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|Use attributes for filter !|
|Date of birth||November 20,1925|
|Assassinated||PIH Health Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Years of service||1944–1946|
|Children||Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.|
|Courtney Kennedy Hill|
|Siblings||John F. Kennedy|
|Grandchildren||Saoirse Roisin Hill|
|Joe Kennedy III|
|Founded||Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation|
RFK: His Words for Our Times
The Enemy Within896826
Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy
Robert Kennedy, in his own words
To Seek a Newer World
I dream things that never were . . . and say why not
Just Friends and Brave Enemies
The gospel according to RFK
The Pursuit of Justice
Promises to Keep: Memorable Writings and Statements
Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Men Who Are Destroying the Planet—And How They Explain Themselves to Their Own Children
13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis October 1962
The quotable Robert F. Kennedy
RFK: Selected Speeches
Crimes Against Nature: Standing Up to Bush and the Kyoto Killers who are Cashing in on Our World
Thirteen Days: 2a Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crises
RFK: His Words for Our Times
The Enemy Within896826
|Date of Reg.|
|Date of Upd.|
Robert Francis Kennedy, also referred to by his initials RFK or by the nickname Bobby, was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 64th United States Attorney General from January 1961 to September 1964, and as a U.S. Senator from New York from January 1965 until his assassination in June 1968.
Robert Francis Kennedy (November 20, 1925 – June 6, 1968), also referred to by his initials RFK or by the nickname Bobby, was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 64th United States Attorney General from January 1961 to September 1964, and as a U.S. Senator from New York from January 1965 until his assassination in June 1968. He was, like his brothers John and Edward, a prominent member of the Democratic Party and has come to be viewed by some historians as an icon of modern American liberalism.Kennedy was born into a wealthy, political family in Brookline, Massachusetts. After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1944 to 1946, Kennedy returned to his studies at Harvard University, and later received his law degree from the University of Virginia. He began his career as a correspondent for The Boston Post and as a lawyer at the Justice Department, but later resigned to manage his brother John's successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1952. The following year, he worked as an assistant counsel to the Senate committee chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. He gained national attention as the chief counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets Committee from 1957 to 1959, where he publicly challenged Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa over the union's corrupt practices. Kennedy resigned from the committee to conduct his brother's successful campaign in the 1960 presidential election. He was appointed United States Attorney General at the age of 35, one of the youngest cabinet members in American history. He served as his brother's closest advisor until the latter's 1963 assassination.His tenure is known for advocating for the civil rights movement, the fight against organized crime and the Mafia, and involvement in U.S. foreign policy related to Cuba. He authored his account of the Cuban Missile Crisis in a book titled Thirteen Days. As attorney general, he authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on a limited basis. After his brother's assassination, he remained in office during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson for several months. He left to run for the United States Senate from New York in 1964 and defeated Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating. In office, Kennedy opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and raised awareness of poverty by sponsoring legislation designed to lure private business to blighted communities (i.e., Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration project). He was an advocate for issues related to human rights and social justice by traveling abroad to eastern Europe, Latin America, and South Africa, and formed working relationships with Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Walter Reuther.
In 1968, Kennedy became a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency by appealing to poor, African American, Hispanic, Catholic, and young voters. His main challenger in the race was Senator Eugene McCarthy. Shortly after winning the California primary around midnight on June 5, 1968, Kennedy was mortally wounded when shot with a pistol by Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian, allegedly in retaliation for his support of Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War. Kennedy died 25 hours later. Sirhan was arrested, tried, and convicted, though Kennedy's assassination, like his brother's, continues to be the subject of widespread analysis and numerous conspiracy theories.
Robert Francis Kennedy was born outside Boston in Brookline, Massachusetts, on November 20, 1925. He was the seventh of nine children to businessman/politician Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and philanthropist/socialite Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. His parents were members of two prominent Irish-American families in Boston. His eight siblings were Joseph Jr., John, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Jean, and Ted. All four of his grandparents were children of Irish immigrants.His father was a wealthy businessman and a leading figure in the Democratic Party. After he stepped down as ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1940, Joe Sr. focused his attention on his oldest son, Joseph Jr., expecting that he would enter politics and be elected president. He also urged the younger children to examine and discuss current events in order to propel them to public service. After Joseph Jr. was killed during World War II, the senior Kennedy's hopes fell on his second son, John, to become president. Joseph Sr. had the money and connections to play a central role in the family's political ambitions.
Kennedy's older brother John was often bedridden by illness and, as a result, became a voracious reader. Although he made little effort to get to know his younger brother during his childhood, John took him on walks and regaled him with the stories of heroes and adventures he had read. One of their favorite authors was John Buchan, who wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps, which influenced both Robert and John. John sometimes called Robert "Black Robert" due to his prudishness and disposition.Unlike his older brothers, Kennedy took to heart their mother Rose's agenda for everything to have "a purpose," which included visiting historic sites during family outings, visits to the church during morning walks, and games used to expand vocabulary and math skills. He described his position in the family hierarchy by saying, "When you come from that far down, you have to struggle to survive." As the boys were growing up, he tried frequently to get his older brothers' attention, but was seldom successful.As his father's business success expanded, the family kept homes around Boston and New York City; the Cape Cod peninsula; and Palm Beach. Kennedy later said that during childhood he was "going to different schools, always having to make new friends, and that I was very awkward ... [a]nd I was pretty quiet most of the time. And I didn't mind being alone." He had to repeat third grade. A teacher at Bronxville public school reflected that he was "a regular boy", adding, "It seemed hard for him to finish his work sometimes. But he was only ten after all." He developed an interest in American history, decorating his bedroom with pictures of U.S. presidents and filling his bookshelves with volumes on the American Civil War. He became an avid stamp collector and once received a handwritten letter from Franklin Roosevelt, also a philatelist.In March 1938, Kennedy sailed to London with his mother and four youngest siblings to join his father, who had begun serving as Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He attended the private Gibbs School for Boys for seventh grade. In April 1939, he gave his first public speech at the placing of a cornerstone for a youth club in England. According to embassy and newspaper reports, his statements were penciled in his own hand and delivered in a "calm and confident" manner. Bobby returned to the United States just before the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
In September 1939, Kennedy began eighth grade at St. Paul's School, an elite Protestant private preparatory school for boys in Concord, New Hampshire, that his father favored. Rose Kennedy was unhappy with the school's use of the Protestant Bible. After two months, she took advantage of her ambassador husband's absence from Boston and withdrew Kennedy from St. Paul's. She enrolled him in Portsmouth Priory School, a Benedictine Catholic boarding school for boys in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which held daily morning and evening prayers and Mass three times a week, with a High Mass on Sundays. Kennedy attended Portsmouth for eighth through tenth grade.At Portsmouth Priory School, Kennedy was known as "Mrs. Kennedy's little boy Bobby" after he introduced his mother to classmates, who made fun of them. He was defensive of his mother, and on one occasion chased a student out of the dormitory after the boy had commented on her appearance. He befriended Peter MacLellan and wrote to him, when his brother John was serving in the U.S. Navy, that he would be visiting his brother "because he might be killed any minute". Kennedy blamed himself when his grades failed to improve. In letters to her son, Rose urged him to read more and to strengthen his vocabulary. Rose also expressed disappointment and wrote that she did not expect him to let her down. He began developing in other ways, and his brother John noticed his increased physical strength, predicting that the younger Kennedy "would be bouncing me around plenty in two more years". Monks at Portsmouth Priory School regarded him as a moody and indifferent student. Father Damian Kearney, who was two classes behind Kennedy, reflected that he "didn't look happy" and that he did not "smile much". According to Kearney's review of school records, Kennedy was a "poor-to-mediocre student, except for history".
In September 1942, Kennedy transferred to his third boarding school, Milton Academy, in Milton, Massachusetts, for 11th and 12th grades. His father wanted him to transfer to Milton, believing it would better prepare him for Harvard. At Milton, he met and became friends with David Hackett. He invited Hackett to join him for Sunday Mass. Hackett started accompanying him, and was impressed when Kennedy took it upon himself to fill in for a missing altar boy one Sunday. Hackett admired Kennedy's determination to bypass his shortcomings, and remembered him redoubling his efforts whenever something did not come easy to him, which included athletics, studies, success with girls, and popularity. Hackett remembered the two of them as "misfits", a commonality that drew him to Kennedy, along with an unwillingness to conform to how others acted even if doing so meant not being accepted. Kennedy's grades improved.One of his first relationships was with a girl named Piedy Bailey. The pair was photographed together when he walked her home after chapel on a Sunday night. Bailey was fond of him and remembered him as being "very appealing". She recalled him being funny, "separate, larky; outside the cliques; private all the time". Soon after he transferred to Milton, he pressed his father to allow him to enlist, as he wanted to catch up to his brothers who were both serving in the military. Kennedy had arrived at Milton unfamiliar with his peers and made little attempt to know the names of his classmates; he called most of the other boys "fella" instead. For this, he was nicknamed "Fella". Most of the school's students had come in eighth or ninth grade and cliques had already been formed. Despite this, his schoolmates would later say the school had no prejudice. He had an early sense of virtue; he disliked dirty jokes and bullying, once stepping in when an upperclassman tried bothering a younger student. The headmaster at Milton would later summarize that he was a "very intelligent boy, quiet and shy, but not outstanding, and he left no special mark on Milton".
In Kennedy's younger years, his father dubbed him the "runt" of the family and wrote him off. Close family friend Lem Billings once remarked to Joe Sr. that he was "the most generous little boy", and Joe Sr. replied that he did not know where his son "got that". Billings commented that the only similarity between Robert and Joe Sr. was their eye color. As Kennedy grew, his father worried that he was soft on others, conflicting with his ideology. In response, Kennedy developed a tough persona that masked his gentle personality, attempting to appease his father. Biographer Judie Mills wrote that Joe Sr.'s lack of interest in Robert was evident by the length of time it took for him to decide to transfer him to Milton Academy. Both Joe Jr. and John attended the exclusive Protestant prep school Choate from their first year, while Robert was already a junior by the time he was enrolled at Milton. Despite his father's disdain, Kennedy continued to seek his approval, requesting that Joe Sr. write him a letter about his opinions on different political events and World War II.As a child, Kennedy also strove to meet his mother's expectations to become the most dutiful, religious, affectionate, and obedient of the Kennedy children, but the father and son grew distant. Rose found his gentle personality endearing, though this was noted as having made him "invisible to his father". She influenced him heavily and, like her, he became a devout Catholic, throughout his lifetime practicing his religion more seriously than the other boys in the family. He impressed his parents as a child by taking on a newspaper route, seeking their approval and wishing to distinguish himself. However, he had the family chauffeur driving him in a Rolls-Royce so that he could make his deliveries. His mother discovered this and the deliveries ceased.Joe Sr. was satisfied with Kennedy as an adult, believing him to have become "hard as nails", more like him than any of the other children, while his mother believed he exemplified all she had wanted in a child. Mills wrote, "His parents' conflicting views would be echoed in the opinions of millions of people throughout Bobby's life. Robert Kennedy was a ruthless opportunist who would stop at nothing to attain his ambitions. Robert Kennedy was America's most compassionate public figure, the only person who could save a divided country."
Six weeks before his 18th birthday in 1943, Kennedy enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve as a seaman apprentice. He was released from active duty in March 1944, when he left Milton Academy early to report to the V-12 Navy College Training Program at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His V-12 training began at Harvard (March–November 1944) before he was relocated to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine (November 1944 – June 1945). He returned to Harvard once again in June 1945 completing his post-training requirements in January 1946. At Bates he received a specialized V-12-degree along with 15 others, and during its Winter Carnival built a snow replica of a Navy boat. While in Maine, he wrote a letter to David Hackett in which he expressed feelings of inadequacy and frustration at being isolated from the action. He talked of filling his free time by taking classes with other sailors and remarked that "things are the same as usual up here, and me being my usual moody self I get very sad at times." He added, "If I don't get the hell out of here soon I'll die." In addition to Hackett, who was serving as a paratrooper, more of his Parker Hall dorm mates went overseas and left him behind. With others entering combat before him, Kennedy said this made him "feel more and more like a Draft Dodger [sic] or something". He was also frustrated with the apparent desire to shirk military responsibility by some of the other V-12 students.Kennedy's brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. died in August 1944, when his bomber exploded during a volunteer mission known as Operation Aphrodite. Robert was most affected by his father's reaction to his eldest son's passing. He appeared completely heartbroken and his peer Fred Garfield commented that Kennedy developed depression and questioned his faith for a short time. After his brother's death, Robert gained more attention, moving higher up the family patriarchy. On December 15, 1945, the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., and shortly thereafter granted Kennedy's request to be released from naval-officer training to serve aboard Kennedy starting on February 1, 1946, as a seaman apprentice on the ship's shakedown cruise in the Caribbean. On May 30, 1946, he received his honorable discharge from the Navy. For his service in the Navy, Kennedy was eligible for the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
In September 1946, Kennedy entered Harvard as a junior, having received credit for his time in the V-12 program. He worked hard to make the varsity football team as an end; he was a starter and scored a touchdown in the first game of his senior year before breaking his leg in practice. He earned his varsity letter when his coach sent him in wearing a cast during the last minutes of a game against Yale. His father spoke positively of him when he served as a blocking back and sometime receiver for the faster Dave Hackett. Joseph Sr. attended some of Kennedy's practices and saw his son catch a touchdown pass in an early-season rout of Western Maryland. His teammates admired his physical courage. He stood 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) tall and weighed 155 pounds (70 kg), which made him too small for college football. Despite this, he was a fearless hitter and once tackled a 230-pound fullback head-on. Wally Flynn, another player, looked up in the huddle after one play to see him crying after he broke his leg. He disregarded the injury and kept playing. Kennedy earned two varsity letters over the course of the 1946 and 1947 seasons.
Throughout 1946, Kennedy became active in his brother John's campaign for the U.S. Representative seat that was vacated by James Curley; he joined the campaign full-time after his naval discharge. Biographer Schlesinger wrote that the election served as an entry into politics for both Robert and John. Robert graduated from Harvard in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in political science.Upon graduating, he sailed immediately on the RMS Queen Mary with a college friend for a six-month tour of Europe and the Middle East, accredited as a correspondent for the Boston Post, filing six stories. Four of these stories, submitted from Palestine shortly before the end of the British Mandate, provided a first-hand view of the tensions in the land. He was critical of British policy on Palestine and praised the Jewish people he met there calling them "hardy and tough". He held out some hope after seeing Arabs and Jews working side by side but, in the end, feared that the hatred between the groups was too strong and would lead to a war.In September 1948, he enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville. Kennedy adapted to this new environment, being elected president of the Student Legal Forum, where he successfully produced outside speakers including James M. Landis, William O. Douglas, Arthur Krock, and Joseph McCarthy and his family members Joe Sr. and John F. Kennedy. Kennedy's paper on Yalta, written during his senior year, is deposited in the Law Library's Treasure Trove.On June 17, 1950, Kennedy married Ethel Skakel at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. He graduated from law school in June 1951 and flew with Ethel to Greenwich to stay in his father-in-law's guest house. The couple's first child, Kathleen, was born on July 4, 1951.During this time, his brother John tried to keep Joe Sr. "at arm's length". The brothers rarely interacted until Kenny O'Donnell contacted Robert to repair the relationship between John and their father during John's Senate campaign. As a result of this, Joe Sr. came to view Robert favorably as reliable and "willing to sacrifice himself" for the family.In September 1951, he went to San Francisco as a correspondent for the Boston Post to cover the convention that concluded the Treaty of Peace with Japan. In October 1951, he embarked on a seven-week Asian trip with his brother John (then a U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts' 11th district) and their sister Patricia to Israel, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Japan. Because of their age gap, the two brothers had previously seen little of each other—this 25,000-mile (40,000 km) trip came at their father's behest and was the first extended time they had spent together, serving to deepen their relationship. On this trip, the brothers met Liaquat Ali Khan just before his assassination, and India's prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
In November 1951, Kennedy moved with his wife and daughter to a townhouse in the Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and started work as a lawyer in the Internal Security Section of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He prosecuted a series of graft and income tax evasion cases. In February 1952, Kennedy was transferred to Brooklyn, and worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York to help prepare fraud cases against former officials of the Truman administration. On June 6, 1952, he resigned to manage his brother John's U.S. Senate campaign in Massachusetts. JFK's victory was of great importance to the Kennedys, elevating him to national prominence and turning him into a serious potential presidential candidate. John's victory was also equally important to Robert, who felt he had succeeded in eliminating his father's negative perceptions of him.In December 1952, at his father's behest, Kennedy was appointed by family friend Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy as assistant counsel of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Kennedy disapproved of McCarthy's aggressive methods of garnering intelligence on suspected communists. This was a highly visible job for him. He resigned in July 1953, but "retained a fondness for McCarthy". The period of July 1953 to January 1954 saw him at "a professional and personal nadir", feeling that he was adrift while trying to prove himself to his family. Kenneth O'Donnell and Larry O'Brien (who worked on John's congressional campaigns) urged Kennedy to consider running for Massachusetts Attorney General in 1954, but he declined.After a period as an assistant to his father on the Hoover Commission, Kennedy rejoined the Senate committee staff as chief counsel for the Democratic minority in February 1954. That month, McCarthy's chief counsel Roy Cohn subpoenaed Annie Lee Moss, accusing her of membership in the Communist Party. Kennedy revealed that Cohn had called the wrong Annie Lee Moss and he requested the file on Moss from the FBI. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had been forewarned by Cohn and denied him access, calling RFK "an arrogant whippersnapper". When Democrats gained a Senate majority in January 1955, Kennedy became chief counsel and was a background figure in the televised Army–McCarthy hearings of 1954 into McCarthy's conduct. The Moss incident turned Cohn into an enemy, which led to Kennedy assisting Democratic senators in ridiculing Cohn during the hearings. The animosity grew to the point where Cohn had to be restrained after asking RFK if he wanted to fight him. For his work on the McCarthy committee, Kennedy was included in a list of Ten Outstanding Young Men of 1954, created by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce. His father had arranged the nomination, his first national award. In 1955 Kennedy was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.
In 1956, Kennedy moved his growing family outside Washington to a house called Hickory Hill, which he purchased from his brother John. This enormous 13-bedroom, 13-bath home was situated on 6 acres (2.4 ha) in McLean, Virginia. Kennedy went on to work as an aide to Adlai Stevenson during the 1956 presidential election which helped him learn how national campaigns worked, in preparation for a future run by his brother, Jack. Unimpressed with Stevenson, he reportedly voted for incumbent Dwight D. Eisenhower. Kennedy was also a delegate at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, having replaced Tip O'Neil at the request of his brother John, joining in what was ultimately an unsuccessful effort to help JFK get the vice-presidential nomination. Shortly after this, following instructions by his father, Kennedy tried making amends with J. Edgar Hoover. There seemed to be some improvement in their interactions, which came to be seen as "elemental political necessity" by Kennedy. This later changed after Kennedy was appointed attorney general, where Hoover saw him as an "unprecedented threat".From 1957 to 1959, he made a name for himself while serving as the chief counsel to the Senate's McClellan Committee under chairman John L. McClellan. Kennedy was given authority over testimony scheduling, areas of investigation, and witness questioning by McClellan, a move that was made by the chairman to limit attention to himself and allow outrage by organized labor to be directed toward Kennedy. In a famous scene, Kennedy squared off with Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa during the antagonistic argument that marked Hoffa's testimony. Kennedy, who was instructed to collect information, discovered several financial irregularities, such as that Hoffa had misappropriated $9.5 million in union funds and made corrupt deals with employers. During the hearings, Kennedy received criticism from liberal critics and other commentators both for his outburst of impassioned anger and doubts about the innocence of those who invoked the Fifth Amendment. Senators Barry Goldwater and Karl Mundt wrote to each other and complained about "the Kennedy boys" having hijacked the McClellan Committee by their focus on Hoffa and the Teamsters. They believed Kennedy covered for Walter Reuther and the United Automobile Workers, a union which typically would back Democratic office seekers. Amidst the allegations, Kennedy wrote in his journal that the two senators had "no guts" as they never addressed him directly, only through the press. He left the committee in late 1959 in order to run his brother's presidential campaign.
In 1960 Kennedy published The Enemy Within, a book which described the corrupt practices within the Teamsters and other unions that he had helped investigate. John Seigenthaler assisted Kennedy. Kennedy went to work on the presidential campaign of his brother, John. In contrast to his role in his brother's previous campaign eight years prior, Kennedy gave stump speeches throughout the primary season, gaining confidence as time went on. His strategy "to win at any cost" led him to call on Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. to attack Hubert Humphrey as a draft dodger; Roosevelt eventually did make the statement that Humphrey avoided service.Concerned that John Kennedy was going to receive the Democratic Party's nomination, some supporters of Lyndon Johnson, who was also running for the nomination, revealed to the press that JFK had Addison's disease, saying that he required life-sustaining cortisone treatments. Though in fact a diagnosis had been made, Kennedy tried to protect his brother by denying the allegation, saying that JFK had never had "an ailment described classically as Addison's disease". After securing the nomination, John Kennedy nonetheless decided to offer Lyndon Johnson the vice presidency. This did not sit well with some Kennedy supporters, and Robert tried unsuccessfully to convince Johnson to turn down the offer, leading him to view Robert with contempt afterward. RFK had already disliked Johnson prior to the presidential campaign, seeing him as a threat to his brother's ambitions. RFK wanted his brother to choose labor leader Walter Reuther. Despite Kennedy's attempts, Johnson became his brother's running mate.Kennedy worked toward downplaying his brother's Catholic faith during the primary but took a more aggressive and supportive stance during the general election. These concerns were mostly calmed after JFK delivered a speech in September in Houston where he said that he was in favor of the separation of church and state. The following month, Kennedy was involved in securing the release of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. from a jail in Atlanta. Kennedy spoke with Georgia governor Ernest Vandiver and later Judge Oscar Mitchell, after the judge had sentenced King for violating his probation when he protested at a whites-only snack bar.
After winning the 1960 presidential election, President-elect John F. Kennedy appointed his younger brother attorney general. The choice was controversial, with publications including The New York Times and The New Republic calling him inexperienced and unqualified. He had no experience in any state or federal court, causing the president to joke, "I can't see that it's wrong to give him a little legal experience before he goes out to practice law." But Kennedy was hardly a novice as a lawyer, having gained significant experience conducting investigations and questioning witnesses as a Justice Department attorney and Senate committee counsel and staff director.According to Bobby Baker, the Senate majority secretary and a protégé of Lyndon Johnson, President-elect Kennedy did not want to name his brother attorney general, but their father overruled him. At the behest of Vice President-elect Johnson, Baker persuaded the influential Southern senator Richard Russell to allow a voice vote to confirm the president's brother in January 1961, as Kennedy "would have been lucky to get 40 votes" on a roll-call vote.The deputy and assistant attorneys general Kennedy chose included Byron White and Nicholas Katzenbach. Kennedy also played a major role in helping his brother form his cabinet. John Kennedy wanted to name Senator J. William Fulbright, whom he knew and liked, as his secretary of state. Fulbright was generally regarded as the Senate's resident foreign policy expert, but he also supported segregation and white supremacy in the South. Robert Kennedy persuaded his brother that having Fulbright as secretary of state would cost the Democrats Afro-American votes, leading to Dean Rusk being nominated instead after John Kennedy decided that his next choice, McGeorge Bundy, was too young. Kennedy was also present at the job interview when the CEO of the Ford Motor Company, Robert McNamara, was interviewed by John Kennedy about becoming defense secretary. McNamara's self-confidence and belief that he could "scientifically" solve any problem via his "Systems Analysis" style of management impressed the Kennedy brothers, though John was rattled for a moment when McNamara asked if his bestselling book Profiles in Courage was written by a ghost writer.
Author James W. Hilty concludes that Kennedy "played an unusual combination of roles—campaign director, attorney general, executive overseer, controller of patronage, chief adviser, and brother protector" and that nobody before him had had such power. His tenure as attorney general was easily the period of greatest power for the office—no previous United States attorney general had enjoyed such clear influence on all areas of policy during an administration. To a great extent, President Kennedy sought the advice and counsel of his younger brother, with Robert being the president's closest political adviser. He was relied upon as both the president's primary source of administrative information and as a general counsel with whom trust was implicit. He exercised widespread authority over every cabinet department, leading the Associated Press to dub him "Bobby—Washington's No. 2-man".The president once remarked about his brother, "If I want something done and done immediately I rely on the Attorney General. He is very much the doer in this administration, and has an organizational gift I have rarely if ever seen surpassed."
As one of the president's closest White House advisers, Kennedy played a crucial role in the events surrounding the Berlin Crisis of 1961. Operating mainly through a private, backchannel connection to Soviet spy Georgi Bolshakov, he relayed important diplomatic communications between the American and Soviet governments. Most significantly, this connection helped the U.S. set up the Vienna Summit in June 1961, and later to defuse the tank standoff with the Soviets at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie in October. Kennedy's visit with his wife to West Berlin in February 1962 demonstrated U.S. support for the city and helped repair the strained relationship between the administration and its special envoy in Berlin, Lucius D. Clay.
As attorney general, Kennedy pursued a relentless crusade against organized crime and the Mafia, sometimes disagreeing on strategy with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Convictions against organized crime figures rose by 800 percent during his term. Kennedy worked to shift Hoover's focus away from communism, which Hoover saw as a more serious threat, to organized crime. According to James Neff, Kennedy's success in this endeavor was due to his brother's position, giving the attorney general leverage over Hoover. Biographer Richard Hack concluded that Hoover's dislike for Kennedy came from his being unable to control him.He was relentless in his pursuit of Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa, due to Hoffa's known corruption in financial and electoral matters, both personally and organizationally, creating a so-called "Get Hoffa" squad of prosecutors and investigators. The enmity between the two men was intense, with accusations of a personal vendetta—what Hoffa called a "blood feud"—exchanged between them. On July 7, 1961, after Hoffa was reelected to the Teamsters presidency, RFK told reporters the government's case against Hoffa had not been changed by what he called "a small group of teamsters" supporting him. The following year, it was leaked that Hoffa had claimed to a Teamster local that Kennedy had been "bodily" removed from his office, the statement being confirmed by a Teamster press agent and Hoffa saying Kennedy had only been ejected.
On March 4, 1964, Hoffa was convicted in Chattanooga, Tennessee, of attempted bribery of a grand juror during his 1962 conspiracy trial in Nashville, Tennessee, and sentenced to eight years in prison and a $10,000 fine. After learning of Hoffa's conviction by telephone, Kennedy issued congratulatory messages to the three prosecutors. While on bail during his appeal, Hoffa was convicted in a second trial held in Chicago, on July 26, 1964, on one count of conspiracy and three counts of mail and wire fraud for improper use of the Teamsters' pension fund, and sentenced to five years in prison. Hoffa spent the next three years unsuccessfully appealing his 1964 convictions, and began serving his aggregate prison sentence of 13 years (eight years for bribery, five years for fraud) on March 7, 1967, at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
Kennedy expressed the administration's commitment to civil rights during a 1961 speech at the University of Georgia Law School:
Our position is quite clear. We are upholding the law. The federal government would not be running the schools in Prince Edward County any more than it is running the University of Georgia or the schools in my home state of Massachusetts. In this case, in all cases, I say to you today that if the orders of the court are circumvented, the Department of Justice will act. We will not stand by or be aloof—we will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is now the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover viewed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as an upstart troublemaker, calling him an "enemy of the state". In February 1962 Hoover presented Kennedy with allegations that some of King's close confidants and advisers were communists. Concerned about the allegations, the FBI deployed agents to monitor King in the following months. Kennedy warned King to discontinue the suspected associations. In response, King agreed to ask suspected communist Jack O'Dell to resign from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLP), but he refused to heed to the request to ask Stanley Levison, whom he regarded as a trusted advisor, to resign. In October 1963, Kennedy issued a written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the SCLP, King's civil rights organization. Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so", Hoover extended the clearance so that his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy. The wiretapping continued through June 1966 and was revealed in 1968, days before Kennedy's death.Kennedy remained committed to civil rights enforcement to such a degree that he commented in 1962 that it seemed to envelop almost every area of his public and private life, from prosecuting corrupt Southern electoral officials to answering late-night calls from Coretta Scott King about her husband's imprisonment for demonstrations in Alabama. During his tenure as attorney general, he undertook the most energetic and persistent desegregation of the administration that Capitol Hill had ever experienced. He demanded that every area of government begin recruiting realistic levels of black and other nonwhite workers, going so far as to criticize Vice President Johnson for his failure to desegregate his own office staff. Relations between the Kennedys and civil-rights activists could be tense, partly due to the administration's decision that a number of complaints King filed with the Justice Department between 1961 and 1963 be handled "through negotiation between the city commission and Negro citizens".
Although it has become commonplace to assert the phrase "The Kennedy Administration" or "President Kennedy" when discussing the legislative and executive support of the civil rights movement, between 1960 and 1963 a great many of the initiatives were the result of the passion and determination of an emboldened Robert Kennedy, who through his rapid education in the realities of Southern racism underwent a thorough conversion of purpose as attorney general. Asked in May 1962, "What do you see as the big problem ahead for you, is it crime or internal security?" Kennedy replied, "Civil rights." The president came to share his brother's sense of urgency on the matters at hand to such an extent that it was at the attorney general's insistence that he made his famous "Report to the American People on Civil Rights".Kennedy played a large role in the response to the Freedom Riders protests. He acted after the Anniston bus bombing to protect the Riders in continuing their journey, sending John Seigenthaler, his administrative assistant, to Alabama to attempt to secure the Riders' safety there. Despite a work rule that allowed a driver to decline an assignment he regarded as potentially unsafe, he persuaded a manager of The Greyhound Corporation to obtain a coach operator who was willing to drive a special bus for the continuance of the Freedom Ride from Birmingham to Montgomery, on the circuitous journey to Jackson, Mississippi. Later, during the attack and burning by a white mob of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, which King and 1,500 sympathizers attended, the attorney general telephoned King to ask for his assurance that they would not leave the building until the U.S. Marshals and National Guard he sent had secured the area. King proceeded to berate Kennedy for "allowing the situation to continue". King later publicly thanked him for dispatching the forces to break up the attack that might otherwise have ended his life. Kennedy then negotiated the safe passage of the Freedom Riders from the First Baptist Church to Jackson, where they were arrested. He offered to bail the Freedom Riders out of jail, but they refused, which upset him.
Kennedy's attempts to end the Freedom Rides early were tied to an upcoming summit with Nikita Khrushchev and Charles de Gaulle. He believed the continued international publicity of race riots would tarnish the president heading into international negotiations. This attempt to curtail the Freedom Rides alienated many civil rights leaders who, at the time, perceived him as intolerant and narrow-minded. In an attempt to better understand and improve race relations, Kennedy held a private meeting in New York City in May 1963 with a black delegation coordinated by prominent author James Baldwin. Earlier in September 1962, Kennedy sent a force of U.S. marshals and deputized U.S. Border Patrol agents and federal prison guards to Oxford, Mississippi, to enforce a federal court order allowing the admittance of the first African-American student, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi. The attorney general had hoped that legal means, along with the escort of federal officers, would be enough to force Governor Ross Barnett to allow Meredith's admission. He also was very concerned there might be a "mini-civil war" between federal troops and armed protesters. President Kennedy reluctantly sent federal troops after the situation on campus turned violent.The ensuing Ole Miss riot of 1962 resulted in 300 injuries and two deaths, but Kennedy remained adamant that black students had the right to enjoy the benefits of all levels of the educational system. The Office of Civil Rights also hired its first African-American lawyer and began to work cautiously with leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Kennedy saw voting as the key to racial justice and collaborated with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to create the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which helped bring an end to Jim Crow laws. Between December 1961 and December 1963, Kennedy also expanded the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division by 60 percent.
At the president's direction, Kennedy used the power of federal agencies to influence U.S. Steel not to institute a price increase. The Wall Street Journal wrote that the administration had set prices of steel "by naked power, by threats, by agents of the state security police." Yale law professor Charles Reich wrote in The New Republic that the Justice Department had violated civil liberties by calling a federal grand jury to indict U.S. Steel so quickly, then disbanding it after the price increase did not occur.
During the Kennedy administration, the federal government carried out its last pre-Furman federal execution (of Victor Feguer in Iowa, 1963), and Kennedy, as attorney general, represented the government in this case.In 1967 Kennedy expressed his strong willingness to support a bill then under consideration for the abolition of the death penalty.
As his brother's confidant, Kennedy oversaw the CIA's anti-Castro activities after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. He also helped develop the strategy during the Cuban Missile Crisis to blockade Cuba instead of initiating a military strike that might have led to nuclear war. He had initially been among the more hawkish members of the administration on matters concerning Cuban insurrectionist aid. His initial strong support for covert actions in Cuba soon changed to a position of removal from further involvement once he became aware of the CIA's tendency to draw out initiatives, and provide itself with almost unchecked authority in matters of foreign covert operations.
Allegations that the Kennedys knew of plans by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro, or approved of such plans, have been debated by historians over the years. JFK's friend and associate, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., for example, expressed the opinion that operatives linked to the CIA were among the most reckless individuals to have operated during the period—providing themselves with unscrutinized freedoms to threaten the lives of Castro and other members of the Cuban revolutionary government regardless of the legislative apparatus in Washington—freedoms that, unbeknownst to those at the White House attempting to prevent a nuclear war, placed the entire U.S.–Soviet relationship in perilous danger.The "Family Jewels" documents, declassified by the CIA in 2007, suggest that before the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the attorney general personally authorized one such assassination attempt. But there is ample evidence to the contrary, such as that Kennedy was informed of an earlier plot involving the CIA's use of Mafia bosses Santo Trafficante Jr. and John Roselli only during a briefing on May 7, 1962, and in fact directed the CIA to halt any existing efforts directed at Castro's assassination. Concurrently, Kennedy served as the president's personal representative in Operation Mongoose, the post-Bay of Pigs covert operations program the president established in November 1961. Mongoose was meant to incite revolution in Cuba that would result in Castro's downfall, not his assassination.During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy proved himself to be a gifted politician with an ability to obtain compromises, tempering aggressive positions of key figures in the hawk camp. The trust the president placed in him on matters of negotiation was such that his role in the crisis is today seen as having been of vital importance in securing a blockade, which averted a full military engagement between the United States and the USSR. His clandestine meetings with members of the Soviet government continued to provide a key link to Khrushchev during even the darkest moments of the crisis, when the threat of nuclear strikes was considered very real. On the last night of the crisis, President Kennedy was so grateful for his brother's work in averting nuclear war that he summed it up by saying, "Thank God for Bobby."
At a summit meeting with Japanese prime minister Hayato Ikeda in Washington D.C. in 1961, President Kennedy promised to make a reciprocal visit to Japan in 1962, but the decision to resume atmospheric nuclear testing forced him to postpone such a visit, and he sent Bobby in his stead. Kennedy and his wife Ethel arrived in Tokyo in February 1962 at a very sensitive time in U.S.-Japan relations, shortly after the massive Anpo protests against the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty had highlighted anti-American grievances. Kennedy won over a highly skeptical Japanese public and press with his cheerful, open demeanor, sincerity, and youthful energy. Most famously, Kennedy scored a public relations coup during a nationally televised speech at Waseda University in Tokyo. When radical Marxist student activists from Zengakuren attempted to shout him down, he calmly invited one of them on stage and engaged the student in an impromptu debate. Kennedy's calmness under fire and willingness to take the student's questions seriously won many admirers in Japan and praise from the Japanese media, both for himself and on his brother's behalf.
At the time that President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, RFK was at home with aides from the Justice Department. J. Edgar Hoover called and told him his brother had been shot. Hoover then hung up before he could ask any questions. Kennedy later said he thought Hoover had enjoyed telling him the news. Kennedy then received a call from Tazewell Shepard, a naval aide to the president, who told him that his brother was dead. Shortly after the call from Hoover, Kennedy phoned McGeorge Bundy at the White House, instructing him to change the locks on the president's files. He ordered the Secret Service to dismantle the Oval Office and cabinet room's secret taping systems. He scheduled a meeting with CIA director John McCone and asked if the CIA had any involvement in his brother's death. McCone denied it, with Kennedy later telling investigator Walter Sheridan that he asked the director "in a way that he couldn't lie to me, and they [the CIA] hadn't".An hour after the president was shot, Bobby Kennedy received a phone call from Vice President Johnson before Johnson boarded Air Force One. RFK remembered their conversation starting with Johnson demonstrating sympathy before the vice president stated his belief that he should be sworn in immediately; RFK opposed the idea since he felt "it would be nice" for President Kennedy's body to return to Washington with the deceased president still being the incumbent. Eventually, the two concluded that the best course of action would be for Johnson to take the oath of office before returning to Washington. In his 1971 book We Band of Brothers, aide Edwin O. Guthman recounted Kennedy admitting to him an hour after receiving word of his brother's death that he thought he would be the one "they would get" as opposed to his brother. In the days following the assassination, he wrote letters to his two eldest children, Kathleen and Joseph, saying that as the oldest Kennedy family members of their generation, they had a special responsibility to remember what their uncle had started and to love and serve their country. He was originally opposed to Jacqueline Kennedy's decision to have a closed casket, as he wanted the funeral to keep with tradition, but he changed his mind after seeing the cosmetic, waxen remains.Kennedy was asked by Democratic Party leaders to introduce a film about his late brother at the 1964 party convention. When he was introduced, the crowd, including party bosses, elected officials, and delegates, applauded thunderously and tearfully for a full 22 minutes before they would let him speak. He was close to breaking down before he spoke about his brother's vision for both the party and the nation and recited a quote from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (3.2) that Jacqueline had given him:
The ten-month investigation by the Warren Commission of 1963–1964 concluded that the president had been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald and that Oswald had acted alone. On September 27, 1964, Kennedy issued a statement through his New York campaign office: "As I said in Poland last summer, I am convinced Oswald was solely responsible for what happened and that he did not have any outside help or assistance. He was a malcontent who could not get along here or in the Soviet Union." He added, "I have not read the report, nor do I intend to. But I have been briefed on it and I am completely satisfied that the Commission investigated every lead and examined every piece of evidence. The Commission's inquiry was thorough and conscientious." After a meeting with Kennedy in 1966, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote: "It is evident that he believes that [the Warren Commission's report] was a poor job and will not endorse it, but that he is unwilling to criticize it and thereby reopen the whole tragic business." Jerry Bruno, an "advance man" for JFK who also worked on RFK's 1968 presidential campaign, would later state in 1993: "I talked to Robert Kennedy many times about the Warren Commission, and he never doubted their result." In a 2013 interview with CBS journalist Charlie Rose, son Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stated that his father was "fairly convinced" that others besides Oswald were involved in his brother's assassination and that he privately believed the Commission's report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship".The killing was judged as having a profound impact on Kennedy. Beran assesses the assassination as having moved Kennedy away from reliance on the political system and to become more questioning. Tye views Kennedy following the death of his brother as "more fatalistic, having seen how fast he could lose what he cherished the most."
In the wake of the assassination of his brother and Lyndon Johnson's ascension to the presidency, with the office of vice president now vacant, Kennedy was viewed favorably as a potential candidate for the position in the 1964 presidential election. Several Kennedy partisans called for him to be drafted in tribute to his brother; national polling showed that three of four Democrats were in favor of him as Johnson's running mate. Democratic organizers supported him as a write-in candidate in the New Hampshire primary and 25,000 Democrats wrote in Kennedy's name in March 1964, only 3,700 fewer than the number of Democrats who wrote in Johnson's name as their pick for president.Kennedy discussed the vice presidency with Arthur Schlesinger. Schlesinger thought that he should develop his own political base first, and Kennedy observed that the job "was really based on waiting around for someone to die". In his first interview after the assassination Kennedy said he was not considering the vice presidency. During this time he said of the coalescing Johnson administration, "It's too early for me to even think about '64, because I don't know whether I want to have any part of these people. ...If they don't fulfill and follow out my brother's program, I don't want to have anything to do with them." But in January 1964 Kennedy began low-key inquiries as to the vice-presidential position and by the summer was developing plans to help Johnson in cities and in the Northeast based on JFK's 1960 campaign strategies.Despite the fanfare within the Democratic Party, Johnson was not inclined to have Kennedy on his ticket. The two disliked one another intensely, with feelings often described as "mutual contempt" that went back to their first meeting in 1953, and had only intensified during JFK's presidency. At the time, Johnson privately said of Kennedy, "I don't need that little runt to win", while Kennedy privately said of Johnson that he was "mean, bitter, vicious—an animal in many ways". To block Kennedy, Johnson considered nominating his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver for vice president, but the Kennedy family vetoed that. Kenny O'Donnell, a Kennedy aide who stayed on to serve Johnson, told the president that if he wanted a Catholic vice president, the only candidate available was Kennedy. Johnson instead chose Senator Hubert Humphrey.During a post-presidency interview with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Johnson claimed that Kennedy "acted like he was the custodian of the Kennedy dream" despite Johnson being seen as this after JFK was assassinated, arguing that he had "waited" his turn and Kennedy should have done the same. Johnson recalled a "tidal wave of letters and memos about how great a vice president Bobby would be", but felt he could not "let it happen" as he viewed the possibility of Kennedy on the ticket as ensuring that he would never know if he could be elected "on my own". On July 27, 1964, Kennedy was summoned to the White House and told by Johnson that he did not want him as his running mate, leading the former to say "I could have helped you". Johnson wanted Kennedy to tell the media that he decided to withdraw his name, but he refused, saying the president could do that himself. Johnson wanted a way to announce that he had refused Kennedy serving as his running mate without appearing to be motivated by malice towards a man he disliked and distrusted. The Democratic power broker Clark Clifford suggested to Johnson a way to block Kennedy. At a meeting in the Oval Office that, unknown to him, was being recorded, Clifford said: "Why don't you reach a policy decision that, after careful consideration, you've decided that you're not going to select anyone from your cabinet?" When Johnson replied "That's pretty thin, isn't it?", leading Clifford to answer, "Well, it is pretty thin, but it's a lot better than nothing".In July 1964, Johnson issued an official statement ruling out all of his current cabinet members as potential running mates, judging them to be "so valuable ... in their current posts". In response to this statement, angry letters poured in directed towards both Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, expressing disappointment at Kennedy being dropped from the field of potential running mates. Johnson, worried that delegates at the convention would draft Kennedy onto the ticket, ordered the FBI to monitor Kennedy's contacts and actions, and to make sure that he could not speak until after Hubert Humphrey was confirmed as his running mate. After making his announcement, Johnson at an "off-the-record" meeting in the Oval Office with three journalists boasted about how he had gotten "that damned albatross off his neck" as he proceeded to mock what he called Kennedy's "funny" voice and mannerisms. Though not published in the newspapers, Kennedy quickly learned of Johnson's performance and demanded an apology, only to have the president deny the story. After hearing Johnson's denial, Kennedy wrote: "He tells so many lies that he convinces himself after a while he's telling the truth. He just doesn't recognize truth or falsehood".In a meeting with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Johnson talked about Kennedy. Both felt that Kennedy was "freakish ambitious" with Rusk saying: "Mr. President, I just can't wrap my mind around that kind of ambition. I don't know how to understand it". Both were afraid that Kennedy might use the nostalgia for his assassinated brother to "stampede" the Democratic National Convention delegates to nominate him, and were hoping that Kennedy might run for Senate in New York, though Rusk was also worried that a Senate run would serve as "a drag on your own position in New York state". Furthermore, white Southerners tended to vote Democratic as a bloc at the time, and a poll in 1964 showed that 33% of Southerners would not vote Democratic if Kennedy were Johnson's running mate, causing many Democratic leaders to oppose Kennedy serving as vice president, lest it alienate one of the most solid and reliable blocs of Democratic voters.At the DNC, Kennedy appeared on the stage to introduce a film honoring his late brother, A Thousand Days, causing the convention hall to explode with cheers for 22 minutes despite Kennedy's gestures indicating that he wanted the crowd to fall silent so he could began his speech. Senator Henry Jackson advised Kennedy, "Let them get it out of their system" as he stood on the stage raising his hand to signal he wanted the crowd to stop cheering. When the crowd finally stopped cheering, Kennedy gave his speech, which ended with a quotation from Romeo and Juliet: "When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine, That all the world shall be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun". Johnson knew instantly that the reference to the "garish sun" was to him.
Nine months after his brother's assassination, Kennedy left the cabinet to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate representing New York, announcing his candidacy on August 25, 1964, two days before the end of that year's Democratic National Convention. He had considered the possibility of running for the seat since early spring, but also giving consideration for governor of Massachusetts or, as he put it, "go away", leaving politics altogether after the plane crash and injury of his brother Ted in June, two months earlier. Positive reception in Europe convinced him to remain in politics. Kennedy was lauded during trips to Germany and Poland, the denizens of the latter country's greetings to Kennedy being interpreted by Leaming as evaporating the agony he had sustained since his brother's passing. Kennedy was given permission to run by the New York State Democratic Committee on September 1, amid mixed feelings in regards to his candidacy.
Despite their notoriously difficult relationship, Johnson gave considerable support to Kennedy's campaign.
His opponent was Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating, who attempted to portray Kennedy as an arrogant carpetbagger since he did not reside in the state. The New York Times editorialized, "there is nothing illegal about the possible nomination of Robert F. Kennedy of Massachusetts as Senator from New York, but there is plenty of cynical about it, ... merely choosing the state as a convenient launching‐pad for the political ambitions of himself." The main reason Kennedy chose not to run for the U.S. Senate from his native Massachusetts was that his younger brother Ted was running for reelection. RFK charged Keating with having "not done much of anything constructive" despite his presence in Congress during a September 8 press conference. Kennedy won the November election, helped in part by Johnson's huge victory margin in New York.
Kennedy drew attention in Congress early on as the brother of President Kennedy, which set him apart from other senators. He drew more than 50 senators as spectators when he delivered a speech in the Senate on nuclear proliferation in June 1965. But he also saw a decline in his power, going from the president's most trusted advisor to one of a hundred senators, and his impatience with collaborative lawmaking showed. Though fellow senator Fred R. Harris expected not to like Kennedy, the two became allies; Harris even called them "each other's best friends in the Senate". Kennedy's younger brother Ted was his senior there. Robert saw his brother as a guide on managing within the Senate, and the arrangement worked to deepen their relationship. Harris noted that Kennedy was intense about matters and issues that concerned him. Kennedy gained a reputation in the Senate for being well prepared for debate, but his tendency to speak to other senators in a more "blunt" fashion caused him to be "unpopular ... with many of his colleagues".
While serving in the Senate, Kennedy advocated gun control. In May 1965 he co-sponsored S.1592, proposed by President Johnson and sponsored by Senator Thomas J. Dodd, that would put federal restrictions on mail-order gun sales. Speaking in support of the bill, Kennedy said, "For too long we dealt with these deadly weapons as if they were harmless toys. Yet their very presence, the ease of their acquisition and the familiarity of their appearance have led to thousands of deaths each year. With the passage of this bill we will begin to meet our responsibilities. It would save hundreds of thousands of lives in this country and spare thousands of families ... grief and heartache. ... " In remarks during a May 1968 campaign stop in Roseburg, Oregon, Kennedy defended the bill as keeping firearms away from "people who have no business with guns or rifles". The bill forbade "mail order sale of guns to the very young, those with criminal records and the insane," according to The Oregonian's report. S.1592 and subsequent bills, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, paved the way for the eventual passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968.Kennedy and his staff had employed a cautionary "amendments–only" strategy for his first year in the senate. In 1966 and 1967 they took more direct legislative action, but were met with increasing resistance from the Johnson administration. Despite perceptions that the two were hostile in their respective offices to each other, U.S. News reported Kennedy's support of the Johnson administration's "Great Society" program through his voting record. Kennedy supported both major and minor parts of the program, and each year over 60% of his roll call votes were consistently in favor of Johnson's policies.On February 8, 1966, Kennedy urged the United States to pledge that it would not be the first country to use nuclear weapons against countries that did not have them noting that China had made the pledge and the Soviet Union indicated it was also willing to do so.In June 1966, he visited apartheid-era South Africa accompanied by his wife, Ethel, and a few aides. The tour was greeted with international praise at a time when few politicians dared to entangle themselves in the politics of South Africa. He spoke out against the oppression of the native population, and was welcomed by the black population as though he were a visiting head of state. In an interview with Look magazine he said:
At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. "But suppose God is black", I replied. "What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?" There was no answer. Only silence.
At the University of Cape Town he delivered the annual Day of Affirmation Address. A quote from this address appears on his memorial at Arlington National Cemetery: "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of