THE IRISH GHETTO YEARS
PART 2 THE KENNEDY DYNASTY
THE STATEMENI THAT IT TAKES three things to win in war or politics and that the first is money, the second is money and the third is money, has been ascribed, rightly or wrongly, to Joseph Patrick Kennedy, the uninhibited and shrewd multimillionaire father of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Attorney-General Robert Francis Kenned) and Senator Fdward Moore Kennedy.
John Kennedy himself acknowledged early in his career, as every politician must, that campaigning requires campaign funds. He went bevond that, enunciating to close friends the theory that, other things being equal, voters will favor a rich man over a poor man. There is no reason to believe that he has changed his opinion which —in spite of the log-cabin-to-White-House myth — is solidly based on the fact that most presidents have had substantial private fortunes.
A candidate can't, of course, go around announcing that his tamilv is one of the wealthiest in the United States. But if he has the personality and the wit. he can get the message across with adroit jokes. Before the Kennedys became America's best known dynast), when the name was still onlv vaguelv familiar to the average citizen. John Kenned) did this verv effectively, managing to leave the impression that while he had been born with a platinum spoon in his mouth, he was a little embarrassed about it and was unspoiled, modest, unassuming.
At one political rail) he followed several speak-
ers whom the chairman introduced as poor boys who "came up the hard way." Kennedy started his own speech by saying with an infectious smile. "I’m the one who didn't come up the hard way.” And in 1958 when he was running for re-election to the U. S. Senate, he read to a lighthearted dinner gathering of Washington correspondents, an imaginary telegram he said he had received from his "generous daddy." The text: “Dear Jack, don't buy a single vote more than is necessary. I'll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.”
But it took far more than money to put John Kennedy in the White House. It took a struggle that began long before his birth—the struggle of a racial and religious minority, the Irish Catholics, to overcome and erase the sort of prejudice and discrimination that now blights the lives and limits the opportunities of Negroes. John Kennedy. as president, is the ultimate symbol of the Irish Catholic victory—a victory Robert Kennedy must have had in mind when he startled Americans. particularly those in the deep South, by declaring that a Negro could be president "within the foreseeable future."
Boston, where the Kennedy forebears sank roots on this side of the Atlantic, has been the most important battleground in the Irish fight for first class citizenship.
There are two reasons why. First, it was the chief U. S. port of call in the mid-eighteenhundreds for the steam paddle packets of the enterprising Nova Scotian. Samuel Cunard — packets on which untold thousands of Irish crossed the Atlantic at fares as low as $12.50 after the potato famine struck Ireland. Second, it was populated until the famine largely by native-born Yankees. Protestants of Fnglish stock, who looked on all newcomers with suspicion and distrust, and who had an ingrained dislike of both Catholics and the Irish. A woman had once been hanged on Boston Common for saying her beads, and. prior to 1700. Massachussets decreed hanging for Catholic priests caught in the colony.
Refugees from the famine no sooner disembarked at “Good old Boston, the home of the bean and the cod. where the Lowells talk only to Cabots and the Cabots talk only to God,” than they collided with Yankee bigotry and enmity. A Yankee mayor spoke of them as "a race that will never be infused with our own. but on the contrary w'ili always remain distinct and hostile.” Irish women, derisively dubbed "biddies." worked as domestics for the Yankees at a dollar a week. The Yankees called the Irish males “greenhorns.” “clodhoppers." "harps" and "micks" and paid them a dollar for a fifteen-hour day to dig ditches and canals, lay railroad track, load and unload ships.
Factory gates in Boston and elsewhere bore “NINA" signs—"no Irish need apply." The Yankees often had Negro cooks and barbers but didn’t consider the Irish fit for those jobs, although they hired a few Irish waiters.
Sharing an outhouse and a sink
Shunned, segregated, the Irish lived in “Paddyvilles" and “Mick Alleys" by the Boston waterfront—ghettos that were the first mass urban slums in America and in which a score of families might share an outhouse and a single sink.
This was the Boston to which Patrick Kennedy. Bridget Murphy. Thomas Fitzgerald and Rose Mary Murray, all of County Wexford, stepped ashore in the eighteen-forties. Patrick would marrv Bridget. Thomas would marry Rose Mary, and their great grandchildren would include America's three most powerful brothers.
Pat found employment in a cooperage and he and Bridget, when the) were wed. moved into
a shantv in a teeming, noisy Last Boston neighborhood. They had four children, the last and most talented of whom. Patrick Joseph, was born in 1858—the same year old Pat died. To feed her brood. Bridget Kennedy then opened a tiny stationery and notions shop. As a lad. young Pat helped her in the shop after school. As a grown youth, he labored as a dock roustabout and longshoreman until he saved enough money to buy a saloon—an establishment that was the beginning of the Kennedy fortune and the Kennedy political influence.
Irish immigrants were still pouring into Boston. By 1900 they and their descendants would form half the total population. Because the Yankees rejected them the Irish stuck together, a community within a community. They traded at Irish stores. They did their drinking — and their railing against the Yankee “codfish aristocracy" — at Irish bars. They voted for Irish politicians.
Running three saloons and a yacht
As a result of such loyalty the Irish politicians grew so strong that since 1885 Boston's mayors, with three exceptions, have been of Irish blood. The Irish saloon keepers steadily prospered and the Irish merchants multiplied their holdings. Pat Kennedy, by the turn of the century, was a burly man with a walrus mustache, three saloons, and controlling interest in wholesale and retail liquor businesses, a coal company, and a trust company and savings hank. He was addressed as “P. J.” instead of Pat. and he was the political boss of Fast Boston. A Democratic stalwart, he had served in the Massachusetts House of Assemblv and the Massachusetts Senate.
He had a reputation for never going back on his own word. Once he told a drunk that if he’d give up drinking he would make him an aiderman. The drunk gave up drinking and P. J. kept his promise. Making a reformed drunkard an alderman was not. for P. !.. too difficult, for he was one of half a dozen bosses who dominated Boston politics and virtually dominated Massachusetts politics. They were known as the “board of strategy" and often met aboard P. J.'s sixtyfoot yacht to settle the fate of governors and mayors.
P. J.. who had long since moved from the slums, had a stable of fine horses as well as a yacht. He also had an attractive wife. Mary Hickey, and three children, one of whom. Joseph Patrick, would accumulate vast wealth, become U. S. ambassador to Britain, and sire the thirtyfifth president.
Among the more celebrated friends and contemporaries of P. J. was John Francis Fitzgerald, the third of seven sons born to that other County Wexford couple, Thomas Fitzgerald and Rose Mary Murray. John Fitzgerald, flamboyant mayor of Boston and thrice a U. S. congressman, the grandfather for whom John Fitzgerald Kennedy was named, is best remembered as “Honey Fitz"—a nickname said to have originated when a newspaper reporter, having trouble reading his notes, transcribed “Johnny Fitz” as Honey Fitz by mistake. Fitzgerald’s campaign song, although he was a teetotaler, was Sweet Adeline, and he sang it on all possible occasions and to all possible people—the possible people including most of Furope's crowned heads before the first world war. Once. Irish temper up and fists flying, he sailed into a mob of college boys who were throwing over-ripe vegetables at Richard Gerard. Sweet Adeline's composer.
Anybody who digs into the enormous mass of material that has been printed through the years about President. Attorney-General and Senator Kenned) and their antecedents is bound to note
Maclean’s Washington editor
that the president and his brothers have inherited qualities of both P. J. and Honey Fitz.
P. J. was intensely competitive—determined to eo as far as he could. So are his grandsons, one of whom has gone as far as you can go. and the other two of whom are half seriously regarded bv veteran Washington observers as presidential prospects. P. J. was a skilled organizer. So „-.re John. Robert and Edward. He had a cautiousness that was more Yankee than Irish—and so. in most things, have his grandsons. Their outlook is basically conservative yet tempered by a streak from Honey Fitz. who liked royalty but attended the wakes of the poor, and who put up the first Christmas tree on Boston Common when he heard a hobo complain that there was no Christmas tree for the homeless.
Honey Fitz received more schooling than his friend. P. J. Kennedy, because his immigrant father. Thomas Fitzgerald, had accumulated enough from the six dollars a month he earned as a farm laborer near Boston to buy a small grocery and liquor store. John graduated from Boston Latin School and enrolled in Harvard as a medical student, but Thomas Fitzgerald died and the youth withdrew from college to help his family.
Honey Fitz was then eighteen and found a job as a clerk in the Boston customs house. He was still in his early twenties when he established his own insurance firm—and as an insurance man he was a natural. In Boston’s North End. where he lived, there was no one he didn't know or who didn’t know him. He was the best singer, the best dancer, the best runner, the best swimmer and the best orator in that section—and the unchallenged social leader. He introduced open air dances, started a professional polo team, collected money to bury the indigent dead, distributed
baskets of food to the poor at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
He was short, blue-eyed and rosy-cheeked, and when he won a seat on the Boston city council at twenty-nine he looked so young that newspapers labeled him the “boy candidate.” Like Honey Fitz. John Kennedy looked younger than he was when he was elected as a congressman in his thirties, t here were even visitors to Washington's domed capitol building who mistook him for an elevator boy.
Later on. Honey Fitz came to resemble Napoleon slightly, which prompted Boston papers to identify him as the “Napoleon of ward six” and to run cartoons of him wearing a Napoleonic bonnet. He did not mind this. Indeed, as John Henry Cutler reports in his book Honey Fit:.. he read about Napoleon, copied his mannerisms and was pleased when the ward six cigar maker brought out a Young Napoleon cigar with his likeness on the band.
Honey Fitz was almost unrivalled for eloquence. The Boston Post once said that if he were awakened in the middle of the night and asked to speak on any subject under the sun he would "readily, not to say willingly, arise from his couch, slip his frock coat over his pyjamas and speak . . . for two hours and seventeen minutes . . .”
John F. Kennedy is similarly articulate and has John Fitzgerald’s retentive memory. It was said of Fitzgerald:
"Honey Fitz can talk you blind On any subject you can find; Fish and fishing, motor boats. Railroads, streetcars, getting votes. Proper way to open clams. How to cure existing shams . . ." The president's memory is one of his assets.
as reporters who cover his press conferences know. He can. on the spur of the moment, reel off statistics about farm production, automobile sales or the number of houses built in the last fiscal year. He has budget figures at his fingertips and can in addition recall an exact quotation from a speech delivered months before.
Coffee parties and soda socials
The points of similarity between Honey Fitz. and his namesake and favorite grandson seem almost endless. John Kennedy has extraordinary reserves of energy—and Honey Fitz was the most energetic mayor Boston ever had. In his first two years as mayor he averaged two dinners, three dances and six speeches a night. Once after a full day at city hall he appeared at six banquets and seven dances and socials, then just before dawn went to a wake in a tenement district. He was back at his desk at nine a.m.
John Kennedy's whirlwind campaigns for the House of Representatives, the Senate and the presidency are well known, but he could hardly have excelled the record of his maternal grandfather who. in one campaign for Boston’s mayoralty, spoke thirty times in one night. Fitzgerald’s campaigns for congress were equally vigorous.
I he present-day Kennedys use tactics very like those used by Honey Fitz when he was elected to congress in 1894, 1896 and 1898. when he conceived the idea ol appealing to the men through the women for whom he held ice cream soda parties. He also used this device when he ran for mayor. His wife. Mary Josephine Hannon Fitzgerald, was a shy woman who shunned the limelight and would take no part in the electioneering. but by the time of his mayoralty contests his daughter CONTINUED OVERLEAF
Rose, President Kennedy's mother, was his official hostess and his active assistant.
While the ice cream soda party has slipped into the past, the coffee party has succeeded it and there are few candidates today who don't ply the distaff side of the electorate with coffee. During John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign one of his most faithful coffee plyers was his mother Rose, who learned politics in the ice cream soda era.
The president, like Honey Fitz, is acutely aware of the foreign vote. Addressing an organization whose members are of Italian ancestry last October he made the same claim his grandfather used to make — that the Fitzgeralds w'ere originally the Geraldines or Gherardinis of Italy. Honey Fitz on various occasions claimed Greek, Roman, Norman and invariably Irish forebears.
While the emphasis on such claims can be attributed to politics, it is clear that Honey Fitz did have a deep sympathy for minorities. He told and retold the story of an encounter he had with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who thought — with reason — that Fitzgerald had persuaded President Grover Cleveland to veto an immigration bill with a literacy test that would have slowed immigration to a trickle. His version: "Senator Lodge accosted me in the Senate chamber and said. You are an impudent young man. Do you think Jews or Italians have any right in this country?’ ‘As much right as your father or mine,’ I said. It was only a difference of a few ships.’ ”
Fitzgerald was defeated by Lodge when he ran for the Senate. John Fitzgerald Kennedy defeated Lodge's son, and his brother Edward defeated Lodge’s grandson.
Honey Fitz. as a member of the House of Representatives, consistently supported Labor against Management in the labor-management
struggle that was then increasing in intensity, just as John Kennedy would do half a century later, yet this did not stop him from being an intimate friend of Charles Schwab, the steel magnate. It was his influence during the first world war that persuaded Schwab to appoint the president's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, head of Bethlehem Steel’s big ship-building plant at Fore River. Mass.
Joseph P. Kennedy, born in 1888, showed a phenomenal aptitude for mathematics as a boy, plus a talent for business. While he was a student at Harvard he and a classmate acquired a fleet of sight-seeing buses and by the time Joe graduated he had five thousand dollars. He had already decided to be a millionaire and got his father to have him appointed a state bank examiner — a post that gave him an inside view of Boston's banks. In 1913 with his father’s aid he bought control of the Columbia Trust Company for forty-five thousand dollars. He was twenty-five — and said to be the youngest bank president in the U. S. With the knowledge he gained as a bank examiner, he promoted a series of mergers before joining Schwab's Fore River shipyard. After the war he spent long enough on a stock broker’s staff to learn all he needed to know about the stock market, then branched out on his own, riding the bull market of the nineteentwenties. He backed silent pictures, gained control of a chain of theatres, was one of the first promoters of sound films, and sold his stocks before the market crash in 1929. Financially, it seemed he couldn’t lose.
Through the nineteen thirties Joe Kennedy was a strong supporter of an old friend and fellow Harvard man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt. four months after he was elected to his first term as president, called on Kennedy to head the newly created Securities and Exchange Com-
mission and clean up the stock market. Wall Street expected he would be favorable to speculators because he had been one of them; instead, he instituted drastic reforms.
In 1935 he felt his assignment had been completed and returned to private business. But Roosevelt had him undertake other missions and, at the end of 1937, chose him as U. S. ambassador to Britain. His term as ambassador began auspiciously. The English press welcomed him as "Jolly Joe Kennedy.” Yet it was in this post, as 1940 drew to a close, that he unaccountably gave Louis Lyons of the Bostor Globe the interview that wrecked his public career.
The scene of the interview was the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston and Lyons quoted Kennedy as saying that democracy was finished in England, that England was not fighting for democracy but for self-preservation, that if the U. S. entered the war it would be left “holding the bag.” Among other things he mentioned Sir Winston Churchill’s fondness for brandy and the impediment in the speech of King George VI. He added that "this is not our war,” and that unless the U. S. was attacked he hoped it would not go to war under any circumstances. Presumably he didn’t expect Lyons to quote him but it was the sort of interview a highly placed diplomat doesn’t give either on or off the record, and it terminated his usefulness in Britain.
Joe Kennedy, today elderly and ailing, devoted the years following his own forced withdrawal from public life to guiding and bankrolling the political development of his three remarkable sons. And it's a safe bet that he would have four sons in U. S. politics today if his namesake and oldest boy. Joe Jr., had not been killed while on a bombing raid in the war Joseph P. Kennedy didn’t want his country to get into. ★