The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Lodge, Kennedy, and the 1952 Massachusetts Senate Election

Massachusetts will hold a special election on June 25 to fill the United States senate seat left vacant by John Kerry, whom President Obama appointed to Secretary of State in February. The recent primary determined that the contest will be between Republican former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez and Democratic Congressman Ed Markey. Having just survived an extremely contentious senate race in the fall, in which Senator Elizabeth Warren emerged the victor, many Massachusetts residents now suffer from election fatigue. But this is not the first time that the state has faced hard-fought battles for these senate seats. Over 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy, then a Democratic congressman, contested incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for his senate seat. What many believed would be an easy win for the popular Lodge turned into a tight race, and eventually an upset.

Lodge was a moderate and he was concerned about the conservative movement he saw developing in his party. The Republican frontrunner for the 1952 presidential election was Sen. Robert Taft, a conservative and isolationist who opposed NATO. Concerned about the possibility of Taft winning election, Lodge and a number of other Republicans convinced Dwight D. Eisenhower, a popular war hero, to run against him in the Republican primary. At a heated Republican National Convention, complete with accusations of “stolen delegates” on both sides, Eisenhower won the nomination and went on to a national campaign against Democratic governor Adlai Stevenson. Lodge became the manager for the “Eisenhower-for-President” campaign, a major impediment to his own reelection campaign at home in Massachusetts.

With Lodge often away and focused on Eisenhower’s election, Kennedy took advantage of the opportunity for an intensive ground campaign in Massachusetts. He used his candidacy announcement on April 7, 1952 to attack Lodge, saying, “Other states have vigorous leaders in the United States Senate to defend the interests of their citizens - men who have definite goals based on constructive principles and who move towards these goals unswerving. Massachusetts has need of such leadership.” Kennedy also accused Lodge of being too often absent from Massachusetts while working for Eisenhower.

In response, Lodge criticized Kennedy’s roll call record in Congress, with the slogan: “Would you hire a man who came to work one third of the time? Reelect Lodge! Lodge is on the job!” Lodge also called Kennedy a “rubber stamp…for the White House” in an October 17, 1952 speech on WBZ-TV. Lodge emphasized his moderate beliefs, saying he has “struggled hard and publicly against reactionary elements in both parties.” He even employed jingles as a way of drumming up support, including one to the tune of “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” from Annie Get Your Gun:

He fills the bill on Capitol Hill
In Washington down yonder
He serves with skill and dignity
Doin’ what comes naturally!
Doin’ what comes naturally!

Despite Lodge’s efforts, Kennedy ran a stronger campaign at home by making many appearances across Massachusetts. He also mobilized the large Irish immigrant population in the state, and his strong ties in Boston also caused Lodge to lose ground there. On Election Day in November 1952, Lodge lost by a narrow margin.

In his concession speech, Lodge thanked the people of Massachusetts for electing him three times to the senate seat, and congratulated Kennedy and wished him well. Privately, however, the loss was a great blow. In an angry letter on Dec. 7, 1952, Quincy resident Willie James summed up his feelings about Lodge and what might have led to his loss: “There are thousands like myself in Massachusetts, always voted for you and your family but now good and sick of your actions…You have work to do in your own backyard.”

With Lodge’s great loss, however, came a great victory. Eisenhower was elected president. Lodge received many consolation letters on his senate defeat, and one theme was strong throughout. Philip Schlossberg wrote on November 5, 1952, “We feel that in [getting Eisenhower elected] you neglected your own chances for reelection with the U.S. Senate.” Many also believed that Lodge would earn an appointment from Eisenhower for his part in the presidential campaign. John Mason Brown wrote in a Western Union telegram, “You have fought your share in the general’s victory and the services you have rendered the country. Here’s to more of those services when you will be the best secretary of state or defense American has had.” This notion was correct, and when Eisenhower entered office he named Lodge U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Kennedy’s senate election led to a great family political dynasty in the state of Massachusetts, one which still continues today, while it contributed to the decline of the Lodge family’s influence in Massachusetts politics. How the current upcoming special election for the Massachusetts senate seat will change the course of state history is yet to be determined. To learn more about the 1952 Massachusetts senate race, view the guide for the Henry Cabot Lodge Papers in the Society’s collections.

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 1:00 AM


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