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Encyclopedia > Joseph P. Kennedy

Joseph "Joe" Patrick Kennedy, Sr. (September 6, 1888November 18, 1969) was a prominent United States political figure, the father of President John F. Kennedy and the mastermind of the Kennedy political family.


Joseph was the son of Patrick J. Kennedy, and like his father resided in Boston, Massachusetts. Like his father he became a leading local Democrat and after graduating from Harvard University in 1912 he married Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of John F. Fitzgerald, the Democrat mayor of Boston.


Like his father, Joseph was a businessman, but was even more successful, becoming a millionaire. Joseph started to build his fortune during World War I. He worked at a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts where he oversaw the production of submarines and battleships. He also supervised the construction of housing for shipyard workers and even the onsite cafeteria. In the early 1920s, Joseph acquired two movie studios and personally produced several films, he then sold the companies to the Radio Corporation of America.


Joseph multiplied his fortune through stock speculation; he was a master of the stock pool, a then legal arrangement in which a few traders conspired to inflate a stock's price, selling just before the bubble burst. Some attribute these market manipulations as being in part responsible for the Stock Market Crash of 1929 which triggered the Great Depression. Ironically, a short time later he was appointed the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he oversaw the banning of these practices. During Prohibition, Joseph was reputedly a bootleger, selling for several British alcohol distillers. He had a large inventory that he sold for a gain of millions of dollars when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. He invested these gains in residential and commercial real estate, the Merchandise Emporium in Chicago and Hialeah Race Track.


Joseph's first active involvement in a national political campaign occurred during Franklin D. Roosevelt's bid for the Presidency. He donated, loaned, and raised a substantial amount of money for FDR's presidential campaign. President Franklin D. Roosevelt rewarded him, with an appointment as the inaugural Chairman of Securities and Exchange Commission. Some attribute a quote to the then President that he had "sent a thief to catch a thief."


Even Joseph's critics acknowledge the reforming work he performed as SEC Chairman. 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 lodge financial statements with the SEC which broke what some saw as an information monopoly maintained by the Morgan banking family. After serving in this post for several years, he resigned in 1935. President Roosevelt then asked him to Chair the Maritime Commission.


In 1938, he was appointed as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St James (United Kingdom). Kennedy, of Irish descent, had little concern for the British, sympathized somewhat with the America Firsters led by Colonel Charles Lindbergh and others who wanted no war with Hitler, supported a policy of United States isolationism, and had no problem with Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. He resigned from office in 1940 as he disagreed with Roosevelt's determination to involve the USA in the Second World War.


Joseph had high hopes for political office for his sons, and was grooming his eldest Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. for the presidency. However, Joseph, Jr. was killed whilst on active service in the United States Navy during the war. Joseph then turned his attention to grooming his next eldest son, John F. Kennedy for the presidency, which he won in the 1960 elections.


On December 19, 1961, Joseph suffered a greatly disabling stroke which made movement and communication extremely difficult and limited until his death.


JFK's assassination in 1963 obviously had a great effect on the family and Joseph was reluctant to support his other son Robert F. Kennedy's bid to become the Democratic nominee for the presidency in the 1968 elections for fear that he might lose yet another child. This fear came to pass when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 while on the campaign trail.


Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. died the following year, on November 18, 1969.


Joseph and Rose Kennedy's children today

As of January, 2005, four of Joseph and Rose Kennedy's nine children are still living. They have grown particularly close as the years have passed.


Rosemary Kennedy, the third child born in the immediate Kennedy family, underwent a lobotomy in 1941 at age 23 after Joe Kennedy was informed that behavioral issues and mood swings related to his daughter's mild mental complications could be addressed by such an operation. However, the lobotomy resulted in profound mental retardation. Rosemary Kennedy lived an isolated life at a Wisconsin institution beginning in 1949. Due to the severity of her mental condition, Rosemary became largely detached from the Kennedy clan. However, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics and an advocate for the disabled on Rosemary's behalf, began involving her in family life later on. On January 7, 2005, Rosemary Kennedy died at the age of 86, at the institution where she had spent the last fifty-five years. Hers was the first, and, currently, only, natural death among the children of Joe and Rose Kennedy. A true testament to the merging of the Kennedy siblings, at her side upon her death were her surviving sisters and Senator Ted Kennedy.



See also: List of descendants of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, List of well-known U.S. presidential relatives


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