Edward (Ted) Kennedy, the youngest son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on 22nd February, 1932. His great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, had emigrated from Ireland in 1849 and his grandfathers, Patrick Joseph Kennedy and John Francis Fitzgerald, were important political figures in Boston.
Kennedy later admitted that as the youngest child he was treated with the utmost indulgence by his mother and sisters. He commented in later life that it was like "having a whole army of mothers around me."
Kennedy's father was a highly successful businessman and supporter of the Democratic Party. In 1937 Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him as ambassador to Great Britain. Ted lived in London during this period and by the end of the Second World War when he was 13, he had attended 10 different schools. His eldest brother, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, was killed in action in France in 1944.
In 1950 Kennedy won a place at Harvard University. He was an outstanding sportsman but had difficulty with his academic studies. As one of his biographers has pointed out: "Faced with a Spanish examination he was sure he would fail, Kennedy paid a more adept friend to take it for him. To the chagrin of his family, the plot was discovered and he was expelled, though the incident was covered up for more than a decade. With his exemption from military service now void, he was conscripted into the army from 1951 to 1953. The family appeared to regard his brief service career as a form of punishment and made no effort to ease his lot."
After two years in the US Army Kennedy was allowed to return to Harvard. He got a BA in government in 1956 but failed to qualify for its law school and after a period at the Hague Academy of International Law he enrolled at the University of Virginia. While a student he married the former model, Joan Bennett in 1958.
A member of the Democratic Party Kennedy became involved in politics and in 1958 managed the Senate election campain of his brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He graduated as a bachelor of law in 1959 and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar.
In 1960 Edward Kennedy helped his brother, Robert Kennedy, manage John Kennedy's successful presidential campaign against Richard Nixon. However, as John M. Broder pointed out in the New York Times: "In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for president, Edward was assigned a relatively minor role, rustling up votes in Western states that usually voted Republican. He was so enthusiastic about his task that he rode a bronco at a Montana rodeo and daringly took a ski jump at a winter sports tournament in Wisconsin to impress a crowd. The episodes were evidence of a reckless streak that repeatedly threatened his life and career."
In 1962 Kennedy entered the Senate as a representative of Massachusetts.When his brother was assassinated in 1963 he flew to the family home in Hyannis Port where he had the task of telling his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, now frail and bedridden, the news. As Evan Thomas has pointed out: "When the president was assassinated in November 1963, it fell to Teddy to tell their stroke-ridden father. His clumsy wording suggests the pain. There's been a bad accident, Ted began. The president has been hurt very badly. As a matter of fact, he died. Then the son dropped to his knees and wept into the outstretched hands of his father."
On 19th June, 1964, Edward Kennedy was a passenger in a private plane from Washington to Massachusetts that crashed into an apple orchard in bad weather, in the town of Southampton. The pilot and Edward Moss, one of Kennedy's aides, were killed. Kennedy suffered six spinal fractures and two broken ribs. He spent six months in hospital and suffered chronic back pain from the landing for the rest of his life.
Kennedy returned to the Senate in 1965 and along with Robert Kennedy he joined the campaign for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He tried to strengthen it with an amendment that would have outlawed poll taxes. He lost by only four votes, and showed for the first time his committment to liberal causes.
Initially, Edward Kennedy gave his support to Lyndon B. Johnson when he expanded the U.S. role in the Vietnam War. However, he grew increasingly concerned about the large number of American deaths and after a trip to the country in January 1968 he argued that the president should tell South Vietnam, "Shape up or we're going to ship out." Later he called the war a “monstrous outrage.”
On 16th March, Robert Kennedy declared his candidacy for the presidency, stating, "I am today announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. I do not run for the Presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I'm obliged to do all I can." Edward Kennedy became his brother's leading campaigner.
Soon afterwards Lyndon B. Johnson withdrew from the contest and Robert Kennedy looked certain to be the party's candidate. He had just won his sixth primary in California when he was assassinated. Frank Mankiewicz said of seeing Edward at the hospital where Robert lay mortally wounded: "I have never, ever, nor do I expect ever, to see a face more in grief."
At his brother's funeral, Edward Kennedy gave a speech that included: "Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change." He then went onto quote his brother: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."
Edward Kennedy developed a drink problem after the death of Robert Kennedy. One of his biographers has pointed out: "The strain began to show on Kennedy, notably in his increased consumption of alcohol. It surfaced publicly when he went on a Senate fact-finding trip to Alaska the following spring. His staff and the accompanying journalists noticed him taking constant drags from a hip flask on the flights and then searching out bars at each stop. On the homeward flight he repeatedly teetered down the aisle, spilling his drinks on other passengers. He was also having difficulties with his marriage. Like his father and brother John, he had a voracious sexual appetite."
After Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 Edward Kennedy was widely assumed to be the front-runner for the 1972 Democratic nomination. In January 1969, Kennedy was elected as Senate Majority Whip, the youngest person to attain that position. In this role he made determined efforts to stop Nixon's plans to cut back on welfare and other federal programmes for the poor.
On 17th July, 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne joined several other women who had worked for the Kennedy family at the Edgartown Regatta. She stayed at the Katama Shores Motor Inn on the southern tip of Martha's Vineyard. The following day the women travelled across to Chappaquiddick Island. They were joined by Ted Kennedy and that night they held a party at Lawrence Cottage. At the party was Kennedy, Kopechne, Susan Tannenbaum, Maryellen Lyons, Ann Lyons, Rosemary Keough, Esther Newburgh, Joe Gargan, Paul Markham, Charles Tretter, Raymond La Rosa and John Crimmins.
Mary Jo Kopechne and Kennedy left the party at 11.15pm. Kennedy had offered to take Kopechne back to her hotel. He later explained what happened: "I was unfamiliar with the road and turned onto Dyke Road instead of bearing left on Main Street. After proceeding for approximately a half mile on Dyke Road I descended a hill and came upon a narrow bridge. The car went off the side of the bridge.... The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom. I attempted to open the door and window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out of the car. I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car. I was unsuccessful in the attempt."
Instead of reporting the accident Edward Kennedy returned to the party. According to a statement issued by Kennedy on 25th July, 1969: "instead of looking directly for a telephone number after lying exhausted in the grass for an undetermined time, walked back to the cottage where the party was being held and requested the help of two friends, my cousin Joseph Gargan and Paul Markham, and directed them to return immediately to the scene with me - this was some time after midnight - in order to undertake a new effort to dive."
When this effort to rescue Mary Jo Kopechne ended in failure, Kennedy decided to return to his hotel. As the ferry had shut down for the night Kennedy, swam back to Edgartown. It was not until the following morning that Kennedy reported the accident to the police. By this time the police had found Mary Jo Kopechne's body in Kennedy's car.
Edward Kennedy was found guilty of leaving the scene of the accident and received a suspended two-month jail term and one-year driving ban. That night he appeared on television to explain what had happened. He explained: "My conduct and conversations during the next several hours to the extent that I can remember them make no sense to me at all. Although my doctors informed me that I suffered a cerebral concussion as well as shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility for my actions by placing the blame either on the physical, emotional trauma brought on by the accident or on anyone else. I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately."
At the inquest Judge James Boyle raised doubts about Kennedy's testimony. He pointed out that as Kennedy had a good knowledge of Chappaquiddick Island he could not understand how he managed to drive down Dyke Road by mistake. For example, on the day of the accident, Kennedy had twice had driven on Dyke Road to go to the beach for a swim. To get to Dyke Road involved a 90-degree turn off a metalled road onto the rough, bumpy dirt-track.
An investigation at the scene of the accident by Raymond R. McHenry, suggested that Kennedy approached the bridge at an estimated 34 miles (55 kilometres) per hour. At around 5 metres (17 feet) from the bridge, Kennedy braked violently. This locked the front wheels. According to McHenry: "The car skidded 5 metres (17 feet) along the road, 8 metres (25 feet) up the humpback bridge, jumped a 14 centimetre barrier, somersaulted through the air for about 10 metres (35 feet) into the water and landed upside-down."
Investigators found it difficult to understand why he was crossing Dyke Bridge when he said he was attempting to reach Edgartown which was in the opposite direction. They also could not understand why he was driving so fast on this unlit, uneven, road. They also could not work out how Kennedy escaped from the car. When it was recovered from the water all the doors were locked. Three of the windows were either open or smashed in. If Kennedy, a large-framed 6 foot 2 inches tall man could manage to get out of the car, why was it impossible for Kopechne, a slender 5 foot 2 inches tall, not do the same?
Local experts could not understand why Kennedy (and later, Markham and Gargan) could not rescue Kopechne from the car. It also surprised investigators that Kennedy did not seek help from Pierre Malm, who only lived 135 metres from the bridge. At the inquest Kennedy was unable to answer this question.
There were also doubts about the way Mary Jo Kopechne died. Dr. Donald Mills of Edgartown, wrote on the death certificate: "death by drowning". However, Gene Frieh, the undertaker, told reporters that death "was due to suffocation rather than drowning". John Farrar, the diver who removed Kopechne from the car, claimed she was "too buoyant to be full of water". It is assumed that she died from drowning, although her parents filed a petition preventing an autopsy.
Other questions were asked about Kennedy's decision to swim back to Edgartown. The 150 metre channel had strong currents and only the strongest of swimmers would have been able to make the journey safely. Also no one saw Kennedy arrive back at the Shiretown Inn in wet clothes. Ross Richards, who had a conversation with Kennedy the following morning at the hotel described him as casual and at ease.
Kennedy did not inform the police of the accident while he was at the hotel. Instead at 9am he joined Gargan and Markham on the ferry back to Chappaquiddick Island. Steve Ewing, the ferry operator, reported Kennedy in a jovial mood. It was only when Kennedy reached the island that he phoned the authorities about the accident that had taken place the previous night.
Dr. Robert Watt, Kennedy's family doctor, explained his patient's strange behaviour by claiming he was in a state of shock and confusion and "possible concussion."
President Richard Nixon told his White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman that this was "the end of Teddy" and that it "will be around his neck forever." Max Lerner wrote in Ted and the Kennedy Legend: A Study in Character and Destiny (1980), this self-inflicted wound, more than any other event, "blocked his path to the White House, called his credibility into question and damaged the Kennedy legend."
The Chappaquiddick incident continued to haunt Kennedy and in January 1971, he lost his position as Senate Majority Whip when he was defeated by Senator Robert Byrd, 31–24. Kennedy now concentrated on wider political issues. This included becoming chair of the Senate subcommittee on health care. Over the next few years Edward Kennedy developed a well-deserved reputation in Capitol Hill as a diligent and effective legislator.
As Evan Thomas pointed out in Newsweek: "Edward Kennedy, perhaps more than any United States senator in the past half century, cared about the poor and dispossessed. Though he was relentlessly mocked by the right as a tax-and-spend liberal, he kept the faith.... He was hardly the first rich person to care. Oblige has gone with noblesse for ages; Franklin Roosevelt, creator of the New Deal, was a rich aristocrat. But there was a seriousness, a doggedness, to Kennedy. He was no dilettante, no limousine liberal. He was a prodigious worker, the strongest force in the government for women's rights and health care, civil rights and immigration, the rights of the disabled and education. He was effective: in the Senate, to get something done, you went to Ted Kennedy."
Kennedy was also an outspoken critic of President Richard Nixon. He made several speeches attacking Nixon's policies in Vietnam. He called it "a policy of violence that means more and more war". Kennedy also strongly criticized the Nixon administration's support for Pakistan and its ignoring of "the brutal and systematic repression of East Bengal by the Pakistani army".
However, because of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, Kennedy was not in a position to obtain the nomination to take on Nixon in the 1972 presidential election. As one commentator has pointed out: "The judge ruled that Kennedy was probably guilty of criminal conduct but made no move to indict him. This obvious manipulation of the local judiciary by the state's most powerful family was probably more damaging in the long term than the tragedy itself."
Edward Kennedy and Joan Bennett Kennedy had three children: Kara Anne (27th February, 1960), Edward Moore Kennedy, Jr. (26th September, 1961) and Patrick Joseph Kennedy (14th July, 1967). The children encountered several health problems. Patrick suffered from severe asthma attacks and in 1973 Edward was discovered to have bone cancer and had to have his right leg amputated. Joan has also had three miscarriages and this contributed to her developing a serious drink problem. In 1978, the couple separated and shortly afterwards she gave an interview to McCall's Magazine where she admitted to being an alcoholic.
In 1979 Kennedy made another attempt to become the Democratic Party presidential candidate when he took on the sitting president, Jimmy Carter, a member of his own party. Kennedy won 10 presidential primaries but he eventually withdrew from the race when it became clear that the public was still concerned about the events on Chappaquiddick Island. When he withdrew from the campaign he made a speech where he argued: "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
Edward Kennedy and Joan Bennett Kennedy divorced in 1982. Kennedy easily defeated Republican businessman Ray Shamie to win re-election in 1982. He was already the ranking member of the Labor and Public Welfare Committee but Senate leaders also granted him a seat on the Armed Services Committee. Kennedy now became an outspoken critic of the foreign policy of President Ronald Reagan. This included intervention in the Salvadoran Civil War and the support for the Contras in Nicaragua.
Kennedy also objected to the support President Reagan gave to apartheid government in South Africa. In January 1985 he visited the country and spent a night in the Soweto home of Bishop Desmond Tutu and also visited Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned black leader Nelson Mandela. On his return to the United States he campaigned for economic sanctions against South Africa and was mainly responsible for the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. President Reagan attempted to veto the legislation but was overridden by the United States Congress (by the Senate 78 to 21, the House by 313 to 83). This was the first time in the 20th century that a president had a foreign policy veto overridden. Later that year he travelled to the Soviet Union where he had talks with Mikhail Gorbachev. This led to the release of several political prisoners, including Anatoly Shcharansky.
In 1991, Kennedy was involved in another scandal when his nephew William Kennedy Smith was accused of sexual offences against Patricia Bowman while at a party at the family's Palm Beach, Florida estate. Smith was eventually acquitted and even though he was not directly implicated in the case he issued a public statement about his life: " "I am painfully aware of the disappointment of friends and many others who rely on me to fight the good fight. I recognise my own shortcomings, the faults in the conduct of my private life."
Kennedy remained on the left of the party and has been identified with various progressive causes. He was achairman of the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. In 2007 he helped pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which incrementally raises the minimum wage by $2.10 to $7.25 over a two year period. The bill also included higher taxes for many $1 million-plus executives. Kennedy was quoted as saying, "Passing this wage hike represents a small, but necessary step to help lift America's working poor out of the ditches of poverty and onto the road toward economic prosperity."
On May 20, 2008, doctors announced that Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor, diagnosed after he experienced a seizure at Hyannisport. The following month Kennedy underwent brain surgery at Duke University Hospital.
During his last months Kennedy, who was chairman of the Senate health committee, used what energy he had left to try and get the proposal by Barack Obama, to extend insurance coverage to 46 million people. Kennedy described health reform as the "cause of my life". As The Washington Post pointed out: "His measures gave access to care for millions and funded treatment around the world. He was a longtime advocate for universal health care and promoted biomedical research, as well as AIDS research and treatment."
Edward Kennedy died on 26th August 2009. Nancy Pelosi, in a statement on Kennedy's death, vowed that a health reform bill would reach the statute book this year. "Ted Kennedy's dream of quality healthcare for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration." Marc R. Stanley, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said: "Kennedy dedicated much of his life to ensuring that affordable healthcare is available for all Americans. The greatest tribute that we can bestow is to thoughtfully, but urgently, enact comprehensive health insurance reform."