A graduate of Harvard (1948) and the Univ. of Virginia law school (1951), Bobby Kennedy managed his brother John's successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1952. From 1953 to 1956 he was counsel to the Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. He then became (1957) chief counsel to the subcommittee investigating labor rackets and there gained a reputation for toughness by exposing corruption in the Teamsters Union. In 1960 he was manager of his brother's presidential campaign. His inclusion in President Kennedy's cabinet gave rise to charges of nepotism, but he proved a vigorous attorney general, especially in prosecuting civil rights cases. He was also his brother's closest adviser.
After John Kennedy's assassination, Robert Kennedy continued for a time in President Lyndon Johnson's cabinet, but in 1964 he resigned to run for election as Senator from New York. Despite criticism that he was a "carpetbagger," he succeeded. In the Senate he was a vigorous advocate of social reform and became identified particularly as a spokesman for the rights of minorities. Although Kennedy had supported his brother's intensification of American aid to the South Vietnamese government, he became increasingly critical of Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War and by 1968 was advocating that the Viet Cong be included in a South Vietnamese coalition government.
Urged to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, Kennedy appeared reluctant until Sen. Eugene McCarthy's showing in the New Hampshire Democratic primary convinced him that a challenge to Johnson could be successful. Kennedy announced his candidacy on Mar. 16, 1968. Although Johnson withdrew (Mar. 31) from the race, the administration's standard passed to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, while Senator McCarthy retained the support of many opponents of the Vietnam War, who accused Kennedy of opportunism.
Kennedy conducted an energetic campaign and won a series of primary victories, culminating in California on June 4. At the end of that day he gave a victory speech in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and while leaving was shot. He died a day later (June 6, 1968). The gunman, Sirhan B. Sirhan, was captured at the scene and later convicted of murder. Like his brother John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He wrote The Enemy Within (1960), Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1969), and To Seek a Newer World (1969).
See P. Kimball, Bobby Kennedy and the New Politics (1968); D. Halberstam, The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy (1968); D. Ross, ed., Robert Kennedy: Apostle of Change (1968); J. Newfield, Robert Kennedy: A Memoir (1969); J. Witcover, Eighty-Five Days (1969); V. Navasky, Kennedy Justice (1971); M. K. Beran, The Last Patrician (1998); R. Steel, In Love with Night: The American Romance with Robert Kennedy (1999); E. Thomas, Robert Kennedy: His Life (2000). See also E. O. Guthman and J. Shulman, Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words (1988).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.