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John F. Kennedy

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John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy
35th President of the United States
In office
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
January 3, 1953 – December 22, 1960
Preceded by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
Succeeded by Benjamin A. Smith II
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 Tip O'Neill
Personal details
Born John Fitzgerald Kennedy
(1917-05-29)May 29, 1917
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died November 22, 1963(1963-11-22) (aged 46)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jacqueline Bouvier (m. 1953; his death 1963)
Relations See Kennedy family
Children 4, including Caroline Bouvier, John Jr., and Patrick Bouvier
Parents Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
Alma mater Harvard University (S.B.)
Profession 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 Lieutenant
Unit Patrol Torpedo boat 109
Patrol Torpedo boat 59
Battles/wars World War II
Solomon Islands campaign

Navy & Marine Corps Medal
Purple Heart
American Defense Service
American Campaign
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign
 • (3 bronze service stars)

This article is part of a series about
John F. Kennedy

President of the United States

Assassination and legacy

John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), commonly referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician who served as the 35th President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the establishment of the Peace Corps, developments in the Space Race, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Civil Rights Movement, the "New Frontier" domestic program, abolishment of the federal death penalty in the District of Columbia, and increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War all took place during his presidency.

Kennedy's time in office is also marked by high tensions with communist states, Cuba in particular. An attempt in April, 1961 at the Bay of Pigs to overthrow the country's dictator, Fidel Castro, was thwarted by armed forces within three days. His administration subsequently rejected plans by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to orchestrate false-flag attacks on American soil in order to gain public approval for a war against Cuba. In October 1962, it was discovered Soviet ballistic missiles had been deployed in Cuba; the resulting period of unease, often termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, is seen by many historians as the closest the human race has ever come to nuclear war.

After military service as commander of PT boats PT-109 and 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 that state from 1953 until 1960. Kennedy defeated Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. Presidential Election. At age 43, he was the youngest man to have been elected to the office,[2][1] the second-youngest president (after Theodore Roosevelt, who was 42 when he became president after the assassination of William McKinley). Kennedy was the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president.[3] To date, Kennedy has been the only Roman Catholic president and the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize, for his biography Profiles in Courage.[4]

Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 by a sniper at the Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested that afternoon as a person of interest in the crime. Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby mortally wounded Oswald two days later in a jail corridor, which ironically was the one place where Oswald should have been safe. The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin. The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) agreed with the conclusion that Oswald fired the shots that killed the president, but also concluded that Kennedy was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.[5]

Since the 1960s, information concerning Kennedy's private life has come to light. Details of Kennedy's health problems with which he struggled have become better known, especially since the 1990s. Although initially kept secret from the general public, reports of Kennedy being unfaithful in marriage have garnered much press. Kennedy ranks highly in historians' polls of U.S. presidents, although a slight gap exists between his public reputation and his standing among academics,[6] with the public generally more commendatory.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Military service (1941–45) 2
  • Congressional career 3
    • U.S. House of Representatives (1947–1953) 3.1
    • U.S. Senate (1953–1960) 3.2
  • 1960 presidential election 4
  • Presidency (1961–1963) 5
    • Foreign policy 5.1
      • Cuba and the Bay of Pigs Invasion 5.1.1
      • Cuban Missile Crisis 5.1.2
      • Latin America and communism 5.1.3
      • Peace Corps 5.1.4
      • Southeast Asia 5.1.5
      • American University speech 5.1.6
      • West Berlin speech 5.1.7
      • Israel 5.1.8
      • Iraq 5.1.9
      • Ireland 5.1.10
      • Nuclear Test Ban Treaty 5.1.11
    • Domestic policy 5.2
      • Economy 5.2.1
      • Federal and military death penalty 5.2.2
      • Civil rights 5.2.3
      • Civil liberties 5.2.4
      • Immigration 5.2.5
      • Native American relations 5.2.6
    • Space policy 5.3
  • Assassination 6
    • Funeral 6.1
  • Administration, Cabinet, and judicial appointments 1961–63 7
    • Judicial appointments 7.1
      • Supreme Court 7.1.1
      • Other courts 7.1.2
  • Image, social life, and family 8
    • Children 8.1
    • Popular image 8.2
    • "Camelot Era" 8.3
    • Health 8.4
    • Personal tragedies 8.5
    • Extramarital relationships 8.6
  • Ancestry 9
  • Legacy 10
    • Eponyms 10.1
    • Memorials 10.2
  • Coat of arms 11
  • Media 12
  • See also 13
  • Notes 14
  • References 15
  • Bibliography 16
  • Further reading 17
    • Primary sources 17.1
    • Historiography and memory 17.2
  • External links 18

Early life and education

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born at [1]

His brothers were Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Jr. (1915–1944), Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy (1925–1968), and Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (1932–2009). Joseph Jr. was killed during World War II. Robert was JFK's attorney general and then a senator who was assassinated in 1968; Ted was a long serving senator from 1962 until his death from brain cancer in 2009. His sisters were Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy (1918–2005), Kathleen Agnes "Kick" Kennedy (1920–1948), Eunice Mary Kennedy (1921–2009), Patricia Helen "Pat" Kennedy (1924–2006), and Jean Ann Kennedy (born 1928).

Kennedy lived in Brookline for 10 years and attended the [1] The Kennedy family spent summers at their home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts and Christmas and Easter holidays at their winter home in Palm Beach, Florida. In September 1930, Kennedy—now 13 years old—attended the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. In late April 1931, he required an appendectomy, after which he withdrew from Canterbury and recuperated at home.[8]

The Kennedy family at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, in 1931 with Jack at top left in white shirt. Ted was born the following year.

In September 1931, Kennedy was sent to the The Muckers Club, which included roommate and friend Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings.[9]

During his Choate years, Kennedy was beset by health problems that culminated in 1934 with his emergency hospitalization at Yale – New Haven Hospital where doctors thought he might have leukemia.[10] In June 1934, he was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the ultimate diagnosis there was colitis.[10] Kennedy graduated from Choate in June of the following year. 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 his sister Kathleen to London with the intent of studying under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics (LSE) as his older brother had done. Ill-health forced his return to America in October of that year, when he enrolled late and spent six weeks at Princeton University. He was then hospitalized for observation 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 the 40,000 acres (160 km2) "Jay Six" cattle ranch outside Benson, Arizona.[11] It is reported that ranchman Jack Speiden worked both brothers "very hard".

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".[12] He tried out for the football, golf, and swimming teams and earned a spot on the varsity swimming team.[13] Kennedy also sailed in the Star class and won the 1936 Nantucket Sound Star Championship.[14] In July 1937, Kennedy sailed to France—bringing his convertible—and spent ten weeks driving through Europe with Billings.[15] In June 1938, Kennedy sailed overseas with his father and older brother to work at the American embassy in London where his father was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's.[16]

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; that was the day Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, 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.

As an upperclassman at Harvard, Kennedy became a more serious student and developed an interest in political philosophy. In his junior year, he made the Dean's List.[17] In 1940, Kennedy completed his thesis, "Appeasement in Munich", about British participation in the Munich Agreement. The thesis became a bestseller under the title Why England Slept.[18] He graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Science cum laude in international affairs that year. Kennedy enrolled in and audited classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business that fall.[19] In early 1941, he helped his father write a memoir of his three years as an American ambassador and then traveled throughout South America.[20]

On September 12, 1953, Kennedy, then thirty-six, married 24-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier at St. Mary's Church in Newport, Rhode Island after a one-year courtship.[21]

Military service (1941–45)

Lieutenant (junior grade) John F. Kennedy (standing at right) with his PT-109 crew, 1943.

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, former naval attaché to Joseph Kennedy.[22] Kennedy was an ensign serving in the office of the Secretary of the Navy when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. He attended the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and then voluntarily entered the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island.[23] His first command was PT-101, from December 7, 1942 until February 23, 1943. It was a PT boat used for training while Kennedy was an instructor at Melville.[24] He then led three Huckins PT boatsPT-98, PT-99, and PT-101, which were being relocated from MTBRON 4 in Melville, Rhode Island, back to Jacksonville, Florida and the new MTBRON 14 (formed February 17, 1943). During the transit South, he was briefly hospitalized in Jacksonville after diving in the cold water to unfoul a propeller. Thereafter, he was assigned duty in Panama and later in the Pacific theater, where Kennedy earned the rank of lieutenant, eventually commanding two more patrol torpedo (PT) boats.[25]

Kennedy on his navy patrol boat, the PT-109, 1943.

On August 2, 1943, Kennedy's boat, the Solomon Islands,[26] when PT-109 was rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29] He towed the wounded man to the island, and later to a second island, from where his crew was subsequently rescued.[30] 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.

In October 1943, Kennedy took command of a PT boat converted into a gunboat, PT-59, which took part in a Marine rescue on Choiseul Island that November.[31] Kennedy then left the PT-59 and returned to the United States in early January 1944. After receiving treatment for his back injury, he was released from active duty in late 1944.[32]

Beginning in January 1945, Kennedy spent three more months recovering from his back injury at [1] When later asked how he became a war hero, Kennedy joked: "It was easy. They cut my PT boat in half."[35]

In April 1945, Kennedy's father, who was a friend of William Randolph Hearst, arranged a position for his son as a special correspondent for Hearst Newspapers; the assignment kept Kennedy's name in the public eye and "expose[d] him to journalism as a possible career."[33] He worked as a correspondent that May, covering the Potsdam Conference and other events.[36]

Congressional career

U.S. House of Representatives (1947–1953)

While Kennedy was still serving, his older brother, Joe Jr. was killed during World War II when his explosive laden plane blew up over the English Channel. Because JFK's eldest brother had been the family's political standard-bearer and tapped by his father to seek the Presidency, Joe's death changed that course and the task now fell to Jack.[37]

In 1946, U.S. Representative James Michael Curley vacated his seat in the strongly Democratic 11th Congressional district in Massachusetts—at the urging of Kennedy's father—to become mayor of Boston. Kennedy ran for the seat, beating his Republican opponent by a large margin in November 1946.[38] He served as a congressman for six years.

U.S. Senate (1953–1960)

Kennedy lying on a gurney following spinal surgery, accompanied by his wife, December 1954.

In the 1952 U.S. Senate election, Kennedy defeated incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge II for the U.S. Senate seat. The following year, he married Jacqueline Bouvier.[39]

Kennedy underwent several spinal operations over the next two years. Often absent from the Senate, he was at times critically ill and received Catholic last rites. During his convalescence in 1956, he published Profiles in Courage, a book about U.S. Senators who risked their careers for their personal beliefs, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957.[40] Rumors that this work was co-written by his close adviser and speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, were confirmed in Sorensen's 2008 autobiography.[41]

At the 1956 Democratic National Convention, Presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson let the convention select the Vice Presential nominee. Kennedy finished second in the balloting, losing to Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. Kennedy received national exposure from that episode; his father thought it just as well that Kennedy lost, due to the potential political debility of his Catholicism and the strength of the Eisenhower ticket.

One of the matters demanding Kennedy's attention in the Senate was President Eisenhower's bill for the Civil Rights Act of 1957.[33] Kennedy cast a procedural vote on this, which was considered by some as an appeasement of Southern Democratic opponents of the bill.[33] Kennedy did vote for Title III of the act, which would have given the Attorney General powers to enjoin, but Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson agreed to let the provision die as a compromise measure.[33] 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.[33] A final compromise bill, which Kennedy supported, was passed in September 1957.[33]

Jack Paar interviews Senator Kennedy on The Tonight Show (1959).

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. It was during his re-election campaign that Kennedy's press secretary at this time, Robert E. Thompson, put together a film entitled The U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy Story, which exhibited a day in the life of the Senator and showcased his family life as well as the inner-workings of his office. It was the most comprehensive film produced about Kennedy up to that time.[42]

While Kennedy's father was a strong supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy, McCarthy was also a friend of the Kennedy family. As well, Bobby Kennedy worked for McCarthy's subcommittee, and McCarthy dated Kennedy sister Patricia. In 1954, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy and Kennedy drafted a speech supporting the censure. The speech, however, was not delivered, because of Kennedy's hospitalization at the time. The speech had the potential of putting Kennedy in the position of participating procedurally by "pairing" his vote against that of another senator. Although Kennedy never indicated how he would have voted, the episode damaged Kennedy's support among members of the liberal community, including Eleanor Roosevelt, in the 1956 and 1960 elections.[33]

1960 presidential election

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon participate in the first televised presidential debate in Washington, D.C. in 1960.

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 visited 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 "[43]

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, and 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 his brother Bobby.[44]

The Kennedys campaigning in Appleton, Wisconsin, March 1960.

Kennedy 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."[45] 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."[46]

Outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower meets with President-elect John F. Kennedy on December 6, 1960

During the campaign, Kennedy sought a meeting with Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, at his office on Brooklyn. Kennedy was turned down as the rabbi was already meeting a group of simple men and women that evening.[47][48]

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", was perspiring and looked tense and uncomfortable, while Kennedy, choosing to avail himself of makeup services, appeared relaxed, leading the huge television audience to favor Kennedy as the winner. Radio listeners either thought Nixon had won or that the debates were a draw.[49] 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.[40]

Kennedy's campaign gained momentum after the first debate, and he pulled slightly ahead of Nixon in most polls. On November 8, Kennedy defeated Nixon in one of the closest presidential elections of the 20th 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).[50]

Fourteen 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 of Virginia, as did an elector from Oklahoma.[50] Kennedy was the youngest man elected president, succeeding Eisenhower, who was then the oldest (Ronald Reagan surpassed Eisenhower as the oldest president in 1981).[51]

Presidency (1961–1963)

John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president at noon on January 20, 1961. In [52]

John F. Kennedy takes the oath of office administered by Chief Justice Earl Warren on January 20, 1961, at the Capitol

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."[52]

John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University in Houston on September 12, 1962

The address reflected Kennedy's confidence that his administration would chart an historically significant course in both domestic policy and foreign affairs. The contrast between this optimistic vision and the pressures of managing daily political realities at home and abroad would be one of the main tensions running through the early years of his administration.[53]

Kennedy brought to the White House a contrast in organization compared to the decision-making structure of former-general Eisenhower; and he wasted no time in dismantling Eisenhower's methods.[54] 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. He selected a mixture of experienced and inexperienced people to serve in his cabinet. "We can learn our jobs together", he stated.[55]

Much to the chagrin of his economic advisors who wanted him to reduce taxes, Kennedy quickly agreed to a balanced budget pledge. 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.[56] The president focused on immediate and specific issues facing the administration, and quickly voiced his impatience with pondering 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?"[57]

Kennedy approved Defense secretary Robert McNamara's controversial decision to award the contract for the F-111 TFX (Tactical Fighter Experimental) fighter-bomber to General Dynamics (the choice of the civilian Defense department) over Boeing (the choice of the military).[58] At the request of Senator Henry Jackson, Senator John McClellan held 46 days of mostly closed-door hearings before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations investigating the TFX contract from February–November 1963.[59]

Foreign policy

Foreign trips of John F. Kennedy during his presidency

President Kennedy's foreign policy was dominated by American confrontations with the Soviet Union, manifested by proxy contests in the early stage of the Cold War. In 1961, Kennedy anxiously anticipated a summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The president started off on the wrong foot by reacting aggressively to a routine Khrushchev speech on Cold War confrontation in early 1961. The speech was intended for domestic audiences in the Soviet Union, but Kennedy interpreted it as a personal challenge. His mistake helped raise tensions going into the Vienna Summit of June 1961.[60]

On the way to the summit, Kennedy stopped in Paris to meet Charles de Gaulle, who advised Kennedy to ignore Khrushchev's abrasive style. The French president feared the United States' presumed influence in Europe. Nevertheless, de Gaulle was quite impressed with the young president and his family. Kennedy picked up on this in his speech in Paris, saying that he would be remembered as "the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris."[61]

Kennedy with Kwame Nkrumah, the first head of an independent Ghana, March 1961

On June 4, 1961, the president met with Khrushchev in Vienna and left the meetings angry and disappointed that he had allowed the Premier to bully him, despite the warnings he had received. Khrushchev, for his part, was impressed with the president's intelligence, but thought him weak. Kennedy did succeed in conveying the bottom line to Khrushchev 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.[62]

Shortly after the president returned home, the U.S.S.R. announced its intention to sign a treaty with East Berlin, abrogating any third-party occupation rights in either sector of the city. Kennedy, depressed and angry, assumed that his only option was to prepare the country for nuclear war, which he personally thought had a one-in-five chance of occurring.[63]

In the weeks immediately after the Vienna summit, more than 20,000 people fled from East Berlin to the western sector in reaction to statements from the USSR. Kennedy began intensive meetings on the Berlin issue, where Dean Acheson took the lead in recommending a military buildup alongside NATO allies.[64] In a July 1961 speech, Kennedy announced his decision to add $3.25 billion to the defense budget, along with over 200,000 additional troops, stating that an attack on West Berlin would be taken as an attack on the U.S. The speech received an 85% approval rating.[65]

The following month, the Soviet Union and East Berlin began blocking any further passage of East Berliners into West Berlin and erected 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 Vice President Johnson, along with a host of military personnel, in convoy through West Germany, including Soviet-armed checkpoints, to demonstrate the continued commitment of the U.S. to West Berlin.[66]

Kennedy gave a speech at [67]

Cuba and the Bay of Pigs Invasion

President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson take a leisurely stroll on the White House grounds

The prior Eisenhower administration had created a plan to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba. The plan, led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with help from the U.S. military, was for an invasion of Cuba by a counter-revolutionary insurgency composed of U.S.-trained anti-Castro Cuban exiles[68][69] led by CIA paramilitary officers. The intention was to invade Cuba and instigate an uprising among the Cuban people in hopes of removing Castro from power.[70]

On April 17, 1961, Kennedy ordered what became known as the "Bay of Pigs Invasion": 1,500 U.S.-trained Cubans, called "Brigade 2506", landed on the island. No U.S. air support was provided. Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, later stated that they thought the president would authorize any action required for success once the troops were on the ground.[71]

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.[72] The incident made Castro wary of the U.S. and led him to believe another invasion would occur.[73]

According to biographer Richard Reeves, Kennedy primarily focused on the political repercussions of the plan rather than military considerations. When it failed, he was convinced that the plan was a setup to make him look bad.[74] He took responsibility for the failure, saying, "We got a big kick in the leg and we deserved it. But maybe we'll learn something from it."[75]

In late 1961, the White House formed the "Special Group (Augmented)", headed by Robert Kennedy and including Edward Lansdale, Secretary Robert McNamara, and others. The group's objective—to overthrow Castro via espionage, sabotage, and other covert tactics—was never pursued.[76]

Cuban Missile Crisis

On October 14, 1962, CIA U-2 spy planes took photographs of intermediate-range ballistic missile sites being built in Cuba by the Soviets. The photos were shown to Kennedy on October 16; a consensus was reached that the missiles were offensive in nature and thus posed an immediate nuclear threat.[77]

Meeting with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961.

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 also 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.[78]

Kennedy addressing the nation on October 22, 1962, about the buildup of arms on Cuba

Problems playing this file? See .

More than a third of the members of the National Security Council (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".[79] There was also some reaction from the international community (asked in confidence), that the assault plan was an overreaction in light of U.S. missiles that had been placed in Turkey by Eisenhower. There could also be no assurance that the assault would be 100% effective.[80] In concurrence with a majority-vote of the NSC, Kennedy decided on a naval quarantine. On October 22 he dispatched a message to Khrushchev and announced the decision on TV.[81]

The U.S. Navy would stop and inspect all Soviet ships arriving off Cuba, beginning October 24. The

Media coverage
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  • White House biography

External links

  • Abramson, Jill. "Kennedy, the Elusive President", The New York Times Book Review October 22, 2013, notes that 40,000 books have been published about JFK
  • Hellmann, John. The Kennedy Obsession: The American Myth of JFK (1997)
  • Santa Cruz, Paul H. Making JFK Matter: Popular Memory and the 35th President (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2015) xxiv, 363 pp.
  • Selverstone, Marc J., ed. A Companion to John F. Kennedy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), Topical essays by scholars focusing on the historiography

Historiography and memory

  • Goldzwig, Steven R. and Dionisopoulos, George N., eds. In a Perilous Hour: The Public Address of John F. Kennedy (1995)
  • Kennedy, Jacqueline. Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (2011). Hyperion Books. ISBN 1401324258.

Primary sources

  • Brauer, Carl. John F. Kennedy and the Second Reconstruction (1977)
  • Burner, David. John F. Kennedy and a New Generation (1988)
  • Casey, Shaun. The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960 (2009)
  • Collier, Peter & Horowitz, David. The Kennedys (1984)
  • Cottrell, John. Assassination! The World Stood Still (1964)
  • Fay, Paul B., Jr. The Pleasure of His Company (1966)
  • Freedman, Lawrence. Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam (2000)
  • Fursenko, Aleksandr and Timothy Naftali. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958–1964 (1997)
  • Giglio, James. The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1991)
  • Hamilton, Nigel. JFK: Reckless Youth (1992)
  • Harper, Paul, and Krieg, Joann P. eds. John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited (1988)
  • Harris, Seymour E. The Economics of the Political Parties, with Special Attention to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy (1962)
  • Heath, Jim F. Decade of Disillusionment: The Kennedy–Johnson Years (1976)
  • Hersh, Seymour. The Dark Side of Camelot (1997)
  • Kunz, Diane B. The Diplomacy of the Crucial Decade: American Foreign Relations during the 1960s (1994)
  • Lynch, Grayston L. Decision for Disaster Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs (2000)
  • Manchester, William. Portrait of a President: John F. Kennedy in Profile (1967)
  • Newman, John M. JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power (1992)
  • Parmet, Herbert. Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980)
  • Parmet, Herbert. JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1983)
  • Parmet, Herbert. "The Kennedy Myth". In Myth America: A Historical Anthology, Volume II. Gerster, Patrick, and Cords, Nicholas. (editors.) (1997)
  • Piper, Michael Collins. Final Judgment (2004: sixth edition). American Free Press
  • Reeves, Thomas. A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (1991); hostile biography
  • Sabato, Larry J. The Kennedy Half-Century: The Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy (forthcoming, 2013)
  • Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr. Robert Kennedy And His Times (2002) [1978]
  • Selverstone, Marc J., ed. A Companion to John F. Kennedy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)
  • Smith, Jean E. The Defense of Berlin (1963)
  • Smith, Jean E. The Wall as Watershed (1966)
  • Walsh, Kenneth T. Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes (2003)
  • Wyden, Peter, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (1979)

Further reading

  • Barnes, John (2007). John F. Kennedy on Leadership. 
  • Bilharz, Joy Ann (2002) [1998]. The Allegany Senecas and Kinzua Dam: Forced Relocation Through Two Generations. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.  
  • Blight, James G.; Lang, Janet M. (2005). The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.  
  • Bryant, Nick (Autumn 2006). "Black Man Who Was Crazy Enough to Apply to Ole Miss". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (53). 
  • Dudley, Robert L.; Shiraev, Eric (2008). Counting Every Vote: The Most Contentious Elections in American History. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books.  
  • Gleijeses, Piero. "Ships in the Night: The CIA, the White House and the Bay of Pigs". Journal of Latin American Studies, Feb. 1995, Vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 1–42 (via JSTOR) ISSN 0022-216X
  • Herst, Burton (2007). Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America. Basic Books.  
  • Jewell, Elizabeth (2005). U.S. Presidents Factbook. New York: Random House.  
  • Kenney, Charles (2000). John F. Kennedy: The Presidential Portfolio. PublicAffairs.  
  • Leaming, Barbara (2006). Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman. W. W. Norton.  
  • Maier, Thomas (2004). The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings. 
  • Nelson, Craig (2009). Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon. New York, New York: John Murray.  
  • O'Brien, Michael (2005). John F. Kennedy: A Biography. Thomas Dunne.  
  • Osborne, Robert (2006). Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era. Chronicle Books.  
  • Salt, Jeremey (2008). The Unmaking of the Middle East: A History of Western Disorder in Arab lands. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.  
  • Tucker, Spencer (2011) [1998]. The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO.  
  • Walton Jr., Hanes; Smith, Robert C. (2000). American Politics and the African American Quest for Universal Freedom. Addison, Wesley, Longman.  


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  265. ^ Raymond, Emilie (2006). From my cold, dead hands: Charlton Heston and American politics. University Press of Kentucky. p. 246.  
  266. ^ "Books for Lawyers". American Bar Association Journal: 556. 1975. 
  267. ^ The Gallup Poll 1999. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc. 1999. pp. 248–249. 
  268. ^ "Greatest of the Century". Gallup/CNN/USA Today Poll. December 20–21, 1999. Retrieved January 5, 2007. 
  269. ^ "Kennedy Plane Found to Be Fully Functional". The Washington Post. July 31, 1999. Retrieved January 2, 2010. 
  270. ^ Rouse, Robert (March 15, 2006). "Happy Anniversary to the first scheduled presidential press conference—93 years young!". American Chronicle. 
  271. ^ "RTDNA's Kennedy connections".  
  272. ^ The Personal Papers of Theodore H. White (1915–1986): Series 11. Camelot Documents, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum quotation:
  273. ^ An Epilogue, in LIFE, Dec 6, 1963, pp.158-9
  274. ^ Mandel, Lee R. (2009). "Endocrine and Autoimmune Aspects of the Health History of John F. Kennedy". Annals of Internal Medicine 151 (151(5)): 350–354.  
  275. ^ Kempe 2011, p. 213.
  276. ^ New York Sun September 20, 2005: "Dr. Feelgood" Retrieved July 11, 2011
  277. ^ Reeves 1993, pp. 42, 158-159.
  278. ^ Reeves 1993, p. 244.
  279. ^ Online NewsHour with Senior Correspondent Ray Suarez and physician Jeffrey Kelman, "Pres. Kennedy's Health Secrets", The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer transcript, November 18, 2002
  280. ^ Dallek 2003, pp. 83-85.
  281. ^ Osborne 2006, p. 195.
  282. ^ Reeves 1993, pp. 315–316.
  283. ^ Bone, James (February 17, 2010), "How JFK's Riviera romance led to years of longing", The Times, London. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  284. ^ Reeves 1993, p. 289.
  285. ^ Dallek 2003, p. 475.
  286. ^ Dallek 2003, p. 58.
  287. ^ Garrow, David J. (May 28, 2003). "Substance Over Sex In Kennedy Biography". The New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  288. ^ Dallek 2003, pp. 475, 476.
  289. ^ Leaming 2006, pp. 379-380.
  290. ^ Dallek 2003, p. 581.
  291. ^ Dallek 2003, p. 376.
  292. ^ Barnes 2007, p. 116.
  293. ^ Reeves 1993, p. 291.
  294. ^ Dallek 2003, p. 478.
  295. ^ Roberts, Patrick (December 13, 2009). "Kennedy Ancestral Home in Ireland to Be Landmarked". ABC News Internet Ventures. Retrieved September 30, 2010. 
  296. ^ Maier2004, p. 25.
  297. ^ Maier2004, p. 30.
  298. ^ Maier2004, p. 33.
  299. ^ Cronkite, Walter (1996). A Reporter's Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  
  300. ^ Carter, Bill (September 15, 2001). "Viewers Again Return To Traditional Networks". The New York Times. p. A14. 
  301. ^ "Presidents Who Served in the U.S. Navy". Frequently Asked Questions.  
  302. ^ "Navy SEALs Were Launched in the JFK 'Man on the Moon' Speech". 11 Facts About Navy SEALs.  
  303. ^  
  304. ^ Dallek 2003, pp. 643, 648-649.
  305. ^ Dallek 2003, pp. 594-606, 644.
  306. ^ Dallek 2003, p. 708.
  307. ^ "50 years after win, Kennedy's legacy endures". USA Today. September 26, 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  308. ^ Hanes, Jr. 2000, p. 205.
  309. ^ Page, Susan (October 4, 2011). "50 years after win, Kennedy's legacy endures". USA Today. Retrieved December 25, 2011. 
  310. ^ Douthat, Ross (November 26, 2011). "The Enduring Cult of Kennedy". New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2011. 
  311. ^  
  312. ^ "What’s in an eponym? Celebrity airports - could there be a commercial benefit in naming?". Centre for Aviation. 
  313. ^ "John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States". American Heraldry Society. Retrieved October 27, 2009. 


  1. ^ Theodore Roosevelt was nine months younger when he first assumed the presidency on September 14, 1901, but he was not elected to the presidency until 1904, when he was 46.Jewell 2005, p. 207.
  2. ^ Two hundred thousand gallons of defoliant were shipped, in violation of the Geneva Accords. By the end of 1962, American military personnel had increased from 2,600 to 11,500; 109 men were killed compared to 14 the previous year. During 1962, Viet Cong troops increased from 15,000 to 24,000. Depending on which assessment Kennedy accepted (Department of Defense or State) there had been zero or modest progress in countering the increase in communist aggression in return for an expanded U.S. involvement. Reeves 1993, p. 283.
  3. ^ Kennedy reversed the Defense Department rulings that prohibited the Special Forces wearing of the Green Beret. Reeves 1993, p. 116.


See also

Newsreel footage of the inauguration ceremony and speeches
President Kennedy comments on the possible prevention of the Cold War

Kennedy's message to Turkish President Cemal Gursel and The Turkish People on the Anniversary of the Death of Kemal Ataturk, November 10, 1963 (accompanying text)

Announcement by John F. Kennedy to go to the moon (duration 11:00)

Problems playing these files? See .


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.[313]

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.

Coat of arms



Throughout the English-speaking world, the given name Kennedy has sometimes been used in honor of President Kennedy, as well his brother Robert.[311]

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 maternal grandmother, Mary Josephine "Josie" Hannon, died in August 1964, several months after his assassination.

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'.

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 Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some excerpts of Kennedy's inaugural address are engraved on a plaque at his grave at Arlington.

Kennedy's continuation of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower's policies of giving economic and military aid to South Vietnam left the door open for President Johnson's escalation of the conflict.[309] At the time of Kennedy's death, no final policy decision had been made as to Vietnam, leading historians, cabinet members and writers to continue to disagree on whether the Vietnam conflict would have escalated to the point it did had he survived.[310][132] His agreement to the NSAM 263[128] action of withdrawing 1,000 troops by the end of 1963, and his earlier 1963 speech at American University,[130] suggested he was ready to end the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War contributed greatly to a decade of national difficulties, amid violent disappointment on the political landscape.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's successor, took up the mantle and pushed the landmark Civil Rights Act through a bitterly divided Congress by invoking the slain president's memory.[306][307] President Johnson then signed the Act into law on July 2, 1964. This civil rights law ended what was known as the "Solid South" and certain provisions were modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1875, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.[308]

Although President Kennedy opposed segregation and had shown support for the civil rights of African Americans, he originally believed in a more measured approach to legislation given the political realities he faced in Congress, especially with the Southern Conservatives.[304] However, impelled by the civil rights demonstrations of Martin Luther King, Kennedy in 1963 proposed legislative action. In a radio and TV address to the nation in June 1963—a century after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation—Kennedy became the first president to call on all Americans to denounce racism as morally wrong. Kennedy's civil rights proposals led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[305]

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 was the first of six presidents to have served in the U.S. Navy,[301] and one of the enduring legacies of his administration was the creation in 1961 of another special forces command, the Navy SEALs,[302] which Kennedy enthusiastically supported.[303]

The US Special Forces had 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 US military newspaper Stars and Stripes who served with Special Forces in Vietnam.[3] This bond was shown at Kennedy's funeral. At the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Kennedy's death, General 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.

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. UN 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.

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 President Herbert Clark Hoover. All three have two things in common: the commanding general of the Military District of Washington during those funerals was Army Major General Philip C. Wehle and the riderless horse was Black Jack, who also served in that role during Lyndon B. Johnson's funeral.

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 70 hours, making it the longest uninterrupted news event on American TV until 9/11.[300]

Kennedy on a U.S. postage stamp, issue of 1967

Television became the primary source by which people were kept informed of events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination. In fact, television started to come of age before the assassination. On September 2, 1963, Kennedy helped inaugurate network television's first half hour nightly evening newscast according to an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite.[299]


Kennedy's paternal great-grandfather came to Boston and took a job as a migrant worker. He died several years later from cholera.[298] They had three daughters and two sons (the elder son died young from cholera). He left behind a widow and four children to carry on, the youngest child being Joseph Kennedy, Sr.'s father, Patrick Joseph "P. J." Kennedy.

The Kennedy family originally came from Dunganstown, County Wexford, Ireland.[295] In 1848, Patrick Kennedy (1823–1858) left his farm and boarded a ship in New Ross bound for Liverpool on his way to Boston.[296] Kennedy departed at the height of Ireland's Great Famine. It was in Boston he met the woman he was to marry, Bridget Murphy (c.1824–1888).[297]


Kennedy inspired affection and loyalty from the members of his team and his supporters.[292] According to Reeves, this included "the logistics of Kennedy's liaisons.....[which] required secrecy and devotion rare in the annals of the energetic service demanded by successful politicians".[293] Kennedy believed that his friendly relationship with members of the press would help protect him from revelations about his sex life.[294]

The extent of a relationship with Monroe will never be known, although it has been reported they spent a weekend together in March 1962 while Kennedy was staying at Bing Crosby's house.[289] Furthermore, the White House switchboard noted calls from her during 1962.[290] J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, received reports as to Kennedy's indiscretions.[291]

As a young single man in the 1940s, Kennedy had affairs with Danish journalist Inga Arvad,[280] and actress Gene Tierney.[281] Later in life, Kennedy reportedly had affairs with a number of women, including Marilyn Monroe,[282] Gunilla von Post,[283] Judith Campbell,[284] Mary Pinchot Meyer,[285] Marlene Dietrich,[286] Mimi Alford,[287] and his wife's press secretary Pamela Turnure.[288]

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, President Kennedy (back to camera) in 1962.

Extramarital relationships

Kennedy experienced many personal, family tragedies. The oldest Kennedy sibling, Joe Jr., was killed in action over the English Channel in 1944 during World War II at the age of 29. Kennedy's younger sister Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy was born in 1918 with intellectual disabilities and underwent a pre-frontal lobotomy at age 23, leaving her permanently incapacitated. His next youngest sister, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy Cavendish, died in France as the result of a plane crash in 1948. Jacqueline Kennedy wife suffered a miscarriage in 1955 and a stillbirth in 1956. A son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, died shortly after birth in August 1963.

The First Family in 1962
The newlyweds on their wedding day in Newport, Rhode Island in 1953, surrounded by Jack's siblings

Personal tragedies

There were disagreements among his doctors, into 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.[173] During that timeframe the president's physician, George Burkley, did set up some gym equipment in the White House basement where Kennedy did stretching exercises for his back three times a week.[278] Details of these and other medical problems were not publicly disclosed during Kennedy's lifetime.[279]

Kennedy also suffered from chronic and severe back pain, for which he had surgery and was written up in the hypertension, impaired judgment, nervousness, and mood swings.[275] Kennedy at one time was regularly seen by no fewer than three doctors, one of whom, Max Jacobson, was unknown to the other two, as his mode of treatment was controversial[276] and used for the most severe bouts of back pain.[277]

Years after Kennedy's death, it was revealed that in September 1947, while Kennedy was 30 and 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 Dr. Travell revealed that Kennedy also had hypothyroidism. The presence of two endocrine diseases raises the possibility that Kennedy had autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome type 2 (APS 2).[274]

In 2002 Robert Dallek wrote an extensive history of Kennedy's health. Dallek was able to consult a collection of Kennedy-associated papers from the years 1955-1963 including x-rays and prescription records from the files of White House physician Dr. Janet Travell. According to Travell's records, during his Presidential years Kennedy suffered from: high fevers, stomach, colon, and prostate issues, abscesses, high cholesterol, and adrenal problems. Travell kept a "Medicine Administration Record," cataloguing Kennedy's medications: "injected and ingested corticosteroids for his adrenal insufficiency; procaine shots and ultrasound treatments and hot packs for his back; Lomotil, Metamucil, paregoric, phenobarbital, testosterone, and trasentine to control his diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and weight loss; penicillin and other antibiotics for his urinary-tract infections and an abscess; and Tuinal to help him sleep."[10]


Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot.
"There'll be great presidents again ... but there will never be another Camelot."
— Jacqueline Kennedy[273]

The term "[272]

"Camelot Era"

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, which parodied the president, the first lady, their family, and the 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.

Mrs. Kennedy 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. 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.

Kennedy and his wife were younger in comparison to the presidents and first ladies who preceded them, and both were popular in the media culture 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.[270] In 1961 the Radio-Television News Directors Association presented Kennedy with its highest honor, the Paul White Award, in recognition of his open relationship with the media.[271]

The Kennedy brothers: Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy, and President John F. Kennedy in 1963

Popular image

Caroline Bouvier Kennedy was born in 1957 and is the only surviving member of JFK's immediate family. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., nicknamed "John-John" by the press as a child, was born in late November 1960, 17 days after his father was elected. John Jr., died in 1999 when the small plane he was piloting crashed en route to Martha's Vineyard.[269]


Kennedy was a life member of the National Rifle Association.[265][266] Kennedy came in third (behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa) in Gallup's List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century.[267][268]

Bobby 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.[264]

In October 1951, during his third term as Massachusetts's 11th district congressman, the then 34-year-old Kennedy embarked on a seven-week trip to India, Japan, Vietnam, and Israel with his then 25-year-old brother Bobby (who had just graduated from law school four months earlier) and his then 27-year-old sister Pat. Because they were several years apart in age, the 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.[264]

Kennedy met his future wife, Jacqueline Lee "Jackie" Bouvier (1929–1994), when he was a congressman. Charles L. Bartlett, a journalist, introduced the pair at a dinner party.[262] They were married a year after he was elected senator, on September 12, 1953.[263] 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. Family patriarch, Joe Kennedy, was a prominent American businessman and political figure, serving in multiple roles, including Ambassador to the United Kingdom, from 1938 to 1940.

The Kennedy family in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, in 1963.

Image, social life, and family

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.

Other courts

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

Supreme Court

Judicial appointments

The official White House portrait of John F. Kennedy, by Aaron Shikler.
The Kennedy Cabinet
Office Name Term
President John F. Kennedy 1961–1963
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson 1961–1963
Secretary of State Dean Rusk 1961–1963
Secretary of Treasury C. Douglas Dillon 1961–1963
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara 1961–1963
Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy 1961–1963
Postmaster General J. Edward Day 1961–1963
John A. Gronouski 1963
Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall 1961–1963
Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman 1961–1963
Secretary of Commerce Luther H. Hodges 1961–1963
Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg 1961–1962
W. Willard Wirtz 1962–1963
Secretary of Health,
Education, and Welfare
Abraham A. Ribicoff 1961–1962
Anthony J. Celebrezze 1962–1963

Administration, Cabinet, and judicial appointments 1961–63

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. John F. Kennedy's grave is lit with an "Eternal Flame". Kennedy and William Howard Taft are the only two U.S. presidents buried at Arlington.[259][260] According to the JFK Library, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death", by Alan Seeger "was one of John F. Kennedy's favorite poems and he often asked his wife to recite it".[261]

The honor guard at Kennedy's graveside was the 37th Cadet Class of the Irish Army. Kennedy was greatly impressed by the Irish Cadets on his last official visit to Ireland, so much so that Jackie Kennedy requested the Irish Army to be the honor guard at her husband's funeral.[258]

A Requiem Mass was held for Kennedy at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on November 25, 1963. Afterwards, Kennedy was interred in a small plot, (20 by 30 ft.), in Arlington National Cemetery. Over a period of three years (1964–66), an estimated 16 million people had visited his grave. On March 14, 1967, Kennedy's remains were moved to a permanent burial plot and memorial at the cemetery. The funeral was officiated by Father John J. Cavanaugh.[257] It was from this memorial that the graves of both Bobby and Ted were modeled.

President Kennedy's family leaving his funeral at the U.S. Capitol Building


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.[253] The assassination proved to be an important moment in U.S. history because of its impact on the nation and the ensuing political repercussions. A 2004 Fox News poll found that 66% of Americans thought there had been a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, while 74% thought there had been a cover-up.[254] A Gallup Poll in mid-November 2013, showed 61% believed in a conspiracy, and only 30% thought Oswald did it alone.[255] In 1979, the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that it believed "that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy."[256]

Kennedy was taken to Parkland Hospital for emergency medical treatment, but pronounced dead at 1:00 pm. Only 46, President Kennedy died younger than any other U.S. president to date. Lee Harvey Oswald, an order filler at the Texas School Book Depository from which the shots were suspected to have been fired, was arrested for the murder of police officer J. D. Tippit, and was subsequently charged with the assassination of Kennedy. He denied shooting anyone, claiming he was a patsy,[251][252] but was killed by Jack Ruby on November 24, before he could be prosecuted. 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 January 3, 1967, while the date for his new trial was being set.

President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 pm Central Standard Time on Friday November 22, 1963, while on a political trip to Texas to smooth over frictions in the Democratic Party between liberals Ralph Yarborough and Don Yarborough (no relation) and conservative John Connally.[249] Traveling in a presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas, he was shot once in the throat,[250] and once in the head.[250]

The Kennedys and the Connallys in the presidential limousine moments before the assassination in Dallas.


In a September 1963 speech before the United Nations, Kennedy urged cooperation between the Soviets and Americans in space, specifically recommending that Apollo be switched to "a joint expedition to the Moon".[247] Khrushchev again declined, and the Soviets did not commit to a manned Moon mission until 1964.[248] On July 20, 1969, almost six years after Kennedy's death, Apollo 11 landed the first manned spacecraft on the Moon.

On November 21, 1962, in a cabinet meeting with NASA administrator Webb and other officials, Kennedy explained that the Moon shot was important for reasons of international prestige, and that the expense was justified.[245] Johnson assured him that lessons learned from the space program had military value as well. Costs for the Apollo program were expected to reach $40 billion.[246]

"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."[244] Full text 

After Congress authorized the funding, Webb began reorganizing NASA, increasing its staffing level, and building two new centers: a Launch Operations Center for the large Moon rocket northwest of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and a Manned Spacecraft Center on land donated through Rice University in Houston, Texas. Kennedy took the latter occasion as an opportunity to deliver another speech at Rice to promote the space effort on September 12, 1962, in which he said:

Kennedy speaks at Rice University, September 12, 1962 (duration 17:47)
"... 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 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."[243] Full text 

However, this quickly changed on April 12, 1961, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly in space, reinforcing American fears about being left behind in a technological competition with the Soviet Union.[238] Kennedy now became eager for the U.S. to take the lead in the Space Race, for reasons of strategy and prestige. On April 20, he sent a memo to Johnson, asking him to look into the status of America's space program, and into programs that could offer NASA the opportunity to catch up.[239][240] After consulting with Wernher von Braun, Johnson responded approximately one week later, concluding that "we are neither making maximum effort nor achieving results necessary if this country is to reach a position of leadership."[241][242] His memo concluded that a manned Moon landing was far enough in the future that it was likely the United States would achieve it first.[241] Kennedy's advisor Ted Sorensen advised him to support the Moon landing, and on May 25, Kennedy announced the goal in a speech titled Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs:

Kennedy proposing a program to land men on the Moon to Congress in May 1961. LBJ and Sam Rayburn are seated behind him.

In Kennedy's January 1961 State of the Union address, he had suggested international cooperation in space. Khrushchev declined, as the Soviets did not wish to reveal the status of their rocketry and space capabilities.[235] Early in his presidency, Kennedy was poised to dismantle the manned space program, but postponed any decision out of deference to Johnson, who had been a strong supporter of the space program in the Senate.[229] Kennedy's advisors speculated that a Moon flight would be prohibitively expensive,[236] and he was considering plans to dismantle the Apollo program due to its cost.[237]

In constructing his Presidential administration, Kennedy elected to retain Eisenhower's last science advisor Jerome Wiesner as head of the President's Science Advisory Committee. Wiesner was strongly opposed to manned space exploration,[230] having issued a report highly critical of Project Mercury.[231][232] Kennedy was turned down by seventeen candidates for NASA administrator before the post was accepted by James E. Webb, an experienced Washington insider who served President Harry S. Truman as budget director and undersecretary of State. Webb proved to be adept at obtaining the support of Congress, the President, and the American people.[233] Kennedy also persuaded Congress to amend the National Aeronautics and Space Act to allow him to delegate his chairmanship of the National Aeronautics and Space Council to the Vice President, [233][234] both because of the knowledge of the space program Johnson gained in the Senate working for the creation of NASA, and to help keep the politically savvy Johnson occupied.[233]

The Apollo program was conceived early in 1960, during the Eisenhower administration, as a follow-up to Project Mercury, to be used as a shuttle to an Earth-orbital space station, flights around the Moon, or landing on it. While NASA went ahead with planning for Apollo, funding for the program was far from certain, given Eisenhower's ambivalent attitude to manned spaceflight.[228] As Senator, Kennedy had been opposed to the space program and wanted to terminate it.[229]

Space policy

Construction of the Kinzua Dam flooded 10,000 acres (4,047 ha) of Seneca nation land that they had occupied under the Treaty of 1794, and forced 600 Seneca to relocate to 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 expressed concern about the plight of the Seneca, and directed government agencies to assist in obtaining more land, damages, and assistance to help mitigate their displacement.[226][227]

Native American relations

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. The policy change also shifted the emphasis in the selection of immigrants in favor of family reunification.[224] Kennedy wanted to dismantle the selection of immigrants based on country of origin and saw this as an extension of his civil rights policies.[225]


Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so",[221] Hoover extended the clearance so his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy.[222] The wiretapping continued through June 1966 and was revealed in 1968.[223]

[220] In 1963, FBI Director

Civil liberties

Nevertheless, the struggle was far from over. Three weeks later, a bomb exploded on Sunday, September 15 at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham; by the end of the day, four African American children had died in the explosion and two other children shot to death in the aftermath.[217] Due to 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.[218]

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 pm. Thousands of troops were placed on standby. Kennedy watched King's speech on TV 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.[216]

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).[216]

Kennedy meets with leaders of the March on Washington in the Oval Office, August 28, 1963.

Earlier, Kennedy had signed the executive order creating the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women on December 14, 1961.[213] Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt led the commission. The Commission statistics revealed that women were also experiencing discrimination; their final report documenting legal and cultural barriers was issued in October 1963.[214] Further, on June 10, 1963, Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a federal law amending the Fair Labor Standards Act, aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on sex.[215]

His proposals became part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The day ended with the murder of a NAACP leader, Medgar Evers, in front of his home in Mississippi.[211] As the president had predicted, the day after his TV 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.[212]

On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy intervened when Alabama Governor 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. 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.[209][210]

President Kennedy's Civil Rights Address, June 11, 1963.

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."[206] Civil rights clashes were on the rise that year.[207] Brother Robert and Ted Sorenson pressed Kennedy to take more initiative on the legislative front.[208]

In September 1962, James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, but was prevented from entering. Attorney General Robert Kennedy responded by sending 400 federal marshals, while President Kennedy reluctantly sent 3,000 troops after the situation on campus turned violent.[203] The Ole Miss riot of 1962 left two dead and dozens injured, but Meredith did finally enroll in his first class. The instigating subculture at the Old Miss riot and at many other racially ignited events, was the Ku Klux Klan.[204] On November 20, 1962, Kennedy signed Executive Order 11063, prohibiting racial discrimination in federally supported housing or "related facilities".[205]

On March 6, 1961, Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 which required government contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."[201] It established the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Displeased with the pace of Kennedy's addressing the issue of segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his associates produced a document in 1962 calling on the president to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln and use an Executive Order to deliver a blow for Civil Rights as a kind of Second Emancipation Proclamation - Kennedy did not execute the order.[202]

Kennedy also was more concerned with other issues early in his presidency, such as the 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."[200]

In his first State of the Union Address in January 1961, President Kennedy said "The denial of constitutional rights to some of our fellow Americans on account of race - at the ballot box and elsewhere - disturbs the national conscience, and subjects us to the charge of world opinion that our democracy is not equal to the high promise of our heritage."[198] Kennedy believed the grassroots 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.[199]

Kennedy verbally supported Ernest Vandiver and obtained King's release from prison, which drew additional black support to his brother's candidacy.[197]

The turbulent end of state-sanctioned racial discrimination was one of the most pressing domestic issues of the 1960s. Jim Crow segregation was the established law in the Deep South.[196] The Supreme Court of the United States had ruled in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Many schools, especially in southern states, did not obey the Supreme Court's decision. The Court also prohibited segregation at other public facilities (such as buses, restaurants, theaters, courtrooms, bathrooms, and beaches) but it continued nonetheless.[197]

Civil rights

On March 22, 1962, Kennedy signed into law HR5143 (PL87-423), abolishing the mandatory death penalty for [194] The death penalty has not been applied in the District of Columbia since 1957, and has now been abolished.[195]

[193] Kennedy commuted a death sentence imposed by a military court on seaman Jimmie Henderson on February 12, 1962, changing the penalty to life in prison.[192] was sentenced to death by a federal court in Iowa and was executed on March 15, 1963.Victor Feguer [191] As president, Kennedy oversaw the last federal execution prior to

Federal and military death penalty

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."[188] 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.[189] The stock market, which had steadily declined since Kennedy's election, dropped 10% shortly after the administration's action on the steel industry.[190]

Robert took the position that the steel executives had illegally colluded to fix prices. The administration's actions influenced U.S. Steel to rescind the price increase.[187] The Wall Street Journal wrote that the administration had acted "by naked power, by threats, by agents of the state security police."[33] Yale law professor Charles Reich opined in The New Republic that the administration had violated civil liberties by calling a grand jury to indict U.S. Steel for collusion so quickly.[33]

Bobby Kennedy stated, "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."[186]

The economy turned around and prospered during the Kennedy administration. GDP expanded by an average of 5.5% from early 1961 to late 1963,[183] while inflation remained steady at around 1% and unemployment eased.[184] Industrial production rose by 15% and motor vehicle sales rose by 40%.[185] This rate of growth in GDP and industry continued until around 1969, and has yet to be repeated for such a sustained period of time.[183]

Kennedy ended a period of tight fiscal policies, loosening monetary policy to keep interest rates down and encourage growth of the economy.[181] He 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.[182] The economy, which had been through two recessions in three years and was in one when Kennedy took office, accelerated notably during his presidency. Despite low inflation and interest rates, GDP had grown by an average of only 2.2% per annum 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.[183]


To the Economic Club of New York, 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."[179] Congress passed few of Kennedy's major programs during his lifetime, but did vote them through in 1964–65 under his successor Johnson.[180]

In his 1963 State of the Union address, he proposed substantial tax reform and a 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%. Kennedy added that the top rate should be set at 70% if certain deductions were not eliminated for high income earners.[177] Congress did not act until 1964, after his death, when the top individual rate was lowered to 70%, and the top corporate rate was set at 48% (see Revenue Act of 1964).[178]

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.[177]

President Kennedy in Fort Worth, Texas on Friday morning, November 22, 1963.

Domestic policy

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 continue developing and testing its nuclear defenses.[176]

In July 1963, Kennedy sent W. Averell Harriman to Moscow to negotiate a treaty with the Soviets.[174] The introductory sessions included Khrushchev, who later delegated Soviet representation to Andrei Gromyko. It quickly became clear that a comprehensive test ban would not be implemented, due largely to the reluctance of the Soviets to allow inspections that would verify compliance.[175]

Troubled by the long-term dangers of radioactive contamination and nuclear weapons proliferation, Kennedy and Khrushchev agreed to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty, originally conceived in Adlai Stevenson's 1956 presidential campaign.[170] In their Vienna summit meeting in June 1961, Khrushchev and Kennedy reached an informal understanding against nuclear testing, but the Soviet Union began testing nuclear weapons that September. The United States responded by conducting tests five days later.[171] Shortly thereafter, new U.S. satellites began delivering images which made it clear that the Soviets were substantially behind the U.S. in the arms race.[172] 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.[173]

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

He also became the first foreign leader to address the Houses of the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament).[168] On December 22, 2006, the Irish Department of Justice released declassified police documents indicating that security was heightened as Kennedy was the subject of three death threats during this visit.[169]

During his four-day visit to his ancestral home of Ireland in June 1963,[165] Kennedy accepted a grant of armorial bearings from the Chief Herald of Ireland and received honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin.[166] He visited the cottage at Dunganstown, near New Ross, County Wexford where his ancestors had lived before emigrating to America.[167]

President Kennedy in motorcade in Patrick Street, Cork, in Ireland on June 28, 1963.
John F. Kennedy visiting the John Barry Memorial at Crescent Quay in Wexford, Ireland.


The new government, led by President Abdul Salam Arif and dominated by the Ba'ath Party (along with a coalition of Nasserists and Iraqi nationalists), used lists—possibly provided by the CIA—of suspected communists and other leftists to systematically murder unknown numbers of Iraq's educated elite.[161][162] After a power struggle with the Ba'athist Prime Minister, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Arif purged the Ba'ath Party from the government.[163] Former CIA officer James Chritchfield disputed the notion that the CIA offered "active support" to the coup plotters, arguing that while "well-informed" on the first coup, it was "surprised" by the power struggles that followed.[164]

In 1963, the Kennedy administration backed the coup against the government of Iraq headed by Abd al-Karim Qasim, who five years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy.[158] On February 8, 1963, Kennedy received a memo stating: "We will make informal friendly noises as soon as we can find out whom to talk with, and ought to recognize as soon as we're sure these guys are firmly in the saddle. CIA had excellent reports on the plotting, but I doubt either they or UK should claim much credit for it."[159] The CIA had planned to remove Qasim in the past, but those efforts did not come to fruition.[160]


Rodger Davies, the director of the State Department's Office of Near Eastern Affairs, concluded in March 1965 that Israel was developing nuclear weapons. He reported that Israel's target date for achieving nuclear capability was 1968–69.[156] On May 1, 1968, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach told President Johnson that Dimona was producing enough plutonium to produce two bombs a year. The State Department argued that if Israel wanted arms, it should accept international supervision of its nuclear program.[152] Dimona was never placed under IAEA safeguards. Attempts to write Israeli adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) into contracts for the supply of U.S. weapons continued throughout 1968.[157]

According to Seymour Hersh, the Israelis set up false control rooms to show the Americans. Israeli lobbyist Abe Feinberg stated, "It was part of my job to tip them off that Kennedy was insisting on [an inspection]."[152] Hersh contends the inspections were conducted in such a way that it "guaranteed that the whole procedure would be little more than a whitewash, as the president and his senior advisors had to understand: the American inspection team would have to schedule its visits well in advance, and with the full acquiescence of Israel.".[153] Marc Trachtenberg argued: "Although well aware of what the Israelis were doing, Kennedy chose to take this as satisfactory evidence of Israeli compliance with America's non-proliferation policy."[154] The American who led the inspection team stated that the essential goal of the inspections was to find "ways to not reach the point of taking action against Israel's nuclear weapons program".[155]

When Kennedy wrote that he was skeptical, and stated in a May 1963 letter to Ben-Gurion that American support to Israel could be in jeopardy if reliable information on the Israeli nuclear program was not forthcoming, Ben-Gurion repeated previous reassurances that Dimona was being developed for peaceful purposes. The Israeli government resisted American pressure to open its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. In 1962, the US and Israeli governments had agreed to an annual inspection regime. A science attaché at the embassy in Tel Aviv concluded that parts of the Dimona facility had been shut down temporarily to mislead American scientists when they visited.[152]

As result of this newly created security alliance, Kennedy also encountered tensions with the Israeli government regarding the production of nuclear materials in Dimona, which he believed could instigate a nuclear arms-race in the Middle East. After the existence of a nuclear plant was initially denied by the Israeli government, David Ben-Gurion stated in a speech to the Israeli Knesset on December 21, 1960, that the purpose of the nuclear plant at Beersheba was for "research in problems of arid zones and desert flora and fauna".[151] When Ben-Gurion met with Kennedy in New York, he claimed that Dimona was being developed to provide nuclear power for desalinization and other peaceful purposes "for the time being".[151]

Kennedy extended the first informal security guarantees to Israel in 1962 and, beginning in 1963, was the first US president to allow the sale to Israel of advanced US weaponry (the MIM-23 Hawk), as well as to provide diplomatic support for Israeli policies which were opposed by Arab neighbours; such as its water project on the Jordan River.[150]

Kennedy with Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, December 27, 1962.

Subsequently as president, Kennedy initiated the creation of security ties with Israel, and he is credited as the founder of the US-Israeli military alliance (which would be continued under subsequent presidents). Kennedy ended the arms embargo that the Eisenhower and Truman administrations had enforced on Israel. Describing the protection of Israel as a moral and national commitment, he was the first to introduce the concept of a 'special relationship' (as he described it to Golda Meir) between the US and Israel.[149]

In 1960, Kennedy stated: "Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom".[148]


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, to prevent them from leaving us." The speech is known for its famous phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a citizen of Berlin"). A million people were on the street for the speech.[146] He remarked to Ted Sorensen afterwards: "We'll never have another day like this one, as long as we live."[147]

On June 26, President Kennedy gave a public speech in West Berlin reiterating the American commitment to Germany and criticizing communism. He was met with an ecstatic response from a massive audience.[146]

Kennedy delivering his speech in West Berlin

In 1963, Germany was enduring a time of particular vulnerability due to Soviet aggression to the east and the impending retirement of West German Chancellor Adenauer.[141] At the same time, French President Charles de Gaulle was trying to built a Franco-West German counterweight to the American and Soviet spheres of influence.[142][143][144] To Kennedy's eyes, this Franco-German cooperation seemed directed against NATO's influence in Europe.[145]

Ich bin ein Berliner speech from the Rathaus Schöneberg by John F. Kennedy, June 26, 1963 (duration 9:01)

Audio-only version (duration 9:22)

West Berlin speech

On June 10, 1963, Kennedy delivered at the high point of his rhetorical powers[137] the commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C. Also known as "Strategy of Peace", Kennedy not only outlined a plan to curb nuclear arms, but also "laid out a hopeful, yet realistic route for world peace at a time when the U.S. and Soviet Union faced the potential for an escalating nuclear arms race."[138] The President wished "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 War ... an 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 men ... world 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."[139] 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.[140]

Speech from American University by John F. Kennedy, June 10, 1963 (duration 26:47)

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Kennedy delivers the commencement speech at American University, June 10, 1963

American University speech

When Robert Kennedy was asked in 1964 what his brother would have done if the South Vietnamese had been on the brink of defeat, he replied, "We'd face that when we came to it."[131] At the time of Kennedy's death, no final policy decision had been made as to Vietnam.[132] U.S. involvement in the region escalated until Lyndon Johnson, his successor, directly deployed regular U.S. military forces for fighting the Vietnam War.[133][134] After Kennedy's assassination, President Johnson passed NSAM 273 on November 26, 1963. It reversed Kennedy's decision to withdraw 1,000 troops, and reaffirmed the policy of assistance to the South Vietnamese.[135][136]

Historians disagree on whether Vietnam would have escalated had Kennedy survived and been re-elected in 1964.[125] Fueling the debate are statements made by Secretary of Defense McNamara in the film "The Fog of War" that Kennedy was strongly considering pulling out of Vietnam after the 1964 election.[126] The film also contains a tape recording of Lyndon Johnson stating that Kennedy was planning to withdraw, a position that Johnson disagreed with.[127] Kennedy had signed National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 263, dated October 11, which ordered the withdrawal of 1,000 military personnel by the end of the year.[128][129] Such an 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.[130]

News of the coup initially led to renewed confidence—both in America and in South Vietnam—that the war might be won.[123] Michael Forrestal that "after the first of the year ... [he wanted] an in depth study of every possible option, including how to get out of there ... to 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."[124]

On November 1, 1963, South Vietnamese generals, led by "Big Minh", overthrew the Diem government, arresting and then killing Diem and Nhu. Kennedy was shocked by the deaths. He found 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 that 24 hours were needed to procure a plane. Minh responded that he could not hold them that long.[122]

In late October, intelligence wires again reported that a coup against the Diem government was afoot. The source, Vietnamese General Duong Van Minh (also known as "Big Minh"), wanted to know the U.S. position. Kennedy instructed Lodge to offer covert assistance to the coup, excluding assassination, and to ensure deniability by the U.S.[120] Later that month, as the coup became imminent, Kennedy ordered all cables to be routed through him. 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.[121]

Taylor and McNamara were also enlightened by Vietnam's vice president, 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.[117] At Kennedy's insistence, the mission report contained a recommended schedule for troop withdrawals: 1,000 by year's end and complete withdrawal in 1965, something the NSC considered a strategic fantasy.[118] The final report declared that the military was making progress, that the increasingly unpopular Diem-led government was not vulnerable to a coup, and that an assassination of Diem or Nhu was a possibility.[119]

In October 1963, the president appointed Defense Secretary McNamara and General Maxwell D. Taylor to a Vietnam mission in another effort to synchronize the information and formulation of policy. The 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".[115] 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 about Diem.[116]

A White House meeting in September was indicative of the very different ongoing appraisals; the president was given updated assessments after personal inspections on the ground by the Department of Defense (General Victor Krulak) and the State Department (Joseph Mendenhall). Krulak said that the military fight against the communists was progressing and being won, while Mendenhall stated 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 that the two men were at such odds that they had not spoken to each other on the return flight.[114]

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".[112] At the same time, the first formal anti-Vietnam war sentiment was expressed by U.S. clergy from the Ministers' Vietnam Committee.[113]

Cable 243 (DEPTEL 243), dated August 24, followed, declaring Washington would no longer tolerate Nhu's actions, and Lodge was ordered to pressure Diem to remove Nhu. If Diem refused, the Americans would explore alternative leadership.[110] Lodge stated that the only workable option was to get the South Vietnamese generals to overthrow Diem and Nhu, as originally planned.[111]

On August 21, just as the new U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. arrived, Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu ordered South Vietnam forces, funded and trained by the CIA, to quell Buddhist demonstrations. The crackdowns heightened expectations of a coup d'état to remove Diem with (or perhaps by) his brother, Nhu.[108] Lodge was instructed to try to get Diem and Nhu to step down and leave the country. Diem would not listen to Lodge.[109]

In April 1963, Kennedy assessed the situation in Vietnam: "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".[107] Kennedy faced a crisis in Vietnam by July; despite increased U.S. support, the South Vietnamese military was only marginally effective against pro-communist Viet Cong forces.

Kennedy with future Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt in the Oval Office in 1963.

In early 1962, Kennedy formally authorized escalated involvement when he signed the "National Security Action Memorandum – Subversive Insurgency (War of Liberation)".[104] Secretary of State Dean Rusk voiced strong support for U.S. involvement.[105] "Operation Ranch Hand", a large-scale aerial defoliation effort, began on the roadsides of South Vietnam.[106][2]

In late 1961, President Kennedy sent Roger Hilsman, then director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, to assess the situation in Vietnam. There, Hilsman met Sir Robert Thompson, head of the British Advisory Mission to South Vietnam and the concept of the Strategic Hamlet Program was formed. It was approved by Kennedy and South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem. It was implemented in early 1962 and involved some forced relocation, village internment, and segregation of rural South Vietnamese into new communities where the peasantry would be isolated from Communist insurgents. It was hoped these new communities would provide security for the peasants and strengthen the tie between them and the central government. By November 1963 the program waned and officially ended in 1964.[103]

Kennedy initially followed Eisenhower's lead, using limited military action to fight the communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh.[99] He continued policies that provided political, economic, and military support to the South Vietnamese government.[99] Late in 1961, the Viet Cong began assuming a predominant presence, initially seizing the provincial capital of Phuoc Vinh.[100] Kennedy increased the number of helicopters, military advisors, and undeclared U.S. Special Forces in the area, but he was reluctant to order a full-scale deployment of troops.[101][102]

In May 1961 he dispatched Lyndon Johnson to meet with South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem. Johnson assured Diem more aid in molding a fighting force that could resist the communists.[97] Kennedy announced a change of policy from support to partnership with Diem in defeat of communism in South Vietnam.[98]

When briefing Kennedy, Eisenhower emphasized that the communist threat in Southeast Asia required 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.[96]

Southeast Asia

[95][94] Since 1961, over 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, serving in 139 countries.[93] As one of his first presidential acts, Kennedy asked Congress to create the

Physical text copy of the Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps
Executive Order 10924

Physical text copy of the Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps
John F. Kennedy's announcement of the establishment of the Peace Corps

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Peace Corps

When the president took office, the Eisenhower administration, through the CIA, had begun formulating plans for the assassination of Castro in Cuba and Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Kennedy privately instructed the CIA that any such planning must include plausible deniability by the U.S. His public position was in opposition.[90] 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. Robert Kennedy, who saw an opportunity for the U.S., called Bowles "a gutless bastard" to his face.[91]

Arguing that "those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable,"[88] Kennedy sought to contain the perceived threat of communism in Latin America by establishing the Alliance for Progress, which sent aid to some countries and sought greater human rights standards in the region.[89] He worked closely with Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Muñoz Marín for the development of the Alliance of Progress, and began working towards the autonomy of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

President John F. Kennedy with Chilean President Jorge Alessandri, on an official visit in December 1962.

Latin America and communism

This crisis brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any point before or since. In the end, "the humanity" of the two men prevailed.[86] The crisis improved the image of American willpower and the president's credibility. Kennedy's approval rating increased from 66% to 77% immediately thereafter.[87]

One Soviet-flagged ship was stopped and boarded. On October 28 Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missile sites, subject to UN inspections.[84] The U.S. publicly promised never to invade Cuba and privately agreed to remove its missiles in Turkey, which were by then obsolete and had been supplanted by submarines equipped with UGM-27 Polaris missiles.[85]

[83] requested that both parties reverse their decisions and enter a cooling-off period. Khrushchev said yes, but Kennedy said no.U Thant (UN) Secretary General United Nations [82]

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