John F. Kennedy
 

John F. Kennedy

35th President of the United States

In office
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson
United States Senator
from 
Massachusetts
In office
January 3, 1953 – December 22, 1960
Preceded by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
Succeeded by Benjamin A. Smith II
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from 
Massachusetts‘s 11th district
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by James Michael Curley
Succeeded by Tip O’Neill
Personal details
Born John Fitzgerald Kennedy
May 29, 1917
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died November 22, 1963 (aged 46)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jacqueline Bouvier (m. 1953; his death 1963)
Relations See Kennedy family
Children 4, including Caroline Bouvier,John Jr., and Patrick Bouvier
Parents Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
Alma mater Harvard University (S.B.)
Profession Politician
Religion Roman Catholic
Signature  John F. Kennedy signature

 

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts. Both the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys were wealthy and prominent Irish Catholic Boston families. Kennedy’s paternal grandfather, P.J. Kennedy, was a wealthy banker and liquor trader, and his maternal grandfather, John E. Fitzgerald, nicknamed “Honey Fitz,” was a skilled politician who served as a congressman and as the mayor of Boston. John F. Kennedy’s mother, Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, was a Boston debutante, and his father, Joseph Kennedy Sr., was a successful banker who made a fortune on the stock market after World War I. Joe Kennedy Sr. went on to a government career as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and as an ambassador to Great Britain.

John F. Kennedy, nicknamed “Jack,” was the second oldest of a group of nine extraordinary siblings. His brothers and sisters include Eunice Kennedy, the founder of the Special Olympics; Robert Kennedy, a U.S. Attorney General; and Ted Kennedy, one of the most powerful senators in American history. The Kennedy children remained close-knit and supportive of each other throughout their entire lives.

Joseph and Rose Kennedy largely spurned the world of Boston socialites into which they had been born to focus instead on their children’s education. Joe Kennedy in particular obsessed over every detail of his kids’ lives, a rarity for a father at that time. As a family friend noted, “Most fathers in those days simply weren’t that interested in what their children did. But Joe Kennedy knew what his kids were up to all the time.” Joe Sr. had great expectations for his children, and he sought to instill in them a fierce competitive fire and the belief that winning was everything. He entered his children in swimming and sailing competitions and chided them for finishing in anything but first place. John F. Kennedy’s sister Eunice later recalled, “I was twenty-four before I knew I didn’t have to win something every day.” Jack Kennedy bought into his father’s philosophy that winning was everything. “He hates to lose at anything,” Eunice said. “That’s the only thing Jack gets really emotional about — when he loses.”

Despite his father’s constant reprimands, young John F. Kennedy was a poor student and a mischievous boy. He attended a Catholic boys’ boarding school in Connecticut called Canterbury, where he excelled at English and history, the subjects he enjoyed, but nearly flunked Latin, in which he had no interest. Despite his poor grades, John F. Kennedy continued on to Choate, an elite Connecticut preparatory school. Although he was obviously brilliant — evidenced by the extraordinary thoughtfulness and nuance of his work on the rare occasions when he applied himself — John F. Kennedy remained at best a mediocre student, preferring sports, girls and practical jokes to coursework.

John F. Kennedy’s eight-year Senate career was relatively undistinguished. Bored by the Massachusetts-specific issues on which he had to spend much of his time, John F. Kennedy was more drawn to the international challenges posed by the Soviet Union’s growing nuclear arsenal and the Cold War battle for the hearts and minds of Third World nations. In 1956, John F. Kennedy was very nearly selected as Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s running mate, but was ultimately passed over for Estes Kefauver from Tennessee. Four years later, John F. Kennedy decided to run for president.

 

n the 1960 Democratic primaries, John F. Kennedy outmaneuvered his main opponent, Hubert Humphrey, with superior organization and financial resources. Selecting Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate, John F. Kennedy faced Vice President Richard Nixon in the general election. The election turned largely on a series of televised national debates in which John F. Kennedy bested Nixon, an experienced and skilled debater, by appearing relaxed, healthy and vigorous in contrast to his pallid and tense opponent. On November 8, 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Nixon by a razor-thin margin to become the 35th president of the United States of America.

John F. Kennedy’s election was historic in several respects. At the age of 43, he was the second youngest American president in history, second only to Theodore Roosevelt, who assumed the office at 42. He was also the first Catholic president and the first president born in the 20th century. Delivering his legendary inaugural address on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy sought to inspire all Americans to more active citizenship. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” he said. “Ask what you can do for your country.”

John F. Kennedy’s greatest accomplishments during his brief tenure as president came in the arena of foreign affairs. Capitalizing on the spirit of activism he had helped to ignite, John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps by executive order in 1961. By the end of the century, over 170,000 Peace Corps volunteers would serve in 135 countries. Also in 1961, John F. Kennedy created the Alliance for Progress to foster greater economic ties with Latin America, in hopes of alleviating poverty and thwarting the spread of communism in the region.

John F. Kennedy also presided over a series of international crises. On April 15, 1961, he authorized a covert mission to overthrow leftist Cuban leader Fidel Castro with a group of 1,500 CIA-trained Cuban refugees. Known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the mission proved an unmitigated failure, causing John F. Kennedy great embarrassment.

In August 1961, to stem massive waves of emigration from Soviet-dominated East Germany to American ally West Germany via the divided city of Berlin, Khrushchev ordered the construction of the Berlin Wall, which became the foremost symbol of the Cold War.

However, the greatest crisis of the John F. Kennedy administration was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Discovering that the Soviet Union had sent ballistic nuclear missiles to Cuba, John F. Kennedy blockaded the island and vowed to defend the United States at any cost. After several of the tensest days in history, during which the world seemed on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles in return for John F. Kennedy’s promise not to invade Cuba and to remove American missiles from Turkey. Eight months later, in June 1963, John F. Kennedy successfully negotiated the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with Great Britain and the Soviet Union, helping to ease Cold War tensions. It was one of his proudest accomplishments.

President John F. Kennedy’s record on domestic policy was rather mixed. Taking office in the midst of a recession, he proposed sweeping income tax cuts, raising the minimum wage and instituting new social programs to improve education, health care and mass transit. However, hampered by lukewarm relations with Congress, John F. Kennedy only achieved part of his agenda: a modest increase in the minimum wage and watered down tax cuts.

The most contentious domestic issue of John F. Kennedy’s presidency was civil rights. Constrained by Southern Democrats in Congress who remained stridently opposed to civil rights for black citizens, John F. Kennedy offered only tepid support for civil rights reforms early in his term. Nevertheless, in September 1962 John F. Kennedy sent his brother, Attorney General Robert John F. Kennedy, to Mississippi to use the National Guard and federal marshals to escort and defend civil rights activist James Meredith as he became the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi on October 1, 1962. Near the end of 1963, in the wake of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Had a Dream” speech, John F. Kennedy finally sent a civil rights bill to Congress. One of the last acts of his presidency and his life, John F. Kennedy’s bill eventually passed as the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964.

On November 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy flew to Dallas, Texas for a campaign appearance. The next day, November 22, John F. Kennedy, along with his wife and Texas governor John Connally, rode through cheering crowds in downtown Dallas in a Lincoln Continental convertible. From an upstairs window of the Texas School Book Depository building, a 24-year-old warehouse worker named Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine with Soviet sympathies, fired upon the car, hitting the president twice. John F. Kennedy died at Parkland Memorial Hospital shortly thereafter, at the age of 46.

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