The Yankees' Last Hurrah
Kennedy's 1952 defeat of Lodge meant the end of the bluebloods' Massachusetts rule
Mar 26, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 27 • By PATRICK J. WALSH
Thomas Whalen has written a fine book on a subject largely ignored by Kennedy scholars: the 1952 Massachusetts race in which John Kennedy defeated Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. to seize -- for the next fifty years -- a seat in the U.S. Senate for his family. Fascinating politically, because it marked the apparently final shift of power from the Republicans to the Democrats in Massachusetts, the race is also fascinating historically. If Kennedy had lost, there would never have been a Kennedy presidency, a Kennedy legend, or a Kennedy legacy to hand on to the apparently innumerable Kennedys in American politics today.
Perhaps others historians have not written extensively on the subject because much of the recorded information on the 1952 race is under lock and key at the Kennedy library. For Kennedy Versus Lodge, Whalen took advantage of the Lodge papers recently made available at the Massachusetts Historical Society. A young professor at Boston University, Whalen notes that the Kennedys' rivalry with the Lodges went back to 1916, when former Boston mayor John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald lost his race against Henry Cabot Lodge Sr. for the Senate -- one of the many battles between the Yankee bluebloods of Boston and the offspring of Irish immigrants who had emigrated to Boston in droves.
Perhaps the Irish excelled in American politics because they were familiar with the English political system. But not to be scanted is the fact that they arrived speaking English; other immigrant groups had to learn the language from scratch, and their entry into politics was slower. Then, too, the Irish also brought organizational skills learned from nationalistic and revolutionary movements in Ireland.
The 1952 election seemed a rerun of the 1916 contest, pitting the nephew of Senator Lodge against the grandson of Mayor Fitzgerald. But, in truth, most differences between Yankee and Irish had disappeared by 1952. Both candidates were products of private school education and both were from wealthy families. What the election really turned on was money and politics.
Kennedy got an eight-month jump on Lodge, who was busy ensuring that General Eisenhower would be the 1952 Republican nominee for president. Lodge had another weakness for a Republican: He appeared to be soft on communism. Because of this, conservative newspapers in Boston and New Bedford would endorse Kennedy. (Though there may have been other reasons: John Fox, publisher of the Boston Post, received a loan of half a million dollars at this time from Kennedy's father.)
The Kennedy camp out-organized Lodge and got the better of him on the issues. The formidable Kennedy family was also thrown into the fray. Female members were instrumental in wooing the woman's vote by organizing teas all over the state. These teas were sold as classy social events. Bourgeois women were sent formal invitations, got all dressed up, and mingled with what they considered to be high class. They fell over themselves to meet Congressman John Kennedy and dreamed that an introduction of their daughter to the millionaire would result in marriage.
Spending another $ 500,000 on television advertising, the Democratic campaign decisively outspent the Republican. Kennedy was coached by experts in the use of television and used it to great effect. Lodge was uncomfortable with this new medium. Though he was handsome, he came across as stiff and formal.
Those who say that the Kennedys bought their elections are only partially correct. The truth is that money is only good if you know how to spend it. In 1946, when John F. Kennedy first ran for Congress, his father gave James Michael Curley $ 100,000, ostensibly to help settle his debt (actually to keep his mouth shut and stay out of the congressional race). Large families in the congressional district were given fifty dollars to work at the polls. In the 1952 Senate race, the Kennedys again demonstrated their political talent and clever use of money.
Still, a major factor in Lodge's defeat was his failure to solidify his conservative base -- and in that failure there may be a lesson Republicans can learn. But the most interesting thing about the 1952 election is the final defeat of the old Massachusetts bluebloods. All these years later, the Kennedys are still with us, while Yankees like Cabot, Lodge, and Saltonstall seem as distant as the old John Singer Sargent portraits hanging in Boston's museums.
Patrick J. Walsh is a writer in Quincy, Massachussetts.