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Item 8006 - John F. Kennedy Typed Letter Signed and Statement Catalog 461 (Sep 2015)

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TLS signed “Jack,” one page, 6.25 x 9.25, United States Senate letterhead, March 12, 1954. Letter to Massachusetts lawyer Endicott Peabody, who would go on to become the state’s governor. In full: “Thanks for your letter concerning the activities of Senator McCarthy. I have received quite a volume of mail on this subject and have prepared a statement of my views. I am enclosing a copy for your information and will appreciate any comments you may care to make.” Included is the enclosure referenced, entitled “Statement on the Conduct of Congressional Committees and Members of Congress,” in which Kennedy addresses the subject but goes to great lengths to avoid singling out McCarthy.

In part: “First, I do not think that anyone, particularly after the Chief Justice Warren affair, doubts that committee investigations have from time to time exceeded the limits of fairness. Witnesses have been unfairly abused and hearings have been improperly conducted. To the extent that this problem arises solely out of the personality of one or more Senators…it cannot be corrected…Second, there is a very serious question as to whether investigating committees have exceeded their jurisdiction or overlapped the functions of other committees. Certainly we should not abandon the very important instrument of full legislative inquiry; nor has it been demonstrated that Congress can safely refrain from any inquiry into the matter of subversive activities in and out of Government.

My vote to appropriate funds to the McCarthy Subcommittee was based upon these beliefs…Third…The personal conduct of an individual Senator does not represent the United States Senate as a whole; nor is every other Senator responsible for such conduct…I am sure that you will agree that in the long run this is essential to our democratic way of life. If a majority were permitted to still the voice of a minority or of a single Member…or to expel him from the Senate because his views and methods may be repugnant to them; this would, I believe, set a precedent that would return to haunt those of us who believe with Thomas Jefferson that '…error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.’” In fine condition, with slightly irregular light toning and a couple of paperclip impressions to top edge.

The rise of Joseph R. McCarthy and his demagoguery presented an unusual challenge for Kennedy—his Irish-Catholic roots in a Protestant political system gave McCarthy and the Kennedy family a common bond, and he was a friend of patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. Three days before Kennedy wrote this letter, CBS broadcasted Edward R. Murrow’s famous special ‘A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy,’ which exposed his poor behavior and rough tactics. McCarthy’s decline came sharply, and the Subcommittee on Investigations Army–McCarthy hearings began on March 16. These were also broadcast and discredited McCarthy even further, made most famous by the question posed to McCarthy by Boston lawyer Joseph Welch: ‘Have you no sense of decency?’ The anti-McCarthy sentiment culminated on December 2, 1954, when Senate voted to censure McCarthy by a vote of 67 to 22; Kennedy, who was hospitalized for back surgery, was the lone senator not on record, and he never officially indicated how he would have voted. Pre-certified PSA/DNA.

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