The famous Kennedy family first sailed to America from Ireland in 1849. Sometimes called the “Royal Family of America,” the Kennedy’s political influence began with P.J. Kennedy and was carried all the way through John F. Kennedy’s presidency, while his brothers Robert and Ted held positions as prominent senators. But while everyone knows the Kennedy’s in the history books and through the media, who were they really? Sometimes the best way to get to know a person is by reading a book they published. Here is a close look at Robert and John F. Kennedy based on their published works:
Courage is the virtue that President Kennedy most admired. He sought out those people who had demonstrated in some way, whether it was on a battlefield or a baseball diamond, in a speech or fighting for a cause, that they had courage that they would stand up, that they could be counted on. (Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, Profiles in Courage foreword)
Bobby Kennedy’s quote about his brother rings true when you look at all the service awards J.F.K. received in his lifetime. Before the time of his presidency, John Kennedy had received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Purple Heart Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and more. Before he became president, John F. Kennedy served in the House of Representatives for Massachusetts in 1946, 1948, and 1950. He wrote Profiles in Courage while he was serving as senator but had needed back surgery and was mostly bed-ridden.
Published in 1856, Profiles in Courage told the stories of 8 United States senators who, in John F. Kennedy’s mind, had shown great courage in risking their careers for the sake of their personal beliefs. Many of these profiles are of senators who handled Civil Rights issues bravely. For example Sam Houston, a senator from Texas, went against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have allowed the two states to decide on the question of slavery. His vote defeated the act and cost him reelection, but it also honored the Missouri Compromise and became a defining moment in history. For that reason, John Kennedy admired him.
Another profile that J.F.K. considered courageous was Robert A. Taft from Ohio. Taft criticized the Nuremberg Trials for trying Nazi war criminals under ex post facto laws, a criticism which cost him the Republican nomination for president in 1948. Profiles in Courage won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957, and is commended as having been a courageous act for Kennedy himself to perform, especially as he was aligning himself with controversial politics before he even began his run for presidency. The book was a huge success, however, and is still widely read today.
For in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, ‘hold office’; everyone of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve. (Profiles in Courage)
The Kennedy family was always greatly aligned with the Democratic party, and J.F.K. himself was seen as a president of the people. Lauren Bacall, who had campaigned for Robert Kennedy for presidency, said at the time, “Being a liberal is is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal.”
Bobby Kennedy wrote his essay, To Seek A Newer World, not long before his assassination in 1968. Critics call the essay the best glimpse of what could have been had Robert Kennedy been able to assume presidency. The essay covers many issues of the Democratic party, including the Vietnam War, welfare, nuclear power, and more. Kennedy had great influence in racial politics, including The Civil War and Apartheid in South Africa. He greatly carried the support of minorities in the country, and his essay and other speeches remained famous after his death.
The sixties were a turbulent decade, and Robert Kennedy responded to that turbulence with unusual directness and sensitivity. He had evolved from the rigid prosecutor of a decade earlier into a popular leader who combined political realism with social idealism and passion with humor. (Foner & Garraty, 614)
Robert and John F. Kennedy were two of the most influential brothers in politics. Inscribed photographs and first edition works, Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy and To Seek A Newer World by Robert Kennedy, are available online for purchase.