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Kennedy, John F.

John F. Kennedy

Carl M. Brauer

TWENTY years after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a public opinion poll indicated that he was rated best overall of the nine presidents since Herbert Hoover. Among five positive attributes surveyed, Kennedy "most inspired confidence in the White House," according to 40 percent of those asked, followed by Franklin D. Roosevelt at 23 percent. Sixty percent considered Kennedy as having had the "most appealing personality," followed again by Roosevelt at 11 percent. Kennedy edged Roosevelt on "best in domestic affairs" and on having "cared most about the elderly, the poor and those most in economic trouble." Political scientists, historians, and national journalists have on the whole tended to view Kennedy less favorably than has the general public. Some "experts" hold Kennedy in high regard, but others are extremely critical of him. A significant number probably agree that his promise outstripped his performance and that he left an ambiguous legacy.

Neither popular nor expert opinion would actually be wrong about Kennedy. Indeed, they are in a sense opposite sides of the same coin, for Kennedy's inflation to mythic proportions by the public and his demythologizing by experts both derive significantly from the manner of his death. No one knows how his reputation might have been affected had he served out his first term and the second term to which he likely would have been elected. Alone among modern presidents, Kennedy's place in history revolves around unanswerable questions of what might have been had he lived. Yet this very fact suggests that in his relatively brief presidencyless than three yearsKennedy exerted a profound influence upon both popular and expert hopes and expectations, which endured long after his death. Had Kennedy not had this influence while he lived, the public would not have mythologized him, nor the experts demythologized him, after he was killed. Had he not had this influence, his successors in the White House would have been far less likely to have compared themselves to him, to have sought to emulate him, or to have tried to escape his myth.

Family Background

John F. Kennedy was born on 29 May 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts, the second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, a self-made multimillionaire who headed the Securities and Exchange Commission under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. In 1937, Roosevelt made the elder Kennedy ambassador to Great Britain, which marked a significant social breakthrough for an Irish Catholic. (In their native Boston, the Kennedys had sometimes been snubbed by Brahmin society, and Kennedy had moved the family to New York partly as a result of it.) To Roosevelt's dismay, his ambassador sympathized with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policies toward Nazi Germany. Neither Roosevelt nor Kennedy had ever really liked one another, but until this point they had successfully used one another for their own purposes. But after Kennedy took Chamberlain's side, the two men fell out permanently, and Roosevelt refused even to make use of Kennedy's very considerable business and managerial skills during the war.

John Kennedy, or Jack, as he was known, grew up in a home where political issues were frequently discussed and sometimes debated. His father's strong views evidently influenced his older brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., more than they did him. All the Kennedy children, but particularly the four boysJoseph, John, Robert, and Edwardwere brought up with a strong sense of noblesse oblige and with little or no interest in enhancing their own very considerable financial fortunes. (Their father set up trust funds for each of them, which made them financially independent when they reached maturity.) Public service, not private gain, was the ideal instilled in all the Kennedy children. When their private fortunes or family connections could enhance their ability to perform public service, as in getting their views known or in winning elections, for example, the Kennedy boys gladly used them.

Jack Kennedy was a sickly child and adolescent. "When we were growing up together," his younger brother Robert later recalled, "we used to laugh about the great risk a mosquito took in biting Jack Kennedywith some of his blood the mosquito was almost sure to die." During his illnesses, he became an avid reader and also a fatalist. He never let his frail condition keep him from throwing himself headlong into his family's fierce athletic competitions. At Choate, a predominantly Protestant boarding school in Connecticut, he was an average student, though one who, his teachers believed, performed at less than his potential. His peers liked him for his wit and cleverness, and he proved adept at winning friends. He was admired not for his accomplishments, a teacher later observed, but for his personality. His roommate once noted that he was the only boy who read The New York Times every day from front to back. To avoid competing further with his older brother, Joseph, who had also been at Choate, he enrolled at Princeton, instead of Harvard, where his brother was already a campus star. But he became ill once again and dropped out. He enrolled at Harvard the following year.

In college, Kennedy for the most part showed a greater dedication to enjoying himself socially than he did to developing his mind. Once again he was popular and made lasting friends. Once again he suffered from impaired health, including a back injury sustained in playing football. Although he had suffered from backaches even as a child, this injury probably marked the beginning of a chronically bad back. He did have a lively interest in political issues, though he did not have the strongly fixed views of many of his contemporaries, such as his older brother, an isolationist who became a delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention and opposed Roosevelt's nomination for a third term.

Using the access to European leaders afforded by his father's position, and with the assistance of hired secretarial help, Kennedy wrote a senior thesis called "Appeasement at Munich." It was awarded second highest honors. Although it sought to explain how Chamberlain had no alternative to appeasement, and in that respect reflected his father's views, it showed Jack's independence by regarding Winston Churchill as an accurate prophet and by emphasizing the importance of American military preparedness. With his father's assistance and connections, the thesis was quickly transformed into a book, Why England Slept, a title inspired by Churchill's own While England Slept. It received favorable reviews in the summer of 1940, as war clouds gathered in Europe, and it became a best-seller. By the following spring, more than eighty thousand copies had been sold.

During the war, Kennedy commanded a PT boat in the South Pacific. While on patrol one night, the small boat was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer traveling at high speed. Two of the crewmen were killed. Kennedy demonstrated leadership, courage, and stamina in helping to save the eleven survivors. A strong swimmer, he towed a badly burned crew-man several miles to a tiny island. Two days later he towed him again to a larger island. The group was finally rescued when they found a pair of natives who took a message to an Australian coast-watcher. The rescue attracted newspaper attention not only for its own sake but because of the identity of the skipper. John Hersey, a journalist, wrote the first long account in the New Yorker, which was followed by an abridged version in Reader's Digest and eventually by other books and a movie. Kennedy's wartime heroism became a basis and then a staple of his political career. One of Kennedy's charms was that though he never prevented his political supporters from exploiting his heroism, he never personally aggrandized his role either. In a characteristic remark, he explained, "It was involuntary. They sank my boat."

After his rescue, Kennedy commanded another boat and saw some additional action, but his war career was soon cut short by illness and his bad back. After the war, he became a celebrity correspondent for Hearst newspapers at the United Nations charter conference and during the British elections of 1945. He also observed the Potsdam summit conference. But he decided he would rather shape history than report it. His brother Joe, whose political ambitions had been more certain, had died a hero's death in the war. His father later claimed to have been happily surprised by his second son's interest in running for office, and he used his money and contacts to help him get started.

Early Career

John Kennedy began to make speeches around Massachusetts in 1945 and the following spring ran in a

primary for a vacant congressional seat in Boston, where nomination was tantamount to election. Although only twenty-nine, he had an impressive war record, his father's financial assistance and personal connections, and excellent name recognition. His wealth and Harvard education were liabilities to be overcome in the working-class districts, but his Irish political pedigree helped. His surviving maternal grandfather, whose last name, Fitzgerald, was Kennedy's middle name, had once been mayor of Boston and a congressman. Kennedy was in effect the first Irish Brahmin. Youthful-looking and handsome, though gaunt and often on crutches, Kennedy proved a tireless campaigner and showed a deft touch in greeting the Irish politicians and working people whose support he needed. His campaign stressed the bread-and-butter needs of his constituents and of the returning veterans. He won the primary impressively and then the general election.

In 1952, Kennedy captured the Senate seat held by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Kennedy received only 51.5 percent of the vote, but his win was remarkable in that it came in the face of an Eisenhower landslide in the state and against a well-respected incumbent who bore a name even more famous than his own. Kennedy owed his victory to his appealing personality and intense campaigning, to his ability both to capitalize on popular disenchantment over the economy and world affairs and to present himself as a new kind of nonpartisan leader, and to his establishment of a personal organization, independent of the Democratic party. On a similar basis, Kennedy won reelection in 1958 with 73.6 percent of the vote, defeating a relative unknown who fashioned himself the poor man's candidate against the millionaire incumbent.

Kennedy did not make a great mark as a legislator. He had served too briefly in the House to acquire much influence there, and his quick move to the Senate reflected both his ambition and his impatience with the career of a junior member of the House. The Senate, which affords more of a forum for addressing major national and international issues, even for junior members, was more to his liking. But there, too, he was always looking beyond, with the presidency as his ultimate goal. His peers respected Kennedy for his intelligence, wit, and independence, but he never became their leader, in name or in fact. He was a critic of certain aspects of Eisenhower's foreign and military policies, particularly the identification with neocolonialism abroad and the economical but supposedly ineffectual "New Look" defense policy.

On domestic issues, he consistently supported unsuccessful liberal efforts to expand federal responsibilities in areas such as civil rights, economic assistance to depressed regions, education, and health, though he spurned ideological labels including that of "liberal." He became an expert and sponsored legislation in the area of labor-law reform, the impulse for which grew out of organized labor's unhappiness with the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and out of a Senate investigation of corruption and racketeering in certain unions that captured headlines and a television audience in the mid-1950s. (His brother Robert served as chief counsel to the McClellan investigating committee, of which he was a member.) The bill Kennedy sponsored was too kind to labor unions to be accepted by the fairly conservative Congress, which enacted a less sympathetic one.

In 1953, Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier, a beautiful socialite twelve years his junior. After he died, books and articles eventually made the claim, never confirmed by his widow, that their marriage was not happy, that it suffered under the strains of his infidelities and her lavish spending and unease with politics. During his life, they made an extraordinarily attractive couple, with the aura of royalty about them. Rumors of marital difficulties were not widely circulated. If the public was shown less than a completely honest picture of their marriage, that was not an unusual practice in American politics. Neither was it out of the ordinary for a politician to be less than candid about health problems, which in Kennedy's case were much more serious than was publicly acknowledged. But personal adversities, whatever they might have been, failed to impede his energetic pursuit of high office.

While convalescing from back surgery in 1955, Kennedy conceived of a book about political courage. Published in early 1956, Profiles in Courage described historical instances of senators placing the national interest above parochial or self-interest. A front-page review in the New York Times Book Review hailed the book for restoring "respect for a venerable and much abused profession," politics. The book became a best-seller and won a Pulitzer Prize. More important, it established Kennedy as that American rarity, an intellectual politician, and identified him with political courage. Kennedy took pains to disprove a columnist's challenge to his authorship and even won a retraction, but in 1980, Herbert Parmet, a dispassionate Kennedy biographer, concluded that Kennedy had in fact "served principally as an overseer or more charitably as a sponsor and editor." Much of the writing and the literary craftsmanship were contributed by Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy's talented young assistant. Although there was nothing unusual about a politician using a ghostwriter, Kennedy evidently regarded it as vital to his image to claim sole authorship.

The book's success boosted Kennedy's bid for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1956 after Adlai Stevenson, the presidential nominee, surprised the convention by throwing open the choice of his running mate. Kennedy had made an excellent impression at the convention through his narration of a film and through his nominating speech for Stevenson. Kennedy's Roman Catholicism, some hoped, would help woo back Catholic Democrats who had bolted the party in 1952 because Stevenson was divorced; other Democratic activists, including some prominent Catholics, feared that his nomination would stir up intense anti-Catholic sentiment, just as had Governor Al Smith's nomination for president in 1928.

Kennedy's principal rival for the nomination was Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, a populist who had twice sought the presidential nomination and who had a substantial following in the party. Nevertheless, Kennedy came within a whisker of defeating him on the second ballot, thanks in part to support from southerners who regarded Kefauver as a turn-coat on civil rights. In a tumultuous scene that followed the second ballot, Kefauver's fellow Tennessean Albert Gore withdrew in his favor, precipitating a series of switches that gave Kefauver the nomination.

Presidential Campaign

"With only about four hours of work and a handful of supporters, I came within thirty-three and a half votes of winning the Vice Presidential nomination," Kennedy told an aide, David Powers, the following November. "If I work hard for four years, I ought to be able to pick up all the marbles." And work hard Kennedy did. He did not become a declared candidate until early 1960, but in the three and a half years before that he delivered hundreds of speeches, appeared frequently on television shows, published many articles, and was often the subject of others. He established contacts with potential Democratic delegates and nurtured them carefully. His efforts were appreciably helped by his family's wealth.

Kennedy's methodical pursuit of the nomination so far in advance of the convention was unprecedented. Some experts and some of his rivals thought he was starting too early, but he proved the experts wrong and stole a march on his rivals. He was, in fact, setting a precedent that has proved enduring. Kennedy's campaign for the nomination in 1960, as described by Theodore H. White in his popular The Making of the President, 1960, became Republican Barry Goldwater's model in 1964. All successful non-incumbent candidates for major-party nominations have followed suit, beginning years ahead of the conventions and methodically building personal followings within their parties. The days of the well-positioned favorite son, of the coy disclaimer of presidential ambition, and of the brokered convention seemed to be over.

To a greater extent than at any time since the Civil War, the leading candidates in 1960 were members of the Senate: Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Stuart Symington on the Democratic side, and the presiding officer of the Senate, Vice President Richard Nixon, a former senator, on the Republican side. In the past, governors had been more prominent in presidential races. The shift in emphasis to the Senate reflected the growing importance of the national news media, particularly television, for they focused attention on broad national and international issues, about which senators presumably had the greatest awareness and expertise.

The 1960 presidential campaign came against an ambiguous background. The country was at peace and there was general prosperity. Eisenhower remained a popular president who, even Kennedy partisans agree, could have been reelected to a third term had not the recently enacted Twenty-second Amendment prohibited it. Yet a series of events, disclosures, and reports suggested that the United States was slipping in its decade-long struggle to contain Communism. The Soviet Union, it appeared, was moving ahead of the United States in winning friends in the new, decolonized nations of the world; was making rapid strides in science and technology, as evidenced by its launching of Sputnik ; and was besting America in weapons development, presumably causing a "missile gap." At home, a popular argument went, Americans were sated with consumer goods and insufficiently committed to public needs in such areas as job development and economic growth, education, medical care, and civil rights for the nation's black minority. Eisenhower, however popular he remained, seemed to influential opinion leaders, if not to the general public, a passive observer of America's deterioration.

Kennedy ran on the slogans "Get America Moving Again" and "To Seek a New Frontier." His speechwriters in 1960 were instructed to drive home the theme that we had "to summon every segment of our society . . . to restore America's relative strength as a free nation . . . to regain our security and leadership in a fast changing world menaced by Communism." Implicitly his campaign also repudiated Eisenhower's style of leadership. Without ever mentioning Eisenhower by name, he rejected a "restricted concept of the Presidency," advocating that

the President place himself in the very thick of the fight, that he care passionately about the fate of the people he leads, that he be willing to serve them at the risk of incurring their momentary displeasure . . . [that he] be prepared to exercise the fullest powers of his officeall that are specified and some that are not.

Kennedy defeated his only Democratic opponent, Hubert Humphrey, in Wisconsin and West Virginia, which had the only contested primary elections in 1960. The latter victory was particularly important because it came in a predominantly Protestant state and eased fears that existed within the party of nominating a Catholic. Following it, Kennedy won a string of primaries, but Humphrey had withdrawn and none of Kennedy's potential opponents, Johnson, Symington, or Stevenson, had declared their candidacies. Because of their followings and because of the presence of favorite sons, Kennedy received the required majority for the nomination only as the first alphabetical roll call reached Wyoming, the last state to be called.

Kennedy chose Johnson as his running mate. Johnson had finished second in the balloting and was the overwhelming choice of the South. No Democrat had ever been elected president without carrying the South, and Eisenhower had made significant inroads in that region, so a lot of political history sustained Kennedy's selection of Johnson. Other factors also influenced Kennedy's thinking, including his respect for Johnson's abilities, on the one hand, and his desire not to have Johnson as Senate majority leader should he be elected president, on the other.

The general election pitted Kennedy against Nixon, who held a narrow lead in early public opinion polls. Both men stumped the country energetically, but television played a more important role than ever before. A series of four televised debates drew an enormous audience, especially the first debate, which an estimated 70 million adults watched. Neither man was the clear victor in the debates, but Nixon in a sense was the loser, for his campaign had stressed his advantage over Kennedy in experience and through the debates Kennedy established himself as Nixon's equal. Kennedy was relaxed, handsome, good-humored, and gracious. In a distinct Boston accent, he spoke in cool, rational tones that were well suited to the television medium. Matters of tone and personality seemed to separate the candidates in 1960 more than the issues did.

But even if Kennedy and Nixon were not far apart on substance, the differences between them were nonetheless real, as in the case of civil rights, the most politically sensitive issue they faced. In part through his selection of Johnson, Kennedy reassured white southerners that he was reasonable and moderate on civil rights and that he was not likely to rein-stitute a hated Reconstruction. Simultaneously, he promised blacks a wide range of presidential action on their behalf, demonstrated sensitivity to their concerns, and appealed to them on economic grounds. By contrast, Nixon made little effort to win black votes. Instead, he concentrated on the white South, though he did not go far enough in repudiating civil rights activism by the federal government to assure his success there. On election day, Kennedy kept the South quite solidly Democratic and captured a high percentage of black votes nationwide, which made a critical difference in several states, including two in the South.

The election was so close that any one of a variety of different groups and tactics may be said to have determined the outcome. With a popular vote of 34.2 million, Kennedy won by fewer than 120,000 votes out of nearly 70 million cast. His margin in the Electoral College, 303219, was more comfortable, yet it rested on thin majorities in a dozen states. Had fewer than 12,000 people in five states switched their votes, Nixon would have had an electoral majority. Anti-Catholic sentiment was less overt than in 1928, but postelection analyses by political scientists revealed its continued vitality in the polling booth. In fact, religion was the single most important factor in determining the closeness of the election. Kennedy's church membership won back many disaffected Catholic Democrats, but it lost him a substantially larger number of Protestant Democrats, who apparently were not reassured either by his record of independence from papal influence or by his unequivocal endorsement of the principle of church-state separation. Kennedy's adherence to that principle as presidentindeed, he was decidedly less prone to mix religion and government than were several recent Protestant presidentsappeared to quiet anti-Catholic fears. Because no Catholic has received a major-party nomination for president since Kennedy, it is impossible to know how much voting behavior has changed in this regard.

The congressional results likewise constituted less than a ringing endorsement of Kennedy's plan to get the country moving again. For the first time in the twentieth century, the party winning the presidency failed to gain seats in the Congress. The Democrats lost 2 Senate and 21 House seats. This still gave them substantial paper majorities (6535 in the Senate and 262174 in the House), but since a conservative coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats had effectively thwarted much liberal legislation in 1959 and 1960, when the majorities were larger, the new numbers did not bode well for legislative activism.

Decisive Leadership

Kennedy publicly rejected the idea that he had failed to get a mandate. "The margin is narrow, but the responsibility is clear," he said. "There may be difficul-ties with the Congress, but a margin of only one vote would still be a mandate." Nonetheless, Kennedy conducted himself with an acute awareness of the closeness of his win and of the tenuousness of his congressional majority. In the weeks following his election, he took care to appear above partisanship, thereby to reassure the country. His first two announced appointees were incumbents whom he retained in their jobs, Allen Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Several weeks later Kennedy chose C. Douglas Dillon, the incumbent under secretary of state, who had contributed money to the Nixon campaign, as secretary of the treasury. Kennedy made a well-publicized and unusual visit to Nixon several days after the election. In addition, he publicly thanked Eisenhower for his cooperation and assistance in the transition, which was marked by a cordiality sometimes lacking in the past, and he revealed that he had asked Eisenhower if he would be available for assignments in his administration.

Kennedy's decision to postpone promised civil rights legislation reflected his recognition of congressional realities. He did not want to alienate southern Democrats, whose support he needed in other areas. Given the makeup of Congress, it would have been a futile gesture to seek civil rights legislation in 1961 anyway.

Within the space of a few months, Kennedy transformed himself from a president-elect without a clear mandate to a highly popular incumbent who raised public expectations of the office. The most visible moment in this transformation came with his inauguration itself, where the contrast between him and Eisenhower could not have been more striking. Eisenhower was the oldest man to occupy the presidency until that time; Kennedy, at forty-three, was the youngest person ever elected president. Eisenhower was the last president born in the nineteenth century; Kennedy was the first born in the twentieth. Eisenhower had been the great World War II commander, and Kennedy, a mere junior officer. Eisenhower had grandchildren; Kennedy had a three-year-old daughter and a son who was born between election and inauguration. Eisenhower had taken care not to endanger his personal popularity by taking on divisive causes and had practiced a kind of indirect leadership, so indirect as often to be undetectable; Kennedy advocated that the president be at the center of the action.

Kennedy's inaugural address vividly underscored the changing of the guard, while promising to uphold America's commitments:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

It was one of the shortest inaugural addresses of this century and the most effective and memorable since Franklin D. Roosevelt's in 1933. Delivered on a cold, clear day following a heavy snowstorm, it would always be remembered by those in attendance and the many millions more who watched it on television or heard it on radio. Young people were particularly stirred by its idealism and inspired by the young man who delivered it so crisply and self-confidently. In the speech's famous climax, Kennedy 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. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it, and the glow from the fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Kennedy embraced a universalistic conception of the country's international responsibilities that his successor and the Vietnam War's critics alike cited as a major reason for America's involvement in the war. "Let every nation know," he asserted, "whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Yet even in this tough-sounding speech, Kennedy declared an interest in opening a dialogue with the Soviet Union to relax tensions and reduce the chance of war. "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate," he said in one of his most famous contrapuntal sentences. He also promised to help the world's poor help themselves "not because the Communists may be doing it . . . but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." To Latin Americans, he offered a special pledge, "a new alliance for progress, to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty."

Just as the inauguration and the inaugural address were studies in contrast, so too was the mood Kennedy set in his first months in office. Kennedy painted a sober, even grim picture of the world as he found it. Things were worse, he said, than he had expected, America's defenses were weaker, its position in certain international situations in greater jeopardy. Yet that sobriety was countered by his youth, vigor, self-confidence, and wit. He flooded Congress with requests, held frequent and impressive press conferences, and proposed bold new national goals, the most important of which was metto place a man on the moon before the decade was out. "Above all, Kennedy held out such promise of hope," Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the historian who served as his assistant, wrote. "Intelligence at last was being applied to public affairs. Euphoria reigned; we thought for a moment that the world was plastic and the future unlimited."

Kennedy made an important innovation upon becoming president when he allowed press conferences to be televised live. He used these conferences to communicate directly with the public, which was immediately impressed with his personality, poise, and knowledge of government. As of May 1961, three out of four adults surveyed had seen at least one of his press conferences, and 91 percent had formed a favorable impression of Kennedy from them. The live press conference became Kennedy's communications forte. None of his successors has felt it possible to abandon the practice, though none has done as well by it. Here was a leading example of Kennedy's permanent effect on the presidency and public expectations of it.

Another demanding legacy Kennedy bequeathed his successors lay in press relations. Kennedy, who had been a reporter briefly himself, followed the press closely, had friends among journalists, and sometimes sought the advice of certain columnists and reporters. Kennedy's immediate successors, Johnson and Nixon, each believed that the press had been infatuated with Kennedy and had treated him with kid gloves, in contrast to the rough treatment they received. In fact, Kennedy received a normal amount of criticism in print and collided with the press on news management (which Kennedy practiced), press self-censorship (which he advocated), and other matters. Like all presidents, he was pleased when he received praise in the press and unhappy when he received criticism. But the fact that his successors forgot the clashes and criticism suggests that Kennedy was at least highly successful in creating merely the impression of good press relations, which may be almost as good as the reality.

Kennedy paid attention to the nation's culture. He honored leading writers, artists, poets, and musicians, and invited them to the White House. The recognition of artistic excellence fit Kennedy's expansive view of the president as the promoter of excellence in virtually all areas of the nation's life. Sympathetic to contemporary intellectual criticisms of mass culture, he appointed as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Newton Minow, who promptly told the nation's broadcasters that if they ever watched television from morning to night, "I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland." At Kennedy's behest, the federal government began to provide aid for educational television. Kennedy also sought to raise aesthetic standards in the design of federal buildings and promoted historic preservation. Not surprisingly, the nation's cultural elite tended to return Kennedy's flattery and then some. Lewis Mumford, for example, in 1964 called Kennedy "the first American President to give art, literature and music a place of dignity in the national life." This was an exaggeration, but Kennedy did set an influential precedent for his immediate successors.

Kennedy likewise encouraged social criticism, and he generated interest in politics and public service. During his presidency, the numbers and impact of published critiques of social conditions and injustices increased appreciably. The Peace Corps, which he created by executive order on 1 March 1961, tapped the idealism of thousands of Americans, many of them young, who volunteered to go to poor countries as teachers, health-care providers, and technicians, and to fulfill other scarce needs. Under Kennedy's direct inspiration, many young people

embarked on careers in government and politics, which Kennedy gave a respectability and appeal they had usually lacked. Partly as a result of his influence, television news and public affairs broadcasting expanded dramatically.

The social questioning that Kennedy sanctioned and encouraged led some people to ideological conclusions that Kennedy rejected. His presidency saw a rise in both radical and conservative movements, but Kennedy was comfortable with neither extreme. He was not even comfortable with liberalism, though he counted many liberals as his allies and though he espoused many liberal programs. Kennedy described himself as an "idealist without illusions." He was a pragmatist and problem solver who perceived the limitations, as well as the possibilities, of presidential power. As a politician, he worried about his reelection and about how Congress and the public received his suggestions. He believed that many problems called out for new and essentially technical solutions. The central issues of our time, Kennedy said in a speech at Yale in 1962, "relate not to basic clashes of philosophy or ideology but to ways and means of reaching common goals." Kennedy declared, "What we need is not labels and clichés but more basic discussion of the sophisticated and technical issues involved in keeping a great economic machinery moving ahead."

Liberals sometimes faulted Kennedy for being too rational and cool. They wanted a more passionate and feeling leadership than he usually projected. They hoped he would mount the "bully pulpit," as Theodore Roosevelt described it, to preach to the public and rally it behind just causes. Kennedy certainly liked to think of himself as a leader, but as a practical politician he was disinclined to lead futile crusades. The most compelling moral cause of Kennedy's years as president was civil rights, and it is therefore worth looking at his handling of it in some detail.

Civil Rights

In his campaign for president, Kennedy promised executive, moral, and legislative leadership to combat racial discrimination. After being elected and looking at the congressional situation, he decided to forgo legislative leadership, at least for the time being. But he did exercise executive and some moral leadership in his first year as president. He appointed an unprecedented number of blacks to office, including Thurgood Marshall, who became a federal judge. Marshall was the nation's preeminent civil rights lawyer and had directed the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He had successfully argued the historic Brown case, among others, before the Supreme Court. Kennedy also took significant measures against racial discrimination in federal employment and among federal contractors. He was more accessible to civil rights leaders than his predecessors had been and, in contrast to Eisenhower, actually endorsed the Brown decision.

Under Attorney General Robert Kennedy, his brother, the Justice Department stepped up enforcement of existing voting rights laws, and the administration encouraged the establishment of the Voter Education Project, which in time registered hundreds of thousands of blacks to vote in the South. Robert Kennedy himself went into the heart of the South to endorse school desegregation. Behind the scenes, the Justice Department endeavored to bring about voluntary and peaceful compliance with court-ordered desegregation.

The administration's symbolic and substantive expressions of support for progress in race relations encouraged the expansion of a preexisting civil rights movement. For the first time, many blacks felt they had real allies in the White House and the Justice Department. Yet participants in the movement, particularly those on the front lines in the South, were sometimes disappointed at certain restraints in the administration's assistance, such as its inability or lack of interest in providing them with federal protection from violence at the hands of local officials and vigilantes.

The Kennedys, for their part, were several times frustrated in their efforts to get state and local officials to carry out their legal responsibilities to obey court orders mandating desegregation of colleges or bus terminals. In May 1961 the administration sent federal marshals to Montgomery, Alabama, to protect Martin Luther King, Jr., the charismatic civil rights leader, from white mob violence during the "freedom rides," which were aimed at desegregating interstate bus transportation.

In September 1962 a long behind-the-scenes negotiation failed to secure Governor Ross Barnett's cooperation in ensuring the safety of James Meredith when he became the first black person to matriculate at the University of Mississippi. Kennedy hoped to avoid sending federal troops, which would stir hated memories of Reconstruction and cause a political backlash among white southerners. Again, federal marshals were sent instead. They performed bravely and with restraint in the face of an angry white mob but, in the end, had to be reinforced by federal troops. Afterward, President Kennedy privately regretted trusting Barnett and was sorry he had not sent in troops earlier, which might have prevented the two deaths that occurred. According to Sorensen, Kennedy also "wondered whether all that he had been taught and all that he had believed about the evils of Reconstruction were true."

In Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King, Jr., led massive demonstrations in the spring of 1963 against that city's segregated public accommodations and against employment discrimination. For a while, the demonstrators were decorously arrested and jailed, a tactic that had broken the back of a comparable campaign in Albany, Georgia, the previous year. But when children began to march in Birmingham, T. Eugene ("Bull") Connor, the police commissioner, changed his tactic to physical repulsion of the demonstrators. Dramatic news photographs and films of defenseless demonstrators being attacked by southern policemen, using vicious dogs, clubs, and fire hoses, appeared around the world. Kennedy sent representatives to the city to mediate the dispute, and he and members of his administration persuaded business executives whose companies had subsidiaries in Birmingham to bring pressure on their local executives to help achieve settlement. These efforts bore some fruit, but were repeatedly endangered by Ku Klux Klan activities, including the terrorist bombings of black homes and businesses, which in turn led to rioting by enraged blacks.

Meanwhile, another crisis brewed in the state, this one over the court-ordered desegregation of the University of Alabama. Governor George Wallace, who had won election as an adamant segregationist, threatened to cause a repetition of the University of Mississippi crisis. Behind the scenes, the Kennedys tried to reason with Wallace and organized business pressure against his causing a violent confrontation. Wallace had sworn to stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent desegregation, and as the day of decision neared, it was not completely clear what would happen if he did. Consequently, President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard. The confrontation came on 11 June 1963. With cameras recording the moment, Wallace stood in the doorway but then stepped aside and let two black students enter the building to register. Wallace kept his defiance symbolic and fulfilled his responsibility to prevent violence as state and local police maintained security; the federal presence was quickly removed.

The events of 11 June gave President Kennedy an excellent moment to address the nation on civil rights. In a period of uncertainty, it seemed a rare instance of unambiguous federal success. The campaign to moderate Wallace's behavior had clearly worked. Although Kennedy had been speaking about civil rights in the previous weeks, he had not made a speech to the nation as a whole. He had already decided to seek broad new civil rights legislation, and, though its details were not complete, Kennedy decided to seize the moment and go on television that evening to address the nation. Sorensen did not even have time to complete writing the speech before Kennedy went on the air, and Kennedy had to extemporize the conclusion.

This time Kennedy unambiguously mounted the bully pulpit and talked about race relations more bluntly and movingly than any president before him. He said:

The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

Kennedy gave the threat of violence as a principal reason for taking immediate steps to secure black people their rights. Events in Birmingham and elsewhere had increased cries for equality and could not be prudently ignored. National legislation must be enacted, he said, "if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts." In a sense, Kennedy's argument could be construed as conservative, for it sought to preserve the social fabric through the provision of a legal outlet. But many conservatives at the time preferred to leave the racial problem in the hands of local officials, even if that meant, as it often did, repression and resistance. Kennedy, on the other hand, believed that America faced a "moral crisis," which could not be "met by repressive police action." He wanted Congress, state and local governments, as well as private citizens, to resolve the crisis by removing its causes. Kennedy manifested a liberal's faith that government had the duty and the ability to correct social injustices.

As he had in the past, Kennedy marshaled economic justifications for eliminating racial discrimination, and he emphasized that the problem was national, not sectional, in scope (which was not only true but politically wise). Kennedy had long emphasized how racial injustices made this country look bad in the eyes of the world. But he argued that the intrinsic moral issue was more important than what the world thought of America:

We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?

For Kennedy, this speech marked a turning point. Most of his advisers had cautioned against it, largely on political grounds. It would cost him the South and the 1964 election, some warned, or it would deadlock Congress. But Robert Kennedy, his most trusted adviser, had argued strongly in favor of a change. Until Birmingham, the administration had managed to stay abreast of, or slightly ahead of, the evolving pressures for the protection of civil rights. But with Birmingham, street demonstrations became a popular, dramatic, and successful tactic, and there were bound to be many more of them. An atmosphere was developing in which Kennedy could only weakly respond to events rather than shape and direct them. Kennedy did not want to find himself in a weak and defensive position when his personality and view of the presidency called for decisive leadership and a measure of control over events. "The situation was rapidly reaching a boil," Sorensen recalled, "which the President felt the federal government should not permit if it was to lead and not be swamped."

The speech also marked a turning point for the country, the beginning of the drive for passage of what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the most far-reaching legal instrumentality in the nation's Second Reconstruction. In the ensuing months, the White House became the focal point of efforts to pass this legislation, which in effect meant that Kennedy did succeed in gaining leadership on civil rights. Kennedy held an important and unprecedented series of meetings with groups of lawyers, religious leaders, businessmen, and labor leaders to enlist them as lobbyists for the legislation and to seek voluntary progress against discrimination. Kennedy never expected Congress to fall in line immediately and it did not.

A vital part of Kennedy's legislative strategy was to incorporate suggestions from Republicans so as to win their support for the legislation as a whole. By the time of Kennedy's death in November, this strategy had paid off in the House, resulting in a stronger bill than Kennedy originally submitted and excellent chances of passage. In the Senate, where a filibuster loomed, final passage was more remote, but Everett Dirksen, the Senate Republican leader, had privately promised that the legislation would be brought to a vote. In other words, the filibuster would not be allowed to kill the legislation.

What might have happened to the bill if Kennedy had not been assassinated is one of those things it is impossible to know. Some key participants in the legislative struggle later reflected that essentially the same goal would have been reached. It is possible that Kennedy's death improved the legislation's chances and strengthened it besides. Lyndon Johnson, his successor, immediately made the bill's enactment a memorial to Kennedy. His commitment to the legislation vividly demonstrated that Johnson, a Texan, had a national, not southern, perspective. The civil rights movement had come so far under Kennedy that it would have been politically dangerous for Johnson to have given up the fight, even if he had wanted to. The legislation as finally enacted covered public accommodations, employment, education, voting rights, and the administration of justice.

Other Domestic Policies

In other, less morally compelling areas of domestic life, such as tax reform, social welfare programs, and economic development, Kennedy was less inclined to mount the bully pulpit and more apt to live with the possible. Specifically, this translated into a legislative record that was never as bad as certain critics asserted or as good as administration spokesmen claimed. Legislative initiatives were achieved in manpower training, welfare reform, area redevelopment, and urban renewal and housing. Kennedy also broke some new ground by establishing certain pilot programs through executive authority. Some initiatives were either dramatically watered down by Congress or, in the case of federal aid to education and medical insurance for the aged, blocked by it. With Congress frustrating him, Kennedy looked forward to the 1964 election, when, he hoped, he would receive a stronger popular and legislative mandate. In the off-year elections of 1962, the Democrats had gained four Senate seats and lost two House seats, which was a better record than usual for an incumbent president but not good enough to make much difference legislatively.

In the area of fiscal policy, Kennedy presided over a significant change. At the start of his administration, there was an internal dispute over the budget. Treasury Secretary Dillon and certain other advisers resisted deficits because they were worried about inflation and the weakness of the dollar. On the other side were leading academic economists, such as Paul Samuelson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Council of Economic Advisers, chaired by Walter Heller, all of whom had been influenced by John Maynard Keynes, the great English economist. They focused on achieving economic growth through the use of fiscal stimulants and were unafraid of deficits. In 1961, Kennedy came down on the side of the budget balancers, for he accepted conventional thinking, recognized the power of fiscal conservatives in Congress, and could not reconcile tax cuts, proposed by the economists, with his public theme of sacrifice.

In his first year as president, a cyclical recovery from recession encouraged Kennedy in the hope that he could adhere to fiscal orthodoxy and enjoy economic expansion too. But there were some worrisome limitations to the recovery. Business confidence in the administration was shaken in the spring of 1962 when Kennedy became embroiled in a bitter controversy with the head of the United States Steel Corporation. The company had unexpectedly and in-cautiously increased prices just after the administration's success in getting the steel-workers to restrain their wage demands. By the summer of 1962, the Council of Economic Advisers had convinced both Dillon and Kennedy that a tax cut was needed to bolster the economy. After the fall elections, Kennedy gave a speech to a business group in New York in which he called for making the kind of tax cuts that would stimulate private investments and "reduce the burden on private incomes and the deterrents to private initiative which are imposed by our present tax system." John Kenneth Galbraith, a liberal Kennedy adviser who dissented from the advice his fellow economists usually offered Kennedy, called it the "most Republican speech since McKinley."

Kennedy's shift on taxes reflected the growing influence of the professional economists who manned the Council of Economic Advisers. It also reflected Kennedy's pragmatism, political interests, and dedication to economic growth. All of these factors were again at play in the spring and summer of 1963 when Kennedy abandoned most of his proposed tax reforms and settled for a program of $11.1 billion in tax cuts for both individuals and corporations. Although certain influential business interests, not surprisingly, got behind the cuts, the projected federal deficit of nearly $12 billion still encountered resistance in Congress, though not enough to prevent enactment early in 1964, an election year.

The tax cut's evident success in bolstering the economic expansion that had begun under Kennedy redounded to the credit of professional economists and neo-Keynesian economics in the United States. The rest of the 1960s saw the economics profession at a high watermark of its influence. Even so, economists proved less persuasive when they recommended tax hikes during the early Vietnam buildup under Johnson than they had when they had proposed tax cuts, which suggests that it was not just the intellectual merits of their case that was compelling but the politics of it. Retrospectively, the Kennedy-initiated tax cuts have been viewed variously as triumphs of modern economic analysis and rational, technically based public policy or as the beginning of the end of fiscal responsibility and the start of an inflationary spiral.

Foreign Affairs

Kennedy's record in foreign affairs has also been subjected to conflicting interpretations. His aides, several of whom are highly skilled writers, have defended him for piloting the United States safely through international crises not of his own making and for beginning the process of détente with the Soviet Union. They have praised him for having a less rigidly ideological view of the world than his immediate predecessor and for accepting a world of diversity, improving America's standing in the Third World. Kennedy's critics, many of whom are on the political left, have charged him with being as much of a cold warrior as Eisenhower and, if anything, less prudent about the application of American power and more provocative and adventuristic. The universalistic language of his inaugural address was applied, they insist, and the world was a more dangerous place as a result.

In the absence of full access to diplomatic records in this country and abroad, it is not yet possible to resolve this debate on Kennedy fully, but certain studies by dispassionate analysts, such as Graham Allison's study of the Cuban missile crisis, lend support to the more friendly view of Kennedy. The president certainly made mistakes in foreign policy, and he raised more hopes than he fulfilled. But he demonstrated a relatively cosmopolitan and sophisticated view of the world, grew in office, and had a feel for diplomacy, which has sometimes been lacking in American presidents.

In contrast to several presidents, Kennedy came to office with a preference for foreign affairs. Issues of war and peace had interested him since his youth, and the awesome responsibility of being president in the nuclear age only reinforced that interest. "Domestic policy," Kennedy often said, "can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us." He believed, with considerable historical justification, that miscalculation had been the route to war several times in the twentieth century. In Kennedy's view, it was essential to prevent such miscalculation in the future, for there could be no winners in a nuclear war. His military strategy, called flexible response and managed by his highly reputed secretary of defense, Robert S. McNamara, was designed to reduce the chances of war by miscalculation. By building up conventional forces and tightening up command and control procedures, Kennedy and McNamara hoped to provide time for diplomacy in the event of miscalculated Soviet military aggression.

Like several other modern presidents, Kennedy tried to be his own secretary of state, though it is not clear that he originally intended to be. Rather, he hoped to avoid being overly dependent on one person for foreign policy advice; he perceived Truman to have been dependent on Dean Acheson and Eisenhower on John Foster Dulles. Dean Rusk, who became Kennedy's secretary of state through a process of elimination, was hardworking, articulate, and loyal but apparently not highly influential with Kennedy, who, according to his brother Robert, came to depend more on the national security assistant, Mc-George Bundy, and his small staff than he did on Rusk and the State Department.

Kennedy became president at a time when Communism seemed to be gaining ground. The Soviet Union had taken the lead in space exploration, had developed missiles that made the United States vulnerable to nuclear attack, and was using more belligerent rhetoric. Communism and revolution were also on the rise in the world's former colonies, including Cuba, which lay ninety miles from American shores. Just prior to Kennedy's inauguration, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a speech promising to support wars of national liberation, and such wars were under way in Southeast Asia. As a candidate for president, Kennedy had stressed the growing Communist menace abroad, and as president, he aimed at thwarting it and meeting new challenges that arose during his time in office. This meant that much of his foreign policy was reactive, though in his last year he showed some initiative in trying to reduce Cold War tensions and improve American-Soviet relations.

Kennedy was sometimes trapped in anti-Communist logic partly of his own making, as in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion that occurred soon after he became president. This was a CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba by thirteen hundred Cubans who had become disaffected with the revolution led by Fidel Castro. Kennedy had reservations about proceeding with the plan; he was worried about its chances of success and about how it might affect his image and the country's to be involved in a foreign, antirevolutionary invasion. For the latter reasons, he refused to authorize overt American involvement in the fighting. But he failed to cancel the operation because it would have been politically embarrassing to call off an anti-Castro effort that had been hatched in the Eisenhower administration, especially when Allen Dulles heartily endorsed it. Kennedy foolishly allowed himself to believe that the United States would be able plausibly to deny involvement in such a large-scale and well-publicized operation. He also allowed himself to be swept along by sheer bureaucratic momentum, and he failed to demand an adequate military review of the invasion plans.

When the invasion came on 17 April 1961, Murphy's Law prevailed: If anything can go wrong, it will. Most of the invaders were captured, later to be ransomed to the United States; over a hundred were killed; and some were rescued at sea by the United States Navy. Kennedy was stunned and wondered how he could have been so stupid. The invasion plan had turned out to have been based on false, unrealistic assumptions. Some of the invaders and their supporters later grumbled that Kennedy had fatally undermined the plan by denying United States air cover, but retrospectively it appears far more likely that air cover would only have prolonged the inevitable. Castro's military forces were too strong and his regime too popular for a counterrevolution to prevail. The American denial, far from being plausible, became instantly and totally implausible. Kennedy had worried about appearances, but he now appeared naive, weak, or aggressive, depending on where one stood.

About the best that can be said for Kennedy in this instance is that he did a good job of picking up the pieces. He publicly accepted total responsibility for the failure, and he consulted with both Eisenhower and Nixon. These steps helped minimize political fallout. He took care to avoid recriminations within the government, appointing a panel of inquiry that included Allen Dulles and the chief of naval operations, who were in effect investigating themselves; Kennedy thus signaled the military and the CIA that he was not looking for scapegoats. After an appropriate interval, Kennedy did make high-level personnel changes in both the CIA and the military, and he strengthened oversight and coordinating functions. In time, he came to regard the Bay of Pigs as an object lesson in the need for a president to have firm operational control during international crises and not to place too much faith in the experts. This lesson served him well during the Cuban missile crisis.

On the other hand, the Bay of Pigs did not teach Kennedy to stay out of the internal affairs of foreign countries, only to keep down the "noise level." Prodded by Robert Kennedy and Maxwell Taylor, the president's military adviser, the CIA continued to seek Castro's removal, which the CIA interpreted to mean assassination. Although the assassination efforts failed, their discovery by Castro, it has sometimes been speculated, triggered retaliation in the form of President Kennedy's assassination. Although the Bay of Pigs taught Kennedy the need to control the CIA, later investigations made it clear that he was much less than completely successful in achieving it.

The Bay of Pigs also reinforced Kennedy's belief in the need for a better nonconventional or counterinsurgency capability in order to prevent future Castros from obtaining power in the first place. Thus, American advisers taught Latin American governments, including ones far to the right, techniques for crushing leftist opposition. To South Vietnam, where the United States already had a substantial commitment to the anti-Communist government of Ngo Dinh Diem when Kennedy took office, he increased American aid and eventually sent sixteen thousand military advisers, some of whom saw combat, to train Diem's troops in counterinsurgency warfare against the threatening guerrilla forces that had begun to operate there. When Diem, a Catholic, repressed Buddhist monks, who were part of the country's religious majority, he became an embarrassment to the United States. Kennedy's subordinates, if not Kennedy himself, gave a green light to a coup by South Vietnamese generals in the fall of 1963, which resulted in Diem's assassination. Kennedy was shocked and disturbed by Diem's death, though not by the coup, which in effect only further tied American prestige to the success of anti-Communist forces in South Vietnam. That was Kennedy's legacy to Lyndon Johnson, and there is, of course, no way of knowing whether Kennedy would have handled Vietnam any differently than his successor did.

Although he supported counterinsurgency warfare, Kennedy recognized in Vietnam and elsewhere the supremacy of politics over force, and he was skeptical of solutions that required direct American military involvement. Laos, which probably took more of Kennedy's time than any other issue in his first several months in office, had the potential to become another Bay of Pigs. It was in utter crisis in 1961, an obscure and murky battleground of political factions, personalities, feudalism, tribal culture, and social revolution set against the background of the Cold War. Eisenhower had backed a conservative group, but Kennedy, according to Schlesinger, believed that "the effort to transform it into a pro-Western redoubt had been ridiculous and that neutralization was the correct policy." Kennedy nevertheless came close to sending American troops there, and he gave the impression that he would send them; but in the end he managed to arrange a cease-fire and eased the way toward neutralization.

Kennedy often tried to pressure allies endangered by revolution to institute reforms in order to enhance their domestic popularity and the viability of their governments. Yet because these endangered governments often had a lot to lose from the reforms themselves and because they knew that stopping Communism was the higher American priority, they could ignore Kennedy's pressure with impunity. Thus, the Alliance for Progress, the highly touted aid program for Latin America that Kennedy proposed in March 1961, achieved far less social and economic reform than the president had hoped, but the ideals that surrounded the Alliance gave him an unusual degree of personal popularity in Latin America. Similarly, his expressed ideals, youth, and opposition to colonialism enhanced his personal prestige and America's image in the new nations of Africa.

Toward the Soviet Union itself, Kennedy's policies differed little at the start of his administration from those of Eisenhower. Like Eisenhower, Kennedy held a summit conference with Khrushchev, though in contrast to the hopeful spirit that accompanied Eisenhower's summits but evaporated soon afterward, a grim mood emerged from Kennedy's meeting with the Soviet premier in June 1961. The meeting was intended to allow the two men simply to get to know each other, but when Khrushchev challenged him verbally, Kennedy had little choice but to respond in kind.

Repeatedly, during Kennedy's first two years as president, the Soviets made threatening noises about West Berlin and, in August 1961, even built a wall around it to keep East Germans from emigrating. Kennedy responded through words and deeds, including at one point calling up American military reserves. He upheld America's longstanding commitment to defend that city and its access to the West. Finally, in 1963, Soviet pressure receded. When Kennedy traveled to West Berlin on 26 June 1963, he received the most overwhelming public reception of his life. A sea of faces chanted his name and a vast audience roared its approval when he said, "Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner.' "

Given Soviet provocations over Berlin in particular, it is not surprising that Kennedy called for a significant buildup in America's conventional forces and that he accelerated an expansion of America's missile program that had begun under Eisenhower. Retrospectively, some of Kennedy's own national security advisers regarded the missile buildup as a mistake, an example of the ratcheting effect in the arms race, whereby America built up its forces on the basis of Soviet capabilities, which America interpreted as intentions, and the Soviets then matched the American buildup. It does seem clear that Kennedy accelerated missile deployments more on the momentum of his election campaign charges of a missile gap than he did on the basis of hard intelligence. Information gathered from satellite reconnaissance and from a Soviet spy showed irrefutably that there had been an intelligence gap rather than a missile gap. Kennedy had McNamara acknowledge the missile gap's demise off the record, but Kennedy neither reversed the American buildup nor educated the public on the true nature of the gap.

It has sometimes been argued that the Soviets decided to install missiles in Cuba in 1962 because they were worried about the American buildup. It has also variously been argued that they were seeking a quick and inexpensive strategic advantage, that it was a tactical move which they thought they could get away with because Kennedy was weak, that they were merely trying to protect their client in Cuba from American invasion or subterfuge, or that they did it for some combination of these and other reasons. There can be little question that it was a provocative act and that any American who might have been president when it occurred was bound to respond to it.

Ever since Castro's Communist sympathies had become clear, Cuba had been a sore point in American politics, for Americans were uncomfortable with a Communist government so close at hand. The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion had made Kennedy and his party vulnerable to charges from the political right. When Soviet military personnel and equipment began to arrive in Cuba in the summer of 1962, the Republican campaign committee announced that Cuba would be "the dominant issue of the 1962 campaign." Several Republicans specifically charged that missile sites were being constructed, and Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution initiated by the Republican leadership expressing American determination "by whatever means may be necessary, including the use of arms, . . . to prevent in Cuba the creation or use of an externally supported military capability endangering the security of the United States." Kennedy reassured the public that offensive weapons would not be permitted in Cuba and that Soviet representatives had repeatedly assured him that they were not installing such weapons in Cuba.

When, in mid-October, Kennedy received incontrovertible photographic evidence that the Soviets were building launching sites for intermediate-range missiles, he simply had to stop them. Some people, both at the time and since, have discounted the strategic significance of the missiles on the grounds that it did not matter whether a missile was launched from the Soviet Union or from Cuba. Others emphasized the increased accuracy that the Soviets would have gained from having missiles in Cuba and the possibility that they were seeking a first-strike capability.

More important to Kennedy than technical military considerations were political ones, both international and domestic. Kennedy had to worry about how the Soviets might interpret a capitulation by him on this issue. If they had miscalculated this badly on missiles in Cuba, would they next miscalculate on Berlin, for example, where he would not back down, with the result a nuclear war? If Kennedy did nothing about the missiles, moreover, his political position in the United States would be compromised or destroyed. He would be impeached, Robert Kennedy said. At the very least, the Republicans would mercilessly exploit his weakness in the upcoming congressional elections.

Kennedy wondered about not whether to seek the missiles' removal, but how to achieve that end. For two weeks, an ad hoc group of high government officials deliberated in secrecy about that question. They were divided between those who favored a quick air strike to achieve a fait accompli and those who favored a naval blockade to pressure the Soviets into removing the missiles themselves. Kennedy rejected the air strike because it placed the United States in the position of launching a sneak attack when the onus of world opinion deserved to be on the Soviets and because it might trigger military retaliation. Neither some of the top military commanders nor Democratic congressional leaders were pleased with Kennedy's choice, but on 21 October he proceeded to announce the imposition of a naval blockade, which he called a quarantine, in a crisp and carefully worded television speech.

The crisis was joined, and the world held its breath to see what the Soviets would do. During the tense days that followed, Kennedy personally kept a close watch on the blockade. He decided to let certain tankers and a passenger ship through, but he ordered a Soviet-chartered ship boarded and inspected as a sign of his determination. At the United Nations, Ambassador Adlai Stevenson publicly grilled his Soviet counterpart. Meanwhile, Kennedy and Khrushchev communicated privately by cable and through emissaries. In these communications, Kennedy demonstrated considerable skill and forbearance, ignoring a tough message from Khrushchev and responding to a more conciliatory one. Kennedy carefully avoided humiliating Khrushchev. He gave written assurances against an invasion of Cuba, and his brother Robert told the Soviet ambassador that within a short time after the crisis was over, the United States would remove from Turkey certain missiles that the Soviets wanted removed and that had no bearing on American security. On 28 October, Khrushchev relented and began removal of the missiles. The crisis passed.

In later years, some people downgraded the severity of the crisis by saying that the outcome was a foregone conclusion because the United States enjoyed a huge military advantage over the Soviet Union in the Caribbean. That is, of course, easy to say in hindsight. The United States and the Soviet Union had never gone "eyeball to eyeball" like this before, so everyone was justified in feeling tense waiting for Khrushchev to blink. Everything was at stake, and the world breathed a sigh of relief when the Soviets backed down.

The crisis impelled Kennedy to take new initiatives in seeking an end to the Cold War. At American University on 10 June 1963, he gave one of the most important speeches of his presidency; it marked the beginning of a spirit of détente. Kennedy called for a reexamination of American attitudes toward the Soviet Union and said that both sides in the Cold War had "a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race." He declared:

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.. . . We must deal with the world as it is, and not as it might have been had the history of the last eighteen years been different.

He proposed complete disarmament, to be achieved through stages, the first of which would be a ban on atmospheric nuclear tests. As a demonstration of good faith, he promised that the United States would not conduct any further atmospheric tests as long as other countries refrained from doing so.

Khrushchev told Averell Harriman, Kennedy's representative at the test ban talks, that he thought Kennedy had made the "greatest speech by any American President since Roosevelt." The negotiations proved successful, at least in banning atmospheric, though not underground, tests. In August, Kennedy sent the treaty to the Senate; it was the first arms control agreement between Washington and Moscow. The Joint Chiefs of Staff gave it only grudging approval, and certain military spokesmen vociferously opposed ratification. The public, though, was solidly behind it, and the treaty was ratified on 24 September by a comfortable margin above the required two-thirds. It was only a small step toward disarmament and an end to the Cold War, but Kennedy liked to say that great journeys began with small steps. No other accomplishment gave him greater satisfaction.

The Assassination

On 22 November 1963 the world was stunned to learn that Kennedy had been shot to death as he rode in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Within hours of Kennedy's shooting, the Dallas police arrested his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, a mysterious, twenty-four-year-old ex-Marine who had lived in the Soviet Union, brought home a Russian wife, and sympathized with Castro. He was unfortunately never brought to trial because two days after his arrest, in full view of a national television audience, he was shot and killed in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner who reportedly was grief-stricken over Kennedy's assassination. Less than a year later, a presidential commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded that Oswald had acted alone in killing Kennedy, that Oswald had not been part of a conspiracy. But from the time of the assassination itself, a significant part of the public was incredulous at the thought of a lone assassin, and the Warren Commission's findings and methods were subjected to endless second-guessing. In 1979 a special congressional investigation concluded that it was probable that more than one person was involved in Kennedy's assassination, though it was unable to identify anyone besides Oswald or to determine the nature and extent of the conspiracy. Articles and books about the crime number in the thousands and range from careful and thoughtful investigation and analysis to unsupported speculation and maudlin fantasy. On one level, the fascination with the assassination may indicate a psychological denial of Kennedy's death, a mass wish somehow to make it explicable or, in a sense, to undo it.

The depth of the public reaction to Kennedy's assassination can be explained in several ways. Although there had been attempts on the lives of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry Truman, no American president had been assassinated since William McKinley in 1901. Television brought the Kennedy tragedy into people's lives with an intimacy that had never been known before. Many thousands had stood by the tracks as Lincoln's funeral train passed by, but now the entire country mourned at a presidential funeral. But it is probably safe to say that even if Kennedy had died suddenly of natural causes or through an accident, the public grief would have been great. Kennedy had become identified with many of mankind's hopes and aspirationspeace, racial justice, economic development, public service, social reform, a striving for excellence, and a seeking after New Frontiers on earth and in space. Toward these goals, he brought vitality, grace, and reason. Then, unexpectedly, irrationally, at the age of forty-six, he was dead, and the world was left wondering what might have been. His death at an early age called up the unfairness and tragedy of life.


Kennedy's aides and friends evocatively and sympathetically portray him in several works, including Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York, 1965); Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston, 1965); Paul B. Fay, Jr., The Pleasure of His Company (New York, 1966); Pierre Salinger, With Kennedy (Garden City, N.Y., 1966); Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy (Garden City, N.Y., 1967); Kenneth P. O'Donnell and David F. Powers, with Joe McCarthy, "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye": Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Boston, 1972); and Benjamin C. Bradlee, Conversations with Kennedy (New York, 1975).

Herbert S. Parmet has written the biographies Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (New York, 1980) and JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (New York, 1983). Richard Reeves, President Kennedy: Profile of Power (New York, 1993), is a well-researched assessment, critical but judicious. In the 1970s and 1980s, many revisionist evaluations of Kennedy appeared. Garry Wills, for example, debunks Kennedy and his defenders in The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power (Boston, 1982), while Allen J. Matusow, The Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s (New York, 1984), critically surveys government initiatives that began under Kennedy. Three other recent studies with varying viewpoints are Irving Bernstein, Promises Kept: John F. Kennedy's New Frontier (New York, 1991), James N. Giglio, The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (Lawrence, Kans., 1991), and Thomas Reeves, A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (New York, 1991).

Meanwhile, there has been a growing number of monographs and specialized studies, including Graham T. Allison, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston, 1971); Carl M. Brauer, John F. Kennedy and the Second Reconstruction (New York, 1977); Thomas G. Paterson, ed., Kennedy's Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy, 19611963 (New York, 1989); Montague Kern, Patricia W. Levering, and Ralph B. Levering, The Kennedy Crises: The Press, the Presidency, and Foreign Policy (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1983); William J. Rust et al., Kennedy in Vietnam: American Vietnam Policy, 19601963 (New York, 1985); Thomas Brown, JFK, History of an Image (Bloomington, Ind., 1988); Michael R. Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 19601963 (New York, 1991); John M. Newman, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power (New York, 1992); and Edwin M. Martin, Kennedy and Latin America (Lanham, Md., 1994).

Recent works include Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (New York, 2000); Barbara Leaming, Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years (New York, 2001); Richard D. Mahoney, Sons and Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy (New York, 1999); Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (Cambridge, Mass., 1997); and Gerald Posner, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (New York, 1993).

For further sources consult James N. Giglio, comp., John F. Kennedy: A Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1995).

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) served in both houses of Congress before becoming the thirty-fifth president of the United States. His assassination shocked the world.

John F. Kennedy once summed up his time as "very dangerous, untidy." He was the child of two world wars, of the Great Depression, and of the nuclear age. "Life is unfair," he remarked. And so it was to Kennedy, heaping him with glory, burdening him with tragedy. Yet, he never lost his grace, his sense of balance, or his indomitable gaiety.

Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass., on May 29, 1917. He was the second son of business executive and financier Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. His great-grandfather had emigrated in 1850 from Ireland to Boston, where he worked as a cooper. His paternal grandfather had served in the Massachusetts Legislature and in elective offices in Boston. Kennedy's maternal grandfather, John Francis Fitzgerald, had been a state legislator, mayor of Boston, and U.S. congressman. Kennedy's father served as ambassador to Great Britain (1937-1940), having been chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and of the U.S. Maritime Commission. Thus Kennedy was born into a wealthy family oriented toward politics and public service.

Education and Youth

Kennedy attended the Canterbury parochial school (1930-1931), completing his preparatory education at the Choate School (1931-1935). He enrolled at Princeton University in 1935, but illness soon forced him to withdraw. Upon recovery he went to Harvard University. During his junior year he traveled in Europe, observing the political tensions that were leading to World War II. He was gathering materials for his senior thesis, which, reflecting some of the isolationist views of his father, later became the bestselling book Why England Slept (1940).

After graduating from Harvard cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in 1940, Kennedy enrolled at Stanford University for graduate studies. In April 1941 he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rejected for physical reasons (a back injury received while playing football). Months later, his back strengthened through a regimen of exercises, the Navy accepted him. He became an intelligence officer with the rank of lieutenant junior grade in Washington, D.C. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he requested active duty at sea; this assignment was not granted until late in 1942.

War Hero

Following his training with the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron, Kennedy was shipped to the South Pacific into the war against Japan. In March 1943 he received command of a PT boat. That August, when his boat was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer, two of his crew were killed, while Kennedy and four others clung to the half of the PT boat that remained afloat. Six other men survived in the nearby water, two wounded. In a 3-hour struggle Kennedy got the wounded crewmen to the floating hulk. When it capsized, he ordered his men to swim to a small island about 3 miles away, while he towed one man to shore in a heroic 5-hour struggle. Several days later, having displayed exceptional qualities of courage, leadership, and endurance, Kennedy succeeded in having his men rescued.

Kennedy did not see further action, for he suffered an attack of malaria and aggravation of his back injury. In December he returned to the United States. After a hospital stay he became a PT instructor in Florida, until he was hospitalized again. He was retired from the service in the rank of full lieutenant in March 1945, having undergone a disk operation. Returning to civilian life, Kennedy did newspaper work for several months, covering the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, the Potsdam Conference, and the British elections of 1945.

House of Representatives

However, Kennedy desired a political career. In 1946 he became a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from the Massachusetts eleventh congressional district. Realizing that, despite his family's background in Democratic politics, he was unknown to the district's electorate, Kennedy built a large personal organization for his campaign. On whirlwind tours he met as many voters as possible, addressing them in a direct, informal style on timely topics. In this campaign, as in all the others, his brothers, sisters, and mother supported him. His brothers, Robert and Ted, acted as his managers, while his sisters and mother held social events.

Kennedy was a driven man. "The Kennedys were all puppets in the hands of the old man," Washington newspaperman Arthur Krock once observed. "I got Jack into politics," his father said, although he admitted that neither he nor his wife could picture their son as a politician. "I told him Joe [the oldest brother, who died a hero in World War II] was dead … and I told him he had to." Kennedy fell heir to the political know-how of his grandfather, the legendary "Honey Fitz," who had charmed and utilized the tough Boston Irish electorate. Meanwhile, Kennedy climbed more stairs and shook more hands and worked harder than the 10 other contenders for the candidacy combined.

Kennedy won the primary, the fall election, and reelection to the House in 1948 and in 1950. He kept his campaign pledges to work for broader social welfare programs, particularly in the area of low-cost public housing. Kennedy was a staunch friend of labor. In 1949 he became a member of the Joint Committee on Labor-Management Relations. He battled unsuccessfully against the Taft-Hartley Bill and later supported bills that sought to modify its restrictive provisions. Although Kennedy supported President Harry Truman's social welfare programs, progressive taxation, and regulation of business, he did not follow administration policies in foreign relations. He opposed the fighting in Korea "or any other place in Asia where we cannot hold our defenses."

In 1951 Kennedy spent 6 weeks traveling in Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, and West Germany. On his return he advised the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that he believed defending Western Europe was strategically important to the United States but that he felt Western Europeans should do more on their own behalf and not rely so strongly on the United States. That autumn he traveled around the world. His visits to the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Indochina, Malaya, and Korea caused him to reverse a previous position and support Point Four aid for the Middle East. He also urged that France get out of Algeria.

The Senate

In April 1952 Kennedy announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, running against the strongly entrenched Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a Republican liberal. Kennedy won by over 70,000 votes. Lodge reeled under the impact: "those damned tea-parties," he said. He had not run against a man, but a family—the Kennedy women having acted as hostesses to at least 70,000 Massachusetts housewives. In 1958 Kennedy was reelected.

On Sept. 12, 1953, Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, daughter of a New York City financier, at Newport, R. I. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., noted of Mrs. Kennedy that "under a veil of lovely inconsequence" she possessed "an all-seeing eye and ruthless judgment." Four children were born, of whom two survived infancy: Caroline Bouvier and John Fitzgerald.

Taking his seat in the Senate in January 1953, Kennedy served on the Labor and Public Welfare Committee, the Government Operations Committee, the Select Committee on Labor-Management Relations, the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Joint Economic Committee. He secured passage of several bills to aid the Massachusetts fishing and textile industries and fought to ameliorate New England's economic problems. In 1954 he voted to extend the president's powers under the reciprocal trade program.

A recurrence of his old back injuries forced Kennedy to use crutches during 1954. An operation in October was followed by another in February 1955. He spent his months of illness and recuperation writing biographical profiles of Americans who had exercised moral courage at crisis points in their lives. Profiles in Courage (1956), a best seller, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957.

Kennedy's back operations were not completely successful, and he was never again entirely free from pain. He resumed his senatorial duties in May 1955. During the next years he opposed reform in the electoral college, favored American aid to help India stabilize its economy, and became a strong advocate of civil rights legislation. Social welfare legislation was of primary concern. The Kennedy-Douglas-Ives Bill (1957) required full disclosure and accounting of all employee pension and welfare funds. The Kennedy-Byrd-Payne Bill was a budgeting and accounting bill that placed the financial structure of the government on an annual accrued expenditure basis. Kennedy also sponsored bills for providing Federal financial aid to education and for relaxing United States immigration laws.

Campaign for the Presidency

Kennedy's record in Congress, together with his thoughtful books and articles, had attracted national attention. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1956, when presidential nominee Adlai E. Stevenson left the choice of his running mate open, Kennedy was narrowly defeated by Estes Kefauver. From then on, however, Kennedy was running for the presidency. He began building a personal national organization. Formally announcing his candidacy in January 1960, Kennedy made whirlwind tours and won the Democratic primaries in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, Maryland, and Nebraska, plus an upset victory over Hubert Humphrey in West Virginia. On July 13, 1960, Kennedy was nominated on the first ballot, with Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate.

"Jack In Walk" shouted the Boston Globe after Kennedy gained the nomination. But it would be no walk to the White House against the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon. Kennedy's candidacy was controversial because he was a Roman Catholic; religious prejudice probably cost him a million votes in Illinois alone. But his "Houston speech" on Sept. 11, 1960, met the religious issue head on. He believed in the absolute separation of church and state, he said, in which no priest could tell a president what to do and in which no Protestant clergyman could tell his parishioners how to vote.

A series of televised debates with Nixon was crucial. Kennedy "clobbered" the Republican leader with his "style." Skeptical and laconic, careless and purposeful, Kennedy displayed wit, love of language, and a sense of the past. On November 9 Kennedy became the youngest man in American history to win the presidency and the only Roman Catholic to do so. The election was one of the closest in the nation's history; his popular margin was only 119,450 votes. On December 19 the electoral college cast 303 votes for Kennedy and 219 for Nixon.

The Presidency

The inauguration on Jan. 20, 1960, of the first president born in the 20th century had a quality of pageant, as the old poet Robert Frost, the old priest Cardinal Richard Cushing, and the old president Dwight Eisenhower watched the torch being passed to a new generation. Then the challenge of Kennedy's inaugural address rang out: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country." The new "First Family" quickly captured the public imagination: Jacqueline, with her cameo beauty and her passion for excellence; 3-year-old Caroline; and newborn John.

Although happy that he could do something about "the problems that bedeviled us," Kennedy was aware that his razor-thin victory had narrowed his options. Congress was unyielding—it had seen presidents come and go, and it distrusted Kennedy's youth and wit and gaiety. Kennedy was never able to "escape the congressional arithmetic." Unlike his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy had no past political favors to draw upon. Therefore, most of his program—tax reform, civil rights, a Medicare system, and the establishment of a department of urban affairs—bogged down in Congress. Ironically, his education bill was defeated largely through the efforts of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

The Cuban invasion burst over the Kennedy administration like a bombshell in April 1961. On April 17 it became known that 1,400 exiled Cubans had invaded Cuba's Las Villas Province and had penetrated 10 miles inland. On April 18 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev sent a note to Kennedy stating that his government was prepared to come to the aid of the Cuban government to help it resist armed attack. By April 20 the invasion was clearly a failure. Who was responsible for American involvement in this shabby operation? Kennedy shouldered the responsibility for the fiasco, but his biographers have since noted that "Operation Pluto," committing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to train Cuban guerrillas, was a project of Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration. Kennedy, initially overawed by the CIA and the joint chiefs of staff, in the end refused to commit the necessary American troops. He was aware that if the Cuban people did not rise up and back the invaders, the United States could not impose a regime on them. Furthermore, he was apprehensive that if America moved in Cuba the Soviet Union might move in Berlin. The Bay of Pigs fiasco proved Kennedy's ability to face disaster. When it was over, he was "effectively in control."

Kennedy rapidly learned the great limitations on a president's ability to solve problems. He wanted the United States to reexamine its attitude toward the Soviet Union, and he wanted to act upon both nations' mutual "abhorrence of war." His separate meetings with Gen. Charles De Gaulle, the president of France, and Khrushchev in the spring of 1961 were social triumphs but political defeats. Kennedy failed to dissuade De Gaulle from pulling France out of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, and he could reach no agreement with the Soviet chief on the status of Berlin. He did voice to Khrushchev, however, America's determination to stay in Berlin. Each threatened to meet force with force. In August the Berlin crisis exploded. The East Germans tightened border curbs and erected a wall of concrete blocks along most of the 25-mile border between East Berlin and West Berlin. Kennedy unequivocally stated that the United States would not abandon West Berlin.

Kennedy's civil rights bills bogged down in Congress. Civil rights was the President's foremost domestic concern. When the showdown came, "the Kennedys," as the President and his brother Robert, the attorney general, shamed southern governors. They sent 600 Federal marshals to Alabama in 1961 to protect the "Freedom Riders." In 1962 they forced Mississippi's governor, Ross Barnett, to send his troopers back to the state university, while dispatching hundreds of Federal marshals into an all-night battle to protect the right of one African American student to attend the university.

Kennedy appealed by television to the conscience of the nation. "We are confronted with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and it is as clear as the American Constitution." He called upon the American people to exhibit a sense of fairness. The political costs were high because Kennedy already had the African American vote.

Nuclear Confrontation

On Oct. 22, 1962, Kennedy addressed the nation on a grave matter. The Soviet Union, he said, had deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba, and the United States had declared a quarantine on all shipments of offensive military equipment into Cuba. The United States would not allow Cuba to become a Soviet missile base, and it would regard any missile launched from Cuba "as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response."

This direct confrontation was brinkmanship. For a week the details had been "the best kept secret in government history." Through 7 days of gripping tension and soul-searching, the administration had maintained a facade of normal social and political activities. Meanwhile, American military units throughout the world were alerted.

As messages went back and forth between Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Pope John, who volunteered his aid as peacemaker, Soviet ships were moving toward Kennedy's invisible line in the Atlantic. Would they stop? They slowed, then stopped, and on October 28 the news came that the Soviet Union would remove its missiles from Cuba. For a time Kennedy seemed at least 10 feet tall, but his own wry comment on the crisis was, "Nobody wants to go through what we went through in Cuba very often."

Out of this confrontation came the greatest single triumph of the Kennedy administration: the nuclear testban treaty with the Soviet Union. Kennedy called this treaty "the first step down the path of peace." Before negotiations for the treaty were completed, Khrushchev had defiantly reopened the nuclear race. Kennedy, however, held firm, and the treaty was signed on July 25, 1963. "Yesterday a shaft of light cut into the darkness," Kennedy said. A "hot line" for emergency messages was also established between Washington, D.C., and Moscow.

Vietnam Commitments

According to Kennedy's biographer Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Vietnam "was his great failure." Certainly it consumed more of his time than any other problem. Kennedy had inherited the commitment, but he stepped up the conflict, despite his assertion that "full-scale war in Vietnam … was unthinkable." Kennedy had opposed the French military operations in Algeria and was aware of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's and Eisenhower's warnings against a land war in Asia. Yet he tripled American forces in Vietnam at a time when South Vietnamese troops greatly outnumbered the enemy. Why? Senator William Fulbright has suggested that Kennedy put troops in Vietnam to prove to Khrushchev that "he couldn't be intimidated."

Kennedy was well aware of the dangers of the presidency. One of his favorite poems was "I Have a Rendezvous with Death," and he had always been haunted by the poignancy of those who die young. "Who can tell who will be president a year from now?" he would ask. On the fatal day of his arrival in Dallas, Tex., he remarked that if anyone wanted to kill a president he needed only a high building and a rifle with a telescopic lens.

That day—Nov. 22, 1963—Kennedy was assassinated by a lone sharpshooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, who fired on Kennedy's motorcade with a rifle equipped with a telescopic lens. Within hours, that "live, electric" figure was dead. Gone was all that brilliance and wit and purpose. In Indonesia, flags were lowered to half-mast; in New Delhi, India, crowds wept in the streets; in Washington, D.C., "grief was an agony."

His Legacy

Kennedy was the first president to face a nuclear confrontation; the first to literally reach for the moon, through the nation's space programs; the first in half a century to call a White House conference on conservation; the first to give the arts a prominent place in American national councils; the first since Theodore Roosevelt with whom youth could identify. He made the nation see itself with new eyes.

Yet his most cherished dreams foundered without the influence of his inspiration and guiding hand. The Alliance for Progress, his program to revitalize life throughout the poor nations of South America, disintegrated—Latin American leaders were simply not committed to democratic change. The youthful idealism of the Peace Corps eroded under the impact of disillusionment and reality. The romantic "Green Berets" degenerated into a cloak-and-dagger outfit.

What Kennedy accomplished was not as important as what he symbolized. He enjoyed unique appeal for the emerging Third World. As the African magazine Transition expressed it, murdered with Kennedy was "the first real chance for an intelligent and new leadership in the world. His death leaves us unprepared and in darkness."

Further Reading

Perhaps the most objective, scholarly biographical account of Kennedy is Theodore Sorenson, Kennedy (1965), combining the insights of the "insider" with the detachment of the historian. Intimate but more romanticized is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days (1965), winner of a Pulitzer Prize. Useful books by intimates of Kennedy include Evelyn Lincoln, My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy (1965), and Pierre Salinger, With Kennedy (1966). The most critical, but well-annotated, study is Victor Lasky, J. F. K.: The Man and the Myth (1963). Valuable insights are in the anthology by Donald S. Harrington, As We Remember Him (1965), and in Tom Wicker, JFK and LBI: The Influence of Personality upon Politics (1968). Kennedy's election to the presidency is detailed in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., History of American Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971). Robert Kennedy, Thirteen Days (1969), illumines the tensions of the Cuban missile crisis. William Manchester, The Death of a President (1967), is the definitive work on the assassination. See also Hugh Sidey, John F. Kennedy, President (1963), and Alex Goldman, John Fitzgerald Kennedy: The World Remembers (1968). □

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Kennedy, John F.

John F. Kennedy

Born: May 29, 1917
Brookline, Massachusetts
Died: November 22, 1963
Dallas, Texas

American president

John F. Kennedy was the thirty-fifth president of the United States. He was the first president to reach for the moon, through the nation's space programs. He also was the first president since Theodore Roosevelt (18581919) with whom youth could identify. He made the nation see itself with new eyes. His assassination shocked the world.

Early life and family

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917. He was the second son of nine children born to the multimillionaire business executive and financier Joseph P. Kennedy (18881969) and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (18901995). Joseph's father had served in the Massachusetts Legislature and in elective offices in Boston, Massachusetts. Rose's father, John Francis Fitzgerald (18631950), had been a state legislator, the mayor of Boston, and a U.S. congressman. Joseph himself had served as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, chairman of the U.S. Maritime Commission, and ambassador to Great Britain (193740). Thus, the Kennedys were a wealthy family with a history of political and public service.

Education and the military

Kennedy attended the Canterbury parochial school (193031) and the Choate School (193135). One of his teachers later said that people in school liked him more for his personality than for his accomplishments. He was often ill during his childhood and spent much of this time reading. Kennedy enrolled at Princeton University in 1935 but illness soon forced him to withdraw. Upon recovery he went to Harvard University, where he majored in government and international relations. During his junior year at Harvard, he traveled in Europe and observed the events that were leading to World War II (193945; a war in which the AlliesFrance, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, and from 1941 the United Statesfought against the Axis powersGermany, Italy, and Japan). He used his observations for his senior paper, which later became the bestselling book Why England Slept (1940).

After graduating from Harvard with honors in 1940, Kennedy went to Stanford University for graduate studies. In April 1941 he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rejected for physical reasons (a back injury received while playing football). Months later, after his back strengthened through a regimen of exercises, the U.S. Navy accepted him. He then became an intelligence officer in Washington, D.C. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a U.S. Navy base in Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II. Kennedy requested active duty at sea and was given this assignment in late 1942.

War hero

Following Kennedy's training with the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron, he was shipped to the South Pacific to fight in the war against Japan. In March 1943 he was given command of a patrol torpedo (PT) boat, a small, fast boat armed with weapons, including torpedoes. In August his boat was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer and two of his crew were killed. Kennedy and four others clung to the half of the PT boat that remained afloat. Six other men survived in the nearby water, two wounded. In a three-hour struggle Kennedy got the wounded crewmen to the floating wreck. When it capsized, he ordered his men to swim to a small island about three miles away. He towed one man to shore in a heroic five-hour struggle. Several days later, having displayed great courage, leadership, and endurance, Kennedy succeeded in having his men rescued.

House of Representatives

Returning to civilian life, Kennedy did newspaper work for several months, covering a United Nations conference, the Potsdam Conference, and the British elections of 1945. However, coming from a family devoted to public service, Kennedy desired a career in politics. In 1946 he became a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from the Massachusetts eleventh congressional district. Kennedy built a large personal organization for his campaign. On whirlwind tours he met as many voters as possible. He talked to the people in a direct, informal style about the topics that they were concerned with. In this campaign and in all the others, his brothers, sisters, and mother supported him. His brothers, Robert (19251968) and Edward (also called Ted; 1932), acted as his managers, while his sisters and mother held social events to raise money for his campaigns.

Kennedy won the primary, the fall election, and reelection to the House in 1948 and again in 1950. He worked for better social welfare programs, particularly in the area of low-cost public housing (or affordable places for people to live). In 1949 he became a member of the Joint Committee on Labor-Management Relations. In this capacity, Kennedy was a strong supporter of labor, working for higher wages and better working conditions.

Kennedy supported the domestic programs of President Harry Truman (18841972), including social welfare programs, progressive taxation, and regulation of business. However, he did not follow Truman's policies in foreign relations. For example, he was against the fighting in Korea "or any other place in Asia where [the United States] cannot hold our defenses."

The Senate

In April 1952 Kennedy ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate against Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (19021985), a Republican liberal. Kennedy won by over seventy thousand votes. Lodge reeled under the impact. He had not run against a man, but a whole family. The Kennedy women alone had acted as hostesses to at least seventy thousand Massachusetts housewives. In 1958 Kennedy was reelected to the Senate.

Kennedy's political success was soon followed by high points in his personal life. On September 12, 1953, Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (19291994), daughter of a New York City financier, at Newport, Rhode Island. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917) noted that "under a veil of lovely inconsequence" Mrs. Kennedy possessed "an all-seeing eye and ruthless judgement." John and Jacqueline Kennedy had three children: Caroline Bouvier (1957), John Fitzgerald (19601999), Patrick Bouvier (who lived only a few days after his birth in 1963); another child was stillborn in 1956.

Taking his Senate seat in January 1953, Kennedy continued to support key labor, economic, and foreign relations issues. He served on the Labor and Public Welfare Committee, the Government Operations Committee, the Select Committee on Labor-Management Relations, the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Joint Economic Committee. He also worked to pass several bills to aid the Massachusetts fishing and textile industries and to improve New England's economy.

A recurrence of his old back injuries forced Kennedy to use crutches during 1954. An operation in October 1954 was followed by another in February 1955. He spent his months of illness and recovery writing biographies of Americans who had shown moral courage at difficult points in their lives. These biographies became the best-selling book Profiles in Courage (1956), which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957.

Kennedy's back operations were not completely successful, and he was never again entirely free from pain. After recovering from his operations, he returned to his Senate seat in May 1955. He became a strong supporter of civil rights and social welfare legislation. The Kennedy-Douglas-Ives Bill (1957) required an accounting of all employee pension and welfare funds. Kennedy also sponsored bills for providing federal financial aid to education and for relaxing U.S. immigration laws.

Kennedy becomes president

Kennedy's record in elected office and the books and articles that he had written attracted national attention. After he lost the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1956, he decided to run for president. Formally announcing his candidacy in January 1960, Kennedy made whirlwind tours and won the Democratic primaries in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, Maryland, Nebraska, and West Virginia. On July 13, 1960, Kennedy was nominated for president, with Lyndon B. Johnson (19081973) as his running mate.

"Jack in Walk" shouted the Boston Globe after Kennedy's nomination. But it would be no easy walk to win the White House against the Republican candidate, Vice President Richard Nixon (19131994). At that time, Kennedy was a controversial candidate because he was a Roman Catholic. Religious prejudice, or dislike of a person based solely upon his or her religion, probably cost him over a million votes in Illinois alone. Kennedy responded to the issue of religion in his "Houston speech" on September 11, 1960. He believed in the absolute separation of church and state (the belief that one bodychurch or governmentwould have no influence over the other). To him, this meant that no priest could tell a president what to do and no Protestant clergyman could tell his parishioners how to vote. In other words, Kennedy's religion would not affect the decisions he made as president.

A series of televised debates with Nixon was crucial to Kennedy's campaign. Many viewers believed Kennedy defeated Nixon with his style. Kennedy showed the American people that he had a sense of humor, a love of language, and a sense of the past. On November 9, 1960, John F. Kennedy became the youngest man and the first Roman Catholic in American history to win the presidency. The 1960 presidential election was one of the closest in the nation's history. Kennedy won the popular vote by only 119,450 votes. On December 19, 1960, the electoral college cast 303 votes for Kennedy and 219 for Nixon.

At the inauguration on January 20, 1960, the first U.S. president born in the twentieth century was sworn into office. Kennedy's inaugural address included the challenge: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Bay of Pigs

In his short time in office, Kennedy faced many crises. The first of which involved Cuba, a country about ninety miles south of Florida. On April 17, 1961, fourteen hundred Cuban exiles, supported by the United States, invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. On April 18 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (18941971) sent a note to Kennedy stating that his government would help the Cuban government resist an attack. By April 20 the invasion had failed. Although the plan for training Cuban exiles had actually begun during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower (18901969), Kennedy took responsibility for it. He had first supported the plan but later refused to commit the necessary American troops. He was aware that if the Cuban people did not rise up and back the invaders, the United States could not force them to accept a new system of government. Although the Bay of Pigs invasion was a failure, it did prove Kennedy's ability to face a disaster.

Protecting civil rights

Kennedy continued to show skill and passion for issues at home, particularly civil rights. In 1961 the Congress of Racial Equality, a civil rights group, organized people to protest segregation, or the practice of separating people based solely on their race, on buses and trains. When the showdown came, "the Kennedys," as the president and his brother Robert, the attorney general, were known, sent six hundred Federal marshals to Alabama to protect these "Freedom Riders." In 1962 they sent hundreds of Federal marshals to protect the rights of the first African American student to attend the University of Mississippi.

Cuban missile crisis

On October 22, 1962, Kennedy announced to the nation that the Soviet Union had sent nuclear missiles to Cuba. In response the United States had blocked all shipments of military equipment into Cuba. The United States would not allow Cuba to become a Soviet missile base, and it would regard any missile launched from Cuba "as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full [military] response."

For a week the details of the situation had been "the best kept secret in government history." Throughout the seven days, the Kennedy administration had maintained an outward appearance of normal social and political activity. Meanwhile, American military units throughout the world were alerted.

Messages were sent back and forth between Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Pope John XXIII (18811963), who was volunteering as a peacemaker. During this time Soviet ships were moving toward the area of the blockade in the Atlantic Ocean. They slowed, then stopped. On October 28, 1962, the Soviet Union said it would remove its missiles from Cuba.

One result of the crisis was the nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union, which Kennedy called "the first step down the path of peace." The treaty was signed on July 25, 1963. A "hot line" for emergency messages was also set up between Washington, D.C., and Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union.


Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia, took up more of Kennedy's time than any other problem. The Vietnam War (19551975) was a civil war in which anti-Communist forces in South Vietnam, supported by the United States, were fighting against a takeover by Communist forces in North Vietnam. In 1954 President Eisenhower had offered military aid to South Vietnam and funding, and advisors were sent to the country throughout the 1950s. Although Kennedy believed that a "full-scale war in Vietnam was unthinkable," he tripled American forces in the country. Senator William Fulbright (19051995) suggested that Kennedy put troops in Vietnam to prove to Khrushchev that "he couldn't be intimidated."

The President's last day

Kennedy was well aware of the dangers of the presidency. "Who can tell who will be president a year from now?" he would ask. On the day of his arrival in Dallas, Texas, he said that if anyone wanted to kill a president he needed only a high building and a rifle with a telescopic lens.

That dayNovember 22, 1963the president was assassinated. It is generally believed that Lee Harvey Oswald (19391963), using a rifle equipped with a telescopic lens, was the person who fired on the president's car. Others, however, believe more than one person was responsible. All of the United Statesindeed, the worldwas in mourning. In Indonesia, flags were lowered to half-mast. In New Delhi, India, crowds wept in the streets.

Kennedy's legacy

Kennedy once summed up his time as "very dangerous, untidy." He lived through two world wars, the Great Depression (a period from 1929 to 1939 during which nearly half the industrial workers in the country lost their jobs), and the nuclear age. "Life is unfair," he remarked. And so it was to Kennedy, heaping him with both glory and tragedy. Yet, he never lost his grace, his sense of balance, or his optimism.

What Kennedy accomplished was not as important as what he stood for. As the African magazine Transition expressed it, "murdered with Kennedy was the first real chance for an intelligent and new leadership in the world. His death [left] us unprepared and in darkness."

For More Information

Burner, David. John F. Kennedy and a New Generation. Boston: Little Brown, 1988.

Cole, Michael D. John F. Kennedy: President of the New Frontier. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1996.

Frisbee, Lucy Post. John F. Kennedy: America's Youngest President. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1984.

Manchester, William. Death of a President: November 20November 25, 1963. New York: Harper & Row, 1967. Reprint, New York: Arbor House, 1985.

O'Donnell, Kenneth P., David F. Powers, and Joe McCarthy. "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye": Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972.

Randall, Marta. John F. Kennedy. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965. Reprint, New York: Greenwich House, 1983.

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Kennedy, John Fitzgerald


John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the thirty-fifth president of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. Although his administration had few legislative accomplishments, Kennedy energized the United States by projecting idealism, youth, and vigor.

Kennedy was born May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was a self-made millionaire and the son of a Boston politician. His mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, was the daughter of John F. ("Honey Fitz") Fitzgerald, who served as a Representative and a mayor of Boston.

Kennedy, one of nine children, graduated from Harvard University in 1940. His senior thesis, "Why England Slept," which addressed the reasons why Great Britain had been unprepared for world war ii, was published in 1940 to great acclaim. His father thought that Kennedy would become a writer or teacher, and that Kennedy's older brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., would go into politics. World War II changed those plans.

Kennedy joined the Navy in 1941 and commanded a PT boat in the Pacific Ocean. In 1943, the boat was attacked and destroyed, and Kennedy emerged a as hero, owing to his valiant efforts to save his crew. His older brother Joseph was killed in action in 1944. Kennedy's father then transferred his political goals to Kennedy.

In 1946, Kennedy was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the solidly Democratic Eleventh District of Massachusetts. He was re-elected in 1948 and 1950.

In 1952, he was elected to the Senate, defeating the incumbent, Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Kennedy kept a low profile at first, working on legislation that benefited Massachusetts. Back problems and other physical maladies bedeviled Kennedy during this period. He underwent two operations on his back, to alleviate chronic pain. During his convalescence, he wrote Profiles in Courage (1956), a series of essays on courageous stands taken by U.S. senators throughout U.S. history. It won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for biography.

In 1956, Kennedy sought the Democratic vice presidential nomination. He made the presidential nominating speech for adlai stevenson, of Illinois, who was nominated for a second time to run against dwight d. eisenhower. Despite a vigorous effort, Kennedy lost the vice presidential nomination to Senator Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee.

In 1957, Kennedy was appointed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he became a critic of the Eisenhower administration's foreign policy and a champion for increased aid to underdeveloped countries. He also served on the committee that investigated corruption and racketeering in labor unions and the head of the Teamsters Union, james r. hoffa.

In 1960, Kennedy won the Democratic presidential nomination. He selected Senator lyndon b. johnson, of Texas, to be his running mate. After a vigorous campaign that included television debates with Republican richard m. nixon, Kennedy won the election by fewer than 120,000 popular votes. He was the youngest American ever to be elected president, as well as the first Roman Catholic to hold the office. His impressive inaugural speech contained the popular phrase "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

Once in office, Kennedy drafted a series of ambitious measures that were collectively entitled the New Frontier. These policies included expanding the space program, instituting civil rights legislation, aiding education, improving the tax system, and providing medical care for older citizens through the social security program. Most of the New Frontier programs failed to progress through a Congress that was dominated by southern Democratic leadership, but many were enacted by President Johnson following Kennedy's assassination.

The Kennedy administration was enmeshed in a series of foreign crises almost immediately. In April 1961, Kennedy was severely criticized for approving an ill-fated invasion of the Bay of Pigs, in Cuba. This clandestine operation, conceived during the Eisenhower administration, was conducted by anti-Communist Cuban exiles who had been trained in the United States, and it was directed by the central intelligence agency. The invasion achieved public notoriety when it failed and created international tension.

In June 1961, Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, of the Soviet Union, met in Vienna to discuss ways of improving Soviet-U.S. relations. Instead of proceeding with those discussions, Khrushchev announced an increased alliance with East Germany. Later, the Berlin Wall was constructed to prohibit Western influence and to prevent persons from fleeing East

Germany. In response, the United States added to its military forces in Germany.

The most serious crisis occurred in October 1962, when the U.S. learned that Soviet missiles were about to be placed in Cuba. Kennedy issued a forceful statement demanding the dismantling of the missile sites and ordered a blockade to prevent the delivery of the missiles to Cuba. The world was poised for nuclear war until Khrushchev backed down and agreed to Kennedy's demands. Kennedy's handling of the crisis led to national acclaim.

U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia began to increase during the Kennedy administration. Kennedy agreed to send U.S. advisers to help the South Vietnamese government fight Communist rebels. In 1963, the United States became involved in overthrowing the corrupt and unscrupulous South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem.

On the domestic front, Kennedy interacted with a newly invigorated civil rights movement that was seeking to integrate the South. In 1961, federal marshals were sent to Montgomery, Alabama, to help restore order after race riots had erupted. In 1962, Kennedy sent 3,000 federal troops into Oxford, Mississippi, to restore order after whites rioted against the University of Mississippi's admission of james meredith, its first African-American student. In 1963, Kennedy was forced to federalize the Alabama National Guard in order to integrate the University of Alabama. Later that year, he federalized the Guard again, in order to integrate the public schools in three Alabama cities.

Faced with these problems, Kennedy proposed legislation requiring that hotels, motels, and restaurants admit customers regardless of race. He also asked that the U.S. attorney general be given authority to file lawsuits demanding the desegregation of public schools. Most of these proposals were passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.).

Kennedy's achievements during his brief term as chief executive included an agreement with the Soviet Union to restrict nuclear testing to underground facilities; the creation of the Alliance for Progress, to establish economic programs to aid Latin America; and the creation of the Peace Corps program, which provides U.S. volunteers to work in underdeveloped countries.

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy's term was ended by an assassin's bullets in Dallas, and Johnson was sworn in as president. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the murder. Oswald was killed two days later by Dallas nightclub owner jack ruby, while being moved from the city jail to the county jail. Johnson appointed a commission headed by Chief Justice earl warren to investigate the Kennedy assassination. In its report, issued in September 1964, the commission concluded that Oswald had acted alone in murdering Kennedy.

Kennedy's assassination has remained one of the nation's most heated controversies. Many people were initially doubtful of the report's conclusions, and the skepticism has grown over time. Thousands of articles and books have been written that challenge the commisssion's findings and allege that agencies of the federal government withheld information from the commission and that the commission itself concealed evidence that contradicted its conclusions. In 1978 and 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations re-examined the evidence and concluded that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy." Nevertheless, critics charged that vital information remained withheld from the public. In an effort to restore government credibility, Congress enacted the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, 44 U.S.C.A. § 2107, which established the Assassination Records Review Board, an independent federal agency whose mission was to identify and release as many records relating to the assassination as possible. The board completed its work in 1998, releasing thousands of documents relating to the events on, and leading to, November 22, 1963. However, no conclusive evidence has surfaced to indicate the true assassin or any other individuals who participated in the assassination.

"The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened."
—John F. Kennedy

Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953. They had two surviving children, Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr. Following Kennedy's death, the activities of Jacqueline and the two children remained part of the American consciousness. In 1968, Jacqueline married wealthy Greek businessman Aristotle Onassis, who died in 1975. She worked as an editor with Doubleday until her death in 1994. John F. Kennedy Jr. emerged as a popular media figure, and in 1995 he founded the now-defunct political magazine George. However, like his father, the junior Kennedy died an early, tragic death when he was killed in a plane crash along with his wife and sister-in-law in 1999.

further readings

Anderson, Catherine Corley. 2004. John F. Kennedy. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications.

Kovaleff, Theodore P. 1992. "The Two Sides of the Kennedy Antitrust Policy." Antitrust Bulletin 37 (spring).

Raatma, Lucia. 2002. John F. Kennedy. Minneapolis, Minn.: Compass Point Books.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. 2000. John F. Kennedy, Commander In Chief: A Profile In Leadership. New York: Gramercy Books.


Cuban Missile Crisis; "Inaugural Address" (Appendix, Primary Document); Limited Test Ban Treaty; Warren Commission.

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Kennedy, John F.

Kennedy, John F. 1917-1963


John Fitzgerald Jack Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States, was born May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, and was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Jack was the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy (18881969) and Rose Fitzgerald (18901995); both grandfathers, Patrick Joseph Kennedy (18581929) and John F. Honey Fitz Fitzgerald (18631950), had been politically prominent in Boston. Jacks father was determined to see his first born, Joseph Patrick Jr., elected president, but Navy pilot Joe Jr.s death in 1944 caused Joe to transfer his political dreams to Jack.

Jack was an indifferent student at day schools, then in a Catholic boarding school, and finally at Choate, a preparatory school in Connecticut that Joe Jr. was attending. Fellow seniors named Jack most likely to succeed, and he graduated in the middle of his class. Joe Jr.s shadow led Jack to attend Princeton University rather than Harvard, but poor health, which plagued his entire life, soon forced him to withdraw. He entered Harvard in 1936 and continued to perform modestly as a student, but public affairs then captured Jacks attention. He registered for a heavy academic load in the fall of 1937 so that he might travel to Europe in early 1938 to research an honors thesis on contemporary politics. That paper reviewed Great Britains prewar policies toward Germany and was published in 1940 as Why England Slept ; it proved unexpectedly popular in an America unnerved by world events.

War approached, and Kennedy attempted to enter officer candidate schools, but failed the physical examinations. Joe Kennedy Sr., the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain in the late 1930s, arranged through his former naval attaché for Jack to enter the U.S. Navy in late 1941. Kennedy was trained to operate patrol-torpedo boats and was sent to the Pacific, where his boat (PT-109 ) was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in August 1943. Jack led survivors to a nearby island, directed successful efforts to attract a rescue, and later returned to duty, but physical maladies caused his return to the states and his eventual retirement from the Navy.

Joe Kennedy enthusiastically supported Jacks race for the eleventh Massachusetts congressional district seat in 1946, and after three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives Jack successfully challenged incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (19021985) for a U.S. Senate seat. Kennedys bid for the 1956 Democratic vice-presidential nomination fell just short, and immediately following Dwight D. Eisenhowers (18901969) reelection he mounted a campaign for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination. Kennedys Catholicism was inevitably an issue, but he defused it by asserting the principle of church-state separation. He won the nomination, then defeated the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon (19131994), by 120,000 popular votes; the electoral vote was not so close (303219).

Jack, his wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (19291994), and their young children presented active, sophisticated, optimistic faces to the country. In accepting his partys nomination, Kennedy had described a New Frontier of possibilities for the nation, and his inaugural speech built on that vision. The White House became Camelot after the romantic stage version of King Arthurs reign; the Kennedys were admired as royalty, and it was sometimes suggested that a Kennedy dynasty had begun wherein Jack would be succeeded first by his brother Robert (19251968) and then by their younger brother Edward (b. 1932).

Cold War issues hounded the Kennedy presidency, however. A 1961 invasion of Cuba, a Soviet client, at the Bay of Pigs by CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles failed, and it was soon followed by East Germanys provocative construction of a wall isolating western sectors of Berlin. In 1962 U.S. intelligence efforts revealed that the Soviet Union was basing offensive missiles and long-range bombers in Cuba. Kennedy mobilized the military, authorized complaints in the United Nations Security Council, and ordered the Navy to quarantine Cuba to prevent receipt of more weapons. Diplomacy and U.S. willingness to resort to military action caused removal of the arsenal. This incident provided the most dangerous moment of the Cold War.

The space race gave Kennedy another means of challenging the Soviets, one that was also infused with domestic policy. Soviet satellites and manned orbital flights embarrassed the United States. Initial American efforts were spectacular failures, but science advisors concluded that a manned moon landing was feasible. Convinced that gaining the upper hand in space would enhance U.S. prestige abroad, restore American confidence, and open doors to technological and economic advances, Kennedy committed the United States to a safe manned flight to the moon and back by the close of the 1960s. His vision was fulfilled in July 1969.

The civil rights movement posed different domestic policy problems. Kennedy had telephoned the wife of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (19291968) when King was imprisoned during the election campaign; this encouraged many to expect Kennedy to champion civil rights. His administration proved less than they hoped, although it made some efforts to extend voting rights and to reduce employment discrimination. But activists known as freedom riders, who were testing Kennedys promise to end public-transportation segregation, were violently attacked in Alabama, and the University of Mississippi was awkwardly integrated, causing a deadly riot. Kennedy proposed a sweeping civil rights bill during the summer of 1963, but Congress acted only when Kennedys successor, Lyndon Johnson (19081973), promoted the bill as a memorial to the slain president.

In November 1963 Kennedy traveled to Texas to end bickering among Democrats there. As his limousine approached downtown Dallas, gunshots fatally wounded him. A government commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren (18911974) later blamed Lee Harvey Oswald (19391963) for the act as a solitary assassin, but conspiracy theories abounded. Robert Kennedy and President Johnson were suspicious of the CIA, American mobsters, and Cuban operatives, and Johnson himself was suspected of involvement by some. Oswalds murder as he was being transferred between jails only two days after Kennedys shooting further fueled misgivings that persisted for decades. Gerald Posners 1993 book Case Closed best refuted conspiracy advocates.

Kennedy was survived by Jacqueline, who later remarried, was again widowed, and died in 1994 of cancer; daughter Caroline, who became a writer, attorney, wife, and mother of three Kennedy grandchildren; and son John Jr., who perished in a 1999 private-plane crash. Another son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, had been born prematurely and died within days in August 1963.

Had Kennedy not been murdered, health problems may have prematurely ended his presidency; some suggest that scandals resulting from his dealings with gangsters and a succession of female acquaintances would have brought down his administration. The Vietnam War may have ended sooner under Kennedys leadership, but that may have delayed the eventual Soviet collapse and slowed establishment of Chinese-American relations. Civil rights legislation may have been slower and more limited, and Americas baby boomers may have become more constructively active and less cynical and distrustful. The more positive vision suggests that a normal Kennedy presidency could have forestalled many of the political traumas that later plagued the United States, along with the personal, combative political style that they engendered.

SEE ALSO Bay of Pigs; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Cuban Missile Crisis; Johnson, Lyndon B.; Presidency, The


Allison, Graham T., and Philip Zelikow. 1999. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2nd ed. New York: Longman.

Branch, Taylor. 1988. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 195463. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Dallek, Robert. 2003. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 19171963. Boston: Little, Brown.

Kennedy, Robert F. 1969. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Norton.

ODonnell, Kenneth P., and David F. Powers. 1972. Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Boston: Little, Brown.

Posner, Gerald. 1993. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. New York: Random House.

Presidents Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (Warren Commission). 1964. Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 19611963. 19621964. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

James F. Sheffield Jr.

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Kennedy, John Fitzgerald

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1917–63, 35th President of the United States (1961–63), b. Brookline, Mass.; son of Joseph P. Kennedy.

Early Life

While an undergraduate at Harvard (1936–40) he served briefly in London as secretary to his father, who was ambassador there. His Harvard honors thesis on the British failure to judge the threat of Nazi Germany was published as Why England Slept (1940). Enlisting in the navy in Sept., 1941, he became commander of a PT boat in the Pacific in World War II. In action off the Solomon Islands (Aug., 1943), his boat, PT 109, was sunk, and Kennedy was credited with saving the life of at least one of his crew.

Congressional Career

As a Congressman from Massachusetts (1947–53), Jack Kennedy consistently supported the domestic programs of the Truman administration but criticized its China policy. In 1952, despite the Eisenhower landslide, he defeated Henry Cabot Lodge for a seat in the U.S. Senate, where he served on the Labor and Public Welfare and Foreign Relations committees. In 1953, Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (see Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy). While recuperating in 1955 from an operation to repair a spinal problem, one of the many serious and often extremely painful illnesses that plagued him from childhood until his death, he wrote Profiles in Courage (1956). The book dealt with American political leaders who defied public opinion to vote according to their consciences; for this work (later revealed to have been written in part by Theodore Sorensen and others) he received the Pulitzer Prize. Although Kennedy narrowly lost the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1956, his overwhelming reelection as Senator in 1958 helped him toward the goal of presidential candidacy.


In 1960 he entered and won seven presidential primaries and captured the Democratic nomination on the first ballot. To balance the ticket, he selected Lyndon B. Johnson as his vice presidential candidate. In the campaign that followed, Kennedy engaged in a series of televised debates with his Republican opponent, Richard M. Nixon. Defeating Nixon by a narrow popular margin, Kennedy became at 43 the youngest person ever, and the first Catholic, elected President.

Soon after his inaugural, Kennedy set out his domestic program, known as the New Frontier: tax reform, federal aid to education, medical care for the aged under Social Security, enlargement of civil rights through executive action, aid to depressed areas, and an accelerated space program. He was almost immediately, however, caught up in foreign affairs crises. The first (Apr., 1961) was the abortive Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles trained and aided by the Central Intelligence Agency. Although the invasion had been planned under Eisenhower, Kennedy had approved it, and was widely criticized.

In June, 1961, the President met in Vienna with Soviet Premier Khrushchev. Hopes of a thaw in the cold war were dashed by Khrushchev's threat that the USSR would conclude a peace treaty with East Germany and thus cut off Western access to West Berlin. In the period of tension that followed, the United States increased its military strength while the East Germans erected the Berlin Wall.

In Oct., 1962, U.S. reconnaissance planes discovered Soviet missile bases in Cuba. Kennedy immediately ordered a blockade to prevent more weapons from reaching Cuba and demanded the installations' removal. After an interval of extreme tension when the world appeared to be on the brink of nuclear war, the USSR complied with U.S. demands. Kennedy won much praise for his stance in the crisis, but some have criticized him for what they held to be unnecessary "brinkmanship." In Aug., 1963, tension with the USSR was eased by conclusion of a treaty that prohibited the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.

In Southeast Asia the Kennedy administration perceived a growing Communist threat to the South Vietnamese government; it steadily increased the number of U.S. military advisers in South Vietnam and for the first time placed U.S. troops in combat situations. As disaffection in South Vietnam grew, moreover, the United States involved itself in political maneuvering and finally connived at the overthrow (Oct., 1963) of the corrupt South Vietnamese dictator, Ngo Dinh Diem (see Vietnam War). Within the Western Hemisphere, Kennedy established (1961) the Alliance for Progress, which provided economic assistance to Latin American countries. He also initiated the Peace Corps program, which sent U.S. volunteers to work in developing countries.

Many of Kennedy's domestic reform proposals were either killed or not acted on by Congress. In the area of civil rights and integration the administration assigned federal marshals to protect Freedom Ride demonstrations and used federal troops in Mississippi (1962) and a federalized National Guard in Alabama (1963) to quell disturbances resulting from enforced school desegregation. In June, 1963, Kennedy proposed civil-rights legislation, but this, like his tax reform program, languished until after his death.


On Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Tex. The Warren Commission, appointed by his successor Lyndon Johnson to investigate the murder, eventually concluded that it was the work of a single assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy's death shocked the nation. Many felt that he would have gone on to achieve greatness as a President. Subsequent revelations, especially concerning his sexual activity, have somewhat dimmed his luster, but the sense that his administration was a youthful, idealistic "Camelot" remains powerful. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


See C. Kennedy and T. Widmer, Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy (2013); Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, interviews with A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., 1964 (2011); M. W. Sandler, ed., The Letters of John F. Kennedy (2013); biographies by V. Lasky (1963), R. Caro (1982), T. Sorenson (1988), G. Perret (2001), R. Dallek (2003), and A. Brinkley (2012); T. H. White, The Making of the President, 1960 (1961); A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days (1965); H. S. Parmet, JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1983); N. Hamilton, JFK: Reckless Youth (1992); R. Reeves, President Kennedy: Profile of Power (1993); S. Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997); E. R. May, The Kennedy Tapes (1997); B. Leaming, Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman (2007); C. Matthews, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero (2011); T. Clarke, JFK's Last Hundred Days (2013); R. Dallek, Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House (2013); W. Manchester, The Death of a President (1967, repr. 2013); L. J. Sabato, The Kennedy Half-Century (2013); I. Stoll, JFK, Conservative (2013).

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Kennedy, John F.

Kennedy, John F. (1917–1963), thirty‐fifth U.S. president.Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, to a large, wealthy, politically active Irish American family, “Jack” Kennedy graduated from Harvard in 1940 when his financier father, Joseph Kennedy, was U.S. Ambassador to Britain. In the navy (1941–45), John Kennedy commanded a torpedo boat in the Pacific. He was hailed a hero when he helped rescue crew members after a Japanese destroyer sank PT‐109 in 1943.

As a Cold War Democrat from Massachusetts, Kennedy served in the House of Representatives (1947–53) and U.S. Senate (1953–61), calling for increased military spending and the vigorous containment of communism, particularly in the Third World.

In 1960, Kennedy defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon to become the first Catholic and the youngest man (at forty‐three) to become president. In the campaign, Kennedy had incorrectly charged that the Eisenhower administration allowed a “missile gap” to develop in the Soviet Union's favor. Kennedy's failure during the CIA‐sponsored invasion of the Bay of Pigs by Cuban exiles in April 1961 may have emboldened him to be assertive elsewhere. Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara dramatically expanded the defense budget, increasing nuclear missiles (from 63 to 424 ICMBs, 1961–63) and conventional forces (including the elite counterinsurgency Special Forces) under the concept of “flexible response.” Kennedy also instituted covert operations to depose Cuba's Fidel Castro, and mobilized military reservists in the Berlin Crisis of 1961. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, Kennedy directly challenged Soviet deployment of medium‐range missiles in Cuba, even risking nuclear war before the Soviets backed down. Afterwards, Kennedy obtained a Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963), but continued the arms buildup. NATO allies, meanwhile, began to complain that the United States too seldom consulted them.

To combat suspected communism in the Third World, Kennedy developed the Peace Corps and the Food for Peace program, but he also used military force. Responding to Communist guerrilla warfare in Southeast Asia, Kennedy accepted neutralization of Laos, but he committed American military assistance to South Vietnam, increasing the number of U.S. military “advisers” attached to the South Vietnamese Army from 685 to 16,732. By the end of 1963, 120 Americans had died in combat there. The administration later tacitly authorized the Vietnamese generals' coup against the unpopular Ngo Dinh Diem, although not his murder on 1 November 1963. Kennedy himself was assassinated three weeks later in Dallas, Texas.

The debate over what Kennedy would have done had he lived continues. He offered some statements favorable to hawks, others to doves. His actions, however, dramatically increased the U.S. military role in Vietnam and emphasized it as the test case against Communist wars of “national liberation.” At the end, ambiguity marked his presidency, as mystery shrouded his assassination.
[See also Berlin Crises; Central Intelligence Agency; Vietnam War: Causes.]


Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. , A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, 1965.
Thomas G. Paterson, ed., Kennedy's Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy, 1961–1963, 1989.
Michael R. Beschloss , The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960–1963, 1991.
James N. Giglio , The Presidency of John F. Kennedy, 1991.
Diane B. Kunz, ed., The Diplomacy of the Crucial Decade: American Foreign Relations During the 1960s, 1994.

Thomas G. Paterson

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Kennedy, John F

Kennedy, John F.

U.S. President 1917-1963

John F. Kennedy is often touted as a champion of space exploration and for good reason. It was he who challenged the United States to put the first man on the Moon. His motives were probably political, not visionary.

The world situation for the young president was tense. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was heating up. Kennedy believed that countries were aligning themselves with the most powerful nation. To be that nation, the president felt the United States needed to show its superiority in a particular arena. As a senator he had voted to kill the space program. As president he had told the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that he would not approve new funding for the Apollo program. But Kennedy was so shaken when the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin as the first human in space, in April 1961, that he consulted with Wernher von Braun, the premier rocket expert at the time, for a goal at which the United States could beat the Soviet Union. With the United States having only fifteen minutes of suborbital flight experience and having yet to design a rocket that could leave Earth orbit, he challenged the nation "before the decade is out, to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth." America rose to the challenge, and Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

see also Apollo (volume 3); Moon (volume 2); Nasa (volume 3); von Braun, Wernher (volume 3).

Meridel Ellis


Reeves, Richard. President Kennedy: Profile of Power. New York: Simon & Schuster,1993.

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Kennedy, John Fitzgerald

Kennedy, John Fitzgerald (1917–63) 35th US president (1961–63). He was badly wounded while serving (1941–43) in the US Navy during World War II. Kennedy served three terms as a Democrat representative from Massachusetts (1946–53). In 1953 he successfully ran for the Senate, and soon after married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (later Onassis). In 1960 Kennedy gained the presidential nomination, and narrowly defeated his Republican challenger Richard Nixon. Kennedy adopted an ambitious and liberal program, under the title of the “New Frontier”, and embraced the cause of civil rights, but Congress frequently blocked his planned legislation. In foreign policy, he founded the “Alliance for Progress” in order to increase US influence in Latin America and created the Peace Corps. Adopting a strong anti-communist line, he was behind the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba (1961), and stood firm against Nikita Khrushchev in the ensuing Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). He also increased military aid to South Vietnam in the Vietnam War (1954–75). Perhaps Kennedy's greatest foreign policy success was the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the US, UK, and Soviet Union. He was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Kennedy was succeeded by his vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson. See also Cold War;

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