John F. Kennedy

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Term of office January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
Preceded by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson
Date of birth May 29, 1917
Place of birth Brookline, Massachusetts
Spouse Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy
Political party Democratic

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917November 22, 1963), often referred to as Jack Kennedy or JFK, was the 35th President of the United States (19611963).

Kennedy was a member of a prominent political family. Considered an icon of American Liberalism, Kennedy is the youngest person ever to be elected President of the U.S., at the age of 43. (Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest ever to serve as President.) As of 2005 he is also the only Roman Catholic ever to become President, the first president to serve who was born in the 20th century, the last Democratic Party candidate from a Northern state to be elected President and the last to serve as a U.S. Senator immediately before becoming President.

Kennedy died the youngest of any American President, at 46 years and 177 days, when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. The assassination is often considered a defining moment of 20th century American history both because of its traumatic impact on the entire nation, and because of Kennedy's elevation as an icon for a new generation of Americans and American aspirations. Kennedy is the most recent president to die in office.

Major events during his presidency included the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Space Race, early events of the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. He is usually rated by historians a bit above average as president, but among the general public he is often regarded as one of the great American presidents.


Early life and Education

Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald.

Years later, it would be revealed that Kennedy had been diagnosed as a young man with Addison's Disease, a rare endocrine disorder. This and other medical disorders were kept from the press and the public throughout Kennedy's life.

Kennedy attended The Choate School in Connecticut, one of the country's most elite, and he graduated in 1935. Though most of his teachers thought he could get very good marks, if only he set his mind to the task in front of him and applied himself, he seldom did. He only did well in the classes that interested him, such as English and history. He performed poorly in classes like biology, chemistry, and Latin.

As the headmaster of the school described his job, he had two tasks, one, to look out for the welfare of the students and the school, and the other, "to control Jack Kennedy and his friends." Indeed, Kennedy was no teacher's dream. He was often late for class and routinely forgot materials and assignments. When it came to his room it was similar, as his things were always a mess, and he was constantly pulling pranks, such as short-sheeting friends' beds and piling up pillows in the doorway, so that the person could not get through the door. Once, he even went as far to steal a life-size cardboard cut out of Mae West from a nearby movie theater, placing it in his bed, and causing great surprise for the schools maids when they found West in Kennedy's room. Eventually, the headmaster felt he had no choice but to require a visit from Joseph P. Kennedy, who at the time was Ambassador to Great Britain, to speak about his son's misbehavior. Though his father's visit saved him from expulsion, it opened Jack's eyes and showed him that it was time he grew up.

Before enrolling in college, he attended the London School of Economics for a year, where he studied political economy. In the fall of 1935, he enrolled in Princeton University, but was forced to leave during Christmas break after contracting jaundice. The next fall, he began attending Harvard University. Kennedy traveled to Europe twice during his years at Harvard, visiting the United Kingdom, while his father was serving as Ambassador to the Court of St. James's. In 1937, Kennedy was prescribed steroids to control his colitis, which only heightened his medical problems causing him to develop osteoporosis of the lower lumbar spine [1].

In 1938, Kennedy wrote his honors thesis on the British portion of the Munich Agreement. He was an average student at Harvard, never earning an A, but mostly B's and C's, with a single D in a sophomore history course. He graduated cum laude from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in June 1940. His thesis, entitled Why England Slept, was published in 1940 and, with the aid of his affluent and powerful father, it became a best-seller.

Military service

In the spring of 1941, Kennedy volunteered for the U.S. Army, but was rejected, mainly because of his troublesome back. However, the U.S. Navy accepted him in September of that year. He participated in various commands in the Pacific Theater and earned the rank of lieutenant, commanding a patrol torpedo boat or PT boat.

Jack on his navy patrol boat, PT 109.
Jack on his navy patrol boat, PT 109.

On August 2, 1943, Kennedy's boat, the PT-109, was taking part in a night-time military raid near New Georgia (near the Solomon Islands) when it was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy was thrown across the deck, injuring his already troubled back. Still, Kennedy somehow towed a wounded man three miles through the ocean, arriving on an island where his crew was subsequently rescued. Kennedy said that he blacked out for periods of time during the ordeal. For these actions, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal under the following citation:

"For heroism the rescue of 3 men following the ramming and sinking of his motor torpedo boat while attempting a torpedo attack on a Japanese destroyer in the Solomon Islands area on the night of Aug 1-2, 1943. Lt. KENNEDY, Capt. of the boat, directed the rescue of the crew and personally rescued 3 men, one of whom was seriously injured. During the following 6 days, he succeeded in getting his crew ashore, and after swimming many hours attempting to secure aid and food, finally effected the rescue of the men. His courage, endurance and excellent leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

Kennedy's other decorations of the Second World War include the Purple Heart, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was honorably discharged in early 1945, just a few months before the Japanese surrendered.

In May 2002 a National Geographic expedition found what is believed to be the wreckage of the PT-109 in the Solomon Islands [2].

Early political career

A young Senator Kennedy in 1953.
A young Senator Kennedy in 1953.

After World War II, Kennedy entered politics (partly to fill the void of his popular brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., on whom his family had pinned many of their hopes but who was killed in the war). In 1946, Representative James Michael Curley vacated his seat in an overwhelmingly Democratic district to become mayor of Boston and Kennedy ran for that seat, beating his Republican opponent by a large margin. He was reelected twice, but had a mixed voting record, often diverging from President Harry S. Truman and the rest of the Democratic Party.

Kennedy gives his Jesuit Ivy address at the 1956 Boston College commencement.
Kennedy gives his Jesuit Ivy address at the 1956 Boston College commencement.

In 1952, Kennedy ran for the Senate with the slogan "Kennedy will do more for Massachusetts." In an upset victory, he defeated Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. by a margin of about 70,000 votes. Kennedy adroitly dodged criticizing fellow Senator Joseph McCarthy's controversial campaign to root out Communists and Soviet spies in the U.S. government, because of McCarthy's popularity in Massachusetts. McCarthy was a friend of JFK, JFK's father, dated the Kennedy sisters, and younger brother Robert F. Kennedy briefly worked for McCarthy. Although Kennedy was ill during the 65–22 vote to censure McCarthy, he was criticized by McCarthy opponents such as Eleanor Roosevelt who later said of the episode, "he should have displayed less profile, and more courage".

Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12, 1953. He underwent several spinal operations in the two following years, nearly dying (receiving the Catholic faith's "last rites" four times during his life), and was often absent from the Senate. During this period, he published Profiles in Courage, highlighting eight instances in which U.S. Senators risked their careers by standing by their personal beliefs. The book was awarded the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

In 1956, Kennedy campaigned for the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, but convention delegates selected Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver instead. However, Kennedy's efforts helped bolster the young Senator's reputation within the party.

In this year his first child Arabella Kennedy was stillborn.

An example of Kennedy's political suppleness, prior to the 1960 campaign, was his handling of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He voted for final passage, while earlier voting for the "jury trial amendment", which some people feel rendered the Act toothless. He was able to say to both sides that he supported them.

In 1958, Kennedy published the first edition of his book A Nation of Immigrants, closely following his involvement in the Displaced Persons Act and the 1957 bill to bring tamilies together.

1960 Presidential election

Kennedy and Richard Nixon shake hands before one of the 1960 televised debates.
Kennedy and Richard Nixon shake hands before one of the 1960 televised debates.

In 1960, Kennedy declared his intent to run for President of the United States. In the Democratic primary election, he faced challenges from Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, and Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee in 1952 and 1956 who was not officially running but was a favorite write-in candidate. Kennedy won key primaries like Wisconsin and West Virginia. In the latter state, Kennedy made a legendary visit to a coal-mine, and talked to the mine workers to win their support, as most people in that conservative, mostly Protestant state were deeply suspicious about Kennedy being a Catholic. Kennedy emerged as a universally acceptable candidate for the party after that victory.

On July 13, 1960 the Democratic Party nominated Kennedy as its candidate for president. Kennedy asked Johnson to be his Vice Presidential candidate, despite clashes between the two during the primary elections. He needed Johnson's strength in the South to win the closest election since 1916. Major issues included how to get the economy moving again, Kennedy's Catholicism, Cuba, and whether or not both the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the U.S. To allay fears that his Roman Catholicism would impact his decision-making, he said in a famous speech in Houston, Texas (to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association), on September 12, 1960, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters - and the Church does not speak for me." (Also see Al Smith, the first Catholic to receive the presidential nomination for a major party, in 1928.)

In September and October, Kennedy debated Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon in the first ever televised presidential debates. During the debates, Nixon looked tense, sweaty, and unshaven contrasted to Kennedy's composure and handsomeness, leading many to deem Kennedy the winner, although historians consider the two evenly matched as orators. Interestingly, many who listened on radio thought Nixon more impressive in the debate.[3] The debates are considered a political landmark: the point at which the medium of television played an important role in politics and looking presentable on camera became one of the important considerations for presidential and other political candidates.

In the general election on November 8, 1960, Kennedy beat Nixon in a very close race. There were serious allegations that vote fraud in Texas and Illinois had cost Nixon the presidency[4]. There were unusually large margins in Richard Daley's Chicago — which were announced after the rest of the vote in Illinois. The only change after the official recount was a win for Kennedy in Hawaii.


Kennedy gives his memorable inauguration address
Kennedy gives his memorable inauguration address

Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President on January 20, 1961. In his inaugural address he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country", he said. He also asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself." [5]

Foreign policies

On April 17, 1961, Kennedy gave orders allowing a previously-planned invasion of Cuba to proceed. The operation's official name is in dispute, however some sources claim it was called Operation Zapata. With support from the CIA, in what is known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1,500 U.S.-trained Cuban exiles, called "Brigade 2506" returned to the island in the hope of deposing Castro, but the CIA had overestimated popular resistance to Castro, made several mistakes in devising and carrying out the plan, and the exiles did not rally the Cuban people as expected. By April 19 Castro's government had killed or captured most of the exiles and Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release for the 1,189 survivors. After 20 months, Cuba released the exiles in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medicine. The incident was a major embarrassment for Kennedy, but he took full responsibility for the debacle (See Bay of Pigs Invasion for more information).

On August 13, 1961, the East German government began construction of the Berlin Wall separating East Berlin from the Western sector of the city, due to the American military presence in West Berlin. Some claimed this action was in violation of the "Four Powers" agreements. Kennedy initiated no action to have it dismantled, and did little to reverse or halt the eventual extension of this barrier to a length of 155 km.

The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 14, 1962 when American U-2 spy planes took photographs of a Soviet intermediate range ballistic missile site under construction in Cuba. Kennedy faced a dire dilemma: if the U.S. attacked the sites it might have led to nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. If the U.S. did nothing, it would endure the perpetual threat of nuclear weapons within its region, in such close proximity, that if launched preemptively, the U.S. may have been unable to retaliate. Another fear was that the U.S. would appear to the world as weak in its own hemisphere. Many military officials and cabinet members pressed for an air assault on the missile sites but Kennedy ordered a naval blockade and began negotiations with the Russians. Instead of "blockade", the word "quarantine" was chosen to address the issue, since international law defines a blockade as an act of war. A week later, he and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev reached an agreement. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles if the U.S. would publicly agree never to invade Cuba, and also secretly agree to remove U.S. ballistic missiles from Turkey within six months. Following this incident, which brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any point before or since, Kennedy was more cautious in confronting the Soviet Union. The promise to never invade Cuba still stood as of 2005.

Arguing that "those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable", Kennedy sought to contain communism in Latin America, by establishing the Alliance for Progress, which sent aid to troubled countries in the region and sought greater human rights standards in the region. He worked closely with Puerto Rican Governor Luis Muñoz Marín for the development of the Alliance of Progress, as well as developments on the autonomy of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Another example of Kennedy's belief in the ability of nonmilitary power to improve the world was the creation of the Peace Corps, one of his first acts as president. Through this program, which still exists today, Americans volunteered to help underdeveloped nations in areas such as education, farming, health care, and construction.

Kennedy also used limited military action to contain the spread of communism. Determined to stand firm against the spread of communism, Kennedy continued the previous administration's policy of political, economic, and military support for the unstable South Vietnamese government, which included sending military advisers and U.S. special forces to the area. U.S. involvement in the area continually escalated until regular U.S. forces were directly fighting the Vietnam War in the next administration.

On June 26, 1963 Kennedy visited West Berlin and gave a public speech criticizing communism. While Kennedy was speaking, on the other side of the wall were the people of East Berlin who were applauding Kennedy showing their distaste in Soviet control. Kennedy used the construction of the Berlin Wall as an example of the failures of communism - "Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in." The speech is known for its famous phrase Ich bin ein Berliner ("I am a Berliner").

Troubled by the long-term dangers of radioactive contamination and nuclear weapons proliferation, Kennedy also pushed for the adoption of a Limited or Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited atomic testing on the ground, in the atmosphere, or underwater, but does not prohibit testing underground. The United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union were the initial signatories to the Treaty. Kennedy signed the Treaty into law in August 1963, and believed it to be one of the greatest accomplishments of his administration.

On the occasion of his visit to Ireland in 1963, President Kennedy joined with Irish President Eamon de Valera to form The American Irish Foundation. The mission of this organization was to foster connections between Americans of Irish descent and the country of their ancestry. (See The Ireland Funds)

Domestic policies

JFK in the Oval Office with various civil rights activists including Martin Luther King Jr
JFK in the Oval Office with various civil rights activists including Martin Luther King Jr

Kennedy used the term New Frontier as a label for his domestic program. It ambitiously promised federal funding for education, medical care for the elderly, and government intervention to halt the recession. Kennedy also promised an end to racial discrimination.

The turbulent end of state-sanctioned racial discrimination was one of the most pressing domestic issues of Kennedy's era. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools would no longer be permitted. However, there were many schools, especially in southern states, that did not obey this decision. There also remained the practice of segregation on buses, in restaurants, movie theaters, and other public places.

Kennedy started his fight for civil rights when he appealed to Black voters during his campaign in 1962.

In 1962 James Meredith tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi, but White students didn’t let him. Kennedy responded by sending some 400 federal marshals and 3000 troops to ensure that Meredith could enroll in his first class.

Kennedy also assigned federal marshals to protect Freedom Riders.

Thousands of Americans of all races and backgrounds joined Kennedy in protesting racial discrimination. Kennedy supported racial integration and civil rights, and called the jailed Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s wife (Coretta Scott King) during the 1960 campaign, which drew much black support to his candidacy. However, as president, Kennedy initially believed the grassroots movement for civil rights would only anger many Southern whites and make it even more difficult to pass civil rights laws through Congress, which was dominated by Southern Democrats, and he distanced himself from it. As a result, many civil rights leaders viewed Kennedy as unsupportive of their efforts.

On June 11, President Kennedy intervened when the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, blocked the doorway to the University of Alabama to stop two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling. George Wallace moved aside after being confronted by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, and the Alabama National Guard.

That evening John F. Kennedy gave his famous Civil Rights Address on National television and radio. [6]

John F. Kennedy proposed what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. [7] [8]

Also on the domestic front, in 1963 Kennedy proposed a tax reform that included income tax cuts, but this was not passed by the Congress until after his death in 1964. It is one of the largest tax cuts in modern U.S. history, surpassing the Reagan tax cut of 1981.

Support of space programs

JFK looks at the space craft Friendship 7, the spacecraft that made three earth orbits, piloted by astronaut John Glenn.
JFK looks at the space craft Friendship 7, the spacecraft that made three earth orbits, piloted by astronaut John Glenn.

Kennedy was eager for the United States to lead the way in the space race. The Soviet Union was ahead of the U.S. in its knowledge of space exploration and Kennedy was determined that the U.S. could catch up. In a speech made at Rice University in September 1962, he said , "No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space" and "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."[9] Kennedy asked Congress to approve more than twenty two billion dollars for Project Apollo, which had the goal of landing an American man on the Moon before the end of the decade. In 1969, six years after Kennedy's death, this goal was finally realized when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon.


President John F. Kennedy 1961–1963
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson 1961–1963
State Dean Rusk 1961–1963
Treasury C. Douglas Dillon 1961–1963
Defense Robert S. McNamara 1961–1963
Justice Robert F. Kennedy 1961–1963
Postmaster General J. Edward Day 1961–1963
  John A. Gronouski 1963
Interior Stewart L. Udall 1961–1963
Agriculture Orville L. Freeman 1961–1963
Commerce Luther H. Hodges 1961–1963
Labor Arthur J. Goldberg 1961–1962
  W. Willard Wirtz 1962–1963
HEW Abraham A. Ribicoff 1961–1962
  Anthony J. Celebrezze 1962–1963

Kennedy's Cabinet meets during the Cuban Missile Crisis
Kennedy's Cabinet meets during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Supreme Court appointments

Kennedy appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Image, social life and family

Both Kennedy and his wife "Jackie" were very young in comparison to earlier presidents and first ladies, and were both extraordinarily popular in ways more common to pop singers and movie stars than politicians, influencing fashion trends and becoming the subjects of numerous photo spreads in popular magazines.

The Kennedys brought a new life and vigor to the atmosphere of the White House. They believed that the White House should be a place to celebrate American history, culture, and achievement, and invited artists, writers, scientists, poets, musicians, actors, Nobel Prize winners and athletes to visit. Jacqueline Kennedy also gathered new art and furniture and eventually restored all the rooms in the White House.

The White House also seemed like a more fun, youthful place, because of the Kennedys' two young children, Caroline and John Jr. (who came to be known in the popular press as "John-John" though years later Jacqueline Kennedy denied that the family called him by that name). Outside the White House Lawn, the Kennedys established a pre-school, swimming pool, and tree house.

The Kennedy brothers during the 1960 campaign: John, Robert, and Edward (Ted)
The Kennedy brothers during the 1960 campaign: John, Robert, and Edward (Ted)

Behind the glamorous facade, the Kennedys also suffered many personal tragedies, most notably the death of their newborn son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy in August 1963.

Information revealed after Kennedy's death leaves no doubt that he had many extramarital affairs while in office, including liaisons in the White House with some female staff, prostitutes, members of the press and others Gretchen Rubin. In his era, though, such issues were not considered fit for publication, and in Kennedy's case, they were never publicly discussed during his life, even though there were some public clues of an involvement with Marilyn Monroe, such as the manner in which she sang Happy Birthday Mr. President at his televised birthday party in May 1962. In the years after his death, many liaisons were revealed, including one with Judith Campbell Exner, who was simultaneously involved with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana.

The charisma of Kennedy and his family posthumously led to the figurative designation of "Camelot" for his administration.

Assassination and aftermath

President Kennedy, Jackie, and Gov. John Connally in the Presidential limousine shortly before the assassination.
President Kennedy, Jackie, and Gov. John Connally in the Presidential limousine shortly before the assassination.
Main article: John F. Kennedy assassination

President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on Friday, November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm CST while on a political trip through Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged at 7:00 pm for killing a Dallas policeman by "murder with malice", and also charged at 11:30 pm for the murder of the president (there being no charge of "assassination" of a president at that time). Oswald was fatally shot less than two days later in the basement of the Dallas police station by Jack Ruby. Five days after Oswald was killed, the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, created the Warren Commission, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren, to investigate the assassination. The Warren Commission, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), in the 1970s, concluded that Oswald was the assassin,however, the HSCA also concluded that Oswald was part of a conspiracy to kill the president. HSCA reported it didn't have sufficient evidence to identify the other member, or members, of the conspiracy.

Critics have proposed a number of Kennedy assassination theories which contradict the various theories on exactly how the assassination took place that have been proposed by the government's official reports. There is no consensus among government investigations, let alone amongst their critics, on the number of bullets fired at the president, the direction from which all the bullets were fired, and which of the bullets struck the president, and Governor John Connally who was also wounded in the attack.

Lee Harvey Oswald denied shooting anyone and claimed he was being set up as a "patsy." He claimed the photograph of him holding the alleged murder weapon was a fabrication, and that he would prove his face was pasted on the body of someone else holding the rifle. However, Oswald himself was then assassinated, while in police custody, before he had an opportunity to defend himself at trial.

Some critics contend that Oswald was not involved at all and agree he was framed.

Among the most widely posited conspirators in the assassination are the CIA, the mafia, the KGB, and Fidel Castro, Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and some sort of military-industrial complex led by U.S. Army Generals.

Legacy and memorials

The world mourned the assassinated president
The world mourned the assassinated president

Television became the primary source by which people kept informed of events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination, with newspapers the following day becoming more souveneirs than sources of updated information. U.S. networks switched to 24 hour news coverage for the first time ever. Kennedy's funeral and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald were all broadcast live in America and in other places around the world. It was with this event that television matured as a news source rivalling that of newspapers.

State funeral of John F. Kennedy

Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Kennedy's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

On March 14, 1967 Kennedy's body was moved to a permanent burial place and memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson said of the assassination that "all of us...will bear the grief of his death until the day of ours." Kennedy is buried with his wife and their deceased children, and his brother Robert is also buried nearby. His grave is marked with an "Eternal Flame".

Many of Kennedy's speeches, especially his inaugural address are considered at par with the best ever, and despite his relatively short term in office, and a lack of major legislative changes during his term, Americans vote him as one of the best presidents in the same league as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Kennedy's legacy has been memoralized in various aspects of American culture. New York Idlewild International Airport was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 24, 1963 to honor his memory, and the USS John F. Kennedy was awarded on April 30, 1964 as a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library opened in 1979 as Kennedy's official presidential library. John F. Kennedy University opened in Pleasant Hill, California in 1964 as a school for adult education. John F. Kennedy National Historic Site preserves his home in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Cape Canaveral was renamed Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973. Hundreds of schools across the U.S were also renamed in his honor.

Kennedy on the 2005 United States half-dollar coin
Kennedy on the 2005 United States half-dollar coin

Posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, Kennedy's portrait now appears on the United States half dollar coin.


Kennedy is among the most popular former Presidents of the United States; however, a number of critics argue that his reputation is largely undeserved. While he was young and charismatic, he had little chance to achieve much during his presidency. Under this reasoning, his immense popularity results from the fact that his short time in office was marked by the optimistic beginnings of many programs declared to be of great benefit to the United States, its people, and various global issues. Unlike the tenures of other U.S. presidents, Kennedy's time in office, generally speaking, thereby lacked the scandals and controversies seen in the terms of many other presidents who served longer. The Civil Rights Act which he sent to Congress in June of 1963 was, at least in part, conceived by his brother and Attorney-General Robert F. Kennedy, and largely implemented by his successor, Lyndon Johnson, in 1964.

Kennedy's personal life has attracted the ire of critics, some of whom argue that lapses in judgment in his personal life impacted his professional life. Many of these criticisms stem from revelations about the extent to which the Kennedy family went to hide his serious, potentially life-threatening health issues (e.g., he suffered from Addison disease) from the voting public, his heavy medication regimen, his long history of extra-marital dalliances, and alleged, circuitous links to organized crime figures. Seymour Hersh's Dark Side of Camelot (1998) presents such a critical argument. Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life (2003) is a more balanced biography, but contains much detail on Kennedy's health issues.

Another of Kennedy's critics is U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky, whose book Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture (1993) presents an image of the Kennedy administration opposite to the one that lingers in mainstream memory. The book is a criticism of policy rather than his personal life, and explores information not usually presented about the 35th president. In particular, Chomsky and many other critics highlight the ill-planned increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict under Kennedy's tenure.


Kennedy inauguration footage (info)
Newsreel footage of the inauguration ceremony and speeches. (18.7 MB, ogg/Theora format).
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Preceded by:
James Michael Curley
United States Representative for the 11th Congressional District of Massachusetts
Succeeded by:
Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr.
Preceded by:
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
United States Senator from Massachusetts
January 3, 1953December 22, 1960
Served alongside: Leverett Saltonstall
Succeeded by:
Benjamin A. Smith
Preceded by:
Adlai Stevenson
Democratic Party Presidential nominee
1960 (won)
Succeeded by:
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by:
Dwight D. Eisenhower
President of the United States
January 20, 1961November 22, 1963
Succeeded by:
Lyndon B. Johnson
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