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Kennedy, Robert Francis

KENNEDY, ROBERT FRANCIS

For more than twenty-five years in public service, Robert Francis Kennedy was at the center of the most important political and legal developments of his time. The younger brother, by five years, of President john f. kennedy, in whose cabinet he served, Bobby Kennedy held a number of roles in government: assistant counsel (1953–55) and chief counsel (1955–57) to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chief counsel of the Senate Rackets Committee (1957–59), U.S. attorney general (1960–63), and finally U.S. senator from New York (1965–68). His major endeavors included probing union corruption in the 1950s and implementing White House policy on the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. He was assassinated in 1968, like his brother before him, while campaigning for the presidency.

Born into one of the United States' most powerful political dynasties, on November 20, 1925, in Brookline, Massachusetts, Kennedy was the third son of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Great things were expected of the Kennedy sons, and the means were provided: $1-million trust funds, entrance to the Ivy League, and later, leverage to see that they held government positions. Kennedy's father, a business magnate and former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, doted on the shy, bookish, and devoutly Catholic young man. His father thought Kennedy was most like himself: tough.

Kennedy was educated at Harvard College, interrupting his studies to serve in world war ii as a Navy lieutenant, following the death of his eldest brother, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr., in the

war. He served aboard the destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy until being discharged in 1946, then returned to Harvard, where he played football and earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1948. He next traveled briefly to Palestine as a war correspondent. Marriage to Ethel Skakel followed in 1950, and a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1951. Kennedy and his wife had eleven children over the next eighteen years.

Kennedy's rapid ascent in national politics began immediately upon his admission to the Massachusetts bar in 1951. He first joined the Criminal Division of the u.s. justice department as a prosecutor. The next year, he managed

his brother John's senatorial campaign, and in early 1953, he was appointed an assistant counsel to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which became the bully pulpit for the anti-Communist witch-hunts of its chairman, Senator joseph r. mccarthy. Kennedy worked under McCarthy's foremost ally, Chief Counsel roy cohn, and investigated international shipping to Communist China, before resigning over disgust with McCarthy in mid-1953. Historians view his role in the red scare created by the proceedings to have been very limited, although some have argued that Kennedy was initially blind to Senator McCarthy's agenda. Kennedy rejoined the sub-committee in 1954, and became its chief counsel and staff director in 1955.

Under the new leadership of Senator john mcclellan, the subcommittee turned its attention to labor racketeering. Kennedy focused on corruption in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Heading a staff of sixty-five investigators, he squared off against the union's presidents, David Beck and james r. hoffa, in dramatic public hearings at which he often was accompanied by his brother John. Kennedy and the subcommittee believed the union had connections to organized crime; the union viewed Kennedy as a show-off who was persecuting it for his own political benefit. The union leaders frequently took the fifth amendment, refusing to answer questions under Kennedy's relentless grilling. Beck resigned and was later convicted; Kennedy became a national figure. The hearings began a long-running feud between Kennedy and Hoffa that would continue into the 1960s. Kennedy later devoted considerable resources of the Justice Department to prosecuting Hoffa, ultimately convicted in 1964 for jury tampering, fraud, and conspiracy in the handling of a Teamster benefit fund.

In 1960, Kennedy managed his brother John's presidential campaign. His reward was the position of attorney general, an appointment that brought widespread criticism of the president-elect for nepotism. But Kennedy's brother stood behind his decision, and thus began a relationship unique in presidential history: throughout foreign policy crises in Cuba and Vietnam, domestic unrest over civil rights, and especially the day-to-day functioning of the White House, Kennedy served as his brother's closest adviser. The two also shared a common problem in the person of Director j. edgar hoover, of the federal bureau of investigation (FBI), who secretly kept tabs on them while intensifying the FBI's domestic spying during the Kennedy administration.

The greatest crisis facing Attorney General Kennedy was the civil rights movement. The slow pace of change had frustrated civil rights leaders and mounting violence—from beatings to murder—brought pleas to the White House for intercession to protect demonstrators. During the Freedom Rides of 1961, for example, when busloads of black activists sought to integrate bus stations in the South, the movement's leaders appealed for help. Kennedy dispatched Justice Department representatives to Alabama; asked for assurances of protection from Governor John Patterson, of that state; and brought suit to win a court order on behalf of the riders. The administration was reluctant to do more because of concerns about limitations on federal power. Then, in May 1961, after more terrible assaults on the activists in Montgomery, Alabama, the attorney general dispatched five hundred federal marshals to Alabama. Yet the protection rendered did not stop local authorities from arresting, jailing, and beating activists.

The reluctance of the White House to intercede more forcefully had a political rationale as well: the new Kennedy administration had won election by a small margin that included southern support. As critics have noted, concerns about federal authority did not stop the attorney general from later authorizing Director Hoover to place wiretaps on the Reverend martin luther king, jr., whom the pro-civil rights White House treated as an ally. Hoover's concerns about King's alleged Communist ties affected the Kennedys. As Kennedy later told an interviewer, "We never wanted to get very close to him just because of these contacts and connections that he had, which we felt were damaging to the civil rights movement." Nor did Kennedy balk at approving the appointment of William Harold Cox, an out-spoken racist, as a district judge in Mississippi, for reasons of political expediency, although he later regretted having done so. In time, Kennedy and the president took bolder steps—in 1962, sending five thousand federal marshals to quell rioting in Mississippi, after james h. meredith became the first black man to enter the state's university, and later, securing King's release from jail in Birmingham, Alabama.

"Some men see things that are, and ask 'Why?' I see things that never were, and ask 'Why not?'"
—Robert F. Kennedy

The assassination of his brother John in 1963 changed the course of Kennedy's life. Besides grieving the loss of his brother, he found he worked uncomfortably under President lyndon b. johnson, and he soon left the Justice Department. In 1964, he won election in New York to the U.S. Senate, where he served as a liberal voice until announcing his own bid for the presidency in 1968.

Emphasizing a commitment to the concerns of young people, black citizens, and the nation's poor, the Kennedy campaign inspired radicals, the working class, and the dispossessed. Kennedy's opposition to the war in Vietnam was passionate. On a television broadcast, he said:

Do we have a right here in the United States to say that we're going to kill tens of thousands, make millions of people, as we have … refugees, kill women and children? …I very seriously question that right….We love our country for what it can be and for the justice it stands for.

Kennedy's candidacy sharply divided the democratic party between him and his opponent for the nomination, eugene mccarthy. Kennedy had won primaries in Indiana, Nebraska, and finally California, when he was shot at a campaign function on June 4, 1968, by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant who said his motive was the candidate's support for Israel. The second murder of a Kennedy, following hard on the April 1968 assassination of King, was an immeasurable shock to the nation. It seemed to many to sound the death knell of an era.

Kennedy's contribution to U.S. law is complex. In the 1950s, he helped expose corruption in the nation's unions, but critics have subsequently treated his very personal pursuit of Hoffa as an exercise not only in justice but in vendetta. When he headed the Justice Department in the early 1960s, his advocacy of civil rights had practical limitations imposed by political necessities and legitimate concerns about the balance of state and federal authority; groundbreaking civil rights legislation would, of course, follow in the years after his tenure. It was as a candidate for president that he may have been his most memorable, an ardent and inspirational voice. Through his opposition to the vietnam war and his support for the disadvantaged, he offered the promise of a new idealism in politics.

further readings

Guthman, Edwin O., and Jeffrey Shulman, eds. 1988. Robert Kennedy in His Own Words: The Unpublished Recollections of the Kennedy Years. New York: Bantam Books.

Mills, Judie. 1998. Robert Kennedy. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press.

"Remembering the Kennedys." 1984. Journal of American Studies 18 (December).

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. 2002. Robert Kennedy and His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Thomas, Evan. 2000. Robert Kennedy: His Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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Robert Francis Kennedy

Robert Francis Kennedy

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968), a U.S. senator and the attorney general in the administration of his brother John F. Kennedy, was assassinated during his 1968 race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Robert Kennedy was born on November 20, 1925, in Brookline, Mass. He graduated from Milton Academy before entering Harvard. His college career was interrupted during World War II; just after his oldest brother, Joseph, was killed in combat, Robert joined the Navy and was commissioned a lieutenant. In 1946 he returned to Harvard and took his bachelor of arts degree in 1948. He earned his law degree from the University of Virginia Law School and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1951. A year earlier he had married Ethel Shakel, by whom he had 11 children, one born posthumously.

In 1951 Kennedy joined the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He resigned the following year to run John F. Kennedy's successful campaign for U.S. senator. In 1953 Robert was appointed one of 15 assistant counsels to the Senate subcommittee on investigations under Senator Joe McCarthy. But later that year, when Democratic members of this subcommittee walked out in protest against McCarthy's harassing methods of investigation, Kennedy resigned.

Kennedy rejoined the Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations as chief counsel for the Democratic minority in 1954. The following year, when the Democrats reorganized this committee under Senator George McClellan, Kennedy became chief counsel and staff director. That year the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce elected him one of "ten outstanding young men." In 1955, at his own expense, Kennedy joined Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas on a tour of several Soviet republics.

Kennedy became chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field organized under McClellan in 1957, and he directed a staff of 65. His major accomplishment was the investigation of corruption in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The hearings became nationally prominent, particularly Kennedy's prosecution of the union's president, James Hoffa, which to some union leaders seemed more like persecution. Kennedy was responsible for several additional investigations of labor and management abuses.

In 1960 Kennedy managed his brother's successful presidential campaign, and when John as incoming president appointed Robert U.S. attorney general, nationwide cries of nepotism arose. Robert's role in his brother's Cabinet was unique. He was virtually the President's other self. Shoulder to shoulder, the brothers stood together—through the Cuban missile crisis, the civil rights cases, and the growing war in Vietnam.

Soon after President Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Robert resigned from Lyndon Johnson's administration to run successfully for New York State senator in 1964. Naive liberals wondered why he chose to run in New York—thus knocking out a good liberal senator, Kenneth Keating— when he might have opposed Harry Byrd in his resident state of Virginia; but Kennedy was thinking of the presidency by now, and Virginia was no power base. As senator, Kennedy achieved a splendid record.

Kennedy leaped into the presidential sweepstakes in 1968, abruptly following Eugene McCarthy's solitary effort to dramatize the issue of the war in Vietnam. Kennedy's entrance into the Democratic primaries bitterly divided liberal Democrats. By this time Kennedy, who had come to sympathize with the African Americans' drive for "black power," was the joy of radical activists. He could reach and unite young people, revolutionaries, alienated African Americans, and blue-collar Roman Catholics. Meanwhile, the white South hated him; big business distrusted him; and middle-class, reform Democrats were generally suspicious of him.

On the night of June 4, 1968, following a hard-fought, narrow victory in the California primaries, Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet. Robert had been no carbon copy of John. In some ways he was more intense, more committed than John had been, yet he shared John's ironic sense of himself and his conviction that one man could make a difference.

Further Reading

There is no definitive study of Kennedy. Good general treatments are William V. Shannon, The Heir Apparent (1967), and Jack Newfield, Robert Kennedy (1969). See also Nick Thimmesch, Robert Kennedy at 40 (1965), and William J. Vanden Heuvel and Milton Gwirtzman, On His Own (1970). Victor Lasky, Robert F. Kennedy: The Myth and the Man (1968), is a hostile account. Valuable insights on him are in books about his brother: Theodore Sorenson's Kennedy (1965) and The Kennedy Legacy (1969); Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days (1965); and Donald S. Harrington, As We Remember Him (1965). Dealing with political campaigns are Gerald Gardner, Robert Kennedy in New York (1965); David Halberstam, The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy (1969), an account of his campaign for the presidential nomination; and Jules Witcover, 85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy (1969). □

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Kennedy, Robert Francis

Robert Francis Kennedy, 1925–68, American politician, U.S. Attorney General (1961–64), b. Brookline, Mass., younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and son of Joseph P. Kennedy.

A graduate of Harvard (1948) and the Univ. of Virginia law school (1951), Bobby Kennedy managed his brother John's successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1952. From 1953 to 1956 he was counsel to the Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. He then became (1957) chief counsel to the subcommittee investigating labor rackets and there gained a reputation for toughness by exposing corruption in the Teamsters Union. In 1960 he was manager of his brother's presidential campaign. His inclusion in President Kennedy's cabinet gave rise to charges of nepotism, but he proved a vigorous attorney general, especially in prosecuting civil rights cases. He was also his brother's closest adviser.

After John Kennedy's assassination, Robert Kennedy continued for a time in President Lyndon Johnson's cabinet, but in 1964 he resigned to run for election as Senator from New York. Despite criticism that he was a "carpetbagger," he succeeded. In the Senate he was a vigorous advocate of social reform and became identified particularly as a spokesman for the rights of minorities. Although Kennedy had supported his brother's intensification of American aid to the South Vietnamese government, he became increasingly critical of Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War and by 1968 was advocating that the Viet Cong be included in a South Vietnamese coalition government.

Urged to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, Kennedy appeared reluctant until Sen. Eugene McCarthy's showing in the New Hampshire Democratic primary convinced him that a challenge to Johnson could be successful. Kennedy announced his candidacy on Mar. 16, 1968. Although Johnson withdrew (Mar. 31) from the race, the administration's standard passed to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, while Senator McCarthy retained the support of many opponents of the Vietnam War, who accused Kennedy of opportunism.

Kennedy conducted an energetic campaign and won a series of primary victories, culminating in California on June 4. At the end of that day he gave a victory speech in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and while leaving was shot. He died a day later (June 6, 1968). The gunman, Sirhan B. Sirhan, was captured at the scene and later convicted of murder. Like his brother John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He wrote The Enemy Within (1960), Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1969), and To Seek a Newer World (1969).

Bibliography

See P. Kimball, Bobby Kennedy and the New Politics (1968); D. Halberstam, The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy (1968); D. Ross, ed., Robert Kennedy: Apostle of Change (1968); J. Newfield, Robert Kennedy: A Memoir (1969); J. Witcover, Eighty-Five Days (1969); V. Navasky, Kennedy Justice (1971); M. K. Beran, The Last Patrician (1998); R. Steel, In Love with Night: The American Romance with Robert Kennedy (1999); E. Thomas, Robert Kennedy: His Life (2000). See also E. O. Guthman and J. Shulman, Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words (1988).

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Kennedy, Robert Francis

Kennedy, Robert Francis (1925–68) US lawyer and statesman. He served on the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities (1957–59), where he clashed with the Teamsters' Union president Jimmy Hoffa. In 1960, he managed the successful presidential campaign of his brother John F. Kennedy. He became US attorney general (1961–64), vigorously enforcing civil rights laws and promoting the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After his brother's assassination, he left the cabinet and was elected senator for New York in 1964. While a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, he was assassinated in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968.

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