If a mosquito bit Jack Kennedy, the mosquito would die. —Robert F. Kennedy

I never would have run for office if Joe had lived. —John F. Kennedy, 1960

I’ll take all his enemies if I can have all his friends, too. —JFK, discussing the negative implications of Bobby’s Senate Rackets Committee work on his upcoming campaign, 1959

They’re going to shoot my ass off the way they shot Bobby. —Edward M. Kennedy, 1969

My brothers were my dearest friends. They were just human beings — and wanted to be considered that way — but they were extraordinary. I cared very deeply about them, loved them. I miss them. No day goes by when I don’t. That gap will be with me for the rest of my life. No way to bridge that. —EMK, 1985

I just received the following wire from my generous daddy — “Dear Jack, Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.” —JFK, Gridiron Dinner, 1958

I had a sit-down with my dad. He said, “Now, Teddy, you have to make up your mind whether you want to have a constructive and positive attitude and influence on your time. And if you’re not interested in a purposeful, useful, constructive life, I just want you to know I have other children that are out there that intend to have a purposeful and constructive life.” —EMK, spring 2009

I announced that if, if successful, I would not consider campaign contributions as a substitute for experience in appointing ambassadors. Ever since I made that statement I have not received a single cent from my father. —JFK, 1961

Do you always agree with your father? No? But you love him? Same here. —JFK

Dad rose up in his chair, his eyes wide, pointed a finger at me. I didn’t know what was wrong — the old sweater I was wearing, or something. I went over to kiss him and he held up his hand and put it on my chin. It wasn’t much of a beard, a couple of weeks or so. But I hadn’t had a haircut the whole time. My mother threatened to shave off the beard herself right there, but I did it. We all had a good laugh afterward, and, seeing my father laugh like that at last, my mother said, “I wish we could do this every day.” —EMK, 1969

Did you ever make it with my father? … Well, that’s one place I’m in first.—JFK, according to Marlene Dietrich, after having sex at the White House, 1962

We were to try harder than anyone else. We might not be the best, and none of us were, but we were to make the effort to be the best. After you have done the best you can, the hell with it. —RFK, 1965

I have no firsthand knowledge of the Depression. My family had one of the great fortunes of the world and it was worth more than ever then. We had bigger houses, more servants, we traveled more. About the only thing that I saw directly was when my father hired some extra gardeners just to give them a job so they could eat. I really did not learn about the Depression until I read about it at Harvard. My experience was the war. I can tell you about that. —JFK, 1960

Sometimes people think that because you have money and position you are immune from the human experience. But I can feel as lonesome and lost as the next man when I turn the key in the door and go into an empty house that is usually full of kids and dogs. —RFK, late sixties

I’ve told my children that as long as they devote some of their energies to the interests of others, my ambitions for them would more than be fulfilled. —EMK, 1985

There is always inequity in life. Some men are killed in a war, some are wounded, and some never leave the country. Some men are stationed in the Antarctic and some are stationed in San Francisco. It’s very hard, in military or in personal life, to ensure complete equality. Life is unfair.—JFK, March 1962

What advice would I give to a young man interested in politics? If I just trace my own career, I went to college and then law school and I started out as just a lawyer … at the Department of Justice. And I worked very hard and I was diligent and I stayed late at night and I made a great deal of effort, and then ten years later I was made attorney general. So I don’t know whether it’s just … I think if you can get your brother elected President of the United States, that helps. —RFK, 1964

The whole McCarthy episode must be judged from the perspective of the atmosphere that has always prevailed in the Senate, where most senators are reluctant to judge the personal conduct of another. Perhaps we were wrong in McCarthy’s case. Perhaps we were not as sensitive as some, and should have acted sooner. That’s a reasonable indictment that falls on me as well. —JFK, 1959

I feel the Senate is where the action is, where the great issues of war and peace, the issues of human rights and the problems of poverty are being debated. And with certain important exceptions, you really can get a vote there on important matters. I would say the Senate is the greatest forum for change in our country and in the system. It’s the forum that I very much want to be part of and have influence with. —EMK

There have been in recent weeks some instances in the press where statements have been attributed to members of the staff which reflect in a derogatory manner on other candidates… . While it is entirely proper to give a realistic appraisal of my possibilities as a potential Democratic candidate, staff members must take extreme care never to say anything about the other possible candidates which could be in any way interpreted as derogatory in a personal sense. All of the persons mentioned as possible candidates are friends of mine and I do not want to do anything to destroy any of these personal relationships. —JFK, staff memo, 1959; Lyndon Johnson liked it so much that he gave his staff the same order

Gentlemen, I don’t give a damn if the state and the county organizations survive after November, and I don’t give a damn if you survive. I want to elect John F. Kennedy. —RFK, 1960

I would say that the problems are more difficult than I had imagined them to be. The responsibilities placed on the United States are greater than I imagined them to be and there are greater limitations upon our ability to bring about a favorable result than I had imagined them to be. It is much easier to make the speeches than it is to finally make the judgments. —JFK, on the transition from the Senate to the presidency, 1962

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It was easy — they sank my boat. —JFK, to a high school student who asked how he had become a war hero, 1959

Have a lot of natives around and am getting hold of some grass skirts, war clubs, etc. We had one in today who told us about the last man he ate. “Him Jap him are good.” All they seem to want is a pipe and will give you canes, pineapple, anything, including a wife. They’re smartening up lately. When the British were here they had them working for 17 cents a day but we treat them a heck of a lot better. “English we no like” is their summating of the British Empire. —JFK, letter to his parents from the war in the Pacific, May 14, 1943

Dear Folks: This is just a short note to tell you that I am alive — and not kicking — in spite of any reports that you may happen to hear. It was believed otherwise for a few days — so reports or rumors may have gotten back to you. Fortunately they misjudged the durability of a Kennedy — and am back at the base now and am O.K. As soon as possible I shall try to give you the whole story. —JFK, August 12, 1943, after his PT boat was sunk by the Japanese

It was a terrible thing though, losing those two men. One had ridden with me for as long as I had been out here. He had been somewhat shocked by a bomb that had landed near the boat about two weeks before. He never really got over it; he always seemed to have the feeling that something was going to happen to him. He never said anything about being put ashore — he didn’t want to go — but the next time we came down the line I was going to let him work on the base force. When a fellow gets the feeling that he’s in for it, the only thing to do is to let him get off the boat because strangely enough, they always seem to be the ones that do get it. I don’t know whether it’s just coincidence or what. He had a wife and three kids. The other fellow had just come around. He was only a kid himself. —JFK, letter to his parents, received September 12, 1943

Feeling fine, but after this present fighting is over will be glad to get home. When I do get out of here you’ll find that you have a new permanent fixture around that Florida pool. I’ll just move from it to get into my sack. Don’t worry at all about me — I’ve learned to duck. —JFK, letter to his father, October 30, 1943

I have just had an escapade. Got a fuck and a suck in a Mexican hoar-house for $.65, so am feeling very fit and clean. They say that one guy in four years has gotten away without just the biggest juiciest load of claps. —JFK, letter to friend Lem Billings, May 1936

Just got back today from the South. It was great down there — the weather was about the best I’ve ever seen. An aw full lot of people were there — three girls to every man — so I did better than usual… .” —JFK, letter to his father, 1940

Do you realize the responsibility I carry? I’m the only person between Nixon and the White House. —JFK, joking with a supporter, 1960

The war bit helps in the South, but I don’t think those Scandinavians care at all. —JFK, 1960

I suppose if I win — my poon days are over. —JFK, fall 1960

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The advice of those who were brought in on the executive branch was unanimous, and the advice was wrong. And I was responsible. —JFK, after the Bay of Pigs invasion

We are probably strong enough to prevent one nation from unleashing nuclear weapons on another. But we can’t prevent infiltration, assassination, sabotage, bribery, any of the weapons of guerrilla warfare… . One guerrilla can pin down twelve conventional soldiers, and we’ve got nothing equivalent. —JFK, 1961

Well, I think I’ll open the door of the Georgetown house some morning about 2:00 A.M., look up and down the street, and if there’s no one there, I’ll whisper, “It’s Bobby.” —JFK, to Ben Bradlee, on how he intended to announce the appointment of his brother to the position of attorney general, 1960

I’m not running a popularity contest. It doesn’t matter if people like me or not. Jack can be nice to them. I don’t try to antagonize people, but somebody has to be able to say no. If people are not getting off their behinds, how do you say that nicely? —RFK, 1960

This chimpanzee who is flying in space took off at 10:08. He reports that everything is perfect and working well. —JFK, November 1961

I hope to travel to the moon someday. —EMK, July 1963

If we solve the Berlin problem without war, Cuba will look pretty small. And if there is a war, Cuba won’t matter much, either. —JFK, to Ted Sorensen, 1962

If anybody is around to write after this, they are going to understand that we made every effort to find peace and every effort to give our adversary room to move. I am not going to push the Russians an inch beyond what is necessary. —JFK, 1962

Some people have their liberalism “made” by the time they reach their late twenties. I didn’t. I was caught in crosscurrents and eddies. It was only later that I got into the stream of things. —JFK, 1960

I must say, in defense of our own country, if the United States had not emphasized the military since 1945, the shape of the globe would be very different than it is today. So that those who feel that we overemphasize it might consider the fate of freedom if we had not emphasized it. —JFK, 1961

Sick, sick, sick. —JFK, on Nixon, 1960

If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay? —JFK, June 11, 1963

Jesus Christ, you guys are something else. When I was elected, you all said that my old man would run the country in consultation with the pope. Now here’s the only thing he’s ever asked me to do for him, and you guys piss all over me. —JFK, complaining to Ben Bradlee about press criticism of one of his appointments to the federal bench, 1962

I think a person must be out of his mind if he thinks he can manage news. —RFK, 1963

Too often in the past we have thought of the artist as an idler and dilettante and of the lover of arts as somehow sissy or effete. We have done both an injustice. The life of the artist is, in relation to his work, stern and lonely. He has labored hard, often among deprivation, to perfect his skill. He has turned aside from quick success in order to strip his vision of everything secondary or cheapening. His working life is marked by intense application and intense discipline. As for the lover of arts, it is he who, by subjecting himself to the sometimes disturbing experience of art, sustains the artist — and seeks only the reward that his life will, in consequence, be the more fully lived. —JFK, 1962

It is only after you wield the powers of the presidency that you get hated. Morse, Hoffa, Al Hayes, etc., all hate me now merely because of one bill. Presidents are bound to be hated unless they are as bland as Ike. —JFK

We’re really in nut country now. —JFK, in Dallas, November 22, 1963

What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero, and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness — not the voice of the people. —RFK, speech after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., 1968

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Hoffa’s days are numbered. —RFK, February 1960

I don’t know why God put us on earth. If I had my choice, I would never have lived. I had no control over it. But why should God put on earth some people who will go to the devil? —RFK, 1967

That’s my brother, all guts, no brains. —RFK, after Jack fumbled during a touch-football game on the afternoon after his election as president

I won’t say I stayed awake nights worrying about civil rights before I became attorney general. —RFK, 1961

After all the abuse the blacks have taken through the centuries, whites are just going to have to let them get some of these feelings out if we are all really going to ever settle down to a decent relationship. —RFK, 1968

The question was, “How about me and President Johnson?” What about it? Are you trying to start a fight or something? I said in the past that it’s possible to have a coalition government in Saigon, but that doesn’t mean it’s possible here in the United States. —RFK, 1966

You had better pretend you don’t know me. Everyone connected to me seems jinxed. —RFK, to Ted Sorensen after Ethel Kennedy’s brother died in a plane crash, 1966

If you get a letter typed on stationery, seven paragraphs in length, and signed by somebody, you can be absolutely sure it’s a lie. But if you get a letter which says, “I saw Jimmy Hoffa take $300 from somebody in a bar in 1947,” signed “A Workingman,” it’s always true. —RFK, late 1950s

Anyone who suggests “dynasty” suggests as well a system of succession. This is a failure to comprehend the democratic process in our country. —EMK, 1962

I would say that the chances for a Kennedy dynasty are looking very slim. —RFK, 1967

One question that really shakes me, really shakes me — if God exists, why do poor people exist? Why does Hitler arise? I can’t give an answer for that. Only faith… . Yes, I do believe in an afterlife. Religion is a salve for confusion and misdirection. —RFK, 1967

If you win, the reporters will always write about well-oiled machines and super-planning. If you lose, they will always write about hopeless incompetence. —RFK, 1964

In Massachusetts they steal, in California they feud, and here in New York they lie. —RFK, 1966

The essence of successful counterinsurgency is not to kill, but to bring the insurgent back into the national life. —RFK, 1965

I’d get out of there in any possible way. I think it’s an absolute disaster. I think it is much worse to be there than any of the shame or difficulty that one would engender internationally by moving out. And so, with whatever kind of apologies and with whatever kind of grace I could conjure up, I’d get out of there in six months with all the troops the United States has. —RFK, on Vietnam, 1968

The tragedy of thirty years of war and bloodshed is over. Saigon has fallen. The American Embassy is empty and silent… . There was never a light at the end of the tunnel. There was only a long tunnel, made longer by our presence. —EMK, 1975

When I think of Bobby, I shall always see Cape Cod on a sunny day. The wind will be from the southwest and the whitecaps will be showing and the full tide will be sweeping through the gaps in the breakwater. It will be after lunch, and Bob will be stripped to the waist and he’ll say, “Come on, Joe, Kathleen, Bobby and David, Courtney, Kerry, come on Michael, and even you Chris and Max — call your mother and come for a sail.” One of the children would say, “What about the baby?” and the father would reply, “Douglas can come next year.” They push off from the landing. The sails of the Resolute catch the wind, and the boat tips and there are squeals of laughter from the crew… . The boat heads out into Nantucket Sound. The tide is gentle — the sand shifts — the sky is blue — the seagulls watch from above and the breeze is warm. And there will be happiness and love and we are together again. —EMK, letter to the children of Robert Kennedy, November 1968

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Do you know what it’s like to have your wife frightened all the time? I’m not afraid to die, I’m too young to die. —EMK, 1968

Two hundred years from now, will people ask, “What was wrong with us?” We had exceptional prosperity, exceptional bounty, exceptional resources. Will they say, “They had the opportunity to do something about hunger, and they refused to address it”? —EMK, 1975

Every great city should be on a river. —EMK, 1965

Yet it goes without saying that I don’t believe in long-range plans. We can never know what is just up ahead that might change everything. And I don’t believe in the tyranny of time — that at a certain time, you must do a certain thing, take a certain step, or the opportunity will be lost forever. Some people say that 1972 is the year that I must make a move for the presidency, or 1976, or 1980. But how do I know some young fellow — some Jay Rockefeller — won’t suddenly come on the scene and make everybody forget that anybody ever considered Ted Kennedy for the presidency. And so I just try to work in the areas and on the problems that were my brothers’ concerns and let the future take care of itself. —EMK, 1969

Oh, come on. We Kennedys eat Rockefellers for breakfast. —RFK, 1965

I’m still in the same place — in the United States Senate. But in certain ways I feel I’m a different person. I realize that both my brothers, in addition to my parents, were the most important influences in my life, certainly in my public life. I relied on them perhaps more than I understood before their loss, not only as brothers but as friends. Their loss deprived me of the opportunity to talk with them and work closely with them on the kinds of public issues all of us have felt deeply about. The causes with which they were so closely identified have, to a great extent, become my causes, and I am attempting to carry on as best I can. —EMK, 1973

When you’re a presidential contender, you always get more attention around here but less credibility. When you’re not, you get more credibility but less attention. —EMK

There is a darker side to the American tradition, a violent aspect that lurks close to the surface of our national character and that is never easily controlled. —EMK, 1975

I’d managed to convince myself that she surely must have escaped, given that I had not seen her in the car. Perhaps I had misperceived while I was in the dark water. Perhaps I could wish it all away. —EMK, 2009

I just couldn’t gain the strength within me, the moral strength to call Mrs. Kopechne at two o’clock in the morning and tell her her daughter was dead. —EMK, 1970

My children have been the greatest source of joy and fun for me. Having them around is a continuous reawakening, a sensitizing of my emotions — like taking the calluses off my fingers. —EMK, 1985

There’s something about me I had hoped you would understand. I can’t be bruised. I can’t be hurt anymore. After what’s happened to me, things like that just don’t touch me, they don’t get to me. I sincerely don’t feel embittered. I learned something about the Senate, yes, but that’s as far as it goes. —EMK, on losing the majority-whip race, 1971

I can’t let go. We have a job to do. If I let go, Ethel will let go, and my mother will let go, and all my sisters. —EMK, 1968

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I sometimes think we are too much impressed by the clamor of daily events. Newspaper headlines and the television screens give us a short view…. Yet it is the profound tendencies of history, and not the passing excitements, that will shape our future. —JFK, March 1962

It would be shameful … if you let the politicians travel the safe middle ground to victory. For if they are to govern well, they need to be forced out of their safe harbors and into the storms that challenge the ship of state. Rarely can we stand at a point in history and say, before the fact, This is a turning point. We are at one of those points. But whether we really turn is up to you. —EMK, 1972

There’s no question that in the next thirty to forty years a Negro can also achieve the same position that my brother has as President of the United States. —RFK, 1961

In the fall of 1959 I spoke at one of the country’s most respected law schools, the professor in charge of teaching ethics told me the big question up for discussion among his students was whether, as a lawyer, you could lie to a judge. I told the professor and said later in my speech that I thought we had all been taught the answer to that question when we were six years old. —RFK, February 1960

Once you say you’re going to settle for second that’s what happens to you in life, I find. —JFK, 1960

Let your children know you love them … and have a good strong back. —EMK, 1985

I remember my brother Jack at the Cape in 1961 just before he went to Paris to see de Gaulle and then to Vienna to see Khrushchev. Late in the afternoon we walked over together from his house to my father’s house. There was a heavy fog coming in, and it was cool and getting dark. As we walked out across the lawn Caroline came out of my father’s house crying. She came down off the porch and ran over to Jack. He sort of held her and talked to her with great tenderness. Just then the kitchen door opened up and someone called out, “Mr. President, they want you on the White House phone — they said it’s important.” And Jack said, “Caroline, I’ll be back in just a moment. Let me take this phone call.” Jack took the phone call and then we all went into the dining room together. As we sat down there was a silence at the table and I could feel that Dad for some reason was uneasy and edgy. And then he said, “Jack, I saw what happened outside. Caroline was in tears and came out. You had a call from the White House. I know there are a lot of things on your mind about meeting with Khrushchev and your trip abroad. But let me tell you something: Nothing that will happen during your Presidency will be as important as how Caroline turns out. And don’t forget it.” —EMK, 1973


The quotations in this article are drawn from multiple sources, including biographies, memoirs, magazine articles, archival audio and video files, and personal papers. We are particularly indebted to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston; the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin; the Paley Center for Media in New York; the American Presidency Project of the University of California, Santa Barbara; and the following authors and their works: Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy, 1965; Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Robert Kennedy and His Times, 1978; Dick Schaap, R.F.K., 1967; William vanden Heuvel and Milton Gwirtzman, On His Own: Robert F. Kennedy, 1964 — 1968, 1970; William H. Honan, Ted Kennedy: Profile of a Survivor, 1972; Garry Wills, The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power, 1981; Benjamin C. Bradlee, Conversations with Kennedy, 1975.

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