USA and aristocracy

Jan 2008
51
I don't totally understand it, as I don't travel in those circles. However, there are like 100,000 people in the social register. That is pretty closed, which is partly why the children or grandchildren of someone who made a lot of money and married someone not quite at that level would marry British aristocracy. Newport, RI was were New York society had summer homes, so newly wealthy people built spectacular mansions there and had parties for the socialites they wanted to marry their kids to.

I was acquainted with someone who went to a top 50 prep school. She was not in the social register, but her grandparents owned what had been 4 plantations. Her middle name was the surname of a well known colonial governor, and her siblings had middle names of generals they were descended from. She was near the bottom of the class at that school, so I assume they look at background even if you aren't in the register.

I had a cousin who went to a top 10 prep school on a scholarship. I wouldn't want to do that. I had enough trouble at a fancy college with all the prep school types and rich kids who were bought in looking down on me. There was a movie "School Ties" about kids on scholarships at top prep schools, sometimes because they wanted them for an athletic team. They would have them work as waiters serving meals to the other kids as their job for the scholarship.

A friend told me a story about meeting a society type at his mens club to discuss some business. In addition to the high class types there were all sorts of news people from TV, old rock stars etc. They seemed to bring people like that in for connections, information, and so on. There was an article like 30 years ago about a club like that in Washington, which had one Jewish member Henry Kissinger, and a black member who was an Episcopal bishop.

These top prep schools and clubs and so on are financed to a large degree by wealthy people buying their way into them. You can buy your way into a prep school as well as a college, but the normal way to get in is on background for a prep school. By contrast college admissions is supposedly based on academics, but you can buy your way in, and there is preference for prep school types, political connections, etc.

Joseph Kennedy, the father of the president, had been bought into Harvard. He bought his kids into top prep schools. He also was made Ambassador to Britain, partly because he donated a lot of money to Roosevelt''s campaign. Roosevelt also wanted him happy and out of the country, so he wouldn't try to become president, and it maybe got Irish votes. The Ambassadors to glamorous places mostly bought there positions with campaign contributions and maybe money under the table and are mostly nouveau types looking for status. Professional diplomats have to pass a test on history, geography, and so on and know lots of languages, but are also mostly from fancy backgrounds. Background is really important in the foreign service, but not so much in the military any more.

My understanding is that it helps to be social register and good prep school for competitive colleges. The top Ivies take a lot of people from top prep schools who are good academically, but also upper level society, which isn't really viewed like aristocracy in Europe but has status. Top Ivies also are really expensive to buy into, so have really rich students.

Admissions to good prep schools is mostly based on background, but I have heard less so than in Britain. Some Ivies and top LACs take maybe 15% of students on academics, and the rest have hooks. They take some for athletics, some who are from underrepresented ethnic groups or geographical areas, and some with various types of connections or prominent parents or relatives. Then there are a lot of prep school types, but most are sort of bought in.

It's true that Joseph Kennedy attended Harvard. Kennedy's father was a prosperous businessman, and considered one of the leading business owners of Boston, and his family had numerous connections to the Irish political establishment in Boston. Harvard, at this time, was beginning to shed its image as a bastion of Yankee upperclass elitism, and admitting promising students from the upper echelons of the middleclass, including Irish, Italian, Hebrew ethnics, who'd by this time become the majority of the population in Boston. However, it ought to be mentioned that Kennedy was passed over for selection into one of the exclusive private fraternal societies (Porcellians, etc.) associated with the University. These private societies still didn't admit Catholics or Jews. (That came later.). Kennedy had hoped for, and expected, admission into one of these societies, and he'd met the academic and athletic standards which were expected for admission. It was actually a rude awakening for him, and he began to realize that there were limitations to the merit system. It may perhaps be one of the reasons why he later was so ruthless in his business dealings.
 
Jun 2017
620
maine
It's true that Joseph Kennedy attended Harvard. Kennedy's father was a prosperous businessman, and considered one of the leading business owners of Boston, and his family had numerous connections to the Irish political establishment in Boston. Harvard, at this time, was beginning to shed its image as a bastion of Yankee upperclass elitism, and admitting promising students from the upper echelons of the middleclass, including Irish, Italian, Hebrew ethnics, who'd by this time become the majority of the population in Boston. However, it ought to be mentioned that Kennedy was passed over for selection into one of the exclusive private fraternal societies (Porcellians, etc.) associated with the University. These private societies still didn't admit Catholics or Jews. (That came later.). Kennedy had hoped for, and expected, admission into one of these societies, and he'd met the academic and athletic standards which were expected for admission. It was actually a rude awakening for him, and he began to realize that there were limitations to the merit system. It may perhaps be one of the reasons why he later was so ruthless in his business dealings.
Don't you think that Joseph Kennedy's upbringing in the rough-and-tumble world of Boston politics had a great deal to do with his aggressiveness? His father was PJ Kennedy and his father-in-law was Honey Fitz.
 
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betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,512
It wasn't just that because he was Irish Catholic that he wasn't accepted into those societies. Very few were accepted who were not from the right family. He did get into Harvard based on contributions and political connections.

He probably had to donate a lot more to get his kids into top prep schools and so on because he was Irish Catholic than if he was some wealthy protestant businessman. That's how these things work. If you aren't the right type or whatever you need to donate more, not just in terms of ethnicity. He did make enough money to buy his kids into more elite aristocratic circles.
 
Jun 2017
620
maine
It wasn't just that because he was Irish Catholic that he wasn't accepted into those societies. Very few were accepted who were not from the right family. He did get into Harvard based on contributions and political connections.

He probably had to donate a lot more to get his kids into top prep schools and so on because he was Irish Catholic than if he was some wealthy protestant businessman. That's how these things work. If you aren't the right type or whatever you need to donate more, not just in terms of ethnicity. He did make enough money to buy his kids into more elite aristocratic circles.
To be frank, I never thought the day would come when I defended a Kennedy--and Papa Joe of all people. However, it is true that he graduated from Boston Latin--which, as Bostonians know, is a prestigious secondary school. At Harvard, he was accepted into the Hasty Pudding Club which was selective. Apparently he was. personally. an amiable person who mixed easily with all kinds of people. But, it is quite right, in business he was ruthless and even underhanded.

Boston society was pretty tight and ANYONE from away really wasn't acceptable. Earlier that centry, Mrs. "Jack" Gardner (Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum) of NY society married into Boston--she was not received but she was very rich and she was from a "good family". The story is told that a solicitor appeared at her door, collecting money for the Boston Charitable Eye and Ear Hospital. Said Mrs. Gardiner: "I don't believe that there is a charitable eye or ear in the entire city".
 
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betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,512
Boston Latin is an elite public school you have to take an exam for to get into. It was founded in the 17th century, but it is not a private school.

In general elite colleges take a lot of society kids from their city or area. Obviously, they took a lot more in Joseph Kennedy's time than today. Top Ivies also take upper society types.

I would think the Joseph Kennedy would have known that he would not have been accepted in those kinds of circles, even if his family was prominent in Boston politics and business. Being Irish Catholic made it worse, but he wouldn't be accepted in society circles anyway.

I didn't have an easy experience at an elite college myself for various reasons, and I can understand that how he was treated at Harvard might have motivated him to make huge amounts of money so he would be more accepted in elite circles.
 
Jun 2017
620
maine
Boston Latin is an elite public school you have to take an exam for to get into. It was founded in the 17th century, but it is not a private school.

In general elite colleges take a lot of society kids from their city or area. Obviously, they took a lot more in Joseph Kennedy's time than today. Top Ivies also take upper society types.

I would think the Joseph Kennedy would have known that he would not have been accepted in those kinds of circles, even if his family was prominent in Boston politics and business. Being Irish Catholic made it worse, but he wouldn't be accepted in society circles anyway.

I didn't have an easy experience at an elite college myself for various reasons, and I can understand that how he was treated at Harvard might have motivated him to make huge amounts of money so he would be more accepted in elite circles.
Actually, I didn't say that it was private--only that it was prestigious. I'm sure that you are right: he knew that he'd never become a Boston Bhahmin. Therefore I think it was unlikely that his experiences at Harvard--which were not totally negative--were the motivation for his making money. He enjoyed thumbing his nose at convention and he enjoyed being rich enough to get away with it. He cultivated friendships that were far outside "polite society". Had he wished to fit in, he'd have done a lot of things differently. Bottom line: Joseph Kennedy like being rich--not being aristocratic.
 

Earl_of_Rochester

Ad Honoris
Feb 2011
13,609
Perambulating in St James' Park
A dinnae ken aboot thon ... Ar ye sayin the Forty Twa is not fashionable, laddy? Me boys swaggerin up an doun the road in the black watch tartan while the pipes ar playin Black Bear wad disagree.
The Black Watch was fashionable, but it wasn't as prestigious as the cavalry or Household Division. The same still rings true to this day. An old school associate of mine joined the guards (those guys with redcoats and silly hats). I asked him why he didn't join the cavalry and he said he couldn't afford the social life. Cavalry officers are expected to own their own horses and play polo,, as well as paying for their mess bill and whatever other fancy stuff they have to do. Being a general line officer from one of the county regiments still has some swagger, but the closer to the crown you get the posher things generally are. The hussars are fancy too due to their flashy uniform and the charge of the light brigade business.

Re the OP, the Americans may have an oligarchy but I don't think they have an aristocracy, you need a monarchy and titles for that.
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,743
Lower Styria, Slovenia
The Black Watch was fashionable, but it wasn't as prestigious as the cavalry or Household Division. The same still rings true to this day. An old school associate of mine joined the guards (those guys with redcoats and silly hats). I asked him why he didn't join the cavalry and he said he couldn't afford the social life. Cavalry officers are expected to own their own horses and play polo,, as well as paying for their mess bill and whatever other fancy stuff they have to do. Being a general line officer from one of the county regiments still has some swagger, but the closer to the crown you get the posher things generally are. The hussars are fancy too due to their flashy uniform and the charge of the light brigade business.
Certainly the Guard regiments are the most prestigious, no doubt about that. I was just joking. I like the Ladies from Hell, the Gordons et al but I'm aware the Guards hold a special place in the Army's hierarchy and even withing the Guards there's a hierarchy - an eternal quarrel between the Grenadiers and the Coldstream boys, the Scots always somewhere in between and the Irish and Welsh Guards have to constantly prove themselves. Didn't know the Horse Guards were still so, hmmm ... can't find the right word. I must say I don't like the hussar's and horse artillery's uniforms. They looked very smart and dandy in the Napoleonic period, but sometime after the Crimean War (I assume) they messed up. Their busbies look a bit cartoonish nowadays while the bearskins of the Foot Guards still look ok.
 
Jun 2017
620
maine
, the Americans may have an oligarchy but I don't think they have an aristocracy, you need a monarchy and titles for that.
"Aristocracy" simply means "rule (or power) by the best. One needs neither a title nor a monarch to think s/he is better than someone else. An "oligarchy" is "rule by a few"--and I'll bet that you need neither monarch nor title for that either.