John Fitzgerald Kennedy


John Fitzgerald Kennedy 35th president of the United States, the youngest
person ever to be elected president. He was also the first Roman Catholic
president and the first president to be born in the 20th century.

Kennedy was assassinated before he completed his third year as president.
Therefore his achievements were limited. Nevertheless, his influence was
worldwide, and his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis may have prevented war.
Young people especially liked him. No other president was so popular. He
brought to the presidency an awareness of the cultural and historical
traditions of the United States. Because Kennedy expressed the values of
20th-century America, his presidency was important beyond its political
achievements. John Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was the
second of nine children.

Kennedy announced his candidacy early in 1960. By the time the Democratic
National Convention opened in July, he had won seven primary victories. His
most important had been in West Virginia, where he proved that a Roman Catholic
could win in a predominantly Protestant state.

When the convention opened, it appeared that Kennedy’s only serious challenge
for the nomination would come from the Senate majority leader, Lyndon B.
Johnson of Texas. However, Johnson was strong only among Southern delegates.
Kennedy won the nomination on the first ballot and then persuaded Johnson to
become his running mate.

Two weeks later the Republicans nominated Vice President Richard Nixon for
president and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., who was ambassador to the United Nations
and whom Kennedy had defeated for the Senate in 1952, for vice president. In
the fast-paced campaign that followed, Kennedy made stops in 46 states and 273
cities and towns, while Nixon visited every state and 170 urban areas.

Another important element of the campaign was the support Kennedy received from
blacks in important Northern states, especially Illinois and Pennsylvania. They
supported him in part because he and Robert Kennedy had tried to get the
release of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. King, who had been
jailed for taking part in a civil rights demonstration in Georgia, was released
soon afterward.

The election drew a record 69 million voters to the polls, but Kennedy won by
only 113,000 votes. Kennedy was inaugurated on January 20, 1961. In his
inaugural address he emphasized America’s revolutionary heritage. 2"The same …
beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe,"
Kennedy said.

3"Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike, that
the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this
century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our
ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those
human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are
committed today at home and around the world."

Kennedy challenged Americans to assume the burden of "defending freedom in its
hour of maximum danger." The words of his address were, 4"Ask not what your
country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

Kennedy sought with considerable success to attract brilliant young people to
government service. His hope was to bring new ideas and new methods into the
executive branch. As a result many of his advisers were teachers and scholars.
Among them were McGeorge Bundy and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., both graduates
of Harvard.

Kennedy’s most influential adviser was Theodore C. Sorenson, a member of
Kennedy’s staff since his days in the Senate. Sorenson wrote many of Kennedy’s
speeches and exerted a strong influence on Kennedy’s development as a political
liberal, 5 a person who believes that the government should directly help
people to overcome poverty or social discrimination.

The president and Mrs. Kennedy attempted to make the White House the cultural
center of the nation. Writers, artists, poets, scientists, and musicians were
frequent dinner guests. On one occasion the Kennedy’s held a reception for all
the American winners of the Nobel Prize, people who made outstanding
contributions to their field during the past year. At the party the president
suggested that more talent and genius was at the White House that night than
there had been since Thomas Jefferson had last dined there alone.

At a meeting with the leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR),
Nikita Khrushchev, Kennedy asked the name of a medal Khrushchev was wearing.
When the premier identified it as the Lenin Peace Medal, Kennedy remarked, 6"I
hope you keep it." On another occasion he told a group of Republican business
leaders, 7"It would be premature to ask for your support in the next