The Kennedy-Pegler Debate

Westbrook Pegler

Dixon Telegraph/March 7, 1962

It seems but yesterday that the corridors of the Lawrence Park West Country Day School in Westchester County, N.Y., and the academic groves of that stately institution vibrated with the fierce clash of political conflict in a debate which, with the passage of years, now ranks with the clang of righteous conscience or moral conviction on the front stoop of Old Main at Knox College. At Knox College, nowadays know as Old Siwash, at Galesburg. Illinois, Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen A. Douglas on the fateful issue of slavery.

It was more than 21 years ago that Teddy Kennedy and Westbrook Pegler II, both of Bronxville, met in a formal dispute of classical ambiguity on the candidacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie.

The Yonkers Herald-Statesman of Nov. 5, 1940, reported that Mr. Kennedy’s candidate for President was badly beaten in the balloting that afternoon. A four-column photograph shows Mr. Kennedy standing at mid-picture just behind the stars and stripes. Mr. Pegler sat at the left wearing an indefinite expression, possibly tolerant but possibly a slight sneer. The same dubiety attends the expression of Teddy Kennedy. He wore a striped T-shirt and his opponent a gray V- neck sweater. The chairman of the debate, Patrick Gormley, of New Rochelle, wore a rather formal tweed jacket. Mr. Gormley’s remarks are not recorded, but David Jones, the son of the noted bandleader of that day, Isham Jones, was quoted in favor of sandwiches.

The story said: “Teddy Kennedy, 8-year-old son of Joseph Kennedy, ambassador to Britain, made his debut as a political orator yesterday when he stumped for President Roosevelt in a short but vigorous campaign at the Lawrence Park West Country Day School, but suffered a set-back when his man went down to defeat at the hands of the teen-age student electorate. Taking the stand in defense of the third term candidate, the youngest of the Kennedys engaged Westbrook Pegler, nephew of the columnist, in a verbal duel before the school’s student body at the morning assembly.

“‘Today we are facing a crisis,’ Teddy told his fellow students. ‘Across the seas, nation after nation whose belief in democracy has been as strong as ours have gone down before the Nazi war machine. At a time like this, we must get things done whether it is good for private business or not. We must borrow a little from the Nazi method. For this task, we must step on the toes of some people and institutions which Mrs. Willkie favors.’”

Westbrook Pegler accused the president of arming the nation’s military machine with “toy guns” and disdaining the warning of military experts to prepare this country’s defense.

“Under the direction of George Collen, headmaster of the school, the day was given over to the election theme,” the Herald-Statesman said. “In the morning the students assembled for a ‘national convention’ and gathered with state banners to pick delegates. Both the acceptance speech of President Roosevelt, delivered by young Kennedy, and that of Mr. Willkie, presented by Westbrook Pegler, were enthusiastically received. In the afternoon, students assembled to hear campaign speeches by David Jones, Patrick Gormley, Richard Williams, Louis Livingston Mitchell, Joseph Renton, Charles Tolman and William Reagler.

“At the close of the program, an election was held at which the Kennedy candidate, President Roosevelt, was snowed under by an overwhelming majority.”

Mr. Pegler thereupon retired from politics. Mr. Kennedy is now a candidate for the Senate in Massachusetts and for President in 1976, presuming two terms each for his brother, the incumbent Jack, then Bobby and finally Teddy. That would carry the Kennedy reign to the dawn of 1984 and the Big Brother era.

The Kennedy family left an impression on Bronxville which Hollywood would describe as “terrific.” The police for a long time maintained a stand-by riot formation which many times rushed to the Kennedy home to quell fights between the girls and boys.



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