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tv   The Presidency Roosevelts Kennedys - Political Relationships  CSPAN  February 5, 2021 11:21pm-11:48pm EST

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edition of at home with the roosevelts. i'm paul sparrow, the director of the franklin residential library is even high park, new york. and today, we're gonna talk about the relationship between two of the most important political families in american history during the 20th century. the roosevelts in the kennedys. and if you will assist me in this conversation, i'm joined by the director of the jfk library. >> paul, it's good to be with you. >> thank you for joining me today, allen. this is really one of the most
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interesting and complicated relationships, multi generational relationships. two families that are really dynasties in the way they impacted american political life. and as a component of this that a lot of people don't really understand. not only is the relationship between franklin roosevelt and joseph kennedy, but there's a very critical relationship between eleanor roosevelt and john f. kennedy. and, so i think we'll start with the beginning, which is the relationship between franklin roosevelt and joe kennedy. joseph kennedy made most of his money in the 20s in the stock market. and when franklin roosevelt became president, one of the things he did was he appointed joseph kennedy is the head of securities exchange commission, which was sort of putting his the fox in charge of the henhouse. then, this created a relationship between the two of them in which joe kennedy really became a close confidant of fdr, ending up at as the
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ambassador at st. james. he talks about how he managed that in london, right before the war? >> well, it is an interesting time. i almost want to go back a little tiny bit before that. as you could imagine, when young people are in the age where they're graduating from high school, whoever is the president in that moment, i think has a profound impact on them. it shapes their view of the presidency. and fdr is the president has jfk comes of age. and through his young adulthood. and i think much of his vision of what is leadership and what is the nation is very much informed by fdr. and, so i think that's a very big part of it. clearly through his father, joseph and hosting at the court of st. james, he has direct connection to what that service might look like.
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there is a moment when the german u-boat sinks the first two uk ship and jfk is asked by his father to look after these surviving u.s. passengers and their families in that transition. so, he actually gets a little bit of responsibility in that moment. and, so i think it informs the public service. ultimately, he goes and signs up to go to war, finally being accepted into the navy with his family's help a little bit. and i think to go to war under a president, the only president you've really been conscious of as an adult can't help but influence your sense of leadership in the future. >> and because john f. kennedy was in england it in this period immediately prior to the war, with his father as an
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ambassador, he wrote a book about it. you want to talk about that book? >> sure. well, in addition to being in england and from their touring through different parts of europe, he observes ultimately, the lead-up to world war ii. and some of that was intentional in terms of his research for his thesis at harvard and he ultimately turns at this into a book. they don't realize that it -- he looks at what is the buildup to later, i think it informs his view of the cold war. how do you respond? so it's an interesting time. >> interesting, lee that book -- john f. kennedy gave a copy of that book to franklin roosevelt and jfk signed it. and franklin roosevelt signed it. so we have a few collected rare
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books and other things, that's one of our most precious of possessions is the those two signatures on the book. you may not know the story, it's one of my favorite anecdotes, in 1940 when kennedy came back from europe, he came to visit the fdr library, which is under construction and didn't open until 1940, one but it was under construction and he left a gift for fdr. >> really? >> and we have the note -- a copy of the thank you know that fdr wrote to jfk and it sort of a scramble that note, it's a little hard to read. but it appears to say thank you for the machine gun and goggles. >> oh, really! >> everyone was sort of, can you imagine john f. kennedy dropping off a machine gun to the president? actually, what it said was marine gun. it was a spear gun for fishing
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because he knew heftier love to go fishing. he loved to be on the water. and the goggles were swimming goggles. so you've never been able to find what happened to the spear gun or the goggles, but it does sort of go to the relationship that the two families had which was that they were close. >> they were. there's a lot of intersections through the years, and no question, and obviously the continuing conversation between jfk and eleanor is also significant in jfk's rise. >> yeah, that period right before the united states gets into the war, when joseph kennedy is the ambassador, he starts to really side with germany. and he's telling roosevelt, and anybody that he listened that he doesn't think england will survive and he thinks america needs to find a way to get peace with germany and this creates a real friction between him and the president. and also, i believe a little
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friction between him in a sense. >> yes, i think it's a good bit of friction and as you can imagine, inside the kennedy family to go against your father would would have been a tough road to go. >> while joseph kennedy almost ran against fdr 1940. it wasn't clear that fdr was going to, run because it was an unprecedented term. at that point, kennedy felt that he had something to offer, not to mention significant funds to support his candidacy. but, fdr kept him in england just long enough to prevent him from running and then brought him back in big party ways. and, eventually it became quite nasty between the two of them. >> fdr did serve long enough that a lot of people at least thought about running against him. >> very true. but, then you, know when war broke out, kind of kennedy joined the navy. talk a little bit about that, how that experience influenced his presidency and influenced his view of fdr as the
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commander-in-chief? >> a lot of people recognize today the exceptional circumstances of his joining of the navy. he overcame a lot of physical disabilities, he was disqualified for naval service due to lower back injuries, which had gone back a long time. and he had a number of other maladies. his father joked about it from the mosquito bit, if jfk, and the mosquito would die. he did seem to be sick all the time. but he did want to join the navy. even though he was initially rejected were disqualified, he appealed to his father to intervene on his behalf in conversation with a lead naval person. an officer of naval operations, i think i believe it was. he was initially assigned to a desk job, president kennedy
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didn't want a desk job, he wanted to go to the front and then he was given the command of the pacific theater group. so, that certainly -- all those informed his sense of public service and his -- deep in his appreciation for democracy. he knew that democracy was under assault from a world that did not believe in that kind of freedom. he said even in his debates with candidate nixon, and the famous televised debate, his address to the nation at that point is you know i basically can america or can the world live have free and have slaved. and he actually referred to lincoln in that speech but lincoln was talking about literal slavery, and kennedy was talking about democracy
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versus communism. but it's an interesting take on the world and i think in a large part, that is grounded by his service in world war ii. >> there was another incident during world war ii, that i think had a big influence on john f. kennedy, was the death of his older brother joseph. joseph was a hero. >> yes yes, and according to the family dynamics of that time, his older brother was to be the one who went into politics and jfk was to play a supporting role and when his older brother passes away unfortunately, you know in a bombing run which bombs went off prematurely, before they were discharged from the plane, and his father joseph turned to him as if now it was his term hers turned to lead the family into politics, and it was an interesting identity shift for him. much of his younger life he gets away with being friendly and well liked but not all that serious a student.
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not all that serious a player in the world and it is only through seeing the war develop and then, his last couple of years at harvard, focusing on his studies, and then his naval service. i think he becomes more serious person in understanding how the world works. >> so in world war ii ends, and fdr has died and he died's dies in april, and the world changes and we enter into a new phase in the relationship between the kennedys and roosevelts. because now the primary relationship becomes between eleanor roosevelt, who is the most powerful woman in america, certainly one of the most famous women in the world. had a major force in the democratic party. so their political careers, start to intersect. and it really happens when kennedy becomes a senator, and eleanor has different political
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views than he does. so you want to talk about how that evolved? >> i think that you can correct me if i'm off on this, but i think a large bit of the early schism with revolves around senator mccarthy. and senator mccarthy's relationship with the kennedy's, and even when the senate votes to censor mccarthy, and kennedy had a speech ready to support that censure but he was in the hospital and unable to deliver that speech, and because he's not able to publicly ready to distance himself from mccarthy and others are, i think eleanor and first from that and the ongoing family relations, between the mccarthy's and the kennedy's, that he may not be as strong a candidate, i may not share the same values that she shares. and i believe that engages in some public criticism of kennedy. for maybe not being the right candidate.
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and kennedy i think wisely does not engage in a public battle with eleanor roosevelt. i don't think he would win that battle. but just privately rights her and asks her to consider the facts, and be open to meeting with him. it is only in the in-person conversations that his genuine curiosity, and his willingness to learn, and his patriotism come through to her in a way that she can support him. but i can appreciate given what she knew at the time, and her great familiarity with adelaide stevenson, it was difficult for her to wrap her mind around kennedy. >> i think bobby kennedy's role, as one of the councils to the senate committee, that mccarthy was leading, certainly tarnished jfk in her eyes as well. guilt by association there. >> right right. >> but there is no question that she was an adelaide stevenson supporter, a she was
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strong on civil rights, she didn't feel the kennedy's were strong enough on supporting civil rights. even in the senate or later. and i think she held a grudge, to be honest and i love eleanor roosevelt but she couldn't hold a grudge and i think that was against his father joe. and she still holds the fact that she had basically said things about fdr during the war, and she never really let go of that accident she liked to grind. but i think there is a wonderful moment in the relationship and if you come here to visit eleanor's home, up it vow kill, they have pictures on the wall after the convention, when kennedy gets the democratic nomination and he knows he has to win her over. and he goes to visit her at her home. >> and we have some of those pitchers in our libraries as well. yes so he has to go and meet with her, and again she is
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enamored, and a big supporter of italy stevenson, as being a bright and capable candidate, and she's worried not only about his relationship with mccarthy but his age and his experience and she didn't think he has a strong enough record to run on and it's only in person that he's able to convince her. i think that's who kennedy was throughout his life and there is so much the you know evidence of lumps people met him he was the one who was voted most likely to succeed, he had a smile that was completely charming. and i think there is no amount of correspondents that is going to convey that. it has to be done in person. >> although eleanor roosevelt had some objections to jack kennedy she hated richard nixon. when it came down to picking one of those that was easy
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choice for her when the. and one of my favorite letters that she wrote was the one she wrote to jfk after the first debate between nixon and jfk and it is classic eleanor roosevelt in the passive aggressive compliment criticism ways. the tone of the letter is i was watching the debate last night with some friends and although i thought you did very well i thought it would share some of their comments with you. and interesting side note here, one of the people she was watching the debate with was lloyd benson. so many years later, the famous reference, we it's like you know he says i knew john kennedy knew john kennedy. but it's one thing she says is that he came across as too confident. that he needed to include the audience more in his answers.
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and i think you might agree with me if it's a trendsetter. but it's a classic letter. but to eleanor's credit, she did campaign for him quite vigorously. and she did what she felt needed to be done for the democrats to win. i get at that point, she felt it was vitally important, and she had repeated run-ins with eisenhower, and disagreed with his policies and felt it was important for a democrat to get in, and she hoped to resurrect some of the new deal policies that she had supported so strongly when her husband was president. but then once kennedy gets elected, you know he -- . >> yes it is fascinating, not just for that campaign, but for presidential campaigns at large, it's interesting challenge, particularly when kennedy is trying to frame himself a standing up for a new generation right. we and we have new ideas and
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new energy, and you're trying to be new new new and at the same time, he knows full well that if he doesn't win over the establishment, he is going nowhere. so he has to get eleanor's support, while at the same time creating the synergy of just trying to get a young voters. i think that is fascinating. but he has a good sense of history but some new ideas, and some new energy, but i think one of the things he gets from fdr, is the importance of i will call innovation in leadership. and fdr did some really innovative things when i think about you know, i will go often retreat not talk to anybody and come back with this idea and that is just you know it turns the war. we and i think that president kennedy, knew that you needed to take time to think about the bigger picture and you needed to commit resources behind it
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or it won't go anywhere. it's not just money it's political capital. and you have to build up that political capital first so he pays close attention to those relationships including you know i was intrigued to learn, on our day of infamy, november 22nd, 1963 for the assassination that was the assassination of president kennedy, but earlier that morning he called to express birthday wishes to john nonce carter. who is turning 93 or 95 years old or something in that range and a real student of history, and a person who really pays attention to relationships. does those personal touches throughout. in addition to being a good you know large scale retail politician, those personal touches to individuals, made a huge difference throughout his career. i'm sure that eleanor had no
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affection for john carter. what's >> interesting is to spread all the work that eleanor had done with the united nations, and her years of work there, jfk puts her in charge or puts are on the commission, for the status of women. understanding that this moment in time, that this idea of equality for women and including women more into the political establishment or to stop some of the discrimination that was being leveled against women and all the industries. i think it's interesting that he obtained signed her to that role. >> i think it's a brilliant pick, i think eleanor did a rolling job with it and i think the subject came up repeatedly in his press conferences and he
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was he may not have appointed as many women to senior leadership roles as weeks would expect to see today, but the level to which he did involve women in his administration, was somewhat of a breakthrough for his time, and certainly the appearance of women journalists in the press pools that he interacted with. many of them called him to account in all basically what are you going to do to continue your campaign pledge. equal rights for women. equal pay for women. equal roles and all that. and i think you know i think by today standards we would say could a shuttle would've done more but for those times i think that he did some amazing things. >> so eleanor roosevelt dies november 1962. and jfk comes back up to hide park, along with harry truman, and every major political
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figure in america, to pay his respects at her funeral. and i think there is a true sincerity at that moment to the passage of this great woman and his acknowledgment of her role in the creation and establishment of the democratic party and i think it is a honor that he felt that she had earned. >> i cannot find words that accurately capture her significance eleanor significance to the democratic party into the nation and to president kennedy's ascension to the presidency. she paved the way and influences so many people. obviously he can't have fdr's support at that point fdr is long gone, but eleanor is able to bridge that grasp. >> well we will end with the thought that both of these men, jfk and you know fdr, gave
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their lives in duty to their country and their deaths in office created you know it resonates with the american people and that has stayed with us all these years and i think that there is a something missing in today's politics in that both of these people truly believed in public service, you know they've been raised with the sense that they had a duty and responsibility to serve the american people and they both did in very very extraordinary ways and i think john f. kennedy's inaugural address, remains one of the greatest features of all-time. >> i have to agree, and i have to say that fdr and the events of his time as president, shape the nation. shape that generation. in profound ways. president kennedy, even nixon is only three years older than kennedy, and later president bush herbert walker bush, is
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only six years older than kennedy and world war ii shapes them. and so many other kennedy siblings serve the war, either in the military or in civilian roles and i think president kennedy would encourage us, where he lived, today to always value public service and consider public service in its many forms as a way to strength and make the world better for the people around us. >> island, that's a great weight place than teddies conversation. thank you very much for joining. as i appreciate it. you do a great job there jfk and hope you have a great year. >> paul, always great to talk, look forward to visiting the. thank you and that's it for today, hope to see you again in the future.
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