Chappaquiddick Incident

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CHAPPAQUIDDICK INCIDENT. During the evening and early morning hours of 18–19 July 1969, a young woman riding with Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy died in an automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. After Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne left a reunion of workers from Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, Kennedy drove his car off a narrow bridge that lacked guardrails. Kennedy suffered a concussion but managed to escape; Kopechne drowned. Kennedy said that he dove repeatedly to the car to try to rescue Kopechne. Many questioned Kennedy's behavior, however, because he had been drinking that night, had failed to report the accident until the police contacted him the next morning, and had given unsatisfying explanations of what happened. On 25 July, he pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a suspended sentence of two months.

The resulting scandal threatened Kennedy's political future. After entering his guilty plea, he gave a televised address to the people of Massachusetts, asking them for advice on whether he should resign his Senate seat. The public generally backed Kennedy, and he did not resign, but the Chappaquiddick incident permanently damaged Kennedy's presidential prospects. The issue arose frequently during his unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980.


Clymer, Adam. Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography. New York: William Morrow, 1999.

Lange, James E. T., and Katherine DeWitt Jr. Chappaquiddick: The Real Story. New York: St. Martin's, 1992.