Miller Center

John F. Kennedy: Family Life

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The Kennedys had their first child, Caroline, in 1957; John Jr. was born a few days after his father won the presidency. A third child, Patrick, died two days after his birth in 1963. After a long succession of elderly Presidents, it was refreshing for many to see the Kennedy family's youth and vitality. One image in particular stood out: that of John Jr. playing under the President's desk in the Oval Office. When JFK died there was another image: Jacqueline Kennedy whispering to John Jr. to be sure to give a military salute as the casket carrying the President passed by.

The President's extended family was large, wealthy, and powerful. President Kennedy named his brother Robert attorney general so, as he put it, his brother could "get some legal experience" before getting a job. Congress was not amused by the joke, and although Robert served ably, it later passed a law forbidding the President to make appointments of close relatives to federal office. President Lyndon Johnson, seeing Robert as a rival, maneuvered to keep him off the Democratic ticket in 1964 by stating that no cabinet secretary would be considered. Robert responded wryly that he was sorry to take so many capable officeholders down with him.

In the November 1962 mid-term elections, John Kennedy's younger brother Edward (Teddy) successfully ran for a Senate seat in Massachusetts. After the President's death, Robert Kennedy would become a senator from New York state and a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. This second Kennedy run for the White House was cut short by another assassin's bullet. After winning the California Democratic primary, Robert Kennedy was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan. Of the Kennedy brothers, Edward Kennedy would make the final run for the Oval Office in 1980 when he unsuccessfully challenged President Jimmy Carter's renomination. Despite this defeat, Edward Kennedy remained an active and senior member of the U.S. Senate until his death in 2009.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

David Coleman

Professor Coleman is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia and Chair of the Presidential Recordings Program, overseeing the John F. Kennedy project, at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. His writings include:

Real-World Nuclear Deterrence: The Making of International Strategy (Co-authored with Joseph Siracusa, Praeger Security International, 2006)

Depression to Cold War: A History of America from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan (Co-authored with Joseph Siracusa, Praeger Publishers, 2002)

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