Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
|Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr.|
44th United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
1938 – 1940
|Preceded by||Robert Worth Bingham|
|Succeeded by||John Gilbert Winant|
|Born||September 6 1888|
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||November 18 1969 (aged 81) (Complications from a stroke)|
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Spouse||Rose Fitzgerald (1890-1995)|
|Children||Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (1915-1944), |
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963),
Rosemary Kennedy (1918-2005),
Kathleen Kennedy (1920-1948),
Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-),
Patricia Kennedy Lawford (1924-2006),
Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968),
Jean Kennedy Smith (1928-),
Ted Kennedy (1932-)
|Alma mater||Harvard College|
Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. (September 6, 1888 – November 18, 1969) was a prominent United States businessman and political figure, and the father of President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy. He was a leading member of the Democratic Party and of the Irish Catholic community.
He served briefly as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom at the start of World War II. His term as Ambassador and his political ambitions ended abruptly during the height of the Battle of Britain in November 1940, with the publishing of his disastrous remarks that "Democracy is finished…." With nationwide business interests and political connections, Kennedy worked behind the scenes in his last decades to continue building both the financial and political fortunes of the Kennedy family while furthering his own political ambitions through his sons.
While he is derided in many circles for questionable aspects of his lifestyle, he left a legacy of public service and achievement through his children. Together with his wife Rose, he formed a personal family dynasty whose members helped shape American politics in the twentieth century, effectively becoming that era's near-equivalent of the "royal family" in America.
Background, education and family
Joseph Patrick Kennedy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Patrick J. Kennedy, a successful businessman, ward boss, and Irish American community leader, and his wife Mary Augusta Kennedy. Joseph's grandparents came to America in the mid-1840s to flee the potato famine in Ireland. Kennedy was born into a highly sectarian environment where Irish Catholics felt themselves excluded by upper-class Yankees. Many Boston Irish became active in the Democratic Party, including Patrick and numerous relatives.
Patrick Kennedy's home was a prosperous and comfortable one, thanks to his successful liquor bootlegging business and an influential role in local politics. Kennedy's mother encouraged him 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 several older cousins by attending Harvard College. At Harvard 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 fraternity and played on the baseball team.
Attested to by friends during his college years was his strict adherence to his religious upbringing. He attended Catholic Mass regularly and was even reported to have rented a buggy on one occasion so that all his friends could accompany him.
Marriage and family
In 1914, Kennedy married Rose Fitzgerald, the eldest child of six born to John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (a prominent figure in Boston politics who served one term as a member of Congress and later became the city's mayor), and his wife, Mary Josephine Hannon.
The newly married couple bought a small home in Brookline, Massachusetts, and began their family. They had nine children, several of whom went on to develop distinguished political careers, including two U.S. senators and one president.
The children of Joe and Rose:
- Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. (1915–1944)
- He was killed in action in WWII while flying a bombing mission over Europe. He was single at the time of his death and had no children, though he had been romantically linked to Edith Bouvier Beale, a cousin of his future sister-in-law Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, as well as Katharine Mortimer. (The latter reportedly rebuffed any more-serious involvement with Joe Jr., claiming that his family was too loud for her to contemplate marrying into.)
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963)
- He was a U.S. representative, a U.S. senator and the 35th President of the United States. He was assassinated during a motorcade in Dallas, TX. The events surrounding his death remain controversial. He married New York socialite Jacqueline Lee Bouvier and had four children, of which one was stillborn, one died soon after birth, and two survived to adulthood.
- Rosemary Kennedy (1918–2005)
- Likely dyslexic and considered to be slightly brain-damaged from birth, Rose Marie Kennedy (her christening name) was rendered incapable of intelligible speech or caring for herself by a lobotomy, a popular neurosurgical technique of the time, requested by her father, Joe Sr., that was intended to cure her increasing mood swings and make her more manageable. The operation instead reduced her to an infantile state. She lived in a residential care facility in Wisconsin until her death on the 7th of January 2005.
- Kathleen Agnes Kennedy (1920–1948)
- Known as Kit, she married a Protestant, the son and heir to the Duke of Devonshire, over her mother's strenuous religious objections. After being widowed when her husband, the Marquess of Hartington, was killed in action in World War II, she died in a plane crash in France with her lover, the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam.
- Eunice Mary Kennedy (1921–2009)
- She is best known as the founder of the Special Olympics, an organization she began in honor of her sister Rosemary. She married Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., later a 1972 vice-presidential candidate, and they had five children.
- Patricia Kennedy (1924–2006)
- She married Rat Pack actor Peter Lawford (1923–1984) and had four children.
- Robert Francis Kennedy (1925–1968)
- He was U.S. attorney general in his brother's administration, later served as senator from New York, and was assassinated while running for president in June 1968. He married Ethel S. Skakel and had 11 children.
- Jean Ann Kennedy (born 1928)
- She married Stephen Edward Smith (1927–1990) and had two sons and adopted two daughters. She later served as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
- Edward Moore Kennedy (1932–2009)
- Known as "Teddy" or "Ted," he served as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts since 1963. Twice married, he had three children from his first marriage and two stepchildren from his second.
Kennedy outlived four of his children, who met tragic deaths while in the prime of their lives.
In 1941, their oldest daughter, Rosemary, underwent a lobotomy at the age of 23 after her father was recommended by doctors to take this course. Lobotomies were a new procedure at the time but have since been discredited by the mental health community. The result of Rosemary's lobotomy was that she became mentally incapacitated for the rest of her life and lived in a residential care facility in Wisconsin until her death in January 2005. Rose, who was not informed of the intended procedure until after it was performed is said to have been "devastated; she considered it the first of the Kennedy family tragedies."
In 1944 their eldest son Joe was killed in action (WWII). Four years later their daughter Kathleen became a widow when her husband was killed in action. Kathleen herself died in a plane crash in 1948, four years after the death of her husband. In the same decade, their son John was seriously wounded when his boat was attacked by the Japanese.
The family's second son, John Fitzgerald, was assassinated in Dallas November 22, 1963, before completing his first term as U. S. President.
Their third son, Robert was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In 1969, their youngest son, Ted, the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts was involved in a scandal when a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned while in his company. This incident came to be known as simply "Chappaquiddick" throughout the country, having happened in the channel between Chappaquiddick Island and Martha's Vineyard.
Kennedy made a large fortune as a stock market and commodity speculator 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 business information not available to the public, in ways which would later be made illegal as insider trading, but regulations were lighter in his era.
He later became the Chairman of the SEC. When Fortune magazine published its first list of the wealthiest people in the United States in 1957 it placed him in the $200-400 million category, meaning that it estimated him to be between the ninth and sixteenth richest person in the U.S. at that time.
After graduating from Harvard in 1912, he took his first job as a state-employed bank examiner. This allowed 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 from family and friends, bought back control and at age 25 was rewarded by being elected the bank's president, "the youngest in America."
Kennedy emerged as a highly successful entrepreneur with an eye for value. For example he turned a handsome profit from ownership of Old Colony Realty Associates, Inc., which bought distressed real estate.
Although skeptical of American involvement in World War I, he sought to participate in war-time production as an assistant general-manager of Bethlehem Steel, a major 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.
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 would later be labeled insider trading and market manipulation. In 1923 he set up his own investment company and became a multi-millionaire during the bull market of the 1920s.
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.
Kennedy formed alliances with several other Irish-Catholic money men, 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 an artificial 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, a pool operator would bribe journalists to present that information in the most advantageous manner. The stocks would then change in price up or down depending on the position favored by the pool.
Kennedy got out of the market in 1928, the year before the Crash, locking in multi-million dollar profits.
Movie production, liquor importing, real estate
Kennedy made huge profits from reorganizing and refinancing several Hollywood studios. Film production in the U.S. 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.
Kennedy moved to Hollywood, California 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 seven hundred vaudeville movie theaters across the United States. He later purchased another production studio called Pathe Exchange.
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. It was declined. Joe 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.
It is estimated that Kennedy made over $5 million from his investments in Hollywood. During his affair with film star Gloria Swanson, he arranged the financing for her films The Love of Sunya (1927) and the ill-fated Queen Kelly (1928).
After Prohibition ended, Kennedy amassed a large fortune when his company, Somerset Importers, became the exclusive American agent for Gordon's Dry Gin and Dewar's Scotch. Anticipating the end of Prohibition, he assembled a large inventory of stock in Canada, which he later sold for a profit of millions of dollars when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. He invested this money in residential and commercial real estate in New York, and Hialeah 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.
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'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. Kennedy left the SEC in 1935 to take over the Maritime Commission, which built on his wartime experience in running a major shipyard. Kennedy eventually resigned from the post, reportedly tired of dealing with unions and ship-owners.
Ambassador to Britain
In 1938, President Roosevelt appointed Kennedy as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James's (Britain). Kennedy's Irish and Catholic status did not bother the British; indeed he hugely enjoyed his leadership position in London society, which stood in stark contrast to his "outsider" status in Boston. His daughter Kathleen married William John Robert Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, heir to the Duke of Devonshire, the head of one of England's grandest aristocratic families.
This was a politically sensitive era, just prior to the Second World War, and Kennedy made a number of critical mistakes. As an isolationist, his speeches were contrary to those of the leaders of the Free World. He rejected the warnings of Winston Churchill that compromise with Nazi Germany was impossible; instead he supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement in order to stave off a second world war that would be a more horrible "armageddon" than the first. Throughout 1938, as the Nazi persecution of Jews intensified, Kennedy attempted to obtain an audience with Adolf Hitler. Shortly before the Nazi aerial bombing of British cities began in September 1940, Kennedy sought a personal meeting with Hitler, again without U.S. State Department approval, "to bring about a better understanding between the United States and Germany."  Without consulting Roosevelt, he announced plans to resettle 600,000 German Jews in other parts of the world.
Kennedy argued strongly against giving aid to Britain, according to the Boston Globe of Sunday November 10, 1940, saying, "Democracy is finished in England. It may be here."
While Blitzkrieg bombs fell daily on England, Nazi troops occupied Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, Ambassador Kennedy unambiguously and repeatedly stated his belief that the war was not about saving democracy from National Socialism (Nazism) or Fascism. In the now-infamous, long, rambling interview with two newspaper journalists, Louis M. Lyons of the Boston Globe and Ralph Coglan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kennedy opined:
"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 she's (Britain’s) 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." 
When the American public and Roosevelt Administration officials read his quotes on democracy being "finished," and his belief that the Battle of Britain wasn't about "fighting for democracy," all of it being just "bunk," they came to the conclusion that Ambassador Kennedy could not be trusted to represent the United States. Amid mounting pressure, Kennedy was forced to resign his post in 1940.
Throughout the rest of the war, relations between Kennedy and the Roosevelt Administration remained tense (especially when Joe Kennedy, Jr., vocally opposed FDR's renomination). Having effectively removed himself from the national stage, Joe Sr. sat out the war on the sidelines. Kennedy did however stay active in the smaller venues of rallying Irish and Roman Catholic Democrats to vote for Roosevelt's reelection in 1944. 
Alliance with Joe McCarthy
Kennedy's close ties with Republican 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, often bringing him to his home in Hyannis Port as a weekend house guest.
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 reportedly 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 Kennedy son Bobby (age 27) as a senior staff member of the Senate's investigations subcommittee, which McCarthy chaired. In 1954, when the U.S. 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 and McCarthy's chief aide, Roy M. 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 strongly supported McCarthy to the end. 
Presidential ambitions for family
After World War II, Joe Kennedy concentrated his efforts on getting his sons elected to office. He 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. ;  
Joe Kennedy was consigned to the political shadows after his remarks during WWII that "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 stymied. He understood that being in the spotlight would harm his son's chances at election.
However, Joe Kennedy 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. He would use this to his son's advantage.
Their father's connections and influence was turned directly into political capital for the senatorial and presidential campaigns of John, Robert and Ted. Historian Thomas J. Whalen describes Joe's influence on John Kennedy's policy decisions in his biography of Joseph Kennedy. Joe was influential in creating the Kennedy Cabinet (Robert Kennedy as Attorney General for example). However, in 1961, Joe Kennedy suffered from a heart attack that placed even more limitations on his influence in his son's political careers. Joseph Kennedy expanded the Kennedy Compound, which continues as a major center of family get-togethers.
When John F. Kennedy 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." John's presidency was a victory for Joe. He saw it as a step forward for, not just his son, but 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. 
Death and legacy
On December 19, 1961, at the age of 73, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. suffered a major stroke. He survived, but lost all power of speech, and was left paralyzed on his right side. As a result, he was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. He remained active and interested in his children's and grandchildren's lives.
Despite being severely disabled from the stroke, Kennedy remained aware of the tragedies that befell his family until his own death, on November 18, 1969. Two months after his eighty-first birthday, Kennedy died at the family compound on Nantucket Sound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
The words of his longtime friend, Cardinal Cushing, best express Kennedy's importance in American life:
"His exceptional abilities were generously placed for many years in the service of his country. He instilled a sense of pride in his family so that all its members extended their increasing maturity into careers of unparalleled public service and achievement." 
- Ronald Kessler, The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded (New York. Warner Books, 1997), 237.
- Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot. (Back Bay Books/Little, Brown Co., 1998), 63.
- Boston Sunday Globe of November 10, 1940
- Laurence Leamer, The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963: the Laws of the Father. (New York, Wm. Morrow, 2001), 152-153.
- William E. Leuchtenburg, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, 3rd Rev. (New York: Cornell University Press, 2001), 68-72.
- Michael O'Brien, John F. Kennedy: A Biography. (2005), 250-254, 274-279, 396-400; Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy (1982), 442-443; Maier, The Kennedys 270-280.
- Leamer, 313, 434
- Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor, American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley- His Battle for Chicago and the Nation. (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2001), 250.
- Timothy J. Meagher, The Columbia Guide to Irish American History. (Columbia University Press, 2005), 150.
- Richard J. Whalen, The Founding Father; the story of Joseph P. Kennedy. A Study in Power, Wealth and Family Ambition. (New York: New American Library), 435-482.
- Answers Corporation Biography Joseph Kennedy 2006. Retrieved December 14, 2007.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Online Sources
- Answers Corporation. Biography Joseph Kennedy 2006. Retrieved December 14, 2007.
- Wittmann, Kelly. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., PageWise, Inc. 2002. Retrieved September 5, 2007.
- Print Sources
- Brinkley, Alan. Voices of protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression. New York: Knopf, 1982. ISBN 0394522419
- Cohen, Adam, and Elizabeth Taylor. American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley- His Battle for Chicago and the Nation. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2001. ISBN 0316834890
- Collier, Peter, and David Horowitz. The Kennedys an American drama. New York: Summit Books, 1984. ISBN 0671447939
- Fleming, Thomas J. The New Dealers' war Franklin D. Roosevelt and the war within World War II. New York: Basic Books, 2001. ISBN 0465024645
- Goodwin, Doris K. The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 978-0743201759
- Hersh, Seymour. The Dark Side of Camelot. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1998. ISBN 0316359556
- Kazin, Michael. The populist persuasion an American history. New York, NY: BasicBooks, 1995. ISBN 0465037933
- Kessler, Ronald. The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded. New York: Warner Books, 1996. ISBN 0446603848
- Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963: the Laws of the Father. New York: Wm. Morrow, 2001. ISBN 0688163157
- Leuchtenburg, William E. In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, 3rd Rev. New York: Cornell University Press, 2001. ISBN 0801487374
- Meagher, Timothy J. The Columbia Guide to Irish American History. Columbia University Press, 2005. ISBN 0231120702
- O'Brien, Michael. John F. Kennedy: a biography. New York, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2005. ISBN 0312281293
- Reeves, Thomas C. The life and times of Joe McCarthy a biography. New York: Stein and Day, 1982. ISBN 0812823370
- Renehan, Edward, and Richard Poe. The Kennedys at war 1937-1945. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2004. ISBN 1402586949
- Schwarz, Ted. Joseph P. Kennedy: the mogul, the mob, the statesman, and the making of an American myth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. ISBN 0471176818
- Smith, Amanda. Hostage to fortune: the letters of Joseph P. Kennedy. New York: Viking, 2001. ISBN 0670869694
- Whalen, Richard J. The founding father; the story of Joseph P. Kennedy. A Study in Power, Weatlth and Family Ambition. New York: New American Library, 1964. ASIN B000MCG7LM
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