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President Kennedy

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President Kennedy

John F Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States. Despite only being in office for three years, he is to this day regarded as one of the most popular Presidents. His fame is so widespread that he is commonly referred to by his three initials: JFK. But perhaps the most enduring image of Kennedy is not his Presidency but his shocking and bloody assassination.

John F Kennedy Timeline

DateEvent
1917John F Kennedy was born in Massachusetts.
1940Graduated from Harvard.
1947Elected Democratic Congressman in Massachusetts.
1953Elected to the Senate.Married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier.
1957Won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Profiles in Courage.
1958Re-elected to the Senate.
1960Won the Presidential election, defeating Republican candidate Richard Nixon.
1961Passed the Housing Act to renew urban housing. Passed the Minimum Wage Act to increase minimum wage. Passed Amendments to the Social Security Act which made the retirement age 62.Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba ended with defeat for United States-backed Cuban exiles. Creation of the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress.
1962Passed the Trade Expansion Act which lowered tariffs.Sent the National Guard to protect James Meredith, the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. Cuban Missile Crisis.
1963Signed the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty with Britain and the USSR. Civil Rights Address.President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
1964Passage of the Civil Rights Act, legally ending Jim Crow.

John F Kennedy Biography

John F Kennedy was born in Massachusetts on 29 May 1917 into a very wealthy family. He was of Irish and Roman Catholic descent and became the first Roman Catholic president. His father Joseph Kennedy Sr. was a very successful banker and his financial support played a large part in JFK's rise to the presidency.

His mother Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald also came from a wealthy background and was known as a philanthropist and a socialite. All nine of the Kennedy children were pushed to be competitive from a young age.

President Kennedy John F Kennedy Image StudySmarterPhotograph of John F Kennedy c.1961, Wikimedia Commons

JFK graduated from Harvard in 1940. After graduating, Kennedy entered the Navy. In 1943, his patrol torpedo boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer and Kennedy received the US Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism for leading the survivors to safety.

His older brother Joe Jr served as a pilot in the war but died in 1944. The Kennedy family had expected Joe to be the son who ran for political office; after his death, this passed to John.

John F Kennedy Facts

In 1947, JFK became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area and advocated liberal policies including better working conditions, higher wages, and more public housing. In terms of foreign policy, he supported policies of containment during the beginning of the Cold War.

Containment was the US foreign policy strategy of “containing” or isolating communism to prevent it from spreading to neighbouring countries.

In 1953, he advanced to the Senate after a successful campaign run by his brother Robert. In September of that year, he married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier - her fashion sense and charisma endeared her to the American public when she later became First Lady.

As Senator, Kennedy earned a reputation for being responsive to his constituents. Issues that Kennedy argued for in the Senate included:

  • Labour reform

  • Civil rights legislation

  • Foreign aid to emerging nations in Africa and Asia

  • Fighting against the abolition of the Electoral College

In 1955, JFK published Profiles in Courage whilst recovering from an operation on his back (which caused him chronic pain throughout his life), and won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for it. The book recounted American political leaders who acted on conscience rather than popular opinion.

Did you know? Most of the book was actually written by Kennedy's assistant, Theodore Sorenson. When this was discovered it caused huge controversy. Drew Pearson, a noted columnist, said that Kennedy was "the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize on a book which was ghostwritten for him" on a popular Saturday Night TV show. Kennedy aggressively fought these rumours and Pearson's statement was soon retracted.

President Kennedy

Kennedy almost gained the Democratic nomination for Vice President in 1956, and in 1958 his re-election to the Senate saw him win by the largest ever margin in Massachusetts politics.

President Kennedy Nixon and Kennedy during a television debate StudySmarterKennedy and Nixon during a Presidential debate on TV, Wikimedia Commons

He won the Democratic nomination for President in 1960 and campaigned on the slogan "Let's get this country moving again" with running mate Lyndon B Johnson. Television debates with Republican candidate Richard Nixon made up a large part of Kennedy's campaign and were watched by 120 million Americans.

The public was charmed by "the Kennedy style" - Kennedy's glamorous identity comprising his charisma and wealthy background, his wife's beauty and style, the charm of their two young children, and the Harvard advisers he surrounded himself with.

He won the 1960 election by a narrow margin and became President in 1961.

President Kennedy Famous Speech

In his inaugural speech, President Kennedy famously said:

Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

- John F Kennedy, Inaugural Speech 20 January 19611

He also asked countries of the world to unite in fighting,

[T]he common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

- John F Kennedy, Inaugural Speech 20 January 19612

President Kennedy New Frontier

When he accepted the Democratic nomination for President, Kennedy spoke of a "New Frontier" for American politics. Kennedy's domestic program aimed to lower taxes, increase the minimum wage, help the unemployed, and support business and housing.

Key pieces of domestic legislation passed by JFK are detailed below.

ActExplanation
Housing Act 1961Provided $5 billion for building and renewing urban housing.
Minimum Wage Act 1961Increased minimum wage and expanded those who were eligible to receive it.
Social Security Act Amendments 1961Made the retirement age 62.
Trade Expansion Act 1962Lowered tariffs on foreign imports and eliminated duties on some good altogether.

He was however unable to get major pieces of his domestic program through Congress, including financial aid to education, the creation of a Department for Urban Affairs, and the introduction of Medicare - a health insurance program for those over 65. He succeeded in a cutting taxes but far less than he had initially wanted.

President Kennedy John F Kennedy Peace Corps Image StudySmarterPhotograph of President Kennedy greeting Peace Corps volunteers, 1961 by Abbie Rowe, Wikimedia Commons

JFK also introduced two important foreign policy bodies: the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress. The Peace Corps was founded in 1961, and organised sending American volunteers to developing countries around the world. The Alliance for Progress, also formed in 1961, aimed to foster greater economic ties with countries in Latin America, in order to tackle poverty and prevent the spread of communism.

President Kennedy Cold War

From the beginning of his political career, President Kennedy had been vocal about his support for containment of Communism. During his presidency, several key developments occurred in the Cold War.

President Kennedy Cold War Cuba

On 15 April 1961, Kennedy approved a mission by anti-communist Cuban exiles to invade Cuba in an attempt to overthrow the new communist government of Fidel Castro. These exiles had been trained by the CIA, and Kennedy was advised that the invasion would trigger an anti-communist uprising in Cuba. The Bay of Pigs Invasion, as it was called, was a disaster and the exiles were all either killed or captured. This was a huge failure and embarrassment for Kennedy.

President Kennedy Women strike for peace Image StudySmarterWomen strike for peace, Wikimedia Commons

In October 1962, the US discovered that the Soviet Union had missiles stationed in Cuba. Kennedy demanded the removal of the missiles and began a blockade of Cuba to stop Soviet ships reaching the island. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, but was eventually resolved after the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles if Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba and to similarly remove missiles from Turkey.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, a hotline telephone link was established between Washington and Moscow in an effort to reduce tensions. In August 1963 came Kennedy's greatest triumph in foreign policy when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan joined him in signing the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

President Kennedy Cold War Berlin

Another key arena for the Cold War was Berlin. In June 1961, Kennedy and Soviet leader Khrushchev met in Vienna for a summit in an effort to build trust. However, the summit mainly served to heighten tensions between the US and the USSR. Khrushchev threatened to cut off Allied access to West Berlin, and Kennedy increased US military output in response in case the US had to defend West Berlin.

On 13 August 1961, the communist government of East Germany began to build the Berlin Wall - one of the key symbols of the Cold War - in order to prevent migration from Soviet-controlled East Berlin to capitalist West Berlin. On 2 June 1963, Kennedy gave one of the most famous speeches of the Cold War: "Ich bin ein Berliner" translating to "I am a Berliner". In this speech, he said that the US stood with Berlin and that the city was a symbol of freedom and the continued struggle against communism.

President Kennedy Civil Rights Movement

Kennedy initially advanced slowly on the question of civil rights. He supported the cause but disapproved of public protests, believing they only made it more difficult for him to pass civil rights laws.

His first concrete action on civil rights came in September 1962 when he sent the National Guard to enable the first Black student James Meredith to enter the University of Mississippi against erupting violence.

He became a stronger advocate throughout his presidency and on 11 June 1963, he appeared on television asking America to end racism. Famous quotes from this speech include:

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free."

- John F Kennedy, Civil Rights Address, 19633

This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal..."

- John F Kennedy, Civil Rights Address, 19634

In the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on 28 August 1963, Kennedy sent a civil rights bill to Congress. This passed after his death as the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act finally legally ended the Jim Crow Era of segregation.

President Kennedy Death

President Kennedy, the Kennedys in Dallas, Texas, minutes before JFK's assassination Image StudySmarterPhotograph of President Kennedy and his wife Jackie, minutes before his assassination, Wikimedia Commons

JFK was assassinated on 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Texas as he rode in a motorcade. A man called Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged with the murder but two days later another man called Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald.

President Kennedy Assassination

The Kennedy assassination still remains somewhat a mystery and was a seminal event in American history. In public-opinion polls, Kennedy consistently ranks among the most popular American presidents of all time.

President Kennedy - Key takeaways

  • President Kennedy's key accomplishments included the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and paving the way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
  • Kennedy's key failures included the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the inability to pass major pieces of his domestic program.
  • His election victory against Richard Nixon was narrow and is somewhat accredited to "the Kennedy style".
  • His speeches became very famous, particularly his inaugural address, his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, and his televised civil rights address.
  • Kennedy was a committed anti-communist and reacted strongly to discovering Soviet missiles on Cuba, and increased aid to Vietnam.
  • Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 as he rode in a motorcar with his wife.

References

  1. President John F Kennedy, Inaugural Speech, 20 January 1961.
  2. Ibid.
  3. President John F Kennedy, Civil Rights Address, 1963.
  4. Ibid.

Frequently Asked Questions about President Kennedy

There is no definitive answer to this. A man called Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged with the murder but two days later another man called Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald.

Kennedy guided the US through the Cuban missile crisis, passed policies to help alleviate poverty and unemployment, and forwarded progress on civil rights and space exploration.

Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States.

  • Kennedy suffered from Addison's Disease and multiple other chronic illnesses.
  • He could read 1200 words a minute.
  • Hundreds of places around the world have been named after him.

John F Kennedy is best known for being assassinated early in his presidency, as well as his work on civil rights and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Final President Kennedy Quiz

Question

What sort of background did Kennedy come from?

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Answer

He came from a very wealthy family or Irish Roman Catholic descent.

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Question

What did Kennedy win the US Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism for?

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Answer

Leading the survivors of his sunken boat to safety

Show question

Question

When did Kennedy become a Congressman?

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Answer

1947

Show question

Question

What issues did Kennedy argue for during his time in the Senate? 

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Answer

  • Labour reform
  • Civil rights legislation
  • Foreign aid to emerging nations in Africa and Asia
  • Fighting against the abolition of the Electoral College

Show question

Question

What book won Kennedy the Pulitzer Prize in 1957?

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Answer

Profiles in Courage

Show question

Question

Who did Kennedy narrowly beat in the 1960 presidential election?

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Answer

Richard Nixon

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Question

Give two important pieces of Kennedy's domestic legislation 

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Answer

Two of:

  • The Housing Act of 1961 
  • The Minimum Wage Act of 1961 
  • Amendments to the Social Security Act 
  • The Trade Expansion Act of 1962 

Show question

Question

What two foreign policy groups did Kennedy introduce?

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Answer

The Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress

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Question

What did the New Frontier refer to?

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Answer

Kennedy's policies & space exploration

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Question

What event brought the world to the brink of nuclear war?

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Answer

The Cuban Missile Crisis

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Question

What was Kennedy's greatest foreign policy triumph?

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Answer

The Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty 1963

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Question

What did Kennedy say in his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech?

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Answer

He said that the US stood with Berlin and that the city was a symbol of freedom and the continued struggle against communism.

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Question

Who was James Meredith?

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Answer

The first Black student of the University of Mississippi; President Kennedy send the National Guard to defend him against erupting violence.

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Question

When did Kennedy give his televised address on civil rights?

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Answer

11th June 1963

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Question

When was Kennedy assassinated?

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Answer

22nd November 1963

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