American Rhetoric: Ted Kennedy -- Chappaquiddick Speech Page 1 of 5
Edward M. Kennedy
Address to the People of Massachusetts on Chappaquiddick
broadcast nationally from Joseph P. Kennedy's home on 25 July 1969
Audio mp3 of Address
My fellow citizens:
I have requested this opportunity to talk to the people of Massachusetts about the
tragedy which happened last Friday evening. This morning I entered a plea of
guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Prior to my appearance in
American Rhetoric: Ted Kennedy -- Chappaquiddick Speech Page 2 of 5
court it would have been improper for me to comment on these matters. But tonight
I am free to tell you what happened and to say what it means to me.
On the weekend of July 18, I was on Martha's Vineyard Island participating with my
nephew, Joe Kennedy --as for thirty years my family has participated --in the
annual Edgartown Sailing Regatta. Only reasons of health prevented my wife from
On Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha's Vineyard, I attended, on Friday evening,
July 18, a cook-out, I had encouraged and helped sponsor for devoted group of
Kennedy campaign secretaries. When I left the party, around 11:15 P.M., I was
accompanied by one of these girls, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne. Mary J was one of the
most devoted members of the staff of Senator Robert Kennedy. She worked for
him for four years and was broken up over his death. For this reason, and because
she was such a gentle, kind, and idealistic person, all of us tried to help her feel
that she still had a home with the Kennedy family.
Mary Jo Kopechne
There is no truth, no truth whatever, to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral
conduct that have been leveled at my behavior and hers regarding that evening.
There has never been a private relationship between us of any kind. I know of
nothing in Mary Jo's conduct on that or nay other occasion -- the same is true of
the other girls at that party -- that would lend any substance to such ugly
speculation about their character.
Nor was I driving under the influence of liquor.
Little over one mile away, the car that I was driving on the unlit road went off a
narrow bridge which had no guard rails and was built on a left angle to the road.
The car overturned in a deep pond and immediately filled with water. I remember
thinking as the cold water rushed in around my head that I was for certain
drowning. Then water entered my lungs and I actual felt the sensation of drowning.
But somehow I struggled to the surface alive.
I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into strong and
murky current, but succeeded only in increasing my state of utter exhaustion and
alarm. My conduct and conversations during the next several hours, to the extent
that I can remember them, make no sense to me at all.
Although my doctors informed me that I suffered a cerebral concussion, as well as
shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility for my actions by placing the blame
either in the physical, emotional trauma brought on by the accident, or on anyone
else. I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the policy
Instead of looking directly for a telephone after lying exhausted in the grass for an
undetermined time, I walked back to the cottage where the party was being held
and requested the help of two friends, my cousin, Joseph Gargan and Phil
Markham, and directed them to return immediately to the scene with me -- this was
sometime after midnight --in order to undertake a new effort to dive down and
locate Miss Kopechne. Their strenuous efforts, undertaken at some risk to their
own lives also proved futile.
of your fam
American Rhetoric: Ted Kennedy -- Chappaquiddick Speech Page 3 of 5
All kinds of scrambled thoughts --all of them confused, some of them irrational,
many of them which I cannot recall, and some of which I would not have seriously
entertained under normal circumstances --went through my mind during this Preside
period. They were reflected in the various inexplicable, inconsistent, and Kennedy
inconclusive things I said and did, including such questions as whether the girl Be inspi
might still be alive somewhere out of that immediate area, whether some awful everyda
curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys, whether there was some justifiable picture o
reason for me to doubt what has happened and to delay my report, whether homepa
somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might, in some way, pass from www.goth
my shoulders. I was overcome, I'm frank to say, by a jumble of emotions, grief,
fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock.
Instructing Gargan and Markham not to alarm Mary Jo's friends that night, I had Coast
them take me to the ferry crossing. The ferry having shut down for the night, I Kenned
suddenly jumped into the water and impulsively swam across, nearly drowning Center,
once again in the effort, and returned to my hotel about 2 A.M. and collapsed in my Golf, Nig
I remember going out at one point and saying something to the room clerk. www.Space
In the morning, with my mind somewhat more lucid, I made an effort to call a family
legal advisor, Burke Marshall, from a public telephone on the Chappaquiddick side
of the ferry and belatedly reported the accident to the Martha's Vineyard police.
Today, as I mentioned, I felt morally obligated to plead guilty to the charge of theater.ny
leaving the scene of an accident. No words on my part can possibly express the
terrible pain and suffering I feel over this tragic incident. This last week has been
an agonizing one for me and for the members of my family, and the grief we feel
over the loss of a wonderful friend will remain with us the rest of our lives.
These events, the publicity, innuendo, and whispers which have surrounded them
and my admission of guilt this morning raises the question in my mind of whether
my standing among the people of my state has been so impaired that I should
resign my seat in the United States Senate. If at any time the citizens of
Massachusetts should lack confidence in their Senator's character or his ability,
with or without justification, he could not in my opinion adequately perform his duty
and should not continue in office.
The people of this State, the State which sent John Quincy Adams, and Daniel
Webster, and Charles Sumner, and Henry Cabot Lodge, and John Kennedy to the
United States Senate are entitled to representation in that body by men who
inspire their utmost confidence. For this reason, I would understand full well why
some might think it right for me to resign. For me this will be a difficult decision to
It has been seven years since my first election to the Senate. You and I share
many memories --some of them have been glorious, some have been very sad.
The opportunity to work with you and serve Massachusetts has made my life
American Rhetoric: Ted Kennedy -- Chappaquiddick Speech
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And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this through with
me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and opinion. In making it, I seek your
prayers -- for this is a decision that I will have finally to make on my own.
It has been written a man does what he must in spite of personal consequences, in
spite of obstacles, and dangers, and pressures, and that is the basis of human
morality. Whatever may be the sacrifices he faces, if he follows his conscience --
the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow
man --each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of
the past courage cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look into
his own soul.
I pray that I can have the courage to make the right decision. Whatever is decided
and whatever the future holds for me, I hope that I shall have been able to put this
most recent tragedy behind me and make some further contribution to our state
and mankind, whether it be in public or private life.
Thank you and good night.
Research Note: Published version of this speech appeared in the New York times, July 26, 1969, p.10. This
version was taken from Halford Ross Ryan (Ed.), American Rhetoric from Roosevelt to Reagan, published in Speakin
1987 by Waveland Press: Prospect Heights, IL.
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