. . . During the lively contest for the vice-presidential nomination between Sen. Estes Kefauver and Sen. John Kennedy, a friend of Senator Kennedy came to me with a request for support. I replied I did not feel I could do so because Senator Kennedy had avoided taking a position during the controversy over Sen. Joseph McCarthy's methods of investigation. Senator Kennedy was in the hospital1 when the Senate condemned Senator McCarthy2 and, of course, could not record his position. But later, when he returned to the Senate, reporters asked him how he would have voted and he failed to express an opinion on McCarthyism.
"Oh, that was a long time ago," the senator's friend told me. "He was unable to vote and it is all a thing of the past. It should not have anything to do with the present situation."
I replied that I thought it did. "I think McCarthyism is a question on which public officials must stand up and be counted," I added. "I still have not heard Senator Kennedy express his convictions. And I can't be sure of the political future of anyone who does not willingly state where he stands on that issue."
Later, Senator Kennedy came to see me.3 I told him exactly the same thing. He replied in about the words he had previously used in talking to reporters, saying that the McCarthy condemnation was "so long ago" that it did not enter the current situation. But he did not say where he stood on the issue and I did not support him.
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1. JFK, whose left leg was a quarter of an inch shorter than his right, suffered from constant back pain throughout much of his life. Despite wearing lifts in his left shoe to make up for the difference, the damage had already been done in childhood. As a result, JFK had persistent back problems as an adult, chief among which was disintegration of discs in his spine. By October 1954, recurrent side-effects of malaria and Addison's disease intensified his pain so much that walking, even with crutches, was a major challenge. On October 10th he checked into New York Hospital for Special Surgery where, on October 21, he underwent two spinal fusions in an attempt to relieve his pain. The Senate voted to censure McCarthy December 2nd and Kennedy, as his aide Theodore Sorenson later recalled, was "sufficiently conscious in that hospital to get a message to me" to authorize him to release the remarks supporting the censure he had drafted for JFK. Sorenson concluded that JFK "deliberately avoided contacting" him. [Herbert Parmet, Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (New York: Dial Press, 1980), pp. 307-310.]
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2. In the immediate aftermath of the televised Army-McCarthy hearings and McCarthy's flamboyant conduct as its chair, Senate support of McCarthy declined. On July 30, 1954, almost two weeks after the hearings had ended, Sen. Ralph Flanders introduced a resolution (S. 301) advocating Senate censure of their Wisconsin colleague. After three days of debate, the Senate voted 75-12 to refer the resolution to a six-member select committee chosen by Vice President Nixon. The senators Nixon picked had no presidential aspirations, were not liberals, and had no specific relationship with the press. The select committee hearings were not televised and, through careful drafting of committee procedures, restricted McCarthy's ability to act as his co-counsel. September 15th the committee released its report recommending censure on two counts: abuse of witnesses and contempt of a Senatorial committee. During the Senate vote December 2nd, the abuse of witnesses count was dropped and the Senate voted 67-22 in favor of the censure. The final resolution read:
Resolved. That the Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy, failed to cooperate with the [Gillette] Committee in clearing up matters referred to that committee which concerned his conduct as a Senator . . . and instead repeatedly abused that committee and its members who were trying to carry out assigned duties, thereby obstructing the constitutional processes of the Senate, and that this conduct . . . was contrary to Senatorial tradition and is hereby condemned.
Sec. 2. The Senator from Wisconsin, Mr. McCarthy, in characterizing the [Select Committee] as the "unwitting handmaiden," "involuntary agent," and "attorneys in fact" of the Communist Party . . . acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute, to obstruct the constitutional processes of the Senate, and to impair its dignity; and such conduct is hereby condemned.
Censure does not remove a Senator's voting privileges or committee assignments. McCarthy remained in the Senate for another three years. [David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy (New York: Free Press, 1983), pp. 473-491.]
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3. During the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, JFK went to see ER to appeal for her support for his bid to be Adlai Stevenson's vice presidential running mate. During the interview, ER asked him very pointed questions about his stance on the Senate censure of McCarthy and McCarthyism and, when he did not address the questions to her satisfaction, she criticized his avoidance and refused to support his candidacy. [Allida Black, Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. 176; Eleanor Roosevelt, On My Own: The Years Since the White House (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), p. 164.]
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project
of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based
on unpublished letters. .