John F. Kennedy: Life & Times Essay, Research Paper
John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States in 1961. At the age of forty-three, he was the youngest man ever elected president. He was also the first Roman Catholic ever elected to the oval office. Rich, handsome, charming, elegant, articulate, and from a well known family, Kennedy became a natural recipiant of admiration both in the United States and abroad. His assassination in Dallas, Texas on November 23, 1963 resulted in public outrage and widespread mourning throughout the nation and the World.
Kennedy’s term in office was too short to allow history to pass fair and acurate judgement on his accomplishments as president. Their is little doubt, however, that the image and philosphy, he brought to the oval office not only influenced the generation he governed, but also continues to influence today’s generation and politics in general.
Indeed, “Camelot”, the name given to the idyllic time during Kennedy’s presidency, is not a dead mythology but a living idealogy that continues in American society today.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (he latest gained the nick name Jack) was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was Joseph & Rose Kennedy’s second son. His father was a multimillionaire businessman, who had became a bank president at the age of 25, and made his fortune through investments in stocks, importing, shipbuilding, and moviemaking.
Joe Kennedy’s political experince was limited to being appointed the first chairman of the newly created Securities and Exchange Commission (1934-1935) by president Franklin D. Roosevelt, and having served as the head of the U.S. Maritime Commission (1937), as well as being the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain (1937-1940).
Even though Joseph Kennedy never ran for an elected office himself, he and his wife had large ambitions for their nine children. John Kennedy was groomed for a career in politics from an early age.
Growing up Kennedy was small for his age and suffered through several childhood diseases. As a child he was quite and shy, a far cry from his personality traits in his later years. During his childhood his older brother Joe helped and protected him, and served as a role model for young Jack.
From an early age the Kennedy children were taught by their parents that the United States had been good to the Kennedy’s and that whatever the U.S. did for them must be returned by some service to the country. Jack took this idea to heart. Later it became the basis for a famous line from his inaguration speach in which Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
In school Kennedy excelled in history and english, but was a poor speller and struggled in math and science. Kennedy’s sixth grade teacher noted his humor and competitive spirit.
Kennedy graduated from Choate High School in Wallingford Connecticut and briefly attended Princeton University before enrolling in Harvard in 1936. While attending Harvard Kennedy wrote a brilliant honors thesis on British Foreign policies in the 1930s called “Why England Slept”, which was later published. He graduated in 1940 and was voted most likely to suceed by his classmates.
In 1941 Kennedy entered the the U.S. Navy shortly before the United States entered World War II. Following Pearl Harbor he applied for sea duty and became the commander of PT 109, a Navy torpedo boat.
In 1943, while on active duty of the Pacific, the boat he commanded was rammed and sunk by the Japanese. In an act of heroism, Kennedy rescued and lead his crew ashore, but in doing so aggravated an old back injury and contracted malaria. He was discharged from the Navy in 1945.
Kennedy returned home to Boston from the war with a citation for valor to began persuit of the political career his parents had envisioned for him. In 1946, the rich and ambitious young veteran joined the Democratic party and successfully ran for a Boston-based seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was reelected to the seat in 1948 and 1950.
As a congressman Kennedy supported social legislation that benefited his working-class constituents. It was during his tenure in congress that he began to advocate a strong anti-communist foreign policy, which he continued to promote for the remainer of his life. During this time Kennedy was especially critical of what he considered a weak policy against communism, especially communist China, by president Truman.
Kennedy become restless in the House and in 1952 ran for the U.S. Senate. He faced a strong opponent in the form of republican incumbent senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.. Although the republican presidental candidate, Dwight Eisenhower, won in Massachusetts as well as the country as a whole, Kennedy demonstrated his remarkable voter appeal by defeating Lodge.
One year later, on September 12, 1953, Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier. The couple had three children: Caroline Bouvier, John Fitzgerald Jr., and a second son who died in infancy.
Kennedy proved to be a relatively ineffectual senator. During parts of 1954 and 1955 he was seriously ill with back ailments and for that reason was unable to play an important role in government. Kennedy’s critics observed that he made no effort to ooppos the anti-civil-libertarian excesses of Sen. Joesph McCarthy. His friends and staff later argued that he would have voted to censure McCarthy if he had not been hospitalized at the time.
During his sickness Kennedy wrote a book of biographical studies of American political heroes. It was published in 1956 under the title “Profiles in Courage” and won a Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957. Like his earlier book on British foreign policy, the book revealed Kennedy’s admiration and respect for forceful politcal figures.
In 1956 Kennedy, with his family’s input, once again decided it was time to further his political ambitions. He bid unsuccessfully for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. Following the setback, he set his sights on the presidency, especially following his reelection to the senate in 1958.
He continued during these years to support a strong anti-communist foreign policy. Regarding domestic issues Kennedy was a cautious liberal, backing a compromised civil rights bill in 1957. He also devoted special efforts to labor legislation.
By the time of the 1960 presidential election Kennedy was only one of many Democrats with aspiriations for the party’s presidential nomination. During the democratic race Kennedy once again showed his political shrewdness by putting together a well-financed, highly organized campaign and won the nomination on the first ballot.
In another politically clever move, as a Roman Catholic from the North, he selected Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas as his running mate in order to stregthen his weak support in the South.
Kennedy faced a strong challenge from republican nominee and sitting vice-president Richard Nixon but was able to preform well in a series of television debates against Nixon, using poised and vigorous performances to win over voters. He promised tougher defense policies and progressive health, housing, and civil rights programs. He also promised to lead the nation out of economic stagnation through his “New Frontier” plan. 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.
In 1961, his first year in office, Kennedy experienced a series of political setbacks due to a series of adverse international developments. He inherited a secret plan to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba from the previous administration of Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy approved an invasion of Cuba in April by refugees acting with the help of the U.S. agencies. The quick and decisive failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion resulted in personal embarrassment for Kennedy.
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. They agreed on a neutralized Laos, but Kennedy was threathen by Khrushchev’s statement that West Berlin was “a bone in my throat.” When the Soviet Union built a wall between the eastern and western parts of Berlin in August, Kennedy responded by sending 1,500 U.S. troops to Berlin.
Cold war tensions increased when the Soviet Union sent the first man into space in April and resumed atmospheric nuclear tests in September.
In the fall of 1962 rumors began to circulate that nuclear-armed Soviet missiles were being set up in Cuba. In October, U.S. intelligence confirmed that middle-range missiles were being installed. After a week of secret meetings with his advisers, the president announced his plan to place a naval blockade around Cuba to prevent the arrival of more missiles. He demanded that the Soviet Union dismantle and remove the missiles that had been detected. On October 28 Khrushchev gave in to Kennedy’s demands and the president removed the blockade and reassured the Soviet Union that U.S. would not invade Cuba. The Soviet retreat was considered a personal and political victory for Kennedy.
Kennedy further improved his foreign affairs record in 1963, which would turn out to be his final year in office. In June he gave an innovative foreign policy speech calling for an end to the cold war. The U.S. and Soviet Union agreed to establish a “hot line” to allow communication in times of crisis. In July Kennedy worked out a nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Another Kennedy project, The Alliance for Progress, a program of aid for Latin America, was also a popular success.
These accomplishments, however, were overshadowsed by the worsening situation in South Vietnam, where Kennedy had placed 17,000 U.S. military advisers to help an unstable regime fight a growing Communist movement.
Kennedy’s wit and charm made him very popular in the U.S. as well as abroad, but it did not help him greatly with a republican majority congress. Due to the lack of democratic support in congress most of his domestic policies stalled on Capital Hill. “Every president must endure a gap between what he would like and what is possible”, Kennedy once remarked at a press conference. When the civil rights movement began to stregthen in 1962-63 he began to actively promote civil rights legislation. He also proposed a tax cut to stimulate the economy.
However, at the time of his assassination these and other programs including federal aid to education and Medicare remained tied up in congress. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, would go on to succussfully push the legislation through a more democrat friendly congress in 1964-65.
He had better luck with executive actions as he was able to successfully force steel companies into lowering prices in April 1962 and to encourage the race to send an astronaut to the moon.
Kennedy responded strongly against efforts to prevent school integration in the South. In September 1962, he appealed for compliance with the law when U.S. Supreme Court ordered the University of Mississippi to accept a black student. Kennedy ordered 3,000 federal troops to the campus to control riots and ensure that the order was followed.
In 1963 Kennedy threatened federal force to help win partial desegregation of public accommodations in Birmingham, Alabama, and of classrooms in Alabama public schools. Kennedy also asked Congress for legislation to desegregate public facilities and give the Justice Department the authority to bring school integration suits. Most of his proposals ultimately enacted, following his death, in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In the fall of 1963 Kennedy began to plan his strategy for reelection. He flew around the country campaigning, using the improvements in relations between the U.S. and Soviet Union as his strongest selling point, to generally favorable public responses. On November 22, at 12:30 PM CST, Kennedy was shot in the head and spin by a sniper while riding in an open limousine through Dallas, Texas. Following the incided 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 lone assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was captured shortly following the assassination and killed two days later by Jack Ruby.
The state funeral of President Kennedy was watched on television by millions around the world. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery where his grave is next to an internal flame in his memory.
Despite the conclusion of the commission many questions and conspiracy theories still surround Kennedy’s death.
In the history of our country no other president has captured the imaginations and hearts of Americans more so than John F. Kennedy. His charisma and flare for life in the lime light were able to far outshine his shortcomings and failures as both a person and a president.
Kennedy’s impact on U.S. history is still felt today. Many politicans are still trying to recreate “Camelot”, the mystical philosphy that made John Kennedy one of the most liked and popular presidents in history. The pursuit to recreate Camelot and later the fear of a second coming of Camelot overcame one of Kennedy’s cheif rivals, Richard Nixon.
Nixon, like everyone else in American society at the time, was fooled into buying into the idea of John Kennedy, handsome man of morals and principle, ideal family man, the personifcation of the American dream. While much of this may be true, today history shows us that Kennedy too had his shortcomings.
Regardless of what the turth may be, the legacy of John Kennedy and “Camelot” live on today and have solidified J.F.K. as one of the most storied figures in U.S. History.