Saturday, December 11, 2010

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

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John F. Kennedy

In office
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson

In office
January 3, 1953 – December 22, 1960
Preceded by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
Succeeded by Benjamin A. Smith

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 11th district
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by James Michael Curley
Succeeded by Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr.

Born May 29, 1917(1917-05-29)
Brookline, Massachusetts
Died November 22, 1963(1963-11-22) (aged 46)
Dallas, Texas
Birth name John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy
Children Arabella Kennedy
Caroline Bouvier Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr.
Patrick Bouvier Kennedy
Alma mater Harvard College (S.B.)[1]
Occupation Politician
Religion Roman Catholic
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Lieutenant
Unit Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109
Battles/wars World War II
Solomon Islands campaign
Awards Navy and Marine Corps Medal ribbon.svg Navy and Marine Corps Medal
Purple Heart BAR.svg Purple Heart
American Defense Service ribbon.svg American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon.svg Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 3 bronze stars
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal[2]
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.
After military service as commander of the Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 and Motor Torpedo Boat PT-59 during World War II in the South Pacific, Kennedy represented Massachusetts's 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 as a Democrat. Thereafter, he served in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until 1960. Kennedy defeated then Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. presidential election, one of the closest in American history. He was the second-youngest President (after Theodore Roosevelt), the first President born in the 20th century, and the youngest elected to the office, at the age of 43.[3][4] Kennedy is the only Catholic, and the first Irish American, president, and is the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize.[5] Events during his presidency included the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Space Race, the African American Civil Rights Movement and early stages of the Vietnam War.
Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the crime but was shot and killed two days later by Jack Ruby before any trial. The FBI, the Warren Commission, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded that Oswald was the assassin, with the HSCA allowing for the probability of conspiracy based on disputed acoustic evidence. Today, Kennedy continues to rank highly in public opinion ratings of former U.S. presidents.[6]

Early life and education

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born at 83 Beals Street in Brookline, Massachusetts on Tuesday, May 29, 1917, at 3:00 p.m.,[7] the second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., and Rose Fitzgerald; Rose, in turn, was the eldest child of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, a prominent Boston political figure who was the city's mayor and a three-term member of Congress. Kennedy lived in Brookline for ten years and attended Edward Devotion School, Noble and Greenough Lower School, and the Dexter School, through 4th grade. In 1927, the family moved to 5040 Independence Avenue in Riverdale, Bronx, New York City; two years later, they moved to 294 Pondfield Road in Bronxville, New York, where Kennedy was a member of Scout Troop 2 (and was the first Boy Scout to become President).[8] Kennedy spent summers with his family at their home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, and Christmas and Easter holidays with his family at their winter home in Palm Beach, Florida. For the 5th through 7th grade, Kennedy attended Riverdale Country School, a private school for boys. For 8th grade in September 1930, the 13-year old Kennedy attended Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. In late April 1931, he had appendicitis requiring an appendectomy, after which he withdrew from Canterbury and recuperated at home.
In September 1931, Kennedy was sent to The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, for his 9th through 12th grade years. His older brother Joe Jr., was already at Choate, two years ahead of him, a football star and leading student in the school. Jack spent his first years at Choate in his brother's shadow, and compensated for this with rebellious behavior that attracted a coterie. Their most notorious stunt was to explode a toilet seat with a powerful firecracker. In the ensuing chapel assembly, the strict headmaster, George St. John, brandished the toilet seat and spoke of certain "muckers" who would "spit in our sea". The defiant Jack Kennedy took the cue and named his group "The Muckers Club", which included long time friend Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings. While at Choate, Kennedy was beset by health problems, culminating in 1934 with his emergency hospitalization at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In June 1934 he was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and diagnosed with colitis. Kennedy graduated from Choate in June 1935. For the school yearbook, of which he had been business manager, Kennedy was voted the "Most likely to Succeed".[9]
In September 1935, he made his first trip abroad, with his parents and sister Kathleen, to London, with the intent of studying at the London School of Economics (LSE) as his older brother Joe had done. There is uncertainty about what he did at LSE before returning to America in October 1935, when he enrolled late and spent six weeks at Princeton University. He was then hospitalized for two months of observation for possible leukemia at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He convalesced further at the Kennedy winter home in Palm Beach, then spent the spring of 1936 working as a ranch hand on a 40,000-acre (160 km²) cattle ranch outside Benson, Arizona. That summer he raced sailboats at the Kennedy home in Hyannisport.
In September 1936, Kennedy enrolled at Harvard College, where he produced that year's annual "Freshman Smoker", called by a reviewer "an elaborate entertainment, which included in its cast outstanding personalities of the radio, screen and sports world."[10] He tried out for the football, golf, and swim teams and earned a spot on the varsity swim team.[11] In July 1937, Kennedy sailed to France, with his convertible on board, and spent ten weeks driving through Europe with a friend. In June 1938, Kennedy sailed oversees with his father and brother Joe to work with his father, Roosevelt's U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, at the American embassy in London; in August the family went to a villa near Cannes. In 1939, Kennedy toured Europe, the Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Middle East in preparation for his Harvard senior honors thesis. He then went to Czechoslovakia and Germany before returning to London on September 1, 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland. On September 3, 1939, the family was in the House of Commons for speeches endorsing the United Kingdom's declaration of war on Germany. Kennedy was sent as his father's representative to help with arrangements for American survivors of the SS Athenia, before flying back to the U.S. from Foynes, Ireland to Port Washington, New York on his first transatlantic flight.
In 1940, Kennedy completed his thesis, "Appeasement in Munich," about British participation in the Munich Agreement. He initially intended his thesis to be private, but his father encouraged him to publish it. He graduated cum laude from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in 1940, and his thesis was published that year as a book entitled Why England Slept, and became a bestseller.[12] Kennedy enrolled and audited classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In early 1941, he helped his father complete the writing of a memoir of his three years as an American ambassador and then traveled throughout South America.

Military service

In September 1941, after medical disqualification by the Army for his chronic lower back problems, Kennedy joined the U.S. Navy, with the influence of the director of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), former naval attaché to Joseph Kennedy.[13] Kennedy was an ensign serving in the office of the Secretary of the Navy when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. He then attended the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center, was assigned duty in Panama and later in the Pacific theater where he earned the rank of lieutenant, commanding a patrol torpedo (PT) boat.[14]
Lt. Kennedy on his navy patrol boat, the PT-109
On August 2, 1943, Kennedy's boat, PT-109, along with PT-162 and PT-169, were ordered to continue nighttime patrol near New Georgia in the Solomon Islands,[15] when it was rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri.[16] Kennedy gathered his surviving crew members together in the water around the wreckage, to vote on whether to "fight or surrender". Kennedy stated, "There's nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose." Shunning surrender, the men swam towards a small island.[17] Kennedy, despite re-injury to his back in the collision, towed a badly burned crewman through the water with a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth.[18] He towed the wounded man to the island and later to a second island from where his crew was subsequently rescued.[19] For these actions, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with the following citation:
For extremely heroic conduct as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 109 following the collision and sinking of that vessel in the Pacific War Theater on August 1–2, 1943. Unmindful of personal danger, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Kennedy unhesitatingly braved the difficulties and hazards of darkness to direct rescue operations, swimming many hours to secure aid and food after he had succeeded in getting his crew ashore. His outstanding courage, endurance and leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
General Douglas MacArthur, however, had quite a different opinion about Kennedy's actions: "Those PT boats carried only one torpedo [sic]. They were under orders to fire it and then get out. They were defenseless. Kennedy hung around, however, and let a Japanese destroyer mow him down. When I heard about it, I talked to his superior officer. He should have been court-martialed."[20]
In October 1943, Kennedy took command of a PT boat converted into a gun boat, Motor Torpedo Boat PT-59, which in November took part in a Marine rescue on Choiseul Island.[21] Kennedy was honorably discharged in early 1945, just prior to Japan's surrender. Kennedy's other decorations in World War II included the Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.[2] Kennedy privately admitted he didn't feel that he deserved the medals he had received because the PT-109 incident had been the result of a botched military operation that had cost the lives of two members of his crew. When later asked by a reporter how he became a war hero, Kennedy joked: "It was involuntary. They sank my boat."[22]

Congressional career

House of Representatives

In 1946, U.S. Representative James Michael Curley vacated his seat in the strong Democratic 10th Congressional district in Massachusetts to become mayor of Boston. Kennedy ran for the seat, beating his Republican opponent by a large margin; this, despite not having previously included politics in his career planning. He was a congressman for six years but had a mixed voting record, often diverging from President Harry S. Truman and the rest of the Democratic Party.


In 1952, he defeated incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for the U.S. Senate. The following year he was married to wife Jacqueline.[23]
Kennedy underwent several spinal operations over the following two years, was at times critically ill and received Catholic last rites, and was often absent from the Senate. During his convalescence in 1956, he published Profiles in Courage, a book about U.S. Senators who risked their careers for their personal beliefs, and which received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957.[24] Rumors that this work was co-authored by his close adviser and speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, were confirmed in Sorensen's 2008 autobiography.[25]
At the 1956 Democratic National Convention, Kennedy was nominated for Vice President, for the presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, but finished second in that balloting to Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. Kennedy received national exposure from that episode; his father thought it just as well that his son lost, due to the political debility of his Catholicism, and the strength of the Eisenhower ticket.
Senator John F. Kennedy in his Senate Office, 1959
One of the matters demanding Kennedy's attention in the Senate was President Eisenhower's bill for the Civil Rights Act of 1957[26] Kennedy cast a procedural vote on this which was considered by some as an appeasement of Southern Democratic opponents of the bill.[26] Kennedy did vote for Title III of the act, which would have given the Attorney General powers to enjoin, but Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson agreed to let the provision die as a compromise measure.[27] Kennedy also voted for Title IV, termed the "Jury Trial Amendment". Many civil rights advocates at the time criticized that vote as one which would weaken the act.[28] A final compromise bill, which Kennedy supported, was passed in September 1957.[29][30] In 1958, Kennedy was re-elected to a second term in the Senate, defeating his Republican opponent, Boston lawyer Vincent J. Celeste, by a wide margin.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was a friend of the Kennedy family; Joseph Kennedy, Sr. was a leading McCarthy supporter, Robert F. Kennedy worked for McCarthy's subcommittee, and McCarthy dated Patricia Kennedy. In 1954, when the Senate voted to censure McCarthy, Kennedy had drafted, but not delivered, a speech supporting the censure, but was in the hospital. Though absent, he could have participated procedurally by "pairing" his vote against that of another senator, but did not do so. He never indicated how he would have voted, but the episode damaged Kennedy's support in the liberal community, including Eleanor Roosevelt, in the 1956 and 1960 elections.[31]

1960 presidential election

On January 2, 1960, Kennedy initiated his campaign for President in the Democratic primary election, where he faced challenges from Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota and Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon. Kennedy defeated Humphrey in Wisconsin and West Virginia, Morse in Maryland and Oregon, as well as token opposition (often write-in candidates) in New Hampshire, Indiana, and Nebraska. Kennedy made a point of visiting a coal mine in West Virginia; most miners and others in that predominantly conservative, Protestant state were quite wary of Kennedy's Roman Catholicism. His victory in West Virginia confirmed his broad popular appeal. At the Democratic Convention, he gave his well-known "New Frontier" speech, saying: "For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won—and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier ... But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them."[32]
John and Jackie Kennedy campaigning in Appleton, Wisconsin, March 1960
With Humphrey and Morse eliminated, Kennedy's main opponent at the Los Angeles convention was Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. Kennedy overcame this formal challenge as well as informal ones from Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee in 1952 and 1956, Stuart Symington, as well as several favorite sons, and on July 13 the Democratic convention nominated Kennedy as its candidate. Kennedy asked Johnson to be his Vice Presidential candidate, despite opposition from many liberal delegates and Kennedy's own staff, including brother Robert. He needed Johnson's strength in the South to win what was considered likely to be the closest election since 1916. Major issues included how to get the economy moving again, Kennedy's Roman Catholicism, Cuba, and whether the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the U.S. To address fears that his being Catholic would impact his decision-making, he famously told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me."[33] Kennedy questioned rhetorically whether one-quarter of Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship just because they were Catholic, and once stated that, "No one asked me my religion [serving the Navy] in the South Pacific."[34]
In September and October, Kennedy appeared with Republican candidate Richard Nixon, then Vice President, in the first televised U.S. presidential debates in U.S. history. During these programs, Nixon, with a sore injured leg and his "five o'clock shadow", looked tense, uncomfortable, and perspiring, while Kennedy, choosing to avail himself of makeup services, appeared relaxed, leading the huge television audience to favor Kennedy as the winner. Radio listeners, however, either thought Nixon had won or that the debates were a draw.[35] The debates are now considered a milestone in American political history—the point at which the medium of television began to play a dominant role in politics.[24] After the first debate Kennedy's campaign gained momentum and he pulled slightly ahead of Nixon in most polls. On Tuesday, November 8, Kennedy defeated Nixon in one of the closest presidential elections of the twentieth century. In the national popular vote Kennedy led Nixon by just two-tenths of one percent (49.7% to 49.5%), while in the Electoral College he won 303 votes to Nixon's 219 (269 were needed to win). Another 14 electors from Mississippi and Alabama refused to support Kennedy because of his support for the civil rights movement; they voted for Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia. He was the youngest man elected president, succeeding Eisenhower who was the oldest.[36]


John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President at noon on January 20, 1961. In his inaugural address he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens, famously saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." He also asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself." He added: "All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin." In closing, he expanded on his desire for greater internationalism: "Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you."[37]
Kennedy brought to the White House a stark contrast in organization compared to the decision making structure of the former general, Eisenhower; and he wasted no time in dismantling it.[38] Kennedy preferred the organizational structure of a wheel, with all the spokes leading to the president. He was ready and willing to make the increased number of quick decisions required in such an environment, and did a monumental job of selecting his cabinet and other appointments, some experienced and some not. In those cases of inexperience, he stated, "we can learn our jobs together".[39] There were a couple instances where the president got ahead of himself, as when he announced in a cabinet meeting, without prior notice, that Edward Lansdale would be Ambassador to South Vietnam, a decision which Secretary of State Rusk later had Kennedy alter.[40] There was also the rapid appointment of Harris Wofford who was summoned and arrived at the White House for swearing in, without knowing the position he was to assume.[41]
Kennedy further demonstrated his decision making agility with Congress and his staff. Much to the chagrin of his economic advisors who wanted him to reduce taxes, he quickly agreed to a balanced budget pledge when this was needed in exchange for votes to expand the membership of the House Rules Committee in order to give the Democrats a majority in setting the legislative agenda.[42] The president insisted on a focus upon immediate and specific issues facing the administration, and quickly voiced his impatience with ponderings of deeper meanings. Deputy national security advisor, Walt Whitman Rostow, once began a diatribe about the growth of communism and Kennedy abruptly cut him off, asking, "What do you want me to do about that today?"[43]

Foreign policy

Foreign trips of John F. Kennedy during his presidency.
President Kennedy's foreign policy was dominated by American-Soviet confrontations, manifested by proxy contests in the early stage of the Cold War. In 1961 Kennedy anxiously anticipated a summit with Nikita Khruschev. On the way to the summit was a stop in Paris in June to meet Charles de Gaulle, whose advice to Kennedy was to expect and ignore the abrasive style of Khruschev. The French Prime Minister was nationalistic, and disdainful of the United States' presumed influence in Europe, in his talks with Kennedy. Nevertheless de Gaulle was quite impressed with the young president and family. Kennedy picked up on this in his speech in Paris, saying he would be remembered as "the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris."[44]
Later that June, the president met with Khruschev in Vienna and left the meetings angry and disappointed that he had allowed the Premier to bully him, despite warnings received. Khruschev for his part was impressed with the president's intelligence but thought him weak. Kennedy did succeed in conveying the bottom line to Khruschev on the most sensitive issue before them, a proposed treaty between Moscow and East Berlin. He made it clear that any such treaty which interfered with U.S access rights in West Berlin would be regarded as an act of war.[45]
Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the White House Cabinet Room on April 13, 1962.
Shortly after the president returned home, the U.S.S.R. announced an intent to treat with East Berlin, regardless of any third party occupation rights in either sector of the city. A depressed and angry president then assumed his obligation was to prepare the country for nuclear war as the only option, and which he then personally thought had a one in five chance of occurring.[46]
In the weeks immediately after the Vienna summit, more than 20 thousand people fled from East Berlin to the western sector in reaction to statements from the U.S.S.R. Kennedy began intensive meetings on the Berlin issue, where Dean Acheson took the lead in recommending a military buildup with NATO allies as the appropriate response.[47] In a July 1961 speech, Kennedy announced his decision to add $3.25 billion to the defense budget, along with over 200 thousand additional troops for the military, saying an attack on West Berlin would be taken as an attack on the U.S. The speech received an 85% approval rating.[48] The following month, the U.S.S.R. and East Berlin officials began blocking any further passage of East Berliners into West Berlin, erecting barbed wire fences across the city, which were quickly upgraded to the Berlin Wall. Kennedy's initial reaction was to ignore this, as long as free access from West to East Berlin continued. This course was altered when it was learned that the West Berliners had lost confidence in the defense of their position by the United States. Kennedy sent V.P. Johnson, along with a host of other military personnel, in convoy through West Germany, including Soviet armed checkpoints, to demonstrate the continued commitment of the U.S. to West Berlin.[49]
John F. Kennedy gave a speech at Saint Anselm College on May 5, 1960, regarding America's conduct in the emerging Cold War. Kennedy's speech detailed how American foreign policy should be conducted towards African nations, noting a hint of support for modern African nationalism by saying that "For we, too, founded a new nation on revolt from colonial rule".[50]

Cuba and the Bay of Pigs Invasion

Prior to Kennedy's election to the presidency, the Eisenhower Administration created a plan to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba. Central to the plan, led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with help from the US Military,[51] but with no covert help from the United States, was the arming of a counter-revolutionary insurgency composed of anti-Castro Cuban exiles[52] U.S.-trained Cuban insurgents, led by CIA paramilitary officers were to invade Cuba and instigate an uprising among the Cuban people in hopes of removing Castro from power.[53] On April 17, 1961, Kennedy ordered the previously planned invasion of Cuba to proceed. In what is known as the "Bay of Pigs Invasion", 1,500 U.S.-trained Cubans, called "Brigade 2506," returned to the island in the hope of deposing Castro. However, in keeping with prior plans, no U.S. air support was provided. As CIA director Allen Dulles latter stated, they thought that once the troops were on the ground any action required for success would be authorized by the president to prevent failure.[54] By April 19, 1961, the Cuban government had captured or killed the invading exiles, and Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release of the 1,189 survivors. After twenty months, Cuba released the captured exiles in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medicine.[55] Furthermore, the incident made Castro wary of the U.S. and led him to believe that another invasion would occur.[56] According to biographer Richard Reeves, Kennedy primarily focused on the political repercussions of the plan rather than the military considerations; when it failed, he was convinced the plan was a set up to make him look bad.[57] Nevertheless, in the end, Kennedy took the blame himself.[58]
Late in 1961 the White House formed the "Special Group (Augmented)", headed by Robert Kennedy and including Edward Lansdale, Sec. McNamara and others. The group's objective, to overthrow Castro via espionage, sabotage and other covert tactics, was never pursued.[59]

Cuban Missile Crisis

Meeting Nikita Khrushchev in 1961
On October 14, 1962, CIA U-2 spy planes took photographs in Cuba of intermediate-range ballistic missile sites under construction by the Soviets in previous months. The deployment of these missiles had come to the attention of the intelligence community when Soviet shipments to Cuba began and a debate had ensued in the National Security Council (NSC) as to whether the intended use of the weapons was offensive or defensive. The photos were shown to Kennedy on October 16, 1962, and a consensus was reached that the missiles were offensive in nature and thus posed an immediate nuclear threat.[60] Kennedy faced a dilemma: if the U.S. attacked the sites, it might lead to nuclear war with the U.S.S.R., but if the U.S. did nothing, it would be faced with the increased threat from close range nuclear weapons. The U.S. would as well appear to the world as less committed to the defense of the hemisphere. On a personal level, Kennedy needed to show resolve in reaction to Khrushchev, especially after the Vienna summit.[61]
More than a third of the members of the NSC favored an unannounced air assault on the missile sites, but for some of them this conjured up an image of "Pearl Harbor in reverse".[62] There was as well some reaction from the international community (asked in confidence) that the assault plan was an overreaction in light of U.S. missiles placed in Turkey by Eisenhower. There also could be no assurance from the Council that the assault would be 100% effective.[63] In concurrence with a majority vote of the NSC, Kennedy decided on a naval quarantine, and on October 22 dispatched a message of this to Khrushchev and announced the decision on T.V.[64]
The U.S. Navy would stop and inspect all Soviet ships arriving off Cuba, beginning October 24. The Organization of American States surprisingly gave unanimous support to the removal of the missiles. The president exchanged two sets of letters with Khrushchev to no avail.[65] U.N. Secretary General U Thant requested both parties reverse their decisions and allow a cooling off period. Khrushchev said yes but Kennedy replied no.[66] After one Soviet-flagged ship was stopped and boarded, on October 28 Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missile sites subject to U.N. inspections.[67] The U.S. publicly promised never to invade Cuba and privately agreed to remove its Jupiter missiles in Turkey, which were at that time obsolete and had been supplanted by missile-equipped US Navy Polarlis subs.[68] This crisis had brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any point known before or since. In the end, "the humanity" of the two men prevailed.[69] The crisis improved the image of American willpower and the president's credibility. His approval rating increased from 66% to 77% immediately thereafter.[70]

Latin America and communism

Arguing that "those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable,"[71] Kennedy sought to contain communism in Latin America by establishing the Alliance for Progress, which sent foreign aid to troubled countries and sought greater human rights standards in the region. He worked closely with Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Muñoz Marín for the development of the Alliance of Progress, as well as developments in the autonomy of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
When the president took office the Eisenhower administration, through the CIA, has begun putting into place assassination plots in Cuba against Castro and in the Dominican Republic against Rafael Trujillo. Kennedy instructed the CIA privately that any such planning must include plausible deniability by the U.S. His public position was in opposition.[72] In June 1961 the Dominican Republic's leader was assassinated; in the days following the event, Undersecretary of State Chester Bowles led a cautious reaction by the nation, and Robert Kennedy, substituting for his brother who was in France, and who saw an opportunity for the U.S., called him "a gutless bastard" to his face.[73]

Peace Corps

As one of his first presidential acts, Kennedy asked Congress to create the Peace Corps.[4] His brother-in-law, Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. was the first director. Through this program, Americans volunteer to help underdeveloped nations in areas such as education, farming, health care, and construction. The authorization grew to 5,000 members by March, 1963 and 10,000 the following year.[74] Since 1961, over 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, serving in 139 countries.

Southeast Asia

When briefing Kennedy, Eisenhower emphasized the communist threat in Southeast Asia as requiring priority; Eisenhower considered Laos to be "the cork in the bottle" in regards to the regional threat. In March 1961, Kennedy voiced a change in policy from supporting a "free" Laos to a "neutral" Laos, indicating privately that Vietnam, and not Laos, should be deemed America's tripwire for communism's spread in the area.[75] In May 1961 he dispatched Lyndon Johnson to meet with South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem. Johnson assured Diem of more aid in molding a fighting force that could resist the Communists.[76] Kennedy announced a change of policy from support to partnership with Diem in defeat of communism in South Vietnam.[77]
Kennedy initially followed Eisenhower's lead, by using limited military action to fight the Communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh.[78] Kennedy continued policies providing political, economic, and military support for the South Vietnamese government.[78] Late in 1961, the Viet Cong began assuming a predominant presence, initially seizing the provincial capital of Phuoc Vinh.[79] Kennedy increased the number of helicopters, military advisors and undeclared U.S. Special Forces in the area, but he was still reluctant to order a full scale deployment of troops.[80][81] Kennedy formally authorized escalated involvement when he signed the "National Security Action Memorandum - Subversive Insurgency (War of Liberation)" in early 1962.[82] Secretary of State, Dean Rusk voiced strong support for U.S. involvement as illustrated in his emphatic in the Fall of 1962 that, "...neutralism [in South Vietnam] is not neutralism at all; it's tantamount to surrender."[83] "Operation Ranch Hand", a broad scale aerial defoliation effort began on the roadsides in South Vietnam.[84][85]
Kennedy with (then) future Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt in the Oval office in 1963.
In April 1963, Kennedy expressed his assessment of the situation in Vietnam at the time: "We don't have a prayer of staying in Vietnam. Those people hate us. They are going to throw our asses out of there at any point. But I can't give up that territory to the Communists and get the American people to re-elect me".[86] By July 1963, Kennedy faced a crisis in Vietnam; despite increased U.S. support, the South Vietnamese military was only marginally effective against pro-Communist Viet Cong forces.
On August 21, just as the new U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge arrived, Ngo Dinh Diem, and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu ordered South Vietnam forces, funded and trained by the CIA, into the temples to quell buddhist demonstrations. The crackdowns heightened expectations of a coup d'état to remove Diem with (or perhaps by) his brother, Nhu.[87] Lodge was instructed to try to get Diem and Nhu to step-down and out of the country. Diem would not listen to Lodge.[88] Cable 243 (DEPTEL 23) dated August 24 followed, declaring: Washington would no longer tolerate Nhu's actions and Lodge was ordered to pressure Diem to remove his brother. If Diem refused, the Americans would explore alternative leadership.[89] Lodge replied to this contradictory cable, saying that the only workable option was to get the South Vietnam generals to overthrow Diem and Nhu, as originally planned.[90] At week's end, Kennedy learned from Lodge that the Diem government might, due to France's assistance to Nhu, be dealing secretly with the Communists - and might ask the Americans to leave; orders were sent to Saigon and throughout Washington to "destroy all coup cables".[91] This, as the first formal anti Vietnam war sentiment was expressed by U.S. clergy from the Ministers Vietnam Committee.[92]
In September, at a White House meeting, symbolic of very different ongoing appraisals of Vietnam, the president was given updated assessments after personal inspections on the ground by the Dept. of Defense (Gen. Victor Krulak) and the State Dept. (Joseph Mendenhall). Krulak said the military fight against the communists was progressing and being won, while Mendenhall related that the country was civilly being lost to any U.S. influence. Kennedy reacted, saying, "Did you two gentlemen visit the same country?" The president was unaware the two men were at such odds they did not speak on the return flight.[93]
In October 1963, the president appointed Defense Secretary McNamara and Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor to a Vietnam mission in another effort to synchronize the information and formulation of policy. The stated objective of the McNamara Taylor mission "emphasized the importance of getting to the bottom of the differences in reporting from U.S. representatives in Vietnam."[94] In meetings with McNamara, Taylor and Lodge, Diem again refused to agree to governing measures insisted upon by the U.S., helping to dispel McNamara's previous optimism as to Diem.[95] Taylor and McNamara were also enlightened by Vietnam's V.P. Nguyen Ngoc Tho (choice of many to succeed Diem should a coup occur), who in detailed terms obliterated Taylor's information that the military was succeeding in the countryside.[96] The Mission report, after it had been through the NSC, nevertheless retained, at Kennedy's insistence, a recommended schedule for troop withdrawals: 1000 by year's end and complete withdrawal in 1965, something the NSC considered strategical fantasy.[97] The final report also portrayed military progress, an increasingly unpopular Diem-led government, not vulnerable to a coup, albeit possible internal assassination.[98]
In late October, intelligence wires again reported a coup of the Diem government was afoot. The source, Duong Van Minh a/k/a "Big Minh" wanted to know the position of the U.S. Kennedy's instructions to Lodge were to offer covert assistance to the coup, excluding assassination, but to ensure deniability by the U.S.[99] Later that month as the coup became imminent, Kennedy ordered all cables routed through him, and a policy of "control and cut out" was initiated - to insure presidential control of U.S. responses, while cutting him out of the paper trail.[100] On November 1, 1963, South Vietnamese generals, led by "Big Minh", overthrew the Diem government, arresting and then killing Diem and his brother Nhu. Kennedy was shocked by the deaths and to find out afterwards that Minh had asked the CIA field office to secure safe passage out of the country for Diem and Nhu, but was told 24 hours was needed to get a plane. Minh responded that he could not hold them that long and thus handed them a death sentence.[101] Initially after news of the coup, there was renewed confidence in America and in South Vietnam, that now the war might truly be won.[102] McGeorge Bundy drafted a National Security Action Memo to present to Kennedy upon his return from Dallas. It reiterated U.S. resolve to fight communism in Vietnam, with both military and economic aid at a higher level, including operations in Laos and Cambodia. Before leaving for Dallas, Kennedy told Mike Forrestal that "after the first of the year...[he wanted] an in depth study of every possible option, including how to get out of review this whole thing from the bottom to the top". When asked what he thought the president meant, Forrestal said, "it was devil's advocate stuff."[103]
Historians disagree on whether Vietnam would have escalated to the point it did, had Kennedy survived and been re-elected in 1964.[104] Fueling the debate are statements made by Kennedy and Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the film, "The Fog of War", that Kennedy was strongly considering pulling out of Vietnam after the 1964 election. The film also contains a tape recording of Lyndon Johnson stating that Kennedy was planning to withdraw, a position Johnson states he strongly disapproved.[105][page needed] Further, Kennedy had signed National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263, dated October 11, 1963, which ordered the withdrawal of 1,000 military personnel by the end of 1963.[106][107][page needed] Nevertheless, given the reasons stated for the overthrow of the Diem government, such action would have been a policy reversal, but Kennedy was moving in a less hawkish direction since his acclaimed speech about World Peace at American University on June 10, 1963.[108] According to historian Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy's statements about withdrawing from Vietnam, were "...less of a definite decision than a working assumption, based on a hope for stability rather than an expectation of chaos".[109] Some of the details of Kennedy's involvement in Vietnam were classified until the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.[110]
U.S. involvement in the region escalated until Lyndon Johnson, his successor, directly deployed regular U.S. military forces for fighting the Vietnam War.[111][112] After Kennedy's assassination, the new President Lyndon B. Johnson immediately reversed his predecessor's order to withdraw 1,000 military personnel by the end of 1963 with his own NSAM 273 on November 26, 1963.[113]

American University speech

Kennedy delivers the commencement speech at American University, June 10, 1963.
On June 10, 1963, Kennedy delivered the commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., "to discuss a topic on which too often ignorance abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived - yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace...I speak of peace because of the new face of an age when a singular nuclear weapon contains ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied forces in the Second World age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and air and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn...I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor - it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance...our problems are man-made - therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants."[114] The president also made two announcements - that the Soviets had expressed a desire to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty and that the U.S had postponed planned atmospheric tests.[115]

West Berlin speech

Kennedy delivering his speech in Berlin
Kennedy meeting with West Berlin governing mayor Willy Brandt, March 1961
In 1963, Germany was enduring a time of particular vulnerability, due to Soviet aggression to the east, de Gaulle's French nationalism to the west, and the impending retirement of German Chancellor Adenauer.[116] On June 26, 1963, Kennedy visited West Berlin and gave a public speech reiterating American commitment to Germany and criticizing communism; he was met with an ecstatic response from a massive audience. Kennedy used the construction of the Berlin Wall as an example of the failures of communism: "Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in." The speech is known for its famous phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a citizen of Berlin"). Nearly five-sixths of the population was on the street for the speech.[117] He remarked to Ted Sorensen afterwards: "We'll never have another day like this one, as long as we live."[118]


Kennedy encountered problems with the Israeli government regarding the production of nuclear weapons in Dimona. After the existence of a nuclear plant was initially denied by the Israeli government, David Ben-Gurion, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset on December 21, 1960, stated that the purpose of the nuclear plant at Beersheba was for "research in problems of arid zones and desert flora and fauna".[119] When Ben-Gurion met with Kennedy in New York, he claimed that Dimona was being developed to provide nuclear power for desalinization and "for the time being the only purposes [of the nuclear plant] are for peace".[119] Kennedy did not believe this, and in May 1963 sent a letter to Ben-Gurion stating, "this commitment and this support would seriously be jeopardized in the public opinion in this country and the West as a whole if it should be thought that this Government was unable to obtain reliable information on a subject as vital to peace as Israel's efforts in the nuclear field."[119] Ben-Gurion repeated previous reassurances that Dimona was being developed for peaceful purposes, and Israel firmly resisted American pressure to open its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. According to Seymour Hersh, the Israelis set up false control rooms to show American inspectors. Abe Feinberg stated, "It was part of my job to tip them off that Kennedy was insisting on [an inspection]."[120] The State Department argued that if Israel wanted arms, it should in return accept international supervision of its nuclear program.[120] Kennedy had tried to control the arms being sold and given to Israel because the Israelis would not sign the IAEA compacts for the Dimona nuclear site, would not fully admit its purpose and continued to insist it was for peaceful energy purposes. In early March 1965, the director of the State Department's Office of Near Eastern Affairs, Rodger P. Davies, had come to the conclusion that Israel was developing nuclear weapons. He reported that the target date for acquisition of a nuclear capability by Israel was 1968-69. A science attache at the embassy in Tel Aviv concluded that parts of the Dimona facility had been "purposely mothballed" to mislead American scientists during their visit.[121] Dimona was never placed under IAEA safeguards. On May 1, 1968, Undersecretary of State Katzenbach told President Johnson that Dimona was producing enough plutonium to produce two bombs a year. Attempts to write Israeli adherence to the NPT into contracts for the supply of U.S. weapons continued throughout 1968.[122]


In 1963, the Kennedy administration backed a coup against the government of Iraq headed by General Abdel Karim Kassem, who five years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy. The CIA helped the new Ba'ath Party government led by Abdul Salam Arif in ridding the country of suspected leftists and Communists. In a Ba'athist coup, the government used lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the CIA, to systematically murder untold numbers of Iraq's educated elite—killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated. The victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers, other professionals, military and political figures.[123][124][125] According to an op-ed in The New York Times, the U.S. sent arms to the new regime, weapons later used against the same Kurdish insurgents the U.S. supported against Kassem and then abandoned him. American and UK oil and other interests, including Mobil, Bechtel, and British Petroleum, were conducting business in Iraq.[123]


President Kennedy in motorcade in the Republic of Ireland on June 27, 1963
On the occasion of his visit to the Republic of Ireland in 1963, President Kennedy joined with Irish President Éamon de Valera to form The American Irish Foundation. The mission of this organization was to foster connections between Americans of Irish descent and the country of their ancestry. Kennedy furthered these connections of cultural solidarity by accepting a grant of armorial bearings from the Chief Herald of Ireland. Kennedy had near-legendary status in Ireland, due to his ancestral ties to the country. Irish citizens who were alive in 1963 often have very strong memories of Kennedy's momentous visit.[126] He also visited the original cottage at Dunganstown, near New Ross, where previous Kennedys had lived before emigrating to America, and said: "This is where it all began ..." On December 22, 2006, the Irish Department of Justice released declassified police documents that indicated that Kennedy was the subject of three death threats during this visit. Though these threats were determined to be hoaxes, security was heightened.[127]

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Troubled by the long-term dangers of radioactive contamination and nuclear weapons proliferation, Kennedy and Khrushchev agreed on the desirability of negotiating a nuclear test ban treaty, originally conceived in Adlai Stevenson's 1956 presidential campaign.[128] In their Vienna summit meeting in June 1961, Khrushchev and Kennedy reached an informal understanding against nuclear testing. However, Khrushchev began testing nuclear weapons that September. Kennedy responded by conducting tests 5 days later.[129] Shortly thereafter, new U.S satellites began delivering images which made it clear that the Soviets were substantially behind the U.S. in the "missile gap".[130] Nevertheless, the greater nuclear strength of the U.S. was of little value as long as the U.S.S.R. perceived themselves to be at parity.[131]
In July 1963 the stage was set for negotiations, and Kennedy sent Averell Harriman to Moscow to negotiate a treaty with the Soviets.[132] The introductory sessions began with Khrushchev, who then delegated Soviet representation to Andrei Gromyko. It quickly became clear that the stated objective of a comprehensive test ban would not reach fruition, due largely to the reluctance of the Soviets for inspections to verify compliance.[133] Ultimately, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union were the initial signatories to a limited treaty, which prohibited atomic testing on the ground, in the atmosphere, or underwater, but not underground; the U.S. Senate ratified this and Kennedy signed it into law in October 1963. France was quick to declare that it was free to further develop and test its nuclear defenses.[134]

Domestic policy

Kennedy called his domestic program the "New Frontier". It ambitiously promised federal funding for education, medical care for the elderly, economic aid to rural regions, and government intervention to halt the recession. Kennedy also promised an end to racial discrimination. In his 1963 State of the Union, he proposed substantial tax reform and reduction, in income tax rates, from the current range of 20-90% to a range of 14-65%; he proposed a reduction in the corporate tax rates from 52 to 47%. Congress did not act until 1964, after his death. To the Economics Club of N.Y., he spoke in 1963 of "...the paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and revenues too low; and the soundest way to raise revenue in the long term is to lower rates now."[135] Few of Kennedy's major programs passed Congress during his lifetime, although, under his successor Johnson, Congress did vote them through in 1964–65.[136]


Kennedy ended a period of tight fiscal policies, loosening monetary policy to keep interest rates down and encourage growth of the economy.[137] Kennedy presided over the first government budget to top the $100 billion mark, in 1962, and his first budget in 1961 led to the country's first non-war, non-recession deficit.[138] The economy, which had been through two recessions in three years and was in one when Kennedy took office, accelerated notably during his brief presidency. Despite low inflation and interest rates, GDP had grown by an average of only 2.2% during the Eisenhower presidency (scarcely more than population growth at the time), and had declined by 1% during Eisenhower's last twelve months in office.[139] Stagnation had taken a toll on the nation's labor market, as well: unemployment had risen steadily from under 3% in 1953 to 7%, by early 1961.[140]
The economy turned around and prospered during the Kennedy administration. GDP expanded by an average of 5.5% from early 1961 to late 1963,[139] while inflation remained steady at around 1% and unemployment eased;[140][141] industrial production rose by 15% and motor vehicle sales leapt by 40%.[142] This rate of growth in GDP and industry continued until around 1966, and has yet to be repeated for such a sustained period of time.[139] There were nevertheless some painful moments, as in the stock market, which had steadily declined since Kennedy's election, and which dropped a full 10% shortly after the administration's action on the steel industry in 1962.[143]
The major steel companies announced in April 1962 a 3.5% price increase (the first in 3 years) within a day of each other. This came just days after the companies had reached a settlement with the steelworkers' union, providing in chief a wage increase of 2.5%. The administration was furious, with Kennedy saying, "Why did they do this? Do they think they can get away with this? God, I hate the bastards." The president took personal charge of a campaign against the industry, assigning to each cabinet member a statement regarding the effects of the price increase on their area. Robert Kennedy, echoing his brother's own sentiments, "We're going for broke...their expense accounts, where they've been and what they've been doing...the FBI is to interview them all...we can't lose this."[144] Robert took the position that the steel executives had illegally colluded in doing this. There was genuine concern about the inflationary effects of the price increase. The administration's actions influenced US Steel not to institute the price increase.[145] The Wall Street Journal wrote that the administration had acted "by naked power, by threats, by agents of the state security police."[146][page needed] Yale law professor Charles Reich wrote in The New Republic his opinion that the administration had violated civil liberties by calling a grand jury to indict US Steel for collusion so quickly.[146][page needed] A New York Times editorial praised Kennedy's actions and said that the steel industry's price increase "imperils the economic welfare of the country by inviting a tidal wave of inflation."[147] Nevertheless, the administration's Bureau of Budget reported the price increase would have resulted in a net gain for GDP as well as a net budget surplus.[148]
Kennedy had little knowledge of the agricultural sector of the economy, and farmers were definitely not on his list of priorities, at least in his 1960 campaign. After giving a speech to a farming community, he rhetorically asked an aide, "Did you understand any of what I just said in there? I sure didn't." [149]

Federal and military death penalty

As President, Kennedy oversaw the last pre-Furman federal execution,[150] and, as of 2008, the last military execution. Governor of Iowa Harold Hughes, a death penalty opponent, personally contacted Kennedy to request clemency for Victor Feguer,[151] who was sentenced to death by a federal court in Iowa, but Kennedy turned down the request[152] and Feguer was executed on March 15, 1963. Kennedy commuted a death sentence imposed by military court on seaman Jimmie Henderson on February 12, 1962, changing the penalty to life in prison.[153]
On March 22, 1962, Kennedy signed into law HR5143 (PL87-423), abolishing the mandatory death penalty for first degree murder in the District of Columbia, the only remaining jurisdiction in the United States with a mandatory death sentence for first degree murder, replacing it with life imprisonment with parole if the jury could not decide between life imprisonment and the death penalty, or if the jury chose life imprisonment by a unanimous vote.[154][155] The death penalty in the District of Columbia has not been applied since 1957, and has now been abolished.[156]

Civil rights

The turbulent end of state-sanctioned racial discrimination was one of the most pressing domestic issues of the 1960s. The United States Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. However, many schools, especially in southern states, did not obey the Supreme Court's decision. Segregation had also been prohibited by the Court at other public facilities (e.g. buses, restaurants, theaters, courtrooms, bathrooms, and beaches) but continued nonetheless. Kennedy verbally supported racial integration and civil rights; during the 1960 campaign he telephoned Coretta Scott King, wife of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been jailed while demonstrating for equal access of African Americans; Kennedy secured the early release of King, which drew additional black support to his candidacy.[157]
Nevertheless President Kennedy believed the grass roots movement for civil rights would anger many Southern whites and make it more difficult to pass civil rights laws in Congress, which was dominated by conservative Southern Democrats, and he distanced himself from it.[158] He also was more concerned with other issues early in his presidency, e.g. the "Bay of Pigs" fiasco and Southeast Asia. As articulated by brother Robert, the administration's early priority was to "keep the president out of this civil rights mess". As a result, many civil rights leaders viewed Kennedy as lukewarm, especially concerning the Freedom Riders who organized an integrated public transportation effort in the south, and who were repeatedly met with violence by whites, including law enforcement both federal and state. Kennedy assigned federal marshals to protect the Freedom Riders as an alternative to using federal troops or uncooperative FBI agents. Robert Kennedy, speaking for the president, urged the Freedom Riders to "get off the buses and leave the matter to peaceful settlement in the courts."[159]
In September 1962, James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, but was prevented from entering. Attorney General Robert Kennedy responded by sending some 400 U.S. Marshals, while President Kennedy reluctantly federalized and sent 3,000 troops after the situation on campus turned violent.[160] Campus Riots left two dead and dozens injured, but Meredith did finally enroll in his first class.
In early 1963, Kennedy related to Martin Luther King, Jr., about the prospects for civil rights legislation: "If we get into a long fight over this in Congress, it will bottleneck everything else, and we will still get no bill."[161] However, civil rights clashes were very much on the rise that year.[162] Brother Robert and Ted Sorenson pressed Kennedy to take more initiative on the legislative front.[163] On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy intervened when Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the doorway to the University of Alabama to stop two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from attending. Wallace moved aside only after being confronted by Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the Alabama National Guard, which had just been federalized by order of the President, and which had hours earlier been under Wallace's command. That evening Kennedy gave his famous civil rights address on national television and radio, launching his initiative for civil rights legislation - to provide equal access to public schools and other facilities, and greater protection of voting rights.[164][165] His proposals became part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The day ended with the murder of a N.A.A.C.P. leader, Medgar Evers, at his home in Mississippi.[166] As the president had predicted, the day after his T.V. speech, and in reaction to it, House Majority leader Carl Albert called to advise him that his two year signature effort in Congress to combat poverty in Appalachia (Area Redevelopment Administration) had been defeated, primarily by the votes of Southern Democrats and Republicans.[167]
Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in 1961.[168][page needed] Commission statistics revealed that women were also experiencing discrimination. Their final report documenting legal and cultural barriers was issued in October 1963.[169]
Over a hundred thousand, predominantly African Americans, gathered in Washington for the civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. Kennedy feared the March would have a negative effect on the prospects for the civil rights bills in Congress, and declined an invitation to speak. He turned over some of the details of the government's involvement to the Dept. of Justice, which channelled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the six sponsors of the March, including the N.A.A.C.P. and Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). To ensure a peaceful demonstration, the organizers and the president personally edited speeches which were inflammatory and agreed the March would be held on a Wednesday and would be over at 4:00 P.M. Thousands of troops were placed on standby. Kennedy watched King's speech on T.V. and was very impressed. The March was considered a "triumph of managed protest", and not one arrest relating to the demonstration occurred. Afterwards, the March leaders accepted an invitation to the White House to meet with Kennedy and photos were taken. Kennedy felt the March was a victory for him as well and bolstered the chances for his civil rights bill.[170]
Nevertheless, the struggle was far from over. Three weeks later, a bomb exploded on a Sunday at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham; at the end of the day six children had died in the explosion and aftermath.[171] As a result of this resurgent violence, the civil rights legislation underwent some drastic amendments that critically endangered any prospects for passage of the bill, to the outrage of the president. Kennedy called the congressional leaders to the White House and by the following day the original bill, without the additions, had enough votes to get it out of the House committee.[172]

Civil liberties

In 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who hated civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and viewed him as an upstart troublemaker,[173] presented the Kennedy Administration with allegations that some of King's close confidants and advisers were communists. Concerned that the allegations, if made public, would derail the Administration's civil rights initiatives, Robert Kennedy and the president both warned King to discontinue the suspect associations. After the associations continued, Robert Kennedy felt compelled to issue a written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King's civil rights organization.[174] Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so",[175] Hoover extended the clearance so his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy.[176] The wire tapping continued through June 1966 and was revealed in 1968.[177]


John F. Kennedy initially proposed an overhaul of American immigration policy that later was to become the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, sponsored by Kennedy's brother Senator Edward Kennedy. It dramatically shifted the source of immigration from Northern and Western European countries towards immigration from Latin America and Asia and shifted the emphasis of selection of immigrants towards facilitating family reunification.[178] Kennedy wanted to dismantle the selection of immigrants based on country of origin and saw this as an extension of his civil rights policies.[179]

Space program

Kennedy speaks at Rice University on September 12, 1962
As a senator, Kennedy had been opposed to the space program. Early in his presidency he was poised to dismantle the Apollo program but postponed any decision out of deference to his Vice President whom he had appointed chairman of the U.S. Space Council[180] and strongly supported NASA due to its Texas location.[181]
This changed with his 1961 State of the Union. Kennedy was then eager for the United States to take the lead in the Space Race. Sergei Khrushchev says Kennedy approached his father, Nikita, twice about a "joint venture" in space exploration—in June 1961 and autumn 1963. On the first occasion, the Soviet Union was far ahead of America in terms of space technology. Kennedy first announced the goal for landing a man on the Moon in the speech to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961, saying
"First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."[182]
Kennedy later made a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, in which he said
"No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space."
"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."[183]
On November 21, 1962, however, in a Cabinet Room meeting with NASA Administrator James Webb and other officials, Kennedy said
"This is important for political reasons, international political reasons... Because otherwise we shouldn't be spending this kind of money, because I'm not that interested in space. I think it's good, I think we ought to know about it, we're ready to spend reasonable amounts of money. But...we’ve spent fantastic expenditures, we’ve wrecked our budget on all these other domestic programs, and the only justification for it, in my opinion, to do it in the pell-mell fashion is because we hope to beat them [the Soviets] and demonstrate that starting behind, as we did by a couple of years, by God, we passed them. I think it would be a helluva thing for us."[184]
On the second approach to Khrushchev, the Ukrainian was persuaded that cost-sharing was beneficial and that American space technology was forging ahead. The U.S. had launched a geosynchronous satellite and Kennedy had asked Congress to approve more than $25 billion for the Apollo program.
In September 1963, during a speech before the United Nations, Kennedy again proposed a joint lunar program to the Soviet Union. The proposal was not enthusiastically received by Khrushchev. Kennedy's death only a little more than a month later essentially made the proposal irrelevant.[185] On July 20, 1969, almost six years after his death, Apollo's goal was realized when Americans landed on the Moon.

Native American relations

Construction of the Kinzua Dam flooded 10,000 acres (4,047 ha) of Seneca nation land that they occupied under the Treaty of 1794, and forced approximately 600 Seneca to relocate to the northern shores upstream of the dam at Salamanca, New York. Kennedy was asked by the American Civil Liberties Union to intervene and halt the project but he declined citing a critical need for flood control. He did express concern for the plight of the Seneca, and directed government agencies to assist in obtaining more land, damages, and assistance to help mitigate their displacement.[186][187]


JFK, Jackie, and the Connallys in the presidential limousine before the assassination
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time on November 22, 1963, while on a political trip to Texas to smooth over factions in the Democratic Party between liberals Ralph Yarborough and Don Yarborough (no relation) and conservative John Connally.[188] He was shot once in the upper back and was killed with a final shot to the head. He was pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m. Only 46, President Kennedy died younger than any U.S. president to date. Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the Texas School Book Depository from which the shots were suspected to have been fired, was arrested on charges for the murder of a local police officer and was subsequently charged with the assassination of Kennedy. He denied shooting anyone, claiming he was a patsy,[189][190] but was killed by Jack Ruby on November 24, before he could be indicted or tried. Ruby was then arrested and convicted for the murder of Oswald. Ruby successfully appealed his conviction and death sentence but became ill and died of cancer on 3 January 1967 while the date for his new trial was being set.[191]
President Johnson created the Warren Commission—chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren—to investigate the assassination, which concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin. The results of this investigation are disputed by many.[192] The assassination proved to be an important moment in U.S. history because of its impact on the nation and the ensuing political repercussions.


On November 25, 1963, John F. Kennedy's body was buried in a small plot, (20 by 30 ft.), in Arlington National Cemetery. Over a period of 3 years, (1964–1966), an estimated 16 million people had visited his grave. On March 14, 1967, Kennedy's body was moved to a permanent burial plot and memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral was officiated by Father John J Cavanaugh.[193]
The honor guard at JFK`s graveside was the 37th Cadet Class of the Irish Army. JFK was greatly impressed by the Irish Cadets on his last official visit to the Republic of Ireland, so much so that Jackie Kennedy requested the Irish Army to be the honor guard at the funeral.[194]
Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline and their two deceased minor children were buried with him later. His brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, was buried nearby in June 1968. In August 2009, his brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, was also buried near his two brothers. JFK's grave is lit with an "Eternal Flame." Kennedy and William Howard Taft are the only two U.S. Presidents buried at Arlington.[195][196]

Administration, Cabinet and judicial appointments 1961–1963

The Kennedy Cabinet

President John F. Kennedy 1961–1963
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson 1961–1963

State Dean Rusk 1961–1963
Treasury C. Douglas Dillon 1961–1963
Defense Robert S. McNamara 1961–1963
Justice Robert F. Kennedy 1961–1963
Postmaster General J. Edward Day 1961–1963
  John A. Gronouski 1963
Interior Stewart L. Udall 1961–1963
Agriculture Orville L. Freeman 1961–1963
Commerce Luther H. Hodges 1961–1963
Labor Arthur J. Goldberg 1961–1962
  W. Willard Wirtz 1962–1963
HEW Abraham A. Ribicoff 1961–1962
  Anthony J. Celebrezze 1962–1963

The official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy by Aaron Shikler

Judicial appointments

Supreme Court

Kennedy appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Other courts

In addition to his two Supreme Court appointments, Kennedy appointed 21 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 102 judges to the United States district courts.

Image, social life and family

The Kennedy family in Hyannis Port in 1963.
Jacqueline Kennedy in Fort Worth, Texas, November 22, 1963
John Kennedy met his future wife, Jacqueline Bouvier, when he was a congressman. Charles L. Bartlett, a journalist, introduced the pair at a dinner party.[197] They were married a year after he was elected senator, on September 12, 1953.[198] Kennedy and his wife were younger in comparison to the presidents and first ladies that preceded them, and both were popular in ways more common to pop singers and movie stars than politicians, influencing fashion trends and becoming the subjects of numerous photo spreads in popular magazines. Although Eisenhower had allowed presidential press conferences to be filmed for television, Kennedy was the first president to ask for them to be broadcast live and made good use of the medium.[199] Jacqueline brought new art and furniture to the White House, and directed its restoration. They invited a range of artists, writers and intellectuals to rounds of White House dinners, raising the profile of the arts in America. The Kennedy family is one of the most established political families in the United States, having produced a President, three senators, and multiple other Representatives, both on the federal and state level. John Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was a prominent American businessman and political figure, serving in multiple roles, including Ambassador to the United Kingdom, from 1938 to 1940.
Outside on the White House lawn, the Kennedys established a swimming pool and tree house, while Caroline attended a preschool along with 10 other children inside the home.
The Kennedy brothers in Palm Beach, Florida, 1957
The president was closely tied to popular culture, emphasized by songs such as "Twisting at the White House." Vaughn Meader's First Family comedy album—an album parodying the President, First Lady, their family and administration—sold about four million copies. On May 19, 1962, Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" at a large party in Madison Square Garden, celebrating Kennedy's upcoming forty-fifth birthday. The charisma of Kennedy and his family led to the figurative designation of "Camelot" for his administration, credited by his wife to his affection for the contemporary Broadway musical of the same name.[200]
Behind the glamorous facade, the Kennedys also experienced many personal tragedies. Jacqueline had a miscarriage in 1955 and a stillbirth in 1956. Their newborn son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, died in August 1963. Kennedy had two children who survived infancy. One of the fundamental aspects of the Kennedy family is a tragic strain which has run through the family, as a result of the violent and untimely deaths of many of its members. John's eldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., died in World War II, at the age of 29. It was Joe Jr. who was originally to carry the family's hopes for the Presidency. Then, of course, both John himself, and his brother Robert died as a result of assassinations. Edward had brushes with death, the first in a plane crash and the second as a result of a car accident, known as the Chappaquiddick incident. Edward died at age 77, on August 25, 2009, from the effects of a malignant brain tumor.
Years after Kennedy's death, it was revealed that in September 1947, at age 30, and while in his first term in Congress, he was diagnosed by Sir Daniel Davis at The London Clinic with Addison's disease, a rare endocrine disorder. In 1966, his White House doctor, Janet Travell, revealed that Kennedy also had hypothyroidism. The presence of two endocrine diseases, Addison's Disease and hypothyroidism, raises the possibility that Kennedy had autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome type 2 (APS 2).[201] He also suffered from chronic and severe back pain, for which he had surgery and was written up in the AMA's Archives of Surgery. Kennedy at one time was regularly seen by no less than three doctors, one of which was unknown to the other two, as his mode of treatment was for the most severe bouts of pain.[202] There was often disagreement among his doctors, as in late 1961, over the proper balance of medication and exercise, with the president preferring the former as he was short on time and desired immediate relief.[131] Details of these and other medical problems were not publicly disclosed during Kennedy's lifetime.[203]
Caroline Bouvier Kennedy was born in 1957 and is the only surviving member of JFK's immediate family. John F. Kennedy, Jr. was born in 1960, just a few weeks after his father was elected. John died in 1999, when the small plane he was piloting crashed en route to Martha's Vineyard, killing him, his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and his sister-in-law.[204]
In October 1951, during his third term as Massachusetts's 11th district congressman, the then 34-year-old Kennedy embarked on a seven-week Asian trip to India, Japan, Vietnam, and Israel with his then 25-year-old brother Robert (who had just graduated from law school four months earlier) and his then 27-year-old sister Patricia. Because of their eight-year separation in age, the two brothers had previously seen little of each other. This 25,000-mile (40,000 km) trip was the first extended time they had spent together and resulted in their becoming best friends, in addition to being brothers. Robert was campaign manager for Kennedy's successful 1952 Senate campaign and later, his successful 1960 presidential campaign. The two brothers worked closely together from 1957 to 1959 on the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor and Management Field, when Robert was its chief counsel. During Kennedy's presidency, Robert served in his cabinet as Attorney General and was his closest advisor.[205]
Some corroborated reports allege, but others deny, that Kennedy had affairs with a number of women, including: Marilyn Monroe,[206] Gunilla von Post,[207] Judith Campbell,[208] Mary Pinchot Meyer and Mimi Beardsley Alford.[209][page needed] There was some medical opinion that the drugs the president required for Addison's had the side effect of increasing virility.[131] The president remarked about this to U.K. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, "I wonder how it is for you, Harold? If I don't have a woman for three days, I get terrible headaches."[210] Kennedy inspired affection and loyalty from the members of his team and his supporters.[211] According to author Reeves, this included "the logistics of Kennedy's liasons...[which] required secrecy and devotion rare in the annals of the energetic service demanded by successful politicians."[212]
Kennedy came in third (behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa) in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People of the twentieth century.[213][214]


The Kennedy family originally came from Dunganstown, County Wexford.[215] In 1848, Patrick Kennedy left his farm and boarded a ship in New Ross bound for Liverpool on his way to Boston.[216] It was here he met the woman he was to marry, Bridget Murphy.[217] Patrick Kennedy came to Boston, took a job as a migrant worker, and died within eight or nine years, of cholera.[218] He left behind a widow and children to carry on.


John Fitzgerald Kennedy memorial issue of 1964
Television became the primary source by which people were kept informed of events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination. Newspapers were kept as souvenirs rather than sources of updated information. In this sense it was the first major "TV news event" of its kind, the TV coverage uniting the nation, interpreting what went on and creating memories of this space in time. All three major U.S. television networks suspended their regular schedules and switched to all-news coverage from November 22 through November 25, 1963, being on the air for no less than 70 hours, making it the longest uninterrupted news event on American TV until 9/11. The record was broken only just before 13:00 UTC, September 14, 2001, by which time the networks had been on for 72 hours straight, covering the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.[219] Kennedy's state funeral procession and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald were all broadcast live in America and in other places around the world. The state funeral was the first of three in a span of 12 months: The other two were for General Douglas MacArthur and Herbert Hoover.
The assassination had an effect on many people, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Many vividly remember where they were when first learning of the news that Kennedy was assassinated, as with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 before it and the September 11 attacks after it. U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson said of the assassination: "all of us... will bear the grief of his death until the day of ours." Many people have also spoken of the shocking news, compounded by the pall of uncertainty about the identity of the assassin(s), the possible instigators and the causes of the killing as an end to innocence, and in retrospect it has been coalesced with other changes of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, especially the Vietnam War.
Special Forces have a special bond with Kennedy. "It was President Kennedy who was responsible for the rebuilding of the Special Forces and giving us back our Green Beret," said Forrest Lindley, a writer for the newspaper Stars and Stripes who served with Special Forces in Vietnam.[220] This bond was shown at JFK's funeral. At the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of JFK's death, Gen. Michael D. Healy, the last commander of Special Forces in Vietnam, spoke at Arlington Cemetery. Later, a wreath in the form of the Green Beret would be placed on the grave, continuing a tradition that began the day of his funeral when a sergeant in charge of a detail of Special Forces men guarding the grave placed his beret on the coffin.
Ultimately, the death of President Kennedy and the ensuing confusion surrounding the facts of his assassination are of political and historical importance insofar as they marked a turning point and decline in the faith of the American people in the political establishment—a point made by commentators from Gore Vidal to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and implied by Oliver Stone in several of his films, such as his landmark 1991 JFK.
Kennedy's continuation of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower's policies of giving economic and military aid to the Vietnam War preceded President Johnson's escalation of the conflict. This contributed to a decade of national difficulties and disappointment on the political landscape.
Many of Kennedy's speeches (especially his inaugural address) are considered iconic; and despite his relatively short term in office and lack of major legislative changes coming to fruition during his term, Americans regularly vote him as one of the best presidents, in the same league as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some excerpts of Kennedy's inaugural address are engraved on a plaque at his grave at Arlington.
He was posthumously awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of goodwill to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for 'Peace on Earth.'
President Kennedy is the only president to have predeceased both his mother and father. He is also the only president to have predeceased a grandparent. His grandmother, Mary Josephine Hannon Fitzgerald, died in 1964, just over eight months after his assassination.
Throughout the English-speaking world, the given name Kennedy has sometimes been used in honour of President Kennedy, as well his brother Robert.[221]



Coat of arms

In 1961, Kennedy was presented with a grant of arms for all the descendants of Patrick Kennedy from the Chief Herald of Ireland. The design of the arms strongly alludes to symbols in the coats of arms of the O'Kennedys of Ormonde and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond, from whom the family is believed to be descended. The crest is an armored hand holding four arrows between two olive branches, elements taken from the coat of arms of the United States of America and also symbolic of Kennedy and his brothers.
Kennedy received a signet ring engraved with his arms for his 44th birthday as a gift from his wife, and the arms were incorporated into the seal of the USS John F. Kennedy. Following his assassination, Kennedy was honored by the Canadian government by having a mountain, Mount Kennedy, named for him, which his brother, Robert Kennedy, climbed in 1965 to plant a banner of the arms at the summit.[222]


Kennedy inauguration footage.ogg
Newsreel footage of the inauguration ceremony and speeches

In other Media/Popular Culture

JFK the movie poster.
Pages from Superman's Mission for President Kennedy, DC Comics 1964.
Kennedy features prominently in popular culture. His assassination was the subject of the Oliver Stone film JFK, and footage of him appears in the Robert Zemeckis film Forrest Gump. Kennedy also features in the video games JFK Reloaded[223] and Call of Duty: Black Ops.[224] During his lifetime Kennedy was the focal point of a Superman comicbook, Superman's Mission for President Kennedy.[225]

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