Kennedy, Edward

views updated May 18 2018

Edward Kennedy

Born: February 22, 1932
Brookline, Massachusetts

American senator

Edward (Ted) Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy (1917 1963) and Robert F. Kennedy (19251968), entered the U.S. Senate at age thirty and has steadily gained political influence as he continues to win reelection.

Preparing for public service

Edward Moore Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on February 22, 1932, fourth son and last of nine children of Joseph P. (18881969) and Rose Fitzgerald (18901995) Kennedy. His father was a multimillionaire businessman. Because his family moved frequently, Kennedy attended several different private schools before enrolling in Milton Academy, near Boston, Massachusetts, in 1946. Upon graduation from Milton in 1950 he enrolled at Harvard University. At the end of his freshman year, however, he was expelled for having another student take a Spanish exam in his place. Kennedy then enlisted for a two-year term in the army. His father's influence won him an assignment as a guard to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe (SHAPE) in Paris.

After completing his time in the army, Kennedy returned to Harvard and graduated in 1956. He then enrolled in the University of Virginia Law School, where his natural talent for debate was sharpened. He received his law degree in 1959 and was admitted to practice in Massachusetts in the same year. In November 1958 Kennedy married Virginia Joan Bennett; they had three children.

While still a law student Edward Kennedy managed the successful Senate reelection campaign in Massachusetts of his brother John Kennedy. In 1960 he served as Western states coordinator for John's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. After his brother's victory in the 1960 election, Edward took a position as assistant to the district attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts. As preparation for running in 1962 for the remainder of John's unfinished Senate term, Edward traveled widely and made many speeches.

Becoming a national figure

At the age of thirty, Kennedy easily won election to the Senate in 1962 over Republican George Cabot Lodge (1927). Kennedy's slogan was: "I can do more for Massachusetts." As a junior legislator, Kennedy spent most of his time watching and learning from his Senate seniors, surprising some observers who expected him to be more aggressive. A year after John Kennedy's 1963 assassination, Edward won election to his first full Senate term.

By 1967 Kennedy began to speak out against the Vietnam War (195575), a civil war in which U.S. forces helped South Vietnam fight against a takeover by Communist forces from North Vietnam. Kennedy focused mainly on the need for draft reform and the U.S. failure to provide for the Vietnamese war victims. After visiting South Vietnam in early 1968 he became even more critical, yet he managed to stay on good terms with the administration of President Lyndon Johnson (19081973). Kennedy's life was strongly affected by the assassination of his brother Robert (19251968) in June 1968. After a period of withdrawal, he became more vocal in criticizing the Vietnam War and in pressing for selected social reforms. Though he denied interest in seeking the 1968 Democratic nomination, his actions clearly established him as heir to the "Kennedy legacy," and many expected that he would one day run for the presidency.

Presidential possibilities

The year 1969 began well for Kennedy, with his election as Senate majority whip (assistant leader) in January. Six months later, however, his career and reputation suffered a huge blow when, following a party, he drove his car off a narrow bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, near Massachusetts, resulting in the drowning of his companion, Mary Jo Kopechne (19401969). Kennedy's failure to report the accident for nearly nine hours was harshly condemned by press and public alike. In a televised speech a week later he asked the voters to advise him as to whether he should remain in office. The response was positive, as was the local court's verdict: Kennedy's sentencefor leaving the scene of an accidentwas suspended.

Rumors about what really happened at Chappaquiddick did not burden him in the Senate. He was an outspoken critic of the administration of President Richard Nixon (19131994), opposing Nixon's antiballistic missile (ABM; a free-falling nuclear missile) installment proposal, backing various measures to end the Vietnam War, and leading the fight to lower the voting age to eighteen. Kennedy won an easy reelection in 1970, however, he lost his majority whip post by a close vote in 1971. Freed from the responsibilities of his formal leadership post, he resumed his outspoken opposition to the Nixon administration with more energy than ever.

Many suspected that Kennedy would run for president in 1972, but he again denied any such ambitions. He refused the vice presidential nomination offered by Democratic nominee George McGovern (1922). He turned his attention to other issues, such as handgun control and national health insurance. His 1972 book, In Critical Condition, was a sweeping criticism of the U.S. health care industry. In 1976 Kennedy announced again that he would not run for president even though polls showed that many people supported him. He continued to win reelection to the Senate and became chairman of its Judiciary Committee. He also loyally backed the Democratic foreign-policy programs of President Jimmy Carter (1924).

Kennedy again emerged as the favorite in public opinion polls regarding the 1980 presidential nomination although he denied interest in the position. Finally yielding to temptation, he announced in November 1979 that he would challenge Carter for the nomination. However, his candidacy began miserably when he performed poorly in a televised interview (which revived the "Chappaquiddick issue"). The Iranian hostage crisis (an incident in which fifty-two Americans were held captive at the U.S. embassy in Iran by student protesters) and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan increased public support for Carter, at least temporarily. Carter locked up the Democratic nomination well before the party convention had even begun. Kennedy, however, dominated the convention itself with one of his most stirring speeches.

A leader on national issues

When the Republicans gained control of the Senate in 1981, Kennedy lost his Judiciary Committee chairmanship and once again focused his energies mainly on social programs and labor issues. Kennedy emerged as an influential and constant critic of the domestic and foreign policies of President Ronald Reagan (1911). In late 1982 Kennedy removed himself from competition for his party's presidential nomination. He remained committed to an expanded federal role in pursuit of social and economic justice, yet he showed that he was clearly capable of sensible cost cutting when necessary.

Kennedy continues to work in the Senate to benefit the people of Massachusetts and the nation. He was an author of the 1996 Health Insurance and Portability Act, which allowed those who change or lose their job to maintain health insurance, and the 1997 Children's Health Act, which increased access to health care for children age eighteen and under. To mark his contribution toward helping to fulfill the four essential freedoms for the world outlined by President Franklin Roosevelt (18821945) in 1941, Kennedy was given the 1999 Four Freedoms Award by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.

For More Information

Burner, David, and Thomas R. West. The Torch Is Passed: The Kennedy Brothers and American Liberalism. New York: Atheneum, 1984.

Burns, James McGregor. Edward Kennedy and the Camelot Legacy. New York: Norton, 1976.

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

David, Lester. Good Ted, Bad Ted: The Two Faces of Edward M. Kennedy. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Pub. Group, 1993.

Hersh, Burton. The Shadow President: Ted Kennedy in Opposition. South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 1997.

Kennedy, Edward Moore

views updated Jun 27 2018


Ted Kennedy has served as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts since 1962. The brother of President john f. kennedy and Senator robert f. kennedy, who were both assassinated, he has championed many liberal social programs, including national health care, and has been a major figure in the democratic party. His presidential aspirations were damaged because of personal scandal.

Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy, the youngest of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, was born February 22, 1932, in Brookline, Massachusetts. He started at Harvard University in 1950, then left in 1951 to serve in the U.S. Army. He returned to college in 1953 and graduated in 1956. He next attended the University of Virginia Law School, where he graduated in 1959. He married Virginia Joan Bennett in 1958. The couple had three children, Kara A., Edward M., Jr., and Patrick J. They were divorced in 1983.

In 1960, Kennedy became an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. He soon turned his eye toward politics. After his brother John was elected president in 1960 and had to resign from the U.S. Senate, Kennedy filed in the 1962 election to fill out John's term. His announcement led opponents to criticize him for trading on the Kennedy name. He was only 30 years old, the minimum age for a U.S. senator set by the U.S. Constitution, and had little experience in politics or the workplace. Nevertheless, Kennedy easily won the election. He won a full six-year term in 1964 and has been reelected five times since then.

Despite his youth, Kennedy soon emerged as a forceful advocate of social-welfare legislation and a respected member of the Senate. He was elected Senate majority whip in 1969, which was highly unusual for a person with little seniority. Kennedy appeared ready to make a presidential bid in 1972. But any hopes in that direction were dashed in the summer of 1969, when his personal conduct became a national scandal.

"America was an idea shaped in the turbulence of revolution, then given formal structure in a constitution."
Ted Kennedy

On July 18, 1969, Kennedy attended a party with friends and staff members on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. That evening, Kennedy drove his car off a narrow bridge on the island. Mary Jo Kopechne, a passenger in the car and former member of his brother Robert's staff, drowned. Kennedy's actions following the accident were disturbing. He did not immediately report what had happened, and he remained in seclusion for days. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident. This plea, coupled with the revelation that he, a married man, had been in the company of a young, unmarried woman, devastated Kennedy's image and political standing. He lost his majority whip position in 1971 and refused to become involved in the 1972 presidential race.

During the 1970s, Kennedy concentrated his energies on his senatorial duties. He became the leading advocate of a national health care system that would provide coverage to every citizen without regard to income. He also argued for tax reform, arms control, and stronger antitrust laws. From 1979 to 1981, he chaired the senate judiciary committee. He initially supported the administration of Democratic president jimmy carter, but soon criticized Carter's economic policies and leadership style.

His dissatisfaction led him to seek the presidential nomination in 1980. Running against an incumbent of his own party, Kennedy drew the support of liberals and won primaries in ten states. Carter nevertheless won the nomination. However, already weakened by Kennedy's criticisms, Carter lost the general election to ronald reagan.

During the administrations of Reagan and his successor, george h.w. bush, Kennedy became the leading liberal critic of Republican policies and politics.

Kennedy's personal life continued to attract attention in the 1990s. In March 1991, Kennedy's nephew, William Kennedy Smith, was charged with rape in Palm Beach, Florida. The alleged assault took place at the Kennedy family compound. Palm Beach police asserted that Kennedy had obstructed justice by misleading police early in their investigation. When police arrived to investigate, they were told that Kennedy and Smith had already left the area. Later investigation of travel records indicated

that Kennedy probably was still in the mansion at the time. Although Smith was acquitted of the charge in December 1991, the nationally televised trial again tarnished Kennedy's reputation. In July 1992, Kennedy married Victoria Reggie, a Washington, D.C., lawyer.

Kennedy has not abandoned his liberal beliefs and has remained a powerful member of the U.S. Senate. In 1996, he sponsored legislation with Republican Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas that makes health insurance portable, so that families do not lose their health insurance coverage if they lose or change jobs.

In 1999, Kennedy and his family suffered a further tragic loss when a small airplane piloted by his nephew John Kennedy, Jr. went down in the Atlantic Ocean near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, killing John Kennedy, his wife, and his sister-in-law. Once again, Ted Kennedy found himself playing the role of family patriarch as he oversaw funeral arrangements and consoled family members. In the new millennium, Kennedy has continued his role as senior senator, serving as ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He is the senior Democrat on the Immigration Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee and is a member of the Senate Arms Control Observer Group that is part of the Armed Services Committee.

Kennedy's persistence, collegiality, and long service have won him friends on both sides of the aisle. He continues to advocate for numerous causes including raising the minimum wage, strengthening civil rights laws and laws aimed at protecting senior citizens and persons with disabilities, and tightening environmental and worker-safety laws.

further readings

"A Private Return to the Sea." 1999. Minneapolis Star Tribune. (July 23).

Senator Edward Kennedy Senate site. Available online at <> (accessed on April 11, 2003).


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