of birth: May 29, 1917
Place of birth: Brookline, Massachusetts
Date of death: November 22, 1963
Place of death: Dallas, Texas
First Lady: Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy
Political party: Democratic
JFK redirects here. For other uses, see JFK (disambiguation).
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often
referred to as Jack Kennedy or JFK, was the 35th President of the United
States (1961–1963). His assassination on November 22, 1963 was
a defining moment of 1960s American history, as his death was mourned
around the world, and many international leaders walked behind the casket
at his funeral.
The youngest person
ever to be elected president of the U.S. (Theodore Roosevelt being the
youngest ever to serve as president), Kennedy was also the youngest
President ever to die—at 46 years and 177 days. He is also the
only Roman Catholic ever to be elected president, the last Democratic
Party candidate from a Northern state to be elected president, the first
President to serve who was born in the 20th century, and the last president
to die in office.
Major events during
his presidency included the Cuban Missile Crisis, the building of the
Berlin Wall, the Space Race, early events of the Vietnam War, and the
Civil Rights Movement. He is rated highly in many surveys that rank
presidents, but his political agenda was still incomplete at his death
with most of his civil rights policies coming to fruition through his
successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Early life and education
Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph P. Kennedy,
Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald. As a young man he attended The Choate School,
an elite private school. Before enrolling in college, he attended the
London School of Economics for a year, studying political economy. In
the fall of 1935, he enrolled in Princeton University, but was forced
to leave during Christmas break after contracting jaundice. The next
fall, he began attending Harvard University. Kennedy traveled to Europe
twice during his years at Harvard, visiting the United Kingdom, while
his father was serving as Ambassador to the Court of St. James's. In
1937, Kennedy was erroneously prescribed steroids to control his colitis,
which only heightened his medical problems causing him to develop osteoporosis
of the lower lumbar spine .
In 1938, Kennedy
wrote his honors thesis on the British portion of the Munich Agreement.
He was an average student at Harvard, never earning an A, but mostly
B's and C's, with a single D in a sophomore history course. He graduated
cum laude from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in June
1940. His thesis, entitled Why England Slept, was published in 1940
and, with the aid of his affluent and powerful father, it became a best-seller.
In the spring of 1941, Kennedy volunteered for the U.S. Army, but was
rejected, mainly because of his troublesome back. However, the U.S.
Navy accepted him in September of that year. He participated in various
commands in the Pacific Theater and earned the rank of lieutenant, commanding
a patrol torpedo boat or PT boat.
Jack on his navy
patrol boat, PT 109.On August 2, 1943, Kennedy's boat, the PT-109, was
taking part in a night-time military raid near New Georgia (near the
Solomon Islands) when it was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy
was thrown across the deck, injuring his already troubled back. Still,
Kennedy somehow towed a wounded man three miles through the ocean, arriving
on an island where his crew was subsequently rescued. Kennedy said that
he blacked out for periods of time during the ordeal. For these actions,
Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal under the following
the rescue of 3 men following the ramming and sinking of his motor torpedo
boat while attempting a torpedo attack on a Japanese destroyer in the
Solomon Islands area on the night of Aug 1-2, 1943. Lt. KENNEDY, Capt.
of the boat, directed the rescue of the crew and personally rescued
3 men, one of whom was seriously injured. During the following 6 days,
he succeeded in getting his crew ashore, and after swimming many hours
attempting to secure aid and food, finally effected the rescue of the
men. His courage, endurance and excellent leadership contributed to
the saving of several lives and was in keeping with the highest traditions
of the United States Naval Service."
Kennedy's other decorations of the Second World War include the Purple
Heart, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory
Medal. He was honorably discharged in early 1945, just a few months
before the Japanese surrendered.
In May 2002 a National
Geographic expedition found what is believed to be the wreckage of the
PT-109 in the Solomon Islands .
After World War II, Kennedy entered politics (partly to fill the void
of his popular brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., on whom his family had
pinned many of their hopes but who was killed in the war). In 1946,
Representative James Michael Curley vacated his seat in an overwhelmingly
Democratic district to become mayor of Boston and Kennedy ran for that
seat, beating his Republican opponent by a large margin. He was reelected
two times, but had a mixed voting record, often diverging from President
Harry S. Truman and the rest of the Democratic Party.
A young Senator
Kennedy in 1953.In 1952, Kennedy ran for the Senate with the slogan
"Kennedy will do more for Massachusetts." In an upset victory,
he defeated Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. by a margin
of about 70,000 votes. Kennedy adroitly dodged criticizing fellow Senator
Joseph McCarthy's controversial campaign to root out Communists and
Soviet spies in the U.S. government, because of McCarthy's popularity
in Massachusetts. McCarthy was a friend of Kennedy, Kennedy's father,
dated the Kennedy sisters, and younger brother Robert F. Kennedy briefly
worked for McCarthy. Although Kennedy was ill during the 65–22
vote to censure McCarthy, he was criticized by McCarthy opponents such
as Eleanor Roosevelt who later said of the episode, "he should
have displayed less profile, and more courage".
Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12, 1953. He underwent several spinal
operations in the two following years, nearly dying (receiving the Catholic
faith's "last rites" four times during his life), and was
often absent from the Senate. During this period, he published Profiles
in Courage, highlighting eight instances in which U.S. Senators risked
their careers by standing by their personal beliefs. The book was awarded
the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.
In 1956, Kennedy
campaigned for the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National
Convention, but convention delegates selected Tennessee senator Estes
Kefauver instead. However, Kennedy's efforts helped bolster the young
Senator's reputation within the party.
An example of Kennedy's
political suppleness, prior to the 1960 campaign, was his handling of
the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He voted for final passage, while earlier
voting for the "jury trial amendment", which rendered the
Act toothless. He was able to say to both sides that he supported them.
Kennedy shakes Richard Nixon's hand before a televised debate.In 1960,
Kennedy declared his intent to run for President of the United States.
In the Democratic primary election, he faced challenges from Senator
Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas,
and Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee in 1952 and 1956 who was
not officially running but was a favorite write-in candidate. Kennedy
won key primaries like Wisconsin and West Virginia and landed the nomination
at the Democratic National Convention in 1960.
On July 13, 1960
the Democratic Party nominated Kennedy as its candidate for president.
Kennedy asked Johnson to be his Vice Presidential candidate, despite
clashes between the two during the primary elections. He needed Johnson's
strength in the South to win the closest election since 1916. Major
issues included how to get the economy moving again, Kennedy's Catholicism,
Cuba, and whether or not both the Soviet space and missile programs
had surpassed those of the U.S.
In September and
October, Kennedy debated Republican candidate Vice President Richard
Nixon in the first ever televised presidential debates. During the debates,
Nixon looked tense, sweaty, and unshaven contrasted to Kennedy's composure
and handsomeness, leading many to deem Kennedy the winner, although
historians consider the two evenly matched as orators. Interestingly,
many who listened on radio thought Nixon more impressive in the debate.
The debates are considered a political landmark: the point at which
the medium of television played an important role in politics and looking
presentable on camera became one of the important considerations for
presidential and other political candidates.
In the general election
on November 8, 1960, Kennedy beat Nixon in a very close race. There
were serious allegations that vote fraud in Texas and Illinois had cost
Nixon the presidency. Especially troubling were the unusually huge
margins in Richard Daley's Chicago — which were announced after
the rest of the vote in Illinois. The only change after the official
recount was a win for Kennedy in Hawaii.
Kennedy gives his memorable inauguration addressKennedy was sworn in
as the 35th President on January 20, 1961. In his inaugural address
he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens. "Ask
not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country",
he said. He also asked the nations of the world to join together to
fight what he called the "common enemies of man... tyranny, poverty,
disease, and war itself".
On April 17, 1961, Kennedy gave orders allowing an previously-planned
invasion of Cuba to proceed. The operation's official name is in dispute,
however some sources claim it was called Operation Zapata. With support
from the CIA, in what is known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1,500 U.S.-trained
Cuban exiles, called "Brigade 2506" returned to the island
in the hope of deposing Castro, but the CIA had overestimated popular
resistance to Castro, made several mistakes in devising and carrying
out the plan, and the exiles did not rally the Cuban people as expected.
By April 19 Castro's government had killed or captured most of the exiles
and Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release for the 1,189 survivors.
After 20 months, Cuba released the exiles in exchange for $53 million
worth of food and medicine. The incident was a major embarrassment for
Kennedy, but he took full responsibility for the debacle (See Bay of
Pigs Invasion for more information).
On August 13, 1961,
the East German government began construction of the Berlin Wall separating
East Berlin from the Western sector of the city, due to the American
military presence in West Berlin. Some claimed this action was in violation
of the "Four Powers" agreements. Kennedy initiated no action
to have it dismantled, and did little to reverse or halt the eventual
extension of this barrier to a length of 155 km.
The Cuban Missile
Crisis began on October 14, 1962 when American U-2 spy planes took photographs
of a Soviet intermediate range ballistic missile site under construction
in Cuba. Kennedy faced a dire dilemma: if the U.S. attacked the sites
it might have led to nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. If the U.S. did nothing,
it would endure the perpetual threat of tactical nuclear weapons within
its region, in such close proximity, that if launched pre-emptively,
the U.S. may have been unable to retaliate. Another fear was that the
U.S. would appear to the world as weak in its own hemisphere. Many military
officials and cabinet members pressed for an air assault on the missile
sites but Kennedy ordered a naval blockade and began negotiations with
the Russians. A week later, he and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
reached an agreement. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles if the
U.S. would publicly agree never to invade Cuba, and also secretly agree
to remove U.S. ballistic missiles from Turkey within six months. Following
this incident, which brought the world closer to nuclear war than at
any point before or since, Kennedy was more cautious in confronting
the Soviet Union. The promise to never invade Cuba still stood as of
Arguing that "those
who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable",
Kennedy sought to contain communism in Latin America, by establishing
the Alliance for Progress, which sent aid to troubled countries in the
region and sought greater human rights standards in the region. He worked
closely with Puerto Rican Governor Luis Muñoz Marín for
the development of the Alliance of Progress, as well as developments
on the autonomy of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
of Kennedy's belief in the ability of nonmilitary power to improve the
world was the creation of the Peace Corps, one of his first acts as
president. Through this program, which still exists today, Americans
volunteered to help underdeveloped nations in areas such as education,
farming, health care, and construction.
Kennedy also used
limited military action to contain the spread of communism. Determined
to stand firm against the spread of communism, Kennedy continued the
previous administration's policy of political, economic, and military
support for the unstable South Vietnamese government, which included
sending military advisers and U.S. special forces to the area. U.S.
involvement in the area continually escalated until regular U.S. forces
were directly fighting the Vietnam War in the next administration.
On June 26, 1963
Kennedy visited West Berlin and gave a public speech criticizing communism.
While Kennedy was speaking, on the other side of the wall were the people
of East Berlin who were applauding Kennedy showing their distaste in
Soviet control. Kennedy used the construction of the Berlin Wall as
an example of the failures of communism - "Freedom has many difficulties
and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up
to keep our people in." The speech is known for its famous phrase
Ich bin ein Berliner ("I am a Berliner").
Troubled by the
long-term dangers of radioactive contamination and nuclear weapons proliferation,
Kennedy also pushed for the adoption of a Limited or Partial Test Ban
Treaty, which prohibited atomic testing on the ground, in the atmosphere,
or underwater, but does not prohibit testing underground. The United
States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union were the initial signatories
to the Treaty. Kennedy signed the Treaty into law in August 1963, and
believed it to be one of the greatest accomplishments of his administration.
On the occasion
of his visit to Ireland in 1963, President Kennedy joined with Irish
President Eamon de Valera to form The American Irish Foundation. The
mission of this organization was to foster connections between Americans
of Irish descent and the country of their ancestry. (See The Ireland
JFK in the Oval Office with various civil rights activists including
Martin Luther King JrKennedy used the term New Frontier as a label for
his domestic program. It ambitiously promised federal funding for education,
medical care for the elderly, and government intervention to halt the
recession. Kennedy also promised an end to racial discrimination.
The turbulent end
of state-sanctioned racial discrimination was one of the most pressing
domestic issues of Kennedy's era. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in
1954 that racial segregation in public schools would no longer be permitted.
However, there were many schools, especially in southern states, that
did not obey this decision. There also remained the practice of segregation
on buses, in restaurants, movie theaters, and other public places.
Thousands of Americans
of all races and backgrounds joined together to protest this discrimination.
Kennedy supported racial integration and civil rights, and called the
jailed Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s wife (Coretta Scott King) during
the 1960 campaign, which drew much black support to his candidacy. However,
as president, Kennedy initially believed the grassroots movement for
civil rights would only anger many Southern whites and make it even
more difficult to pass civil rights laws through Congress, which was
dominated by Southern Democrats, and he distanced himself from it. As
a result, many civil rights leaders viewed Kennedy as unsupportive of
had to step in in June 1963, when the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace,
blocked the doorway to the University of Alabama to stop two black students,
Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling. George Wallace moved aside
after being confronted by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General
Nicholas Katzenbach, and the Alabama National Guard.
Also on the domestic
front, in 1963 Kennedy proposed a tax reform that included income tax
cuts, but this was not passed by the Congress until after his death
in 1964. It is one of the largest tax cuts in modern U.S. history, surpassing
the Reagan tax cut of 1981.
Support of space
JFK looks at the space craft Friendship 7, the spacecraft that made
three earth orbits, piloted by astronaut John Glenn.Kennedy was eager
for the United States to lead the way in the space race. The Soviet
Union was ahead of the U.S. in its knowledge of space exploration and
Kennedy was determined that the U.S. could catch up. He said, "No
nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to
stay behind in this race for space" and "We choose to go to
the Moon and to do the other things, not because they are easy, but
because they are hard". Kennedy asked Congress to approve more
than twenty two billion dollars for Project Apollo, which had the goal
of landing an American man on the Moon before the end of the decade.
In 1969, six years after Kennedy's death, this goal was finally realized
when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land
on the Moon.
Both Kennedy and his wife "Jackie" were very young when compared
to earlier presidents and first ladies, and were both extraordinarily
popular in ways more common to pop singers and movie stars than politicians,
influencing fashion trends and becoming the subjects of numerous photo
spreads in popular magazines.
The Kennedys brought
a new life and vigor to the atmosphere of the White House. They believed
that the White House should be a place to celebrate American history,
culture, and achievement, and invited artists, writers, scientists,
poets, musicians, actors, Nobel Prize winners and athletes to visit.
Jacqueline Kennedy also gathered new art and furniture and eventually
restored all the rooms in the White House.
The White House
also seemed like a more fun, youthful place, because of the Kennedys'
two young children, Caroline and John Jr. (who came to be known in the
popular press, erroneously, as "John-John"). Outside the White
House Lawn, the Kennedys established a pre-school, swimming pool, and
The Kennedy brothers:
John, Robert, and Edward (Ted)Behind the glamorous facade, the Kennedys
also suffered many personal tragedies, most notably the death of their
newborn son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy in August 1963.
after Kennedy's death leaves no doubt that he had many extramarital
affairs while in office, including liaisons in the White House with
some female staff and visitors. In his era, though, such issues were
not considered fit for publication, and in Kennedy's case, they were
never publicly discussed during his life, even though there were some
public clues of an involvement with Marilyn Monroe, such as the manner
in which she sang Happy Birthday Mr. President at his televised birthday
party in May 1962. In the years after his death, many liaisons were
revealed, including one with Judith Campbell Exner, who was simultaneously
involved with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana.
Kennedy and his family projected posthumously led to the figurative
designation of "Camelot" for his administration.
President Kennedy, Jackie, and Gov. John Connally in the Presidential
limousine shortly before the assassination.Main article: John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Friday, November
22, 1963 at 12:30 pm CST while on a political trip through Texas. Aldous
Huxley and C.S. Lewis both died on the same day as JFK, but because
of the assassination, their deaths received little media attention.
Lee Harvey Oswald
was charged at 7:00 pm for killing a Dallas policeman by "murder
with malice", and also charged at 11:30 pm for the "murder"
of the president (there being no charge of "assassination"
of a president at that time). Oswald was himself fatally shot less than
two days later in the basement of the Dallas police station by Jack
Ruby. Five days after Oswald was killed, the new president, Lyndon B.
Johnson, created the Warren Commission, chaired by Chief Justice Earl
Warren, to investigate the assassination.
Legacy and memorials
The world mourned the assassinated presidentTelevision became the primary
source by which people kept informed of events surrounding Kennedy's
assassination, with newspapers the following day becoming more souveneirs
than sources of updated information. U.S. networks switched to 24 hour
news coverage for the first time ever. Kennedy's funeral and the murder
of Lee Harvey Oswald were all broadcast live in America and in other
places around the world. It was with this event that television matured
as a news source rivalling that of newspapers.
at Arlington National Cemetery.On March 14, 1967 Kennedy's body was
moved to a permanent burial place and memorial at Arlington National
Cemetery. U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson said of the assassination
that "all of us...will bear the grief of his death until the day
of ours." Kennedy is buried with his wife and their deceased children,
and his brother Robert is also buried nearby. His grave is marked with
an "Eternal Flame".
Despite his relatively
short term in office, and a lack of major legislative changes during
his term, Kennedy is seen as one of America's greatest Presidents.
has been memoralized in various aspects of American culture. New York
Idlewild International Airport was renamed John F. Kennedy International
Airport on December 24, 1963 to honor his memory, and the USS John F.
Kennedy was awarded on April 30, 1964 as a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library opened in 1979 as Kennedy's official
presidential library. John F. Kennedy University opened in Pleasant
Hill, California in 1964 as a school for adult education.
As an honorary commemoration,
Kennedy's portrait now appears on the United States half dollar coin.
Kennedy is among the most popular former Presidents of the United States;
however, a number of critics argue that his reputation is largely undeserved.
While he was young and charismatic, he had little chance to achieve
much during his presidency. Under this reasoning, his immense popularity
results from the fact that his short time in office was marked by the
optimistic beginnings of many programs declared to be of great benefit
to the United States, its people, and various global issues. Unlike
the tenures of other U.S. presidents, Kennedy's time in office, generally
speaking, thereby lacked the scandals and controversies seen in the
terms of many other presidents who served longer. The Civil Rights Act
which he sent to Congress in 1963 was, at least in part, conceived by
his brother and Attorney-General Robert F. Kennedy, and largely implemented
by his successor, Lyndon Johnson, in 1964.
life has attracted the ire of critics, some of whom argue that lapses
in judgment in his personal life impacted his professional life. Many
of these criticisms stem from revelations about the extent to which
the Kennedy family went to hide his serious, potentially life-threatening
health issues (e.g., he suffered from Addison disease) from the voting
public, his heavy medication regimen, his long history of extra-marital
dalliances, and alleged, circuitous links to organized crime figures.
Seymour Hersh's Dark Side of Camelot (1998) presents such a critical
argument. Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life (2003) is a more balanced
biography, but contains much detail on Kennedy's health issues.
Another of Kennedy's
critics is U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky, whose book Rethinking Camelot:
JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture (1993) presents an image
of the Kennedy administration opposite to the one that lingers in mainstream
memory. The book is a criticism of policy rather than his personal life,
and explores information not usually presented about the 35th president.
In particular, Chomsky and many other critics highlight the ill-planned
increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict under Kennedy's tenure.
John F. Kennedy,
whose ancestors came from Ireland, was the first Roman Catholic to become
president of the United States. Aged 43 at the time of his election
in 1960, he was also the youngest person ever elected to the country's
highest office, although he was not the youngest to serve in it. Theodore
Roosevelt was not quite 43 when the assassination of President William
McKinley in 1901 elevated him to the presidency. Like McKinley, Kennedy
was to die at the hands of an assassin.
A confrontation with the Soviet Union in Berlin and the discovery of
Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba brought the United States close to the
brink of war during Kennedy's presidency. His support of demands by
blacks for equality in civil rights shook the Democratic Party's long-standing
grip on the South and tested his political leadership. Racial integration,
economics, and other issues stirred fierce antagonisms throughout the
United States. But for millions of Americans, the young president held
great charm and even greater hopes, and his violent death in 1963 brought
many people to tears.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts,
a suburb of Boston, into a family of wealth and strong political tradition.
Both his grandfathers, Patrick J. Kennedy and John F. Fitzgerald, had
been elected to public offices. Fitzgerald, in fact, had been mayor
of Boston and had served in Congress.
Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the future president, was a financier and
businessman who built one of the great private fortunes of his time.
He was active in politics, too, holding several important posts, including
ambassador to Great Britain. He and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy,
raised a family of nine children. John was the second born.
The family circle was close and warm, although the boys, four in all,
were competitive, a trait that would distinguish them all their lives.
The slightly built John (or Jack, as he was usually called) was often
overshadowed by his older, sturdier brother, Joseph, Jr., who was likeable,
outgoing, and aggressive. When Joseph, Jr., was born, his father was
reported to have remarked that he would be the first Kennedy to become
However, young Joe would be killed while piloting a bomber in World
War II, leadership of the new generation of Kennedys passing to John,
who would also serve in the war, but survive it. The two younger brothers,
Robert and Edward, would also have impressive political careers, although
Robert's life, like John's, was to end tragically.
As a boy, Kennedy attended private schools in Brookline and New York
City and went on to Choate School, a college preparatory school in Connecticut.
Although his father was a graduate of Harvard and his brother Joe was
studying at Harvard, John decided to continue his education at Princeton
University. Joseph, Sr., kidded John about fleeing his older brother's
shadow, but John simply said that he wanted to be with his Choate friends,
who were going to Princeton. First, though, at his father's urging,
he left for London in the summer of 1935 to attend a session of the
London School of Economics. Soon after arriving, however, he came down
with jaundice, a liver ailment, and had to return home. He entered Princeton
as planned the following fall, but a second attack of jaundice forced
him to leave school. He spent months recuperating and the following
year re-entered college, this time choosing Harvard.
Harvard professors found John Kennedy "a pleasant, bright, easygoing
student," although his grades were seldom higher than C in his
first two years. He worked on the college newspaper and went out for
swimming, football, sailing, and other sports. One day, he hurt his
back in a junior varsity football game. It was the beginning of a painful
injury that would bother him for the rest of his life.
Politics apparently did not concern him at first, but a visit to Europe
in the summer of 1937 increased his interest in world affairs. Another
trip, this time to Eastern Europe in 1939, sharpened his intellectual
interests noticeably. His grades improved dramatically in his senior
year, and in 1940, he graduated from Harvard cum laude ("with honor").
World War II had already begun in Europe. Kennedy's senior thesis reflected
his earlier observations so well that he turned it into a successful
book, Why England Slept. It was his explanation of the inaction of democratic
nations in the face of the early threats of war from Nazi Germany.
The War Years
Out of college, Kennedy was uncertain about his future. He thought about
attending Yale Law School, went to business school at Stanford University
for six months instead, then toured South America. In 1941 he tried
to enlist in the Army but was rejected because of his old back injury.
After five months of exercise to strengthen his back, he was accepted
for service by the Navy.
Kennedy found his assignments, mostly paperwork, dull. When the United
States entered World War II in December 1941, he applied for sea duty,
underwent torpedo boat training, and was commissioned an ensign. The
next year he shipped out for the South Pacific. There he became the
central figure in one of the dramatic episodes of the war.
Exploits of PT-109.
In the early hours before dawn on August 2, 1943, Kennedy, now a lieutenant
(junior grade), was in command of the torpedo boat PT-109 on patrol
near the Solomon Islands. Suddenly a Japanese destroyer plowed through
the darkness and cut Kennedy's boat in half. Two of the twelve-man crew
disappeared, one was badly burned, and others were less seriously hurt.
Kennedy himself was thrown to the deck and his back re-injured, but
he gathered his men on the bobbing bow, all that remained of his boat.
When it seemed as if the bow would sink, Kennedy ordered everyone to
make for an island about 3 miles (5 kilometers) away. Those who could
not swim were told to hang onto a plank, once part of the gun mount,
and push. Kennedy took charge of the burned crew member, and holding
the straps of the man's life vest with his teeth, he towed him to the
Kennedy swam to other islands to try to find help but got caught in
an ocean current and passed out, only his life vest saving him. Eventually,
he and another officer found two natives in a canoe. Scratching a message
on a coconut, Kennedy handed it to the natives, who carried it to a
U.S. naval base. The men were rescued five days later. For his courage
and leadership, Kennedy won the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
He refused a chance to leave active duty, but malaria and his old back
injury finally forced him into the hospital in 1944. After back surgery,
he was discharged from the Navy in 1945.
Journalism, Politics, and Marriage
Still searching for a career, Kennedy went to work for the Hearst chain
of newspapers. He covered the San Francisco conference that established
the United Nations, British elections, and the Potsdam Conference held
by the victorious Allied leaders at the end of World War II. Deciding
that journalism was not for him, however, Kennedy turned to politics.
In 1946 he ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives
from a Boston district. By hard campaigning, he defeated a large field
of rivals for the nomination and easily won the election. After twice
winning re-election, in 1952 he sought and won election to the U.S.
In 1953, Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in Newport, Rhode Island.
They had a daughter, Caroline (1957- ), and a son, John, Jr. (1960-99).
Another child, Patrick, was born in 1963 but lived only a few days.
His Congressional Record
Kennedy's record in Congress--six years in the House of Representatives
and eight in the Senate--defied easy labeling. His strong liberal streak
led him, for instance, to oppose the loyalty oath that college students
had to take to get a loan. His support of labor's demands for higher-minimum-wage
laws and other welfare benefits also stamped him as a liberal. But when
some liberals resisted union reform legislation, Kennedy disagreed.
He did not join the anti-union reformers, but took a moderate position.
Only a master of the art of politics could, in those days, insist on
any union reforms at all and still command the support of labor leaders,
as Kennedy did.
The McCarthy Issue.
Kennedy displeased the liberals, however, by failing to take a strong
position against McCarthyism. He was in the hospital, suffering from
a recurrence of his old back ailment, when the Senate voted on December
2, 1954, to censure (reprimand) its Wisconsin Republican member, Joseph
R. McCarthy. McCarthy's methods of investigating Communist influence
in the United States during the early 1950's had caused great controversy.
It was generally felt that his methods had violated rules of fair play
and had unjustly damaged reputations. Liberals, in particular, criticized
Kennedy for what they considered evasion of a difficult issue.
Campaign for the Presidency
Kennedy missed being nominated for vice president by a few votes at
the National Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1956. But he gained
an introduction to the millions of Americans who watched the convention
on television, and when he decided to run for president in 1960, his
name was widely known. Many people thought that his religion and his
youthful appearance would handicap him. Kennedy faced the religion issue
frankly, declaring his firm belief in the separation of church and state.
He drew some criticism for his family's wealth, which enabled him to
assemble a large staff and to get around the country in a private plane.
But he attracted many doubting Democratic politicians to his side by
winning delegate contests in every state primary he entered.
On gaining his party's nomination, Kennedy amazed nearly everybody by
choosing Lyndon B. Johnson, who had opposed him for the nomination,
as his vice-presidential running mate. Again, he used his considerable
political skills to convince doubting friends that this was the practical
Kennedy's four television debates with the Republican candidate, Richard
M. Nixon, were a highlight of the 1960 campaign. In the opinion of one
television network president, they were "the most significant innovation
in Presidential campaigns since popular elections began." The debates
were important in Kennedy's victory--303 electoral votes to 219 for
Nixon. The popular vote was breathtakingly close: Kennedy's winning
margin was a fraction of 1 percent of the total vote.
Kennedy's major problems as president were the Cold War with the Soviet
Union and its Communist allies, the resistance of southerners in his
own party to the demands of blacks for full civil rights, and unemployment.
Soon after taking office in 1961, he had to deal with two dangerous
confrontations with the Soviet Union.
As if to test the new president's courage, the Soviets chose to make
Berlin, the capital of pre-war Germany, a chief battleground of the
Cold War. In the summer of 1961, they intensified their pressures on
West Berlin, which was under the protection of the United States, Britain,
and France and was entirely surrounded by Communist East German territory.
Kennedy insisted on the Western Allies' right of access to West Berlin,
and when the Communist authorities built a wall separating the city's
eastern and western sectors, he responded by increasing U.S. military
forces. The Soviet threat subsided in Berlin by 1962 but soon flared
Cuban Missile Crisis.
It struck closer to home, on the island of Cuba. Earlier, in April 1961,
a group of Cubans, trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),
had launched an unsuccessful invasion of the island in an attempt to
overthrow the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. Kennedy accepted responsibility
for the affair, although its planning had begun under the previous administration
of President Dwight Eisenhower. The Cuban issue became far more serious
in the fall of 1962, when aerial photographs revealed the presence of
Soviet missiles and troops on the island. Kennedy insisted on their
withdrawal, proclaiming a naval blockade of the island. The crisis lasted
for more than a week, ending when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed
to the U.S. demand. See the article on the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Other Foreign Policy Measures.
Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union improved after
the end of the Cuban missile crisis, at least on the surface, but Cold
War tensions continued. Increased Communist guerrilla activity in South
Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia led Kennedy to greatly increase
the number of U.S. military advisors there. To counter Communist influence
in Latin America, he established in 1961 the Alliance for Progress,
a program of aid and cooperation between the United States and the countries
of the region. A hopeful step was a treaty banning nuclear testing in
the atmosphere, signed in 1963, after long and difficult negotiations,
by the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain.
The civil rights issue presented the most difficult challenge to the
president at home. Demonstrations by blacks in the South for an end
to segregation led Kennedy to declare a "moral crisis" and
call for legislation providing equal rights for all. When rioting broke
out at the University of Mississippi in 1962 over the enrollment of
a black, James Meredith, the administration sent federal marshals backed
by national guardsmen to the scene to restore order. This resulted in
a white anti-Kennedy backlash in the South, directed not only at the
president but also at his brother Robert, who was attorney general.
Other Domestic Issues.
Kennedy called his domestic program the New Frontier. Delaying tactics,
more than actual rejections, by Congress hampered his record of legislative
achievements. His hopes for new civil rights laws and a tax cut to help
provide more jobs were unfulfilled at the time of his death. However,
Congress did pass the Trade Expansion Act, which enabled the president
to lower tariffs, or taxes on imports, to compete with nations of the
European Community (now the European Union). One of Kennedy's most popular
achievements was the Peace Corps, a volunteer organization that brought
education and skills to developing countries of the world. See the article
on the Peace Corps.
Kennedy also appointed two new justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Byron
R. White and Arthur J. Goldberg. Goldberg had served as his secretary
During all this, pain from his old back injury returned. Kennedy wore
a small brace and suffered more than the public knew. Yet he loved life
and politics. The image of vigor, friendliness, and humor that he gave
to the country was real. Even with the burden of the presidency, he
found time to read both for information and for pleasure. He wrote two
books after he had entered politics, Profiles in Courage in 1956, which
won the Pulitzer Prize, and Strategy of Peace in 1960. He had a deep
sense of history and an appreciation of scholarship and was able to
convey his thoughts in clear, forceful language.
On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was in Dallas, Texas, on a political tour
of the state. Accompanied by Mrs. Kennedy and Texas governor John B.
Connally, he was riding in an open car in a motorcade when shots rang
out, striking the president in the head and neck. Kennedy was rushed
to the hospital, but he died without regaining consciousness. Reports
of his death stunned the nation and the world. A grief-stricken vice
president Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office as president on the
flight back to Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, police had arrested 24-year-old
Lee Harvey Oswald for the murder. Two days later, while being transferred
from one jail to another, Oswald himself was shot to death by Jack Ruby,
a Dallas nightclub owner.
President Johnson appointed a seven-member commission, headed by U.S.
Chief Justice Earl Warren, to investigate the assassination. The resulting
Warren Report concluded that Oswald alone had fired the shots that killed
the president, although questions surrounding Kennedy's death have continued
to arouse speculation ever since. For more information, see the accompanying
Wonder Question and the articles Oswald, Lee
Kennedy, John Fitzgerald (1917-1963), 35th president of the United States.
The youngest ever elected to the presidency and the first of the Roman
Catholic faith, John F. Kennedy won the election of November 1960 by
a razor-thin margin, but after taking office he received the support
of most Americans. They admired his winning personality, his lively
family, his intelligence, and his tireless energy, and they respected
his courage in time of decision.
During his relatively brief term of office less than three years President
Kennedy dealt with severe challenges in Cuba, Berlin, and elsewhere.
A nuclear test ban treaty in 1963 brought about a relaxation in cold
war tensions following a time of severe confrontation early in the administration.
Domestically, much of the Kennedy program was unfulfilled, brought to
fruition only in the Johnson administration. The U.S. space program,
however, surged ahead during the Kennedy administration, scoring dramatic
gains that benefited American prestige worldwide.
An assassin's bullet cut short Kennedy's term as president. On Nov.
22, 1963, the young president was shot to death while riding in a motorcade
in Dallas, Texas. As the nation joined in mourning, dignitaries from
around the world gathered at his funeral in Washington to pay their
respects. Mayor Willy Brandt of West Berlin expressed the world's sense
of loss when he said that "a flame went out for all those who had
hoped for a just peace and a better life."
Kennedy was descended from Irish forebears who immigrated to Boston.
His grandfather, Patrick J. Kennedy, started as a saloonkeeper and became
a Boston political leader. His father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, graduated
from Harvard, became a bank president at 25, and married the daughter
of John Francis ("Honey Fitz") Fitzgerald, mayor of Boston.
John was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Mass., the second of nine
children. As an infant he lived in a comfortable but modest frame house
in that suburb of Boston. As the family grew and the father's fortune
increased, the Kennedys moved to larger, more impressive homes, first
in Brookline, then in suburbs of New York City. John had a happy childhood,
full of family games and sports. He attended private elementary schools,
none of them parochial. He later spent a year at Canterbury School in
New Milford, Conn., where he was taught by Roman Catholic laymen, and
four years at Choate School in Wallingford, Conn.
John seemed to grow up in the shadow of his older brother Joseph, who
dominated family competitions and was a better student in school. Encouraged
by his father to take part in school athletics, John, wiry but thin,
played in half a dozen sports without making the varsity. When John
graduated from Choate in 1935, he ranked only 64th in a class of 112.
His classmates, however, voted him "most likely to succeed."
John spent the summer of 1935 studying at the London School of Economics.
He then entered Princeton University but was forced to leave during
the Christmas recess of his freshman year because of an attack of jaundice.
In the fall of 1936 he enrolled at Harvard University, where he devoted
himself strenuously but not very successfully to athletics. He injured
his back while playing football there. During his first two years at
Harvard he continued to be an easygoing student; then his work improved.
Two trips to Europe, in 1937 and 1939, gave Kennedy the opportunity
to observe international power politics at first hand. On his second
trip, when his father was serving as ambassador to Britain, he stayed
at American embassies, talking to newspapermen, political leaders, and
diplomats. Returning to Harvard for his senior year, he wrote an honors
thesis analyzing the British policies that led to the Munich Pact of
1938. This thesis, published in 1940 under the title Why England Slept,
was well received by reviewers, who praised the 23-year-old author for
his dispassionate judgments. Kennedy graduated cum laude from Harvard
in June 1940. He then spent some months in 1940 and 1941 studying at
the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in California and
touring a number of the countries of Latin America.
World War II. Kennedy strongly favored rearmament for the United States,
and in the spring of 1941 he volunteered for the Army, but was rejected
because of his weak back. During the summer he took strengthening exercises,
and in September he was accepted by the Navy. In March 1943, as a lieutenant
(junior grade), he took command of a PT (torpedo) boat in the Solomon
Islands. While his boat was cruising west of New Georgia on the night
of August 2, it was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy
was thrown across the deck onto his back, but he rallied the survivors
and managed to get them to an island. He himself towed a wounded man
three miles through the seas. For several days he risked his life repeatedly,
swimming into dangerous waters hoping to find a rescue ship. He finally
encountered two friendly islanders and sent them for aid with a message
that he carved on a coconut. He received the Purple Heart and the Navy
and Marine Corps Medal, but his earlier back injury had been aggravated,
and he contracted malaria. After an operation on his back, he was discharged
early in 1945.
Faced with the problem of choosing a career, Kennedy worked for several
months in 1945 as a reporter for the Hearst newspapers, covering the
conference at San Francisco that established the United Nations. There
he noted the "belligerent Russian attitude." Ultimately he
decided on a political career and returned to Boston. In so choosing,
he took the place of his brother Joseph, who had seemed destined for
politics but had been killed in World War II.
His opportunity came when James M. Curley vacated his seat in the House
of Representatives from the overwhelmingly Democratic 11th Massachusetts
Congressional District to become mayor of Boston. Early in 1946, Kennedy
announced his candidacy in the June Democratic primary. He began an
elaborate and aggressive campaign against nine other candidates. One
of his rivals called him "the poor little rich kid," and others
referred to him as an outsider, a carpetbagger. But he campaigned ceaselessly,
depending on a strong organization of personal followers rather than
on regular Democratic party workers. In the primary he nearly doubled
the vote of his nearest opponent, and his election in November was little
more than a formality.
As a representative he was reelected in 1948 and 1950 Kennedy had a
mixed voting record, diverging sharply at some points from the policies
of President Harry Truman and the Democratic party. On domestic affairs
he followed the administration's Fair Deal policies in most matters,
fighting for slum clearance and low-cost public housing. As a member
of the Education and Labor Committee, he wrote his own temperate report
concurring with the minority opposing the Taft-Hartley bill. On foreign
affairs he backed the Truman Doctrine, but was critical of the president
for not stemming the advance of communism in China.
U.S. Senate. In April 1952, Kennedy announced his candidacy for the
Senate against the Republican incumbent, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Again
depending on his own organization, he based his campaign on the slogan
"Kennedy will do more for Massachusetts." In November, while
the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was carrying the state for president,
Kennedy defeated Lodge by more than 70,000 votes.
As senator, Kennedy concentrated at first on making good his campaign
slogan. At the end of two years he could list a wide array of legislation
he had obtained for Massachusetts businessmen. He expanded his program
to cover all of New England and succeeded in uniting the senators from
the area into an effective voting bloc. At the same time, he supported
the St. Lawrence Seaway and the extension of the reciprocal trade program.
On the troublesome question of the policies of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy,
who was admired by many of Kennedy's constituents, he took a middle
position. To one McCarthyite he wrote: "I have always believed
that we must be alert to the menace of communism within our country
as well as its advances on the international front. In so doing, however,
we must be careful we maintain our traditional concern that in punishing
the guilty we protect the innocent." In December 1954, when the
Senate voted cen sure against McCarthy, 67 to 22, Kennedy was ill in
a hospital and did not vote; however, he reportedly had planned to speak
and vote for censure.
Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier on Sept. 12, 1953. (See Onassis,
Jacqueline Kennedy.) The couple had two children who survived infancy
Caroline Bouvier, born on Nov. 27, 1957, and John, Jr., born on Nov.
25, 1960. A third child, Patrick Bouvier, died two days after his birth
on Aug. 7, 1963.
Not long after their marriage, Jacqueline Kennedy had to help her husband
through a serious illness. Increasingly troubled by his injured back,
he underwent spinal operations in October 1954 and February 1955. During
his long convalescence he occupied himself by writing a study of notable
acts of political courage by eight United States senators. This book,
published in 1956 as Profiles in Courage, received the Pulitzer Prize
for biography in 1957.
When, in May 1955, Kennedy returned to the Senate after his illness,
he shifted his attention more and more toward national and international
issues. He had previously told a magazine writer, with reference to
critics who complained that he was not a "true liberal," that
"I'd be very happy to tell them that I'm not a liberal at all."
But by 1957 he was taking mildly liberal positions on the difficult
question of civil liberties. He helped arrange a compromise between
Northern and Southern positions on the civil rights bill passed in 1957.
In Jackson, Miss., he frankly asserted that he accepted the Supreme
Court decision of 1954 on desegregation of the nation's public schools.
In 1957 also, Kennedy obtained membership on the powerful Senate Committee
on Foreign Relations, where he supported most of the Democratic policies.
His emphasis shifted from military programs to economic aid to underdeveloped
areas. In 1958 and 1959 he devoted much time and energy to labor reform
legislation (soon after becoming a senator he had been appointed to
the Labor and Public Welfare Committee), but in the end he was forced
to accept the Landrum-Griffin bill, which incorporated some of his reforms
but was less favorable to labor.
Campaign for President. Beginning in 1956, Kennedy aimed toward higher
office. In the Democratic Convention of that year he almost wrested
the vice-presidential nomination from Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.
After the election he began speaking frequently throughout the country,
and many writers began to speculate whether a Roman Catholic could be
In 1958, Kennedy was reelected to the Senate by a margin of more than
874,000 votes. This firmly established him as a leading contender for
the presidential nomination. In January 1960 he formally announced his
candidacy. Backed again by a formidable personal organization, he defeated
Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr., of Minnesota and other rivals in several
hard-fought primaries. At the convention he marshaled his forces so
skillfully against those of Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas and Adlai
E. Stevenson that he was nominated on the first ballot. Johnson became
his running mate.
In accepting the nomination, Kennedy declared that "We stand today
on the edge of a New Frontier," thus giving a name to his program.
In the campaign against his Republican opponent, Vice President Richard
M. Nixon, he took positions that, while middle-of-the-road, were somewhat
more liberal than those held by Nixon, and defended them vigorously
in an exhaustive campaign across the nation.
When he appeared in a unique series of television debates with Vice
President Nixon, his mature appearance undercut Republican arguments
that he was too young and inexperienced for such high office. Although
public opinion polls predicted his victory, he was elected president
by a margin of only 119,450 votes out of the nearly 69,000,000 that
were cast. His electoral vote was 303 to 219 for Nixon.
Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic to become president of the United
States and, at the age of 43, the youngest man ever elected to that
office, though Theodore Roosevelt was some months younger when he took
office after the death of William McKinley in 1901. Kennedy's Catholicism
may have helped him in the Eastern industrial states, and he won most
of the Democratic South despite it, but the religious question apparently
hurt him in the Middle West and West.
Kennedy was inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, 1961. He devoted his
entire inaugural address to international affairs, calling on his fellow
citizens "to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year
in and year out, against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty,
disease, and war itself." His address was widely acclaimed as a
classic political expression.
Kennedy chose his cabinet to represent the country's main sections and
interests. To reassure business, a Republican, C. Douglas Dillon, was
appointed secretary of the treasury, and another Republican, Robert
S. McNamara, who had been president of the Ford Motor Company, was named
secretary of defense. Dean Rusk, who had headed the Rockefeller Foundation,
became the new secretary of state, and Adlai Stevenson was appointed
ambassador to the United Nations. Robert Francis Kennedy, the president's
brother, became attorney general.
Prior to the election, Kennedy had planned to present to Congress a
sweeping legislative program similar to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt's
first "100 days." The closeness of the election caused him
to proceed more cautiously, but in his first months in office he sent
Congress a record number of messages proposing broad programs to promote
more rapid economic growth, rehabilitate depressed areas, improve urban
housing and development, reform tax legislation, revise the farm program,
conserve and develop natural resources, aid education, and provide better
medical care for the aged. In effect, he was establishing his long-range
goals. At the time he obtained little more from Congress than relatively
short-range legislation to help pull the nation out of a mild recession
The Bay of Pigs. The first international bombshell of Kennedy's administration
exploded in April 1961, when a force of anti-Castro Cubans, trained
and directed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, failed in an attempt
to establish a beachhead in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The invasion had
been planned before Kennedy took office, and he allowed it to proceed
with important modifications limiting the degree of American support.
The Cuban debacle, for which Kennedy accepted "sole responsibility,"
was a stunning setback for the new administration. It resulted in criticism
and anti-American feeling abroad. However, in the United States, leaders
of both parties rallied behind the president.
The Berlin Issue. From the late spring of 1961 until the late fall of
1962, President Kennedy engaged in a great test of strength with Soviet
Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The confrontation began on the question of
Berlin, when in June 1961 the president spent two days in Vienna discussing
that major issue with the Soviet leader. For some time Khrushchev had
threatened to sign a peace treaty with the East German government that
would give it control over access routes to Berlin. Kennedy wanted to
make sure that Khrushchev "understood our strength and determination."
The talks, Kennedy reported upon his return to the United States, were
somber: "I made it clear to Mr. Khrushchev that the security of
Western Europe, and therefore our own security, are deeply involved
in our presence and our access rights to West Berlin; that those rights
are based on law and not on sufferance; and that we are determined to
maintain those rights at any risk and thus meet our obligation to the
people of West Berlin, and their right to choose their own future."
In the months that followed, the crisis over Berlin was intensified
by Communist construction of a wall that prevented East Berliners from
escaping to the West. Kennedy responded by obtaining large additional
sums for armaments and ordering many National Guard and reserve units
of the armed forces into active service. However, Khrushchev did not
sign a peace treaty with East Germany, so the crisis subsided.
The Cuban Crisis. Cuba served as the stage for an even graver international
crisis one of the severest threats to peace since the Korean War. On
Oct. 16, 1962, the president was shown aerial reconnaissance photographs
of Soviet missile bases under construction in Cuba. From these bases
a nuclear attack could be launched on much of the United States and
the Western Hemisphere. In a dramatic radio and television address on
October 22, President Kennedy announced a United States naval and air
quarantine on all offensive weapons bound for Cuba. This meant that
U.S. warships would halt and search Russian ships.
Kennedy expressed American determination in these words: "This
secret, swift and extraordinary build-up of Communist missiles in an
area well known to have a special and historical relationship to the
United States and the nations of the Western Hemisphere is a deliberately
provocative and unjustified change in the status quo which cannot be
accepted by this country, if our courage and our commitments are ever
again to be trusted by either friend or foe."
The United States put the quarantine into effect and kept its armed
forces at combat readiness. For an anxious week the world waited as
the threat of thermonuclear war cast its shadow. The tension was relieved
somewhat when arms-carrying ships bound for Cuba returned to Soviet
ports. "We're eyeball to eyeball," Secretary of State Rusk
said, "and I think the other fellow just blinked." Then, on
October 28, after an exchange of notes between President Kennedy and
Premier Khrushchev, it was announced that the Soviet Union would dismantle
and withdraw its offensive weapons in Cuba. On this basis the United
States ended its quarantine, and the crisis came to an end. During the
missile confrontation, Kennedy received widespread international support,
and later was credited with having achieved a turning point favorable
to the West in the cold war.
Nuclear Test Ban. In another area of international tension, Kennedy
responded firmly to the Soviet Union's sudden resumption of nuclear
tests in September 1961. He urged Khrushchev to join with the United
States and Britain in an agreement not to conduct tests in the atmosphere.
When Khrushchev did not accept the offer, Kennedy ordered the resumption
of underground tests, and in March 1962, after extensive study of possible
Soviet advances, reluctantly ordered new atmospheric tests.
The question of nuclear testing, however, furnished President Kennedy
with his greatest success in easing cold war tensions. On Aug. 5, 1963,
after lengthy negotiations, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet
Union signed a limited nuclear test-ban treaty, forbidding atmospheric
testing of nuclear weapons. This treaty, which subsequently was signed
by most other nations of the world, marked the first limitation of arms
expansion since the cold war began. In October, the same three powers
agreed to refrain from placing nuclear weapons in outer space. Thus
Kennedy's willingness to negotiate with the Soviets from a position
of strength began to return dividends in the struggle between East and
Foreign Aid. The failure of the Cuban invasion in 1961 focused Kennedy's
attention on the necessity of meeting the needs of Latin American nations,
whose economic distress made them vulnerable to Castro-type revolutions.
He proposed that these republics join with the United States in a ten-year
plan for developing the Americas "a vast co-operative effort, unparalleled
in magnitude and nobility of purpose, to satisfy the basic needs of
the American people for homes, work and land, health and schools."
The charter for this program, known as the Alliance for Progress, was
signed in August 1961 by the United States and all Latin American countries
except Cuba. The Alliance, while facing many obstacles, received the
enthusiastic support of the vast majority of Latin American peoples,
and when the Kennedys visited Colombia and Venezuela in 1961 and Mexico
in 1962, they were greeted with hearty acclaim.
In Southeast Asia, the perceived threat of Chinese Communist domination
forced the president to strengthen the defense of that area. In Laos
and South Vietnam, where Communist guerrilla warfare continued unabated,
he modified defense policies to place more emphasis on meeting the jungle
warfare tactics of the enemy. Although small numbers of U.S. military
advisers had been sent to South Vietnam for antiguerrilla operations
since 1954, they increased in numbers under the Kennedy administration
from about 700 to more than 15,000.
When the Communist Chinese invaded the northern border of India in 1962,
Kennedy authorized the immediate air-lifting of arms to India. Kennedy
felt, however, that more than force was needed to meet the Communist
threat in Asia, and he directed reshaping of economic aid to make it
On a global scale, Kennedy established the Peace Corps in March 1961.
Through this program, headed by his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver,
many young Americans were encouraged to contribute their skills to "sharing
in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life
which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."
Relations with Europe. Kennedy emphasized that the United States must
act in cooperation with a strong and united western Europe in order
to meet the Communist threat. In anticipation of the growth of the European
Common Market, he obtained from Congress the Trade Expansion Act of
1962, which granted him authority to bargain by offering drastic tariff
reductions. "Acting on our own, by ourselves, we cannot establish
justice throughout the world," he asserted on July 4, 1962. "But
joined with other free nations, we can assist the developing nations
to throw off the yoke of poverty."
Kennedy's plans for a strong, united Europe working in cooperation with
the United States were largely frustrated by French President Charles
de Gaulle. In defense programs, de Gaulle increasingly assumed positions
independent of the United States, threatening the cohesiveness of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the economic sphere, de Gaulle
vetoed Britain's entry into the Common Market, wrecking prospects for
freer trade among the member nations of the Western alliance.
National Issues. Kennedy's domestic program remained largely in the
planning stage throughout his administration. Congress did not heed
his urging for programs of tax reform and aid to education, and it killed
his proposals for a department of urban affairs and for medical aid
for the aged. In January 1963 he proposed a reduction in income taxes
as a means of stimulating economic growth. Congress, however, delayed
passage of the tax cut until February 1964, three months after his death.
Kennedy's action on a proposed steel price increase in 1962 resulted
in one of the most controversial domestic issues of his administration.
In March of that year he persuaded the United Steel Workers to accept
a contract he hailed as "noninflationary." A few days later,
the United States Steel Corporation announced an increase of 3.5% in
its prices, and most other steel companies did likewise. In the three
days that followed, Kennedy brought such intense pressure to bear that
the companies rescinded the increases. But in the aftermath, businessmen
widely criticized the president as being hostile to them.
Civil rights was the most difficult national problem to face President
Kennedy. Throughout his political career he had taken a moderate stand
on civil rights, although his administration gave strong legal support
to the foes of segregation. In June 1963, as pressure for racial equality
mounted, the president addressed the nation, declaring that the United
States faced a "moral crisis" as a result of discontent among
blacks. Later that month he sent a special message to Congress, calling
for extensive civil rights legislation. As with the tax cut, Congress
delayed action and did not pass a comprehensive civil rights bill until
the summer of 1964, after the president's death.
Assassination and Burial
In November 1963, President Kennedy journeyed to Texas for a speechmaking
tour. In Dallas on November 22, he and his wife were cheered enthusiastically
as their open car passed through the streets. Suddenly, at 12:30 in
the afternoon, an assassin fired several shots, striking the president
twice, in the base of the neck and the head, and seriously wounding
John Connally, the governor of Texas, who was riding with the Kennedys.
The president was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was
pronounced dead about a half hour later. Within two hours, Vice President
Johnson took the oath as president.
On November 24, amid national and worldwide mourning, the president's
body lay in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. The next day,
leaders of 92 nations attended the state funeral, and a million persons
lined the route as a horse-drawn caisson bore the body to St. Matthew's
Cathedral for a requiem Mass. While millions of Americans watched the
ceremonies on television, the president was buried on a slope in Arlington
National Cemetery. There an eternal flame, lighted by his widow, marks
On the day of the assassination, the police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald,
a 24-year-old ex-Marine, for the president's murder. Oswald, who had
lived for a time in the Soviet Union, killed Dallas Policeman J. D.
Tippit while resisting arrest. Two days later, in the basement of the
Dallas police station, Oswald himself was fatally shot by Jack Ruby,
a nightclub owner.
On November 29, President Johnson appointed a seven-member commission,
headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, to conduct a thorough investigation
of the assassination and report to the nation. The commission's report,
made public on Sept. 27, 1964, held that Oswald fired the shots that
killed the president. Further, to allay suspicions that the murder was
a conspiratorial plot, it stated that the committee "found no evidence"
that either Oswald or Ruby "was part of any conspiracy, domestic
or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy."
In 1979, however, a House assassinations committee concluded that Oswald
probably was part of a conspiracy that also may have included members
of organized crime. And yet, in 1998, a Congressional records review
board discounted that finding and confirmed that Oswald acted alone.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
35th President of the United States (1961 1963)
Born May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Mass.
Higher Education Harvard University (B.S. cum laude, 1940).
Religious Affiliation Roman Catholic.
Occupations Author, public official.
Marriage Sept. 12, 1953, to Jacqueline Bouvier (1929 1994). Children
Caroline (1957 ); John (1960 1999); Patrick (1963). Military Service
U.S. Navy (1941 1945), World War II. Party Affiliation Democratic.
Legal Residence When Elected Massachusetts.
Position before Taking Office U.S. senator from Massachusetts.
Principal Writing Profiles in Courage (1956, Pulitzer Prize Winner).
Died Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Tex., at age 46.
Burial Place Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.