Joseph P. Kennedy
Photo: John F. Kennedy Library

To many around the world, the United States has been known as "a land of opportunity." Many of the 37.5 million immigrants who entered this country between 1840 and 1940 came in the belief that they would not only escape persecution, but also embark on a life of freedom and success. A life that would, in turn, yield greater opportunities for their children. As the grandson of Irish immigrants, the story of Joseph P. Kennedy, the President's father, is typical of the hopes of these immigrants.

Joe Kennedy was the grandson of Irish immigrants who spent a lifetime battling the prejudices many had against both Irish and Catholics. Determined to be both financially successful and politically prominent, Kennedy became a self-made millionaire by the age of 30, skillfully building his fortune around the time of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 when many others lost theirs. Joe himself held several more minor posts in the federal government, before President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him Ambassador to Great Britain in 1937. And his wealth insured a life of comfort for his growing family, with a summer vacation home in Hyannis Port and the resources to afford an elite prep school and Harvard education for his son John.

Mayor John F. Fitzgerald
Photo: John F. Kennedy Library

Joe fostered a strong sense of competition, particularly between his two elder sons, Joe Jr. and John, and demanded excellence from his children in all they undertook. Joe Sr.'s hope was that his oldest son, Joe Jr., would become the first Catholic President of the United States. But when Joe Jr. was killed during World War II, the family's ambitions were transferred to John.

Politics has always been an essential part of the Kennedy identity. Both President Kennedy's grandfathers had been prominent Boston politicians.

His mother's father was John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the first Irish-American Mayor of Boston. "Honey Fitz" also served terms in both the Massachusetts Legislature and Senate from 1886 to 1894.

His father's father was Patrick Joseph Kennedy who served five terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and two terms in the State Senate.

Patrick Joseph Kennedy
Photo: John F. Kennedy Library

With the addition of a substantial family fortune, John was poised for a meteoric rise in politics.

Bypassing state office, John ran first for the US House of Representatives where he served three terms before being elected US Senator in 1952. Only four years later, he was nearly chosen to be Adlai Stevenson's Vice Presidential running mate. Instead, Senator Kennedy waited until 1960 where, as a third generation Irish-American, he did indeed achieve his father's ambition, becoming the First Catholic President of the United States.