alcohol during Prohibition. Although there is no hard evidence of this, Kennedy did have extensive investments in the legal importation of spirits. The "bootlegging" story itself may be traceable to Canadian distiller Samuel Bronfman and to New England bootlegger Danny Walsh and his crime syndicate, which did in fact smuggle spirits across the Canadian–American border during this period. Post-Prohibition, Bronfman had a bitter rivalry with Kennedy in acquiring North American liquor distribution rights.[26] At the start of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, Kennedy and James Roosevelt founded Somerset Importers, an entity that acted as the exclusive American agent for Haig & Haig Scotch, Gordon's Dry Gin and Dewar's Scotch. It is rumored that they had assembled a large inventory of stock, which they supposedly sold for a profit of millions of dollars when Prohibition was repealed. Actually, it was not until long after Prohibition ended that Kennedy sold his company Somerset.[27] (Kennedy himself drank little alcohol. He so disapproved of what he considered a stereotypical Irish vice that he offered his sons $1,000 to not drink until they turned 21.[28]) Kennedy invested this money in residential and commercial real estate in New York, Le Pavillon restaurant, and Hialeah Park Race Track in Hialeah, Florida. His most important purchase was the largest office building in the country, Chicago's Merchandise Mart, which gave his family an important base in that city and an alliance with the Irish-American political leadership there.

SEC Chairman

Kennedy's first major involvement in a national political campaign was his support in 1932 for Franklin D. Roosevelt's bid for the Presidency. He donated, loaned, and raised a substantial amount of money for the campaign. Roosevelt rewarded him with an appointment as the inaugural Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Kennedy had hoped for a Cabinet post, such as Secretary of the Treasury. After Franklin Roosevelt called Joe to Washington, D.C. to clean up the securities industry, somebody asked FDR why he had tapped such a crook. "Takes one to catch one," replied Roosevelt.[29] Kennedy's reforming work as SEC Chairman was widely praised on all sides, as investors realized the SEC was protecting their interests. His knowledge of the financial markets equipped him to identify areas requiring the attention of regulators. One of the crucial reforms was the requirement for companies to regularly file financial statements with the SEC, which broke what some saw as an information monopoly maintained by the Morgan banking family. He left the SEC in 1935 to take over the Maritime Commission, which built on his wartime experience in running a major shipyard.

Disputes with Father Charles Coughlin

Father Charles Coughlin was an Irish-Canadian priest near Detroit, who became perhaps the most prominent Roman Catholic spokesman on political and financial issues in the 1930s, with a radio audience that reached millions every week. A strong supporter of Roosevelt in 1932, Coughlin in 1934 broke with the president, who became a bitter opponent of Coughlin's weekly, anti-communist, anti-Semitic, anti–Federal Reserve and isolationist radio talks. Roosevelt sent Kennedy and other prominent Irish Catholics to try to tone down Coughlin.[30] Coughlin swung his support to Huey Long in 1935 and then to William Lemke's Union Party in 1936. Kennedy strongly supported the New Deal and believed as early as 1933 that Coughlin was "becoming a very dangerous proposition" as an opponent of Roosevelt and "an out and out demagogue". In 1936, Kennedy worked with Roosevelt, Bishop Francis Spellman and Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) to shut Coughlin down.[31] When Coughlin returned to the air in 1940, Kennedy continued to battle against his influence among Irish Americans.[32]

Ambassador to the United Kingdom

In 1938, Roosevelt appointed Kennedy as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James's (the United Kingdom) in London. Kennedy hugely enjoyed his leadership position in London high society, which stood in stark contrast to his relative outsider status in Boston. On May 6, 1944, his daughter Kathleen married William John Robert Cavendish, the eldest son of Edward William Spencer Cavendish, who was the head of one of England's grandest aristocratic families. Kennedy rejected the warnings of the prominent Member of Parliament Winston Churchill that any compromise with Nazi Germany was impossible. Instead, Kennedy supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's apparent policy of appeasement.

Throughout 1938, while the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Germany and Austria intensified, Kennedy attempted to arrange a meeting with Adolf Hitler.[33] Shortly before the Nazi aerial bombing of British cities began in September 1940, Kennedy once again sought a personal meeting with Hitler, again without the approval of the Department of State, "to bring about a better understanding between the United States and Germany".[34] It has been surmised that Kennedy also had personal reasons for wanting to avoid war; "He feared for the lives of his three eldest sons, Joe, Jack and Bobby, all of whom were or soon would be eligible to serve."[35]

Kennedy also argued strongly against giving military and economic aid to the United Kingdom. "Democracy is finished in England. It may be here," he stated in the Boston Sunday Globe of November 10, 1940. With Nazi German troops having overrun Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France, and with bombs falling daily on Great Britain, Kennedy unambiguously and repeatedly stated his belief that this war was not about saving democracy from National Socialism (Nazism) or from Fascism. In an interview with two newspaper journalists, Louis M. Lyons, of The Boston Globe, and Ralph Coghlan, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kennedy said:

It's all a question of what we do with the next six months. The whole reason for aiding England is to give us time ... As long as she is in there, we have time to prepare. It isn't that [Britain is] fighting for democracy. That's the bunk. She's fighting for self-preservation, just as we will if it comes to us ... I know more about the European situation than anybody else, and it's up to me to see that the country gets it.[3]

His views were becoming inconsistent and increasingly isolationist; British MP Josiah Wedgwood, 1st Baron Wedgwood, who had himself opposed the British Government's earlier appeasement policy, said of Kennedy:

We have a rich man, untrained in diplomacy, unlearned in history and politics, who is a great publicity seeker and who apparently is ambitious to be the first Catholic president of the U.S.[36]

In British government circles during the Blitz, Kennedy was widely disparaged as a defeatist. He retreated to the countryside during the bombings of London by German aircraft, at a time when the British Royal Family, Prime Minister, government ministers, and other ambassadors chose to stay in London. (This prompted one wag in Britain's Foreign Office to say, "I thought my daffodils were yellow until I met Joe Kennedy.") When the American public and Roosevelt Administration officials read his quotes on democracy being "finished", and his belief that the Battle of Britain was not about "fighting for democracy", all of it being just "bunk", they realized that Kennedy could not be trusted to represent the United States. In the face of national public outcry, and pressure from the Roosevelt Department of State, which no longer wanted him, Kennedy submitted his resignation late in November 1940.

Reduced influence

Throughout the rest of the war, relations between Kennedy and the Roosevelt Administration remained tense (especially when Joe Jr vocally opposed President Roosevelt's unprecedented nomination for a third term, which began in 1941). Kennedy may have wanted to run for president himself in 1940 or later. Having effectively removed himself from the national stage, Joe Sr sat out World War II on the sidelines. However, Kennedy did stay active in the smaller venues of rallying Irish-American and Roman Catholic Democrats to vote for Roosevelt's re-election for a fourth term in 1944. Former Ambassador Kennedy claimed to be eager to help the war effort, but as a result of his previous gaffes, he was neither trusted nor invited to do so.[37]

Due to his philanthropy and a close friendship with Francis Spellman, Archbishop of New York (later Cardinal), during this time, Joseph Kennedy was invested as a knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an honor which at that time he shared with just a few dozen Americans.

With his ambitions to achieve the White House no longer viable, Joe Kennedy held out great hope for his eldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., to seek the presidency. However, Joe Jr, who had become a U.S. Navy bomber pilot, was killed over the English Channel while undertaking Operation Aphrodite, a high-risk, new way to use heavy bombers to strike German missile sites in France, in 1944. His bomber accidentally detonated early, before Kennedy could bail out. After grieving over his dead son, Joe Sr then turned his attention to his second son, John F. Kennedy, for a run for the presidency. After serving as a member of the House of Representatives beginning in 1946, and then a U.S. Senator beginning in 1952, the younger Kennedy entered the Presidential election in 1960, and won it.

Claims of Anti-Semitism

Joseph P. Kennedy was (for a while) a close friend with leading Jewish lawyer Felix Frankfurter, who became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in January 1939 and remained in this position until 1962. Frankfurter helped Kennedy get his sons Joseph Jr. and John admitted into the London School of Economics in the late 1930s, where they studied under Harold Laski, a leading Jewish intellectual and a prominent socialist.[38]

According to Harvey Klemmer, who served as one of Kennedy's embassy aides, Kennedy habitually referred to Jews as "kikes or sheenies". Kennedy allegedly told Klemmer that "[some] individual Jews are all right, Harvey, but as a race they stink. They spoil everything they touch."[34] When Klemmer returned from a trip to Germany and reported the pattern of vandalism and assaults on Jews by Nazis, Kennedy responded, "Well, they brought it on themselves."[39]

On June 13, 1938, Kennedy met with Herbert von Dirksen, the German ambassador to the United Kingdom, in London, who claimed upon his return to Berlin that Kennedy had told him that "it was not so much the fact that we want to get rid of the Jews that was so harmful to us, but rather the loud clamor with which we accompanied this purpose. [Kennedy] himself fully understood our Jewish policy."[40] Kennedy's main concern with such violent acts against German Jews as Kristallnacht was that they generated bad publicity in the West for the Nazi regime, a concern that he communicated in a letter to Charles Lindbergh.[41]

Kennedy had a close friendship with Viscountess Nancy Witcher Langhorne, wife of Viscount Waldorf Astor of the Astor family. The correspondence between them is reportedly replete with anti-Semitic statements.[42] According to Edward Renehan:

As fiercely anti-Communist as they were anti-Semitic, Kennedy and Astor looked upon Adolf Hitler as a welcome solution to both of these "world problems" (Nancy's phrase)..... Kennedy replied that he expected the "Jew media" in the United States to become a problem, that "Jewish pundits in New York and Los Angeles" were already making noises contrived to "set a match to the fuse of the world".[43]

By August 1940, Kennedy worried that a third term as the President for Roosevelt would mean war. As Leamer reports, "Joe believed that Roosevelt, Churchill, the Jews, and their allies would manipulate America into approaching Armageddon."[44] Nevertheless, Kennedy supported Roosevelt's third term in return for Roosevelt's support of Joseph Kennedy, Jr., in the run for the Governor of Massachusetts in 1942.[45] However, even during the darkest months of World War II, Kennedy remained "more wary of" prominent American Jews, such as Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, than he was of Hitler.[46]

Kennedy told the reporter Joe Dinneen:

It is true that I have a low opinion of some Jews in public office and in private life. That does not mean that I... believe they should be wiped off the face of the Earth..... Jews who take an unfair advantage of the fact that theirs is a persecuted race do not help much..... Publicizing unjust attacks upon the Jews may help to cure the injustice, but continually publicizing the whole problem only serves to keep it alive in the public mind.

Political alliances

Kennedy used his wealth and connections to build a national network of supporters that became the base for his sons' political careers. He especially concentrated on the Irish American community in large cities, particularly Boston, New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and several New Jersey cities.[47] Kennedy also used Arthur Krock of The New York Times, America's most influential political columnist, for decades as a paid speechwriter and political advisor.[48] He supported Richard Nixon, who had entered Congress with John in 1947; in 1960 Kennedy approached Nixon, praised his anti-Communism, and said "Dick, if my boy can't make it, I'm for you" for the presidential election that year.[49]

Alliance with Senator McCarthy

Kennedy's close ties with Republican (GOP) Senator Joseph McCarthy strengthened his family's position among Irish Catholics, but weakened it among liberals who strongly opposed McCarthy. Even before McCarthy became famous in 1950, Kennedy had forged close ties with the Republican Senator from Wisconsin. Kennedy often brought him to his family compound at Hyannis Port as a weekend house guest in the late 1940s. McCarthy at one point dated Patricia Kennedy. When McCarthy became a dominant voice of anti-Communism starting in 1950, Kennedy contributed thousands of dollars to McCarthy, and became one of his major supporters. In the Senate race of 1952, Kennedy apparently worked a deal so that McCarthy, a Republican, would not make campaign speeches for the GOP ticket in Massachusetts. In return, Congressman John F. Kennedy, running for the Senate seat, would not give any anti-McCarthy speeches that his liberal supporters wanted to hear. In 1953 at Kennedy's urging McCarthy hired Robert Kennedy (age 27) as a senior staff member of the Senate's investigations subcommittee, which McCarthy chaired. In 1954, when the Senate was threatening to condemn McCarthy, Senator John Kennedy faced a dilemma. "How could I demand that Joe McCarthy be censured for things he did when my own brother was on his staff?" asked JFK. By 1954, however, Robert Kennedy and McCarthy's chief aide, Roy Cohn, had had a falling out and Robert no longer worked for McCarthy. John Kennedy had a speech drafted calling for the censure of McCarthy but he never delivered it. When the Senate voted to censure McCarthy on December 2, 1954, Senator Kennedy was in the hospital and never indicated then or later how he would vote. Joe Kennedy strongly supported McCarthy to the end.[50]

Presidential ambitions for family

Joe was a fiercely ambitious individual who thrived on competition and winning. Also, in his eyes, the ultimate prize was the American presidency. He wanted his eldest son Joe Jr to become president, but after his death in World War II, he became determined to make his eldest surviving son, Jack, president.

Joe Sr was consigned to the political shadows after his remarks during World War II ("Democracy is finished"), and he remained an intensely controversial figure among U.S. citizens because of his suspect business credentials, his Roman Catholicism, his opposition to Roosevelt's foreign policy, and his support for Joseph McCarthy. As a result, his presence in John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign had to be downplayed. Having him in the spotlight would hurt John, making it look as if it were his father who was running for president.

However, Joe still drove the campaign behind the scenes. He played a central role in planning strategy, fundraising, and building coalitions and alliances. Joe supervised the spending and to some degree the overall campaign strategy, helped select advertising agencies, and was endlessly on the phone with local and state party leaders, newsmen, and business leaders. He had met thousands of powerful people in his career, and often called in his chips to help his sons.

Joe's connections and influence were turned directly into political capital for the senatorial and presidential campaigns of Jack, Bobby and Ted. Historian Richard J. Whalen describes Joe's influence on Jack's policy decisions in his biography of Joe. Joe was influential in creating the Kennedy Cabinet (Bobby as Attorney General although he had never argued or tried a case, for example[51]). However, in 1961, Joe Kennedy suffered from a stroke that placed even more limitations on his influence in his sons' political careers. Joe Kennedy expanded the Kennedy Compound, which continues as a major center of family get-togethers.

When Jack was asked about the level of involvement and influence that his father had held in his razor-thin presidential victory, JFK would joke that on the eve before the election, his father had asked him the exact number of votes he would need to win: there was no way he was paying "for a landslide". Jack's presidency was a victory for Joe. He saw it as a step forward not just for his son but also for the entire Kennedy family. Joe was a family man and strategically constructed his family's image towards the public. He once said, "Image is reality" and the presidency framed the Kennedy family picture.[52][53]

Illness and death

On December 19, 1961, at the age of 73, Kennedy suffered a major stroke. He survived, but was left paralyzed on his right side and with a language disorder, aphasia, that severely affected his ability to speak. Kennedy did regain certain functions with the help of therapies. Most notably, he went to The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in 1964, a Philadelphia center that teaches therapies for people with brain injuries. Kennedy made gains with therapy, and began walking with the help of a cane. His speech also showed some improvement.[54] However, being 75 years old and greatly weakened, Kennedy was soon confined to a wheelchair. Joe outlived all of his sons except for his youngest, Ted, who died in August 2009.

His final public appearance was with Rose and Sen. Ted Kennedy in a videotaped message to the country a few weeks after the death of his son Bobby, which showed his extremely frail physical condition. His widow Rose outlived him by 25 years, dying on January 22, 1995 at the age of 104.

In fiction

Kennedy plays a significant role as a character in Winston's War, Michael Dobbs' fictionalized account of the rise of Winston Churchill. In Richard Condon's thriller Winter Kills, Pa Keegan is a fictionalized version of Kennedy and is portrayed by John Huston in the film version of that novel. In the alternate history novel Fatherland by Robert Harris, set in 1964, the senior Kennedy—not his son John F. Kennedy—is president of the United States and about to arrive in Berlin to conclude a treaty with Adolf Hitler.

Movies and television

Kennedy has been portrayed by:


See also



  • Brinkley, Alvin. Voices of Protest. Vintage, 1983.
  • Goodwin, Doris K. The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga. Simon & Schuter, 1987.
  • Hersh, Seymour. The Dark Side of Camelot. Back Bay Books, 1998.
  • Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Men: 1901–1963. Harper, 2002.
  • Thomas Maier. The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings. Basic Books, 2003.
  • Kessler, Ronald. The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded. Warner, 1996
  • Nasaw, David. The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy. The Penguin Press, 2012
  • O'Brien, Michael. John F. Kennedy: A Biography. St Martin's Press, 2005.
  • Renehan, Edward. The Kennedys at War: 1937–1945. Doubleday, 2002.
  • Renehan, Edward. "Joseph Kennedy and the Jews". History News Network. George Mason University, April 29, 2002.
  • Schwarz, Ted. Joseph P. Kennedy: The Mogul, the Mob, the Statesman, and the Making of an American Myth. Wiley, 2003.
  • Smith, Amanda (ed.). Hostage to Fortune: The Letters of Joseph P. Kennedy. Viking, 2001, the major collection of letters to and from Kennedy
  • Whalen, Richard J. The Founding Father: The Story of Joseph P. Kennedy. The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1964.

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Joe Kennedy's Political Influence
  • The Kennedys - PBS Special
  • Kennedy's Legacy at the SEC
  • Biography of Joseph P. Kennedy and his early life and education
  • FBI files on Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
  • Affair with Marlene Dietrich
  • Correspondence with the Secretary of State at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library
Government offices
New title Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission
Succeeded by
James M. Landis
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Robert Worth Bingham
U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
John G. Winant
Honorary titles
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