John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

35th President, 1961-1963

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Official Presidential portrait of JFK Artist: Aaron Shikler, 1970

Official Presidential portrait of JFK Artist: Aaron Shikler, 1970

  • Born on May 29, 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts.
  • Parents: Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald. Siblings: Joseph Patrick, Rosemary, Kathleen “Kick” Agnes, Eunice Mary, Patricia “Pat,” Robert “Bobby” Francis, Jean Ann, and Edward “Ted” Moore.
  • Attended several private schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut before attending The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut for high school from 1931 to 1935.
  • Enrolled at Harvard College in 1936 graduating cum laude in 1940 with a degree in international affairs. His thesis, Appeasement in Munich, was published as the book Why England Slept in 1940 and became a bestseller.
  • Enrolled at the Standford Graduate School of Business in 1940.
  • Was disqualified from the Army when he tried to enlist for World War II in September 1941 due to his back problems. With the help of his father, however, he was admitted to the U.S. Navy, trained, and assigned to Panama, then to the Pacific with the rank of lieutenant commanding a patrol torpedo boat.
  • In August 1943, Kennedy was patrolling the waters near Solomon Islands when his PT boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Although injured, he led his crew in swimming three miles to the nearest island, then again to another island before being rescued.
  • Commanded another PT boat in October 1943 before returning to the U.S. in January 1944, being released from active duty later that year.
  • Worked as a reporter for a Hearst newspaper in 1945 and covered the Potsdam Conference from July to August.
  • Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1946 and served from 1947 to 1953.
  • Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1952 and served from 1953 to 1961.
  • Married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier (1929–1994) on September 12, 1953. Children: Caroline Bouvier (1957– ), John Fitzgerald, Jr. (1960–1999), and Patrick Bouvier (1963).
  • Nominated by the Democratic Party as its Presidential candidate in the 1960 election.
  • In September 1960, Kennedy and then Vice President Richard Nixon appeared in the first televised Presidential debate in U.S. history.
  • Kennedy won the election with 49.7% of the popular vote, just 0.2% ahead of Nixon, and a majority of the electoral votes.

Presidency

Iconic photograph of JFK from 1961

Iconic photograph of JFK from 1961

  • Took his oath of office on January 20, 1961 at the East Portico, U.S. Capitol.
  • At 43 years old, Kennedy was the youngest President to have been elected and the first Roman Catholic.
  • In his inaugural speech, he uttered his most famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
  • In March 1961, by Executive Order 10924, he temporarily established a Peace Corps and asked Congress for a permanent establishment. Congress passed the Peace Corps Act in September of that year.
  • In April 1961, U.S.-trained Cuban exiles invade Cuba to overthrow Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs invasion failed and Kennedy took responsibility for the failed operation.
  • On April 12, 1961, Soviet Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. On May 5, Alan Sheppard, Jr. became the first American in Space. On May 25, Kennedy pledged to Congress that by the end of the decade, the U.S. would land a man on the moon.
  • Met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961 to resolve issues regarding East Berlin. No agreement was reached, and in August 1931 the Soviets and East Berlin signed a treaty and erected the Berlin Wall.
  • On October 16, 1962, Kennedy learned that the Soviets were building missile installations in Cuba, which could be used to launch nuclear weapons to the U.S. On October 22, he announced on TV that he had ordered a naval blockade of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from bringing missiles into that country.
  • Initiated a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union in July 1963. A limited treaty was signed by the U.S., the U.K., and the Soviet Union. In October 1963, the treaty was ratified by Congress, and Kennnedy signed the agreement into law.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis came to an end on October 28 when Khruschev agreed to dismantle the missile installations and the U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba. Kennedy would lift the naval blockade in November.
  • Kennedy visited West Berlin in June 1963 to show U.S. support for the city.
  • Signed the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963. The law abolished discrimination in wages based on sex.
  • Privately supported the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 led by civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Kennedy feared that his public support of the march would derail civil rights bills pending in Congress.
  • Fearing the spread of communism in South Vietnam led by the Viet Cong, Kennedy supported a coup to overthrow South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother. In November 1963, South Vietnamese generals, supported by the U.S., overthrew the Diem government and assassinated him and his brother.
  • On November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm, while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, Kennedy was shot multiple times. He was taken to Parkland Hospital but was pronounced dead from gunshot wounds at 1:00 pm.

Legacy

Kennedy in 1963

Kennedy in 1963

  • At 46 years old, Kennedy is the youngest U.S. President to die.
  • Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested on the day of the assassination and accused of shooting the President. Two days later. however, he was shot and killed by Jack Ruby before he could be formally charged.
  • Kennedy’s body was brought back to Washington and lay in repose in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. It was then brought to the U.S. Capitol on November 24 to lie in state.
  • His state funeral on November 25, 1963 was attended by representatives from more than 90 countries, former Presidents Eisenhower and Truman, and newly sworn in President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery after a requiem mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
  • President Johnson established the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, or the Warren Commission, on November 29, 1963 to investigate Kennedy’s assassination. The Commission presented their final report to the President on September 24, 1964. The report concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting the President.
  • In 1978, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Kennedy may have been assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The Committee also found flaws in the Warren Commission report.
  • The John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. opened in 1971. It serves as a memorial to President Kennedy and a national center for the performing arts.
  • The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts opened in 1979 after a dedication led by President James Carter.
  • Kennedy, along with former President William Howard Taft, are the only two Presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery.