Teaching Notes to Lesson 7 Inaugural Address John F. Kennedy Notes to Guide to Reading
  1. John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Introduction
in full John Fitzgerald Kennedy byname JFK born May 29, 1917, Brookline, Kennedy,
Massachusetts, U.S.died November 22, 1963, Dallas, Texas 35th president of the United States (1961?
  63), who faced a number of foreign crises, especially in Cuba and Berlin, but managed to secure such achievements as the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the Alliance for Progress. He was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America. See also Cabinet of President John F. Kennedy.)
Early life
The second of nine children, Kennedy was reared in a family that demanded intense physical and intellectual competition among the siblings?the family's touch football games at their Hyannis Port retreat later became legendary?and was schooled in the religious teachings of the Roman Catholic church and the political precepts of the Democratic Party. His father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, had acquired a multimillion-dollar fortune in banking, bootlegging, shipbuilding, and the film industry, and as a skilled player of the stock market. His mother, Rose, was the daughter of John F. (“Honey Fitz”) Fitzgerald, onetime mayor of Boston. They established trust funds for their children that guaranteed lifelong financial independence. After serving as the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Joseph Kennedy became the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, and for six months in 1938 John served as his secretary, drawing on that experience to write his senior thesis at Harvard University (B.S., 19
  40) on Great Britain's military unpreparedness. He then expanded that thesis into a best-selling book, Why England Slept (19
  40). In the fall of 1941 Kennedy joined the U.S. Navy and two years later was sent to the South Pacific. By the time he was discharged in 1945, his older brother, Joe, who their father had expected would be the first Kennedy to run for office, had been killed in the war, and the family's political standard passed to John, who had planned to pursue an academic or journalistic career.
John Kennedy himself had barely escaped death in battle. Commanding a patrol torpedo (PT) boat, he was gravely injured when a Japanese destroyer sank it in the Solomon Islands. Marooned far behind enemy lines, he led his men back to safety and was awarded the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism. He also returned to active command at his own request. (These events were later depicted in a Hollywood film, PT 109 [1963], that contributed to the Kennedy mystique.) However, the further injury to his back, which had bothered him since his teens, never really healed. Despite operations in 1944, 1954, and 1955, he was in pain for much of the rest of his life. He also suffered from Addison's disease, though this affliction was publicly concealed. “At least one-half of the days he spent on this earth,” wrote his brother Robert, “were days of intense physical pain.” (After he became president, Kennedy combated the pain with injections of amphetamines?then thought to be harmless and used by more than a few celebrities for their energizing effect. According to some reports, both Kennedy and the first lady became heavily dependent on these injections through weekly use.) None of this prevented Kennedy from undertaking a strenuous life in politics. His family expected him to run for public office and to win.
Congressman and senator
Kennedy did not disappoint his family; in fact, he never lost an election. His first opportunity came in 1946, when he ran for Congress. Although still physically weak from his war injuries, he campaigned aggressively, bypassing the Democratic organization in the Massachusetts 11th congressional district and depending instead upon his family, college friends, and fellow navy officers. In the Democratic primary he received nearly double the vote of his nearest opponent; in the November election he overwhelmed the Republican candidate. He was only
  29. Kennedy served three terms in the House of Representatives (1947?
  53) as a bread-and-butter liberal. He advocated better working conditions, more public housing, higher wages, lower prices, cheaper rents, and more Social Security for the aged. In foreign policy he was an early supporter of Cold War policies. He backed the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan but was sharply critical of the Truman administration's record in Asia. He accused the State Department of trying to force Chiang Kai-shek into a coalition with Mao Zedong. “What our young men had saved,” he told the House on January 25, 1949, “our diplomats and our President have frittered away.” His congressional district in Boston was a safe seat, but Kennedy was too ambitious to remain long in the House of Representatives. In 1952 he ran for the U.S. Senate against the popular incumbent, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
His mother and sisters Eunice, Patricia, and Jean held “Kennedy teas” across the state. Thousands of volunteers flocked to help, including his 27-year-old brother Robert, who managed the campaign. That fall the Republican presidential candidate, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, carried Massachusetts by 208,000 votes; but Kennedy defeated Lodge by 70,000 votes. Less than a year later, on September 12, 1953, Kennedy enhanced his electoral appeal by marrying Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). Twelve years younger than Kennedy and from a socially prominent family, the beautiful “Jackie” was the perfect complement to the handsome politician; they made a glamorous couple. As a senator, Kennedy quickly won a reputation for responsiveness to requests from constituents, except on certain occasions when the national interest was at stake. In 1954 he was the only New England senator to approve an extension of President Eisenhower's reciprocal-trade powers, and he vigorously backed the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, despite the fact that over a period of 20 years no Massachusetts senator or congressman had ever voted for it. To the disappointment of liberal Democrats, Kennedy soft-pedaled the demagogic excesses of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, who in the early 1950s conducted witch-hunting campaigns against government workers accused of being communists. Kennedy's father liked McCarthy, contributed to his campaign, and even entertained him in the family's compound at Hyannis Port on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Kennedy himself disapproved of McCarthy, but, as he once observed, “Half my people in Massachusetts look on McCarthy as a hero.” Yet, on the Senate vote over condemnation of McCarthy's conduct (19
  54), Kennedy expected to vote against him. He prepared a speech explaining why, but he was absent on the day of the vote. Later, at a National Press Club Gridiron dinner, costumed reporters sang, “Where were you, John, where were you, John, when the Senate censured Joe?” Actually, John had been in a hospital, in critical condition after back surgery. For six months afterward he lay strapped to a board in his father's house in Palm Beach, Florida. It was during this period that he worked on Profiles in Courage (19
  56), an account of eight great American political leaders who had defied popular opinion in matters of conscience, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 19
  57. Although Kennedy was credited as the book's author, it was later revealed that his assistant Theodore Sorensen had done much of the research and writing. Back in the Senate, Kennedy led a fight against a proposal to abolish the electoral college, crusaded for labour reform, and became increasingly committed to civil rights legislation. As a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in the late 1950s, he advocated extensive foreign
aid to the emerging nations in Africa and Asia, and he surprised his colleagues by calling upon France to grant Algerian independence. During these years his political outlook was moving leftward. Possibly because of their father's dynamic personality, the sons of Joseph Kennedy matured slowly. Gradually John's stature among Democrats grew, until he had inherited the legions that had once followed Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, the two-time presidential candidate who by appealing to idealism had transformed the Democratic Party and made Kennedy's rise possible.
Presidential candidate and president
Kennedy had nearly become Stevenson's vice presidential running mate in 19
  56. The charismatic young New Englander's near victory and his televised speech of concession (Estes Kefauver won the vice presidential nomination) brought him into some 40 million American homes. Overnight he had become one of the best-known political figures in the country. Already his campaign for the 1960 nomination had begun. One newspaperman called him a “young man in a hurry.” Kennedy felt that he had to redouble his efforts because of the widespread conviction that no Roman Catholic candidate could be elected president. He made his 1958 race for reelection to the Senate a test of his popularity in Massachusetts. His margin of victory was 874,608 votes?the largest ever in Massachusetts politics and the greatest of any senatorial candidate that year. A steady stream of speeches and periodical profiles followed, with photographs of him and his wife appearing on many a magazine cover. Kennedy's carefully calculated pursuit of the presidency years before the first primary established a practice that became the norm for candidates seeking the nation's highest office. To transport him and his staff around the country, his father bought a 40-passenger Convair aircraft. His brothers Robert (“Bobby,” or “Bob”) and Edward (“Teddy,” or “Ted”) pitched in. After having graduated from Harvard University (19
  48) and from the University of Virginia Law School (19
  51), Bobby had embarked on a career as a Justice Department attorney and counsellor for congressional committees. Ted likewise had graduated from Harvard (19
  56) and from Virginia Law School (19
  59). Both men were astute campaigners. In January 1960 John F. Kennedy formally announced his presidential candidacy. His chief rivals were the senators Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota and Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. Kennedy knocked Humphrey out of the campaign and dealt the religious taboo against Roman Catholics a blow by winning the primary in Protestant West Virginia. He tackled the
Catholic issue again, by avowing his belief in the separation of church and state in a televised speech before a group of Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas. Nominated on the first ballot, he balanced the Democratic ticket by choosing Johnson as his running mate. In his acceptance speech Kennedy declared, “We stand on the edge of a New Frontier.” Thereafter the phrase “New Frontier” was associated with his presidential programs. Another phrase?“the Kennedy style”?encapsulated the candidate's emerging identity. It was glamorous and elitist, an amalgam of his father's wealth, John Kennedy's charisma and easy wit, Jacqueline Kennedy's beauty and fashion sense (the suits and pillbox hats she wore became widely popular), the charm of their children and relatives, and the erudition of the Harvard advisers who surrounded him (called the “best and brightest” by author David Halberstam). Kennedy won the general election, narrowly defeating the Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, by a margin of less than 120,000 out of some 70,000,000 votes cast. Many observers, then and since, believed vote fraud contributed to Kennedy's victory, especially in the critical state of Illinois, where Joe Kennedy enlisted the help of the ever-powerful Richard J. Daley, mayor of Chicago. Nixon had defended the Eisenhower record; Kennedy, whose slogan had been “Let's get this country moving again,” had deplored unemployment, the sluggish economy, the so-called missile gap (a presumed Soviet superiority over the United States in the number of nuclear-armed missiles), and the new communist government in Havana. A major factor in the campaign was a unique series of four televised debates between the two men; an estimated 85?120 million Americans watched one or more of the debates. Both men showed a firm grasp of the issues, but Kennedy's poise in front of the camera, his tony Harvard accent, and his good looks (in contrast to Nixon's “five o'clock shadow”) convinced many viewers that he had won the debate. As president, Kennedy continued to exploit the new medium, sparkling in precedent-setting televised weekly press conferences. He was the youngest man and the first Roman Catholic ever elected to the presidency of the United States. His administration lasted 1,037 days. From the onset he was concerned with foreign affairs. In his memorable inaugural address (see original text), he called upon Americans “to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle…against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” (See also primary source document: A Long Twilight Struggle.) He declared: In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink
from this responsibility?I welcome it.…The energy, the fait
 

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