The Life Of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Essay

, Research Paper

Kennedy, John Fitzgerald (1917-63), 35th president of the United States (1961-63).

Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917, the second son of financier Joseph P. Kennedy, who served as ambassador to Great Britain during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He graduated from Harvard University in 1940, winning note with the publication of Why England Slept, an expansion of his senior thesis on Britain’s lack of preparedness for World War II. His own part in the war was distinguished by bravery. In August 1943, as commander of the U.S. Navy torpedo boat PT-109, he rescued several crewmen after the boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer off the Solomon Islands.

Early Political Success

Returning home to Boston with a citation for valor, the rich and ambitious young veteran joined the Democratic party and successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946. Massachusetts voters elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1952. In 1953 he married Jacqueline Bouvier; they were the parents of two children who survived infancy, Caroline Bouvier and John F., Jr.. During recuperation from spinal surgery, Kennedy completed Profiles in Courage (1956), biographical sketches of political heroes, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957.

After an unsuccessful attempt to win the vice-presidential nomination on the ticket of Adlai E. Stevenson in 1956, Kennedy began to plan for the presidential election of 1960. He assumed the leadership of the Democratic party’s liberal wing and gathered around him a group of talented young political aides, including his brother and campaign manager, Robert F. Kennedy. He won the nomination on the first ballot and campaigned with Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas as his running mate against Vice President Richard M. Nixon, the Republican nominee. The issues of defense and economic stagnation were raised in four televised debates in which Kennedy’s poised and vigorous performance lent credence to his call for new leadership. Kennedy won the election by a narrow margin of 113,000 votes out of 68,800,000 cast, but had to accept reduced Democratic majorities in Congress. He was the youngest president ever elected and the first Roman Catholic.

The New Frontier

President Kennedy’s inaugural address set a tone of youthful idealism that raised the nation’s hopes. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” he exhorted. An early executive order of the New Frontier, as the administration called itself, established a Peace Corps of Americans volunteering for service abroad.

In 1961, his first year in office, Kennedy was battered by a series of adverse international developments. Inheriting from the previous administration a secret plan to overthrow the Cuban regime of Premier Fidel Castro, Kennedy approved an invasion of Cuba in April by refugees operating with the help of U.S. agencies. The abrupt failure of the invasion at the Bay of Pigs resulted in personal embarrassment for the president. Later in the spring Kennedy pondered sending U.S. troops into Laos, which was being threatened by Communist insurgents. He flew to Vienna in June to meet with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The two leaders agreed on a neutralized Laos, but Kennedy was chilled by Khrushchev’s grim warning that West Berlin was “a bone in my throat.” When the wall between the eastern and western sectors of Berlin was erected in August, Kennedy responded by sending 1500 U.S. troops over the land route to Berlin to reaffirm access rights there. Cold war tensions were further aggravated when the Soviet Union sent the first man into space in April and resumed atmospheric nuclear tests in September.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In the fall of 1962 rumors began to mount that nuclear-armed Soviet missiles were being set up in Cuba. In October, U.S. aerial reconnaissance confirmed that middle-range missiles were indeed being installed. After a week of secret consultation with his advisers, on October 22 the president announced his intention of placing a naval blockade around Cuba to prevent the arrival of more missiles. He demanded that the Soviet Union dismantle and remove the missiles and bombers that had been detected. Communication between Khrushchev and Kennedy was opened through diplomatic channels. On October 28 Khrushchev acceded to the U.S. demands; Kennedy halted the blockade and gave assurances that the United States would not invade Cuba. The Soviet retreat was considered a personal and political triumph for the president.

Kennedy’s prospects in foreign affairs further improved in 1963, his final year. During a successful European tour he was warmly received in West Berlin, where he pledged continued support for West Germany. In June he delivered an innovative foreign policy speech calling for an end to the cold war. The two superpowers agreed to establish a “hot line” between Moscow and Washington, D.C., to facilitate communication in time of crisis. In July an agreement was reached with the Soviet Union and Great Britain on a nuclear test-ban treaty. The Alliance for Progress, a program of aid for Latin America, proved popular. These developments were clouded, however, by the worsening situation in South Vietnam, where Kennedy had committed 17,000 U.S. military advisers on behalf of an unstable regime beset by corruption and a growing Communist insurgency.

Domestic Affairs

Kennedy’s wit and charm earned him considerable popularity at home and abroad, but he did not fare well with Congress. “Every president must endure a gap between what he would like and what is possible,” he remarked ruefully in 1963, after his major proposals for economic stimulus, tax reform, aid to education, and broadened welfare had bogged down in congressional committees. He had better luck with executive actions?arguing major steel companies into rescinding price increases in April 1962 and stimulating the race to send an astronaut to the moon. Kennedy responded energetically against efforts to thwart school integration in the South. In September 1962 he appealed for compliance with the law when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black ordered the University of Mississippi to accept James Meredith a black student. The president ordered 3000 federal troops to the campus to quell the ensuing riots. In 1963 Kennedy used the threat of federal force to help win partial desegregation of public accommodations in Birmingham, Alabama, and of classrooms in Alabama public schools. To strengthen civil rights Kennedy sent to Congress a special message asking for legislation to desegregate public facilities and give the Justice Department authority to bring school integration suits. Most of his proposals were ultimately enacted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


In the fall of 1963 Kennedy began to plan his strategy for reelection. He flew across the country extolling the improvements in U.S.-Soviet relations, receiving generally favorable public responses. On November 22, at 12:30 PM CST, while riding in an open limousine through Dallas, Texas, Kennedy was shot in the head and neck by a sniper. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where efforts to revive him failed. A commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded in September 1964 that the sole assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine. Oswald, who was captured hours after the assassination in a nearby theater, was himself killed two days later by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby while being moved from the city to the county jail.

The state funeral of President Kennedy was watched on television by millions around the world. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

By Pat



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