In all, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy would have nine children, four boys and five girls. She kept notecards for each of them in a small wooden file box and made a point of writing down everything from a doctor’s visit to the shoe size they had at a particular age. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was named in honor of Rose’s father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the Boston Mayor popularly known as Honey Fitz. Before long, family and friends called this small blue-eyed baby, Jack. Jack was not a very healthy baby, and Rose recorded on his notecard the childhood diseases from which he suffered, such as: “whooping cough, measles, chicken pox.”
On February 20, 1920 when Jack was not yet three years old, he became sick with scarlet fever, a highly contagious and then potentially life-threatening disease. His father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, was terrified that little Jack would die. Mr. Kennedy went to the hospital every day to be by his son’s side, and about a month later Jack took a turn for the better and recovered. But Jack was never very healthy, and because he was always suffering from one ailment or another his family used to joke about the great risk a mosquito took in biting him – with some of his blood the mosquito was almost sure to die!
When Jack was three, the Kennedys moved to a new home a few blocks away from their old house in Brookline, a neighborhood just outside of Boston. It was a lovely house with twelve rooms, turreted windows, and a big porch. Full of energy and ambition, Jack’s father worked very hard at becoming a successful businessman. When he was a student at Harvard College and having a difficult time fitting in as an Irish Catholic, he swore to himself he would make a million dollars by the age of 35. There was a lot of prejudice against Irish Catholics in Boston at that time, but Joseph Kennedy was determined to succeed. Jack’s great-grandparents had come from Ireland and managed to provide for their families, despite many hardships. Jack’s grandfathers did even better for themselves, both becoming prominent Boston politicians. Jack, because of all his family had done, could enjoy a very comfortable life. The Kennedys had everything they needed and more.
By the time Jack was eight there were seven children altogether. Jack had an older brother, Joe; four sisters, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, and Patricia; and a younger brother, Robert. Jean and Teddy hadn’t been born yet. Nannies and housekeepers helped Rose run the household.
At the end of the school year, the Kennedy children would go to their summer home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod where they enjoyed swimming, sailing, and playing touch football. The Kennedy children played hard, and they enjoyed competing with one another. Joseph Sr. encouraged this competition, especially among the boys. He was a father with very high expectations and wanted the boys to win at sports and everything they tried. As he often said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But sometimes these competitions went too far. One time when Joe suggested that he and Jack race on their bicycles, they collided head-on. Joe emerged unscathed while Jack had to have twenty-eight stitches. Because Joe was two years older and stronger than Jack, whenever they fought, Jack would usually get the worst of it. Jack was the only sibling who posed any real threat to Joe’s dominant position as the oldest child.
Jack was very popular and had many friends at Choate, a boarding school for adolescent boys in Connecticut. He played tennis, basketball, football, and golf and also enjoyed reading. His friend Lem Billings remembers how unusual it was that Jack had a daily subscription to the New York Times. Jack had a “clever, individualist mind,” his Head Master once noted, though he was not the best student. He did not always work as hard as he could, except in history and English, which were his favorite subjects. “Now Jack,” his father wrote in a letter one day, “I don’t want to give the impression that I am a nagger, for goodness knows I think that is the worse thing any parent can be, and I also feel that you know if I didn’t really feel you had the goods I would be most charitable in my attitude toward your failings. After long experience in sizing up people I definitely know you have the goods and you can go a long way…It is very difficult to make up fundamentals that you have neglected when you were very young, and that is why I am urging you to do the best you can. I am not expecting too much, and I will not be disappointed if you don’t turn out to be a real genius, but I think you can be a really worthwhile citizen with good judgment and understanding.”
Jack graduated from Choate and entered Harvard in 1936, where Joe was already a student. Like his brother Joe, Jack played football. He was not as good an athlete as Joe but he had a lot of determination and perseverance. Unfortunately, one day while playing he ruptured a disk in his spine. Jack never really recovered from this accident and his back continued to bother him for the rest of his life.
The two eldest boys were attractive, agreeable, and intelligent young men and Mr. Kennedy had high hopes for them both. However, it was Joe who had announced to everyone when he was a young boy that he would be the first Catholic to become President. No one doubted him for a moment. Jack, on the other hand, seemed somewhat less ambitious. He was active in student groups and sports and he worked hard in his history and government classes, though his grades remained only average. Late in 1937, Mr. Kennedy was appointed United States Ambassador to England and moved there with his whole family, with the exception of Joe and Jack who were at Harvard. Because of his father’s job, Jack became very interested in European politics and world affairs. After a summer visit to England and other countries in Europe, Jack returned to Harvard more eager to learn about history and government and to keep up with current events.
Joe and Jack frequently received letters from their father in England, who informed them of the latest news regarding the conflicts and tensions that everyone feared would soon blow up into a full-scale war. Adolph Hitler ruled Germany and Benito Mussolini ruled Italy. They both had strong armies and wanted to take land from other countries. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.
By this time, Jack was a senior at Harvard and decided to write his thesis on why Great Britain was unprepared for war with Germany. It was later published as a book called Why England Slept. In June 1940, Jack graduated from Harvard. His father sent him a cablegram from London: “TWO THINGS I ALWAYS KNEW ABOUT YOU ONE THAT YOU ARE SMART TWO THAT YOU ARE A SWELL GUY LOVE DAD.”
World War II and a Future in Politics
Soon after graduating, both Joe and Jack joined the Navy. Joe was a flyer and sent to Europe, while Jack was made Lieutenant (Lt.) and assigned to the South Pacific as commander of a patrol torpedo boat, the PT-109.
Lt. Kennedy had a crew of twelve men whose mission was to stop Japanese ships from delivering supplies to their soldiers. On the night of August 2, 1943, Lt. Kennedy’s crew patrolled the waters looking for enemy ships to sink. A Japanese destroyer suddenly became visible. But it was traveling at full speed and headed straight at them. Holding the wheel, Lt. Kennedy tried to swerve out of the way, but to no avail. The much larger Japanese warship rammed the PT-109, splitting it in half and killing two of Lt. Kennedy’s men. The others managed to jump off as their boat went up in flames. Lt. Kennedy was slammed hard against the cockpit, once again injuring his weak back. Patrick McMahon, one of his crew members, had horrible burns on his face and hands and was ready to give up. In the darkness, Lt. Kennedy managed to find McMahon and haul him back to where the other survivors were clinging to a piece of the boat that was still afloat. At sunrise, Lt. Kennedy led his men toward a small island several miles away. Despite his own injuries, Lt. Kennedy was able to tow Patrick McMahon ashore, a strap from McMahon’s life jacket clenched between his teeth. Six days later two native islanders found them and went for help, delivering a message Jack had carved into a piece of coconut shell. The next day, the PT-109 crew was rescued. Jack’s brother Joe was not so lucky. He died a year later when his plane blew up during a dangerous mission in Europe.
When he returned home, Jack was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his leadership and courage. With the war finally coming to an end, it was time to choose the kind of work he wanted to do. Jack had considered becoming a teacher or a writer, but with Joe’s tragic death suddenly everything changed. After serious discussions with Jack about his future, Joseph Kennedy convinced him that he should run for Congress in Massachusetts’ eleventh congressional district, where he won in 1946. This was the beginning of Jack’s political career. As the years went on, John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, served three terms (six years) in the House of Representatives, and in 1952 he was elected to the US Senate.
Soon after being elected senator, John F. Kennedy, at 36 years of age, married 24 year-old Jacqueline Bouvier, a writer with the Washington Times-Herald. Unfortunately, early on in their marriage, Senator Kennedy’s back started to hurt again and he had two serious operations. While recovering from surgery, he wrote a book about several US Senators who had risked their careers to fight for the things in which they believed. The book, called Profiles in Courage, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957. That same year, the Kennedys’ first child, Caroline, was born.
John F. Kennedy was becoming a popular politician. In 1956 he was almost picked to run for vice president. Kennedy nonetheless decided that he would run for president in the next election.
He began working very long hours and traveling all around the United States on weekends. On July 13, 1960 the Democratic party nominated him as its candidate for president. Kennedy asked Lyndon B. Johnson, a senator from Texas, to run with him as vice president. In the general election on November 8, 1960, Kennedy defeated the Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon in a very close race. At the age of 43, Kennedy was the youngest man elected president and the first Catholic. Before his inauguration, his second child, John Jr., was born. His father liked to call him John-John.
John F. Kennedy Becomes The 35th President of the United States
John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president on January 20, 1961. In his inaugural speech 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.” President Kennedy, together with his wife and two children, brought a new, youthful spirit to the White House. The Kennedys believed that the White House should be a place to celebrate American history, culture, and achievement. They invited artists, writers, scientists, poets, musicians, actors, and athletes to visit them. Jacqueline Kennedy also shared her husband’s interest in American history. Gathering some of the finest art and furniture the United States had produced, she restored all the rooms in the White House to make it a place that truly reflected America’s history and artistic creativity. Everyone was impressed and appreciated her hard work.
The White House also seemed like a fun place because of the Kennedys’ two young children, Caroline and John-John. There was a pre-school, a swimming pool, and a tree-house outside on the White House lawn. President Kennedy was probably the busiest man in the country, but he still found time to laugh and play with his children.
However, the president also had many worries. One of the things he worried about most was the possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. He knew that if there was a war, millions of people would die. Since World War II, there had been a lot of anger and suspicion between the two countries but never any shooting between Soviet and American troops. This ‘Cold War’, which was unlike any other war the world had seen, was really a struggle between the Soviet Union’s communist system of government and the United States’ democratic system. Because they distrusted each other, both countries spent enormous amounts of money building nuclear weapons. There were many times when the struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States could have ended in nuclear war, such as in Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis or over the divided city of Berlin.
President Kennedy worked long hours, getting up at seven and not going to bed until eleven or twelve at night, or later. He read six newspapers while he ate breakfast, had meetings with important people throughout the day, and read reports from his advisers. He wanted to make sure that he made the best decisions for his country. “I am asking each of you to be new pioneers in that New Frontier,” he said. The New Frontier was not a place but a way of thinking and acting. President Kennedy wanted the United States to move forward into the future with new discoveries in science and improvements in education, employment and other fields. He wanted democracy and freedom for the whole world.
One of the first things President Kennedy did was to create the Peace Corps. Through this program, which still exists today, Americans can volunteer to work anywhere in the world where assistance is needed. They can help in areas such as education, farming, health care, and construction. Many young men and women have served as Peace Corps volunteers and have won the respect of people throughout the world.
President Kennedy was also eager for the United States to lead the way in exploring space. The Soviet Union was ahead of the United States in its space program and President Kennedy was determined to 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.” Kennedy was the first president to ask Congress to approve more than 22 billion dollars for Project Apollo, which had the goal of landing an American man on the moon before the end of the decade.
President Kennedy had to deal with many serious problems here in the United States. The biggest problem of all was racial discrimination. The US Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 that segregation in public schools would no longer be permitted. Black and white children, the decision mandated, should go to school together. This was now the law of the land. However, there were many schools, especially in southern states, that did not obey this law. There was also racial segregation on buses, in restaurants, movie theaters, and other public places.
Thousands of Americans joined together, people of all races and backgrounds, to protest peacefully this injustice.
Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the famous leaders of the movement for civil rights. Many civil rights leaders didn’t think President Kennedy was supportive enough of their efforts. The President believed that holding public protests would only anger many white people and make it even more difficult to convince the members of Congress who didn’t agree with him to pass civil rights laws. By June 11, 1963, however, President Kennedy decided that the time had come to take stronger action to help the civil rights struggle. He proposed a new Civil Rights bill to the Congress, and he went on television asking Americans to end racism. “One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free,” he said. “This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds…[and] on the principle that all men are created equal.” President Kennedy made it clear that all Americans, regardless of their skin color, should enjoy a good and happy life in the United States.
The President is Shot
On November 21, 1963, President Kennedy flew to Texas to give several political speeches. The next day, as his car drove slowly past cheering crowds in Dallas, shots rang out. Kennedy was seriously wounded and died a short time later. Within a few hours of the shooting, police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald and charged him with the murder. On November 24, another man, Jack Ruby, shot and killed Oswald, thus silencing the only person who could have offered more information about this tragic event. The Warren Commission was organized to investigate the assassination and to clarify the many questions which remained.
The Legacy of John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy’s death caused enormous sadness and grief among all Americans. Most people still remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington for the President’s funeral, and millions throughout the world watched it on television.
As the years have gone by and other presidents have written their chapters in history, John Kennedy’s brief time in office stands out in people’s memories for his leadership, personality, and accomplishments. Many respect his coolness when faced with difficult decisions–like what to do about Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962. Others admire his ability to inspire people with his eloquent speeches. Still others think his compassion and his willingness to fight for new government programs to help the poor, the elderly and the ill were most important. Like all leaders, John Kennedy made mistakes, but he was always optimistic about the future. He believed that people could solve their common problems if they put their country’s interests first and worked together.
Quotations by John F. Kennedy
“The leadership of the American Legion has not had a constructive thought for the benefit of this country since 1918.” (Spring, 1949, during House debate on housing bill to provide federal funds for slum clearance and low income public housing. –James MacGregor Burns, John F. Kennedy: A Political Profile (Harcourt, Brace: New York, 1960), p. 75.
Arms Control and Disarmament
“With all of the history of war, and the human race’s history unfortunately has been a good deal more war than peace, with nuclear weapons distributed all through the world, and available, and the strong reluctance of any people to accept defeat, I see the possibility in the 1970’s of the President of the United States having to face a world in which 15 or 20 or 25 nations may have these weapons.” –“The President’s News Conference of March 21, 1963 (107),” Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us…step back from the shadow of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this land, at this time, took the first step.” –“Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (316),” July 26, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“I have said that control of arms is a mission that we undertake particularly for our children and our grandchildren and that they have no lobby in Washington.” –“Statement by the President to American Women Concerning their Role in Securing World Peace (449),” November 1, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place in which to live.” — Speech at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 14 June 1956. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960, Box 895, Folder: “Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 14 June 1956,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
“There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The age of Pericles was also the age of Phidias. The age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the age of Leonardo da Vinci. The age Elizabeth also the age of Shakespeare. And the New Frontier for which I campaign in public life, can also be a New Frontier for American art.” –Response to letter sent by Miss Theodate Johnson, Publisher of Musical America to the two presidential candidates requesting their views on music in relation to the Federal Government and domestic world affairs. Then-Senator John Kennedy’s answer was dated September 13, 1960 and published in the October issue of the magazine.
“…I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” –“Remarks at a Closed-circuit Television Broadcast on Behalf of the National Cultural Center (527),” November 29, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“To further the appreciation of culture among all the people, to increase respect for the creative individual, to widen participation by all the processes and fulfillments of art – this is one of the fascinating challenges of these days.” –“LOOK magazine, ‘The Arts in America’ (552),” December 18, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“Too often in the past, we have thought of the artist as an idler and dilettante and of the lover of arts as somehow sissy and effete. We have done both an injustice. The life of the artist is, in relation to his work, stern and lonely. He has labored hard, often amid deprivation, to perfect his skill. He has turned aside from quick success in order to strip his vision of everything secondary or cheapening. His working life is marked by intense application and intense discipline.” –“LOOK magazine, ‘The Arts in America’ (552),” December 18, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” –“Remarks at Amherst College upon receiving an Honorary Degree (439),” October 26, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty…an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.” –“Remarks at Amherst College upon receiving an Honorary Degree (439),” October 26, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation.” –“Remarks at Amherst College upon receiving an Honorary Degree (439),” October 26, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“It may be different elsewhere. But democratic society – in it, the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may.” –“Remarks at Amherst College upon receiving an Honorary Degree (439),” October 26, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.” –“Remarks at Amherst College upon receiving an Honorary Degree (439),” October 26, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose…and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.” –“LOOKmagazine, ‘The Arts in America’ (552),” December 18, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962. (Inscribed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.)
And Prince Bismarck was even more specific. One third, he said, of the students of German universities broke down from overwork, another third broke down from dissipation, and the other third ruled Germany. –“Address in Berkeley at the University of California (109),” March 23, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
Bullfight critics ranked in rows
Crowd the enormous Plaza full
But only one is there who knows
And he’s the man who fights the bull.
President Kennedy (mis)quoted this bit of doggerel by the torero Domingo Ortega (as translated by the English poet Robert Graves) in remarks during a 16 October 1962 Presidential Backgrounder before the National Foreign Policy Conference for Editors and Radio-TV Public Affairs Broadcasters (Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Staff Files of Pierre Salinger. Series 16. Classified Background Briefing Material, Box 165, Folder: “Presidential Backgrounder 10/16/62,” JFKL). The rhyme as President Kennedy gave it was:
Bullfight critics row on row. Fill the enormous Plaza de toros. But only one is there who knows. And he is the one who fights the bull.
“But Goethe tells us in his greatest poem that Faust lost the liberty of his soul when he said to the passing moment: “Stay, thou art so fair.” And our liberty, too, is endangered if we pause for the passing moment, if we rest on our achievements, if we resist the pace of progress. For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” –“Address in the Assembly Hall at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt (266),” June 25, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” –“Re: United States Committee for UNICEF July 25, 1963.” Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Central Files. Chronological File. Series 1. President’s Outgoing Executive Correspondence, Box 11, Folder: “July 1963: 16-31,” JFKL.
“We can say with some assurance that, although children may be the victims of fate, they will not be the victims of our neglect.” –“Remarks upon signing the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Bill (434),” October 24, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“I have pledged myself and my colleagues in the cabinet to a continuous encouragement of initiative, responsibility and energy in serving the public interest. Let every public servant know, whether his post is high or low, that a man’s rank and reputation in this Administration will be determined by the size of the job he does, and not by the size of his staff, his office or his budget. Let it be clear that this Administration recognizes the value of dissent and daring — that we greet healthy controversy as the hallmark of healthy change. Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: ‘I served the United States Government in that hour of our nation’s need.'” –“Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union (11),” January 30, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“The success of this Government, and thus the success of our Nation, depends in the last analysis upon the quality.of our career services. The legislation enacted by the Congress, as well as the decisions made by me and by the department and agency heads, must all be implemented by the career men and women in the Federal service. In foreign affairs, national defense, science and technology, and a host of other fields, they face problems of unprecedented importance and perplexity. We are all dependent on their sense of loyalty and responsibility as well as their competence and energy.” –“Special Message to the Congress on Federal Pay Reform (55),” February 20, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” –Letter to a Navy friend, quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), p. 88.
Crisis, Meaning of
“In the Chinese language, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.” — Speech at United Negro College Fund fundraiser, Indianapolis Indiana, 12 April 1959. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960, Box 902, Folder: “United Negro College Fund, Indianapolis, Indiana, 12 April 1959,” JFKL; Speech at the Valley Forge Country Club, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 29 October 1960. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960, Box 914, Folder: “Valley Forge Country Club, Pennsylvania, 29 October 1960,” JFKL.
“Rising tide lifts all boats”. –“Remarks in Pueblo, Colorado following Approval of the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project (336),” August 17, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“The Federal Budget can and should be made an instrument of prosperity and stability, not a deterrent to recovery.” –“Special message to Congress: Program for Economic Recovery and Growth (17),” February 2, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining – by filling three basic gaps in our anti-recession protection.” –“Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union (7),” January 11, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“It is increasingly clear that no matter what party is in power, so long as our national security needs keep rising, an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough jobs or enough profits.” –“Address and Question and Answer Period at the Economic Club of New York (549),” December 14, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“If the economy of today were operating close to capacity levels with little unemployment, or if a sudden change in our military requirements should cause a scramble for men and resources, then I would oppose tax reductions as irresponsible and inflationary; and I would not hesitate to recommend a tax increase if that were necessary.” –“Address and Question and Answer Period at the Economic Club of New York (549),” December 14, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
First, Importance of Being
“Now let me make it clear that I believe there can only be one defense policy for the United States and that is summed up in the word ‘first.’ I do not mean first, but. I do not mean first, when. I do not mean first, if. I mean first –period.” — Speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention, Detroit, Michigan, 26 August 1960. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960, Box 910, Folder: “National VFW Convention, Detroit, Michigan, 26 August 1960,” JFKL.
“Five score years ago the ground on which we here stand shuddered under the clash of arms and was consecrated for all time by the blood of American manhood. Abraham Lincoln, in dedicating this great battlefield, has expressed, in words too eloquent for paraphrase or summary, why this sacrifice was necessary. Today, we meet not to add to his words nor to amend his sentiment but to recapture the feeling of awe that comes when contemplating a memorial to so many who placed their lives at hazard for right, as God gave them to see right. Among those who fought here were young men who but a short time before were pursuing truth in the peaceful halls of the then new University of Notre Dame. Since that time men of Notre Dame have proven, on a hundred battlefields, that the words, “For God, For Country, and For Notre Dame,” are full of meaning. Let us pray that God may grant us the wisdom to find and to follow a path that will enable the men of Notre Dame and all of our young men to seek truth in the halls of study rather than on the field of battle.” –“Message from the President on the Occasion of Field Mass at Gettysburg, June 29, 1963, delivered by John S. Gleason, Jr.” Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Central Files. Chronological File. Series 1. President’s Outgoing Executive Correspondence, Box 10, Folder: “June 1963: 1-15,” JFKL.
“For one true measure of a nation is its success in fulfilling the promise of a better life for each of its members. Let this be the measure of our nation.” –“Special message to the Congress on National Health Needs (65),” February 27, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“Our deep spiritual confidence that this nation will survive the perils of today – which may well be with us for decades to come – compels us to invest in our nation’s future, to consider and meet our obligations to our children and the numberless generations that will follow.” –“Special message to the Congress on Conservation (69),” March 1, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“I have seen in many places housing which has been developed under government influences, but I have never seen any projects in which governments have played their part which have fountains and statues and grass and trees, which are as important to the concept of the home as the roof itself.” –“Remarks at the Unidad Independencia Housing Project, City of Mexico (269),” June 30, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“It’s only when they join together in a forward movement that this country moves ahead…” –“Remarks at Los Banos, CA at the Groundbreaking Ceremonies for the San Luis Dam (337),” August 18, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“Our goal is not the victory of might but the vindication of right…not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.” –“Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Soviet Arms Build-up in Cuba (485),” October 22, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.” –“Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union (12),” January 14, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” –“Commencement Address at American University in Washington, D.C. (232),” June 10, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“‘The green beret’ is again becoming a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom. I know the United States Army will live up to its reputation for imagination, resourcefulness, and spirit as we meet this challenge.” –Letter to the United States Army, April 11, 1962. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Central Files. Chronological File. Series 1. President’s Outgoing Executive Correspondence, Box 5, Folder: “April 1962: 3-15,” JFKL.
“We celebrate the past to awaken the future”. — Speech at the 25th Anniverary of the Signing of the Social Security Act, Hyde Park, New York, 14 August 1960. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960, Box 910, Folder: “25th Anniversary of the Signing of the Social Security Act, Hyde Park, New York, 14 August 1960,” JFKL.
“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers. (439)” –“Remarks at Amherst College upon receiving an Honorary Degree (439),” October 26, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“…that we shall be as a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are upon us.” (Winthrop) — Speech before the Massachusetts State Legislature, Boston, Massachusetts, 9 January 1961. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President’s Office Files. Series 3. Speech Files, Box 34, Folder: “Address to Massachusetts State Legislature 9 January 1961,” JFKL.
“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on”. –“Remarks Recorded for the Opening of a USIA Transmitter at Greenville, North Carolina (55),” February 8, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents, John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“This state, this city, this campus, have stood long for both human rights and human enlightenment, and let that forever be true.” –“Remarks in Nashville at the 90th Convocation of Vanderbilt University (192),” May 18, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents, John F. Kennedy, 1963.
Inaugural Address (full speech)
“Ask not what your country can do for you…ask what you can do for your country.”
“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, not in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
“Inaugural Address (1),” January 20, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” –“Remarks at a Dinner Honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere (161),” April 29, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“There are three things which are real; God, Human Folly and Laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension so we must do what we can with the third.” –from Tales of the Ramayana, as told by Aubrey Menen (New York: Scribner’s, 1954), p. 276.
“Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.” –“Message to Those Participating in Roosevelt Day Commemoration, 29 January 1961.” Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. White House Central Subject Files. Series 14. Federal Government – Organizations (FG), Box 111, Folder: “FG2/Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Executive & General),” JFKL.
“I think we’re going to have to do better. Mr. Nixon talks about our being the strongest country in the world. I think we are today, but we were far stronger relative to the Communists 5 years ago. And what is of great concern is that the balance of power is in danger of moving with them. They made a breakthrough in missiles and by 1961, ‘2, and ‘3, they will be outnumbering us in missiles.” –Transcript of fourth debate, ABC studios, New York, New York, 21 October 1960. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Presidential Campaign Files, 1960. Series 15.06. Speeches and the Press: Press Secretary’s Subject File, 1960, Box 1052, Folder: “Television debates: ABC transcript: Fourth debate,” JFKL.
Native Americans (American Indians)
“For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all.” –Alvin M. Josephy, ed., The American Heritage Book of Indians, 3rd ed. (New York: American Heritage Publishing Company, 1961), p. 7.
“I can imagine a no more rewarding career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worth while, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'” –“Remarks at the U.S. Naval Academy (321),” August 1, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents, John F. Kennedy, 1963.
First mentioned on July 15, 1960 when accepting nomination for the U.S. presidency.
“…what really counts is not the immediate act of courage or of valor, but those who bear the struggle day in and day out – not the sunshine patriots but those who are willing to stand for a long period of time.” –“Remarks at the White House to Members of the American Legion (70),” March 1, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena – whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions – and spends himself in a worthy cause – who at best if he wins knows the thrills of high achievement – and if he fails at least fails while daring greatly – so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.'” –“Remarks at National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Banquet (496),” December 5, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961. (References Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizenship in a Republic” given at The Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910.)
“We have become more and more not a nation of athletes but a nation of spectators.” –“Remarks at National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Banquet (496),” December 5, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“Just as I went into politics because Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him.” — Quoted in Joe McCarthy, The Remarkable Kennedys (New York: Dial Press, 1960), p. 114.
“Whether I serve one or two terms in the Presidency, I will find myself at the end of that period at what might be called the awkward age–too old to begin a new career and too young to write my memoirs.” –Quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), p. 1017. According to a footnote in Schlesinger’s manuscript (1st draft, p. 1378), this was stated on February 13, 1961.
“I have a nice home, the office is close by, and the pay is good.” –Quoted in Kenneth O’Donnell, Dave Powers, and Joseph McCarthy, Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1970), p. 262.
“If all of you had voted the other way – there’s about 5,500 of you here tonight – I would not be the President of the United States.” –“Address in Chicago at a dinner of the Democratic Party of Cook County (155),” April 28, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“When I ran for Presidency of the United States, I knew that this country faced serious challenges, but I could not realize – nor could any man realize who does not bear the burdens of this office – how heavy and constant would be those burdens” –“Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis (302),” July 25, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“Harry Truman once said, ‘There are 14 or 15 million Americans who have the resources to have representatives in Washington to protect their interests, and that the interests of the great mass of the other people – the 150 or 160 million – is the responsibility of the president of the United States, and I propose to fulfill it.'” –“Address in Atlantic City at the Convention of the United Auto Workers (174),” May 8, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962. (This passage was featured in the Charles Guggenheim documentary that was shown to visitors in the original exhibit of the John F. Kennedy Museum.)
Profiles in Courage Quotations
“We have all seen these circus elephants complete with tusks, ivory in their head and thick skins, who move around the circus ring and grab the tail of the elephant ahead of them.” –Speech at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, California, 2 November 1960. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960, Box 914, Folder: “Cow Palace, San Francisco, California, 2 November 1960,” JFKL.
“Let us not despair but act. Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past – let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” –Speech at Loyola College Alumni Banquet, Baltimore, Maryland, 18 February, 1958. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960, Box 899, Folder: “Loyola College annual alumni banquet, Baltimore, Maryland, 18 February 1958,” JFKL.
“But I think the American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. As Winston Churchill said on taking office some twenty years ago: if we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future.” –Speech accepting the Democratic nomination, Los Angeles, California, 15 July 1960. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960, Box 910, Folder: “Acceptance Speech of Senator Kennedy, Democratic National Convention, 15 July 1960,” JFKL. (References the Chinese proverb, “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”)
“And we must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient – that we are only six percent of the world’s population – that we cannot impose our will upon the other ninety-four percent of mankind – that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity – and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.” –“Address in Seattle at the University of Washington’s 100th Anniversary Program (473),” November 16, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“For I can assure you that we love our country, not for what it was, though it has always been great — not for what it is, though of this we are deeply proud — but for what it someday can, and, through the efforts of us all, someday will be.” –“Address at a Luncheon Meeting of the National Industrial Conference Board (33),” February 13, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“But however close we sometimes seem to that dark and final abyss, let no man of peace and freedom despair. For he does not stand alone.” –“Address to the U.N. General Assembly (387),” September 25, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world – or make it the last.” –“Address before the 18th General Assembly of the United Nations (366),” September 20, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“In seeking the help of the Congress and our countrymen, I pledged no easy answers. I pledged, and asked, only toil and dedication. These the Congress and the people have given in good measure.” –“Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union,” January 14, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“When at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us…our success or failure…will be measured by the answers to four questions: First, were we truly men of courage…? Secondly, were we truly men of judgment…? Third, were we truly men of integrity…? Finally, were we truly men of dedication…?” –Speech before the Massachusetts State Legislature, Boston, Massachusetts, 9 January 1961. Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. President’s Office Files. Series 3. Speech Files, Box 34, Folder: “Address to Massachusetts State Legislature, 9 January 1961,” JFKL.
“…victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan…” –“President’s News Conference of April 21, 1961 (139),” Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“We must use time as a tool, not as a couch” –“Address in New York City to the National Association of Manufacturers (496),” December 5, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“…we must think and act not only for the moment but for our time. I am reminded of the story of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.'” –“Address in Berkeley at the University of California, (109),” March 23, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“of those to whom much is given, much is required”. –“Remarks in Nashville at the 90th Anniversary Convocation of Vanderbilt University (192),” May 18, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963. (President Kennedy was quoting from the Bible, Gospel of Luke, Chapter 12, verse 48.)
“Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in periods of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” –“Remarks in Bonn at the Signing of a Charter Establishing the German Peace Corps (258),” June 24, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963. (Note: Dante never made this statement. The closest to what President Kennedy meant is in the Inferno where the souls in the ante-room of hell, who “lived without disgrace and without praise,” and the coward angels, who did not rebel but did not resist the cohorts of Lucifer, are condemned to being whirled through the air by great winds while being stung by wasps and horseflies.)
“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” –“Remarks in Newport at the Australian Ambassador’s Dinner for the America’s Cup Crews (383),” September 14, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“‘O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.'” –“Remarks in New York City at the Dedication of the East Coast Memorial to the Missing at Sea (203),” May 23, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963. (An old Breton fisherman’s prayer that Admiral Rickover had inscribed on plaques that he gave to newly commissioned submarine captains. Rickover presented President Kennedy with one of these plaques, which sat on his desk in the Oval Office.)
Seven Days in May
When discussing the possibility of a complete military takeover in the country after reading the book Seven Days in May, President Kennedy said, “…if there were a third Bay of Pigs, it could happen.” He paused and then said “But it won’t happen on my watch.” –Related in Paul Fay, Jr., The Pleasure of His Company (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 190.
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.” –“Address at Rice University in Houston on the Nation’s Space Effort (373),” September 12, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
“We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share…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.” –“Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs (205),” May 25, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it.” –“Remarks in San Antonio at the Dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center (472),” November 21, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963. (The original anecdote from which Kennedy derived this comparison is in Frank O’Connor, An Only Child, London: MacMillan & Co. Ltd., 1961, p. 180.)
“No country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained, unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour not only upon the President and upon the Congress, but upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power…Quite obviously, there is a higher purpose, and that is the hope that you will turn to the service of the State the scholarship, the education, the qualities which society has helped develop in you; that you will render on the community level, or on the state level, or on the national level, or the international level a contribution to the maintenance of freedom and peace and the security of our country and those associated with it in a most critical time.” –“Commencement Address at San Diego State College (226),” June 6, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“This is a great country and requires a good deal of all of us, so I can imagine nothing more important than for all of you to continue to work in public affairs and be interested in them, not only to bring up a family, but also give part of your time to your community, your state, and your country.” –“Remarks to the Delegates of Girls Nation (322),” August 2, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“I can assure you that there is no career which you will adopt when you leave college that will bring you a more and greater sense of satisfaction and a greater feeling of participation in a great effort than will your work here or in your state or in your community…this generation of Americans – you here who will be in positions of responsibility for the rest of this century – will deal with the most difficult, sensitive, and dangerous problems that any society of people has ever dealt with at any age…The Greeks defined happiness as the full use of your powers along the lines of excellence, and I can imagine no place where you can use your powers more fully along lines more excellent in the 1960’s than to be in the service of the United States.” –“Remarks to Student Participants in the White House Seminar in Government (334),” August 27, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“What we seek to advance, what we seek to develop in all of our colleges and universities, are educated men and women who can bear the burdens of responsible citizenship, who can make judgments about life as it is, and as it must be, and encourage the people to make those decisions which can bring not only prosperity and security, but happiness to the people of the United Sates and those who depend upon it.” –“Address at the University of North Dakota (379),” September 25, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“I hope that all of you who are students here will recognize the great opportunity that lies before you in this decade, and in the decades to come, to be of service to our country. The Greeks once defined happiness as full use of your powers along lines of excellence, and I can assure you that there is no area of life where you will have an opportunity to use whatever powers you have, and to use them along more excellent lines, bringing ultimately, I think, happiness to you and those whom you serve.” –“Address at the University of Wyoming (381),” September 25, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“I ask particularly that those of you who are now in school will prepare yourselves to bear the burden of leadership over the next 40 years here in the United States, and make sure that the United States – which I believe almost alone has maintained watch and ward for freedom – that the United States meet its responsibility. That is a wonderful challenge for us as a people.” –“Remarks at the Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington (387),” September 27, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“…I come here today…not just because you are doing well and because you are outstanding students, but because we expect something of you. And unless in this free country of ours we are able to demonstrate that we are able to make this society work and progress, unless we can hope that from you we are going to get back all of the talents which society has helped develop in you, then, quite obviously, all the hopes of all of us that freedom will not only endure but prevail, of course, will be disappointed. So we ask the best of you…I congratulate you on what you have done, and most of all I congratulate you on what you are going to do.” –“Remarks in New York City to the National Convention of the Catholic Youth Organization (463),” November 15, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.
“…there is always inequity in life. Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic and some are stationed in San Francisco. It’s very hard in the military or personal life to assure complete equality. Life is unfair.” –“President’s News Conference of March 21, 1962 (107),” Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy Biography and Profile (JFK Library)