John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States in1961. 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, Kennedybecame a natural recipiant of admiration both in the United States and abroad. His assassination in Dallas, Texas on November 23, 1963 resulted in publicoutrage and widespread mourning throughout the nation and the World. Kennedy’sterm in office was too short to allow history to pass fair and acurate judgementon his accomplishments as president. Their is little doubt, however, that theimage and philosphy, he brought to the oval office not only influenced thegeneration he governed, but also continues to influence today’s generation andpolitics in general. Indeed, “Camelot”, the name given to the idyllictime during Kennedy’s presidency, is not a dead mythology but a living idealogythat continues in American society today.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (he latestgained the nick name Jack) was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline,Massachusetts. He was Joseph ; Rose Kennedy’s second son. His father was amultimillionaire businessman, who had became a bank president at the age of 25,and made his fortune through investments in stocks, importing, shipbuilding, andmoviemaking. Joe Kennedy’s political experince was limited to being appointedthe first chairman of the newly created Securities and Exchange Commission(1934-1935) by president Franklin D.
Roosevelt, and having served as the head ofthe U. S. Maritime Commission (1937), as well as being the U. S. ambassador toGreat Britain (1937-1940). Even though Joseph Kennedy never ran for an electedoffice 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 upKennedy 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 hislater years. During his childhood his older brother Joe helped and protectedhim, and served as a role model for young Jack. From an early age the Kennedychildren were taught by their parents that the United States had been good tothe Kennedy’s and that whatever the U. S.
did for them must be returned by someservice to the country. Jack took this idea to heart. Later it became the basisfor a famous line from his inaguration speach in which Kennedy said: “Asknot what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for yourcountry. ” In school Kennedy excelled in history and english, but was a poorspeller and struggled in math and science. Kennedy’s sixth grade teacher notedhis humor and competitive spirit.
Kennedy graduated from Choate High School inWallingford Connecticut and briefly attended Princeton University beforeenrolling in Harvard in 1936. While attending Harvard Kennedy wrote a brillianthonors thesis on British Foreign policies in the 1930s called “Why EnglandSlept”, which was later published. He graduated in 1940 and was voted mostlikely to suceed by his classmates. In 1941 Kennedy entered the the U.
S. Navyshortly before the United States entered World War II. Following Pearl Harbor heapplied for sea duty and became the commander of PT 109, a Navy torpedo boat. In1943, while on active duty of the Pacific, the boat he commanded was rammed andsunk by the Japanese. In an act of heroism, Kennedy rescued and lead his crewashore, but in doing so aggravated an old back injury and contracted malaria. Hewas discharged from the Navy in 1945.
Kennedy returned home to Boston from thewar with a citation for valor to began persuit of the political career hisparents had envisioned for him. In 1946, the rich and ambitious young veteranjoined the Democratic party and successfully ran for a Boston-based seat in theU. S. House of Representatives.
He was reelected to the seat in 1948 and 1950. Asa congressman Kennedy supported social legislation that benefited hisworking-class constituents. It was during his tenure in congress that he beganto advocate a strong anti-communist foreign policy, which he continued topromote for the remainer of his life. During this time Kennedy was especiallycritical of what he considered a weak policy against communism, especiallycommunist China, by president Truman. Kennedy become restless in the House andin 1952 ran for the U.
S. Senate. He faced a strong opponent in the form ofrepublican incumbent senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. . Although the republicanpresidental candidate, Dwight Eisenhower, won in Massachusetts as well as thecountry as a whole, Kennedy demonstrated his remarkable voter appeal bydefeating Lodge. One year later, on September 12, 1953, Kennedy marriedJacqueline Bouvier.
The couple had three children: Caroline Bouvier, JohnFitzgerald Jr. , and a second son who died in infancy. Kennedy proved to be arelatively ineffectual senator. During parts of 1954 and 1955 he was seriouslyill with back ailments and for that reason was unable to play an important rolein government.
Kennedy’s critics observed that he made no effort to ooppos theanti-civil-libertarian excesses of Sen. Joesph McCarthy. His friends and stafflater argued that he would have voted to censure McCarthy if he had not beenhospitalized at the time. During his sickness Kennedy wrote a book ofbiographical studies of American political heroes. It was published in 1956under the title “Profiles in Courage” and won a Pulitzer Prize forbiography in 1957. Like his earlier book on British foreign policy, the bookrevealed Kennedy’s admiration and respect for forceful politcal figures.
In 1956Kennedy, with his family’s input, once again decided it was time to further hispolitical ambitions. He bid unsuccessfully for the Democratic vice-presidentialnomination. Following the setback, he set his sights on the presidency,especially following his reelection to the senate in 1958. He continued duringthese years to support a strong anti-communist foreign policy.
Regardingdomestic issues Kennedy was a cautious liberal, backing a compromised civilrights bill in 1957. He also devoted special efforts to labor legislation. Bythe time of the 1960 presidential election Kennedy was only one of manyDemocrats with aspiriations for the party’s presidential nomination. During thedemocratic race Kennedy once again showed his political shrewdness by puttingtogether a well-financed, highly organized campaign and won the nomination onthe first ballot. In another politically clever move, as a Roman Catholic fromthe North, he selected Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas as his running mate in orderto stregthen his weak support in the South.
Kennedy faced a strong challengefrom republican nominee and sitting vice-president Richard Nixon but was able topreform well in a series of television debates against Nixon, using poised andvigorous performances to win over voters. He promised tougher defense policiesand progressive health, housing, and civil rights programs. He also promised tolead the nation out of economic stagnation through his “New Frontier”plan. Kennedy won the election by a narrow margin of 113,000 votes out of68,800,000 cast, but had to accept reduced Democratic majorities in Congress.
In1961, his first year in office, Kennedy experienced a series of politicalsetbacks due to a series of adverse international developments. He inherited asecret plan to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba from the previous administrationof Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy approved an invasion of Cuba in April by refugeesacting with the help of the U. S.
agencies. The quick and decisive failure of theBay of Pigs invasion resulted in personal embarrassment for Kennedy. Later inthe spring Kennedy pondered sending U. S. troops into Laos, which was beingthreatened by Communist insurgents.
He flew to Vienna in June to meet withSoviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. They agreed on a neutralized Laos, but Kennedywas threathen by Khrushchev’s statement that West Berlin was “a bone in mythroat. ” When the Soviet Union built a wall between the eastern and westernparts of Berlin in August, Kennedy responded by sending 1,500 U. S. troops toBerlin. Cold war tensions increased when the Soviet Union sent the first maninto space in April and resumed atmospheric nuclear tests in September.
In thefall of 1962 rumors began to circulate that nuclear-armed Soviet missiles werebeing set up in Cuba. In October, U. S. intelligence confirmed that middle-rangemissiles were being installed. After a week of secret meetings with hisadvisers, the president announced his plan to place a naval blockade around Cubato prevent the arrival of more missiles. He demanded that the Soviet Uniondismantle and remove the missiles that had been detected.
On October 28Khrushchev gave in to Kennedy’s demands and the president removed the blockadeand reassured the Soviet Union that U. S. would not invade Cuba. The Sovietretreat was considered a personal and political victory for Kennedy. Kennedyfurther improved his foreign affairs record in 1963, which would turn out to behis final year in office.
In June he gave an innovative foreign policy speechcalling for an end to the cold war. The U. S. and Soviet Union agreed toestablish a “hot line” to allow communication in times of crisis.
InJuly Kennedy worked out a nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union andGreat Britain. Another Kennedy project, The Alliance for Progress, a program ofaid for Latin America, was also a popular success. These accomplishments,however, were overshadowsed by the worsening situation in South Vietnam, whereKennedy had placed 17,000 U. S.
military advisers to help an unstable regimefight a growing Communist movement. Kennedy’s wit and charm made him verypopular in the U. S. as well as abroad, but it did not help him greatly with arepublican majority congress. Due to the lack of democratic support in congressmost of his domestic policies stalled on Capital Hill.
“Every presidentmust endure a gap between what he would like and what is possible”, Kennedyonce remarked at a press conference. When the civil rights movement began tostregthen in 1962-63 he began to actively promote civil rights legislation. Healso proposed a tax cut to stimulate the economy. However, at the time of hisassassination these and other programs including federal aid to education andMedicare remained tied up in congress. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson,would go on to succussfully push the legislation through a more democratfriendly congress in 1964-65. He had better luck with executive actions as hewas able to successfully force steel companies into lowering prices in April1962 and to encourage the race to send an astronaut to the moon.
Kennedyresponded strongly against efforts to prevent school integration in the South. In September 1962, he appealed for compliance with the law when U. S. SupremeCourt ordered the University of Mississippi to accept a black student. Kennedyordered 3,000 federal troops to the campus to control riots and ensure that theorder was followed.
In 1963 Kennedy threatened federal force to help win partialdesegregation of public accommodations in Birmingham, Alabama, and of classroomsin Alabama public schools. Kennedy also asked Congress for legislation todesegregate public facilities and give the Justice Department the authority tobring school integration suits. Most of his proposals ultimately enacted,following his death, in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the fall of 1963Kennedy began to plan his strategy for reelection.
He flew around the countrycampaigning, using the improvements in relations between the U. S. and SovietUnion 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 asniper while riding in an open limousine through Dallas, Texas. Following theincided he was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where efforts to revive himfailed. A commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded in September1964 that the lone assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald.
Oswald was captured shortlyfollowing the assassination and killed two days later by Jack Ruby. The statefuneral of President Kennedy was watched on television by millions around theworld. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery where his grave is next toan internal flame in his memory. Despite the conclusion of the commission manyquestions and conspiracy theories still surround Kennedy’s death. In the historyof our country no other president has captured the imaginations and hearts ofAmericans more so than John F. Kennedy.
His charisma and flare for life in thelime light were able to far outshine his shortcomings and failures as both aperson and a president. Kennedy’s impact on U. S. history is still felt today. Many politicans are still trying to recreate “Camelot”, the mysticalphilosphy that made John Kennedy one of the most liked and popular presidents inhistory.
The pursuit to recreate Camelot and later the fear of a second comingof Camelot overcame one of Kennedy’s cheif rivals, Richard Nixon. Nixon, likeeveryone else in American society at the time, was fooled into buying into theidea 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, todayhistory shows us that Kennedy too had his shortcomings. Regardless of what theturth may be, the legacy of John Kennedy and “Camelot” live on todayand have solidified J. F.
K. as one of the most storied figures in U. S. History.