Kennedy was born in Brookline , Massachusetts , the son of Joseph P. Kennedy,
Sr. In 1935 , he studied at the London School of Economics , then moved
to Princeton University , but was forced to leave the latter during Christmas
break because of an attack of jaundice . He then attended Harvard University
, enrolling in the fall of 1936 , but he severely injured his back playing
football . He traveled to Europe twice during his study at Harvard. The
second was to Great Britain , while his father was serving as ambassador
to that country. Kennedy returned, and wrote his honors thesis on analyzing
the British portion of the Munich Pact of 1938 . He graduated cum laude
from Harvard in June 1940 .
In the spring of 1941 , Kennedy volunteered for the US Army , but was rejected,
mainly because of his injured back. However, he worked to strengthen himself
during the summer, and was accepted by the US Navy in September of that
year. He participated in various commands during World War II , but his
most famous one was during March 1943 . With the rank of lieutenant , he
received command of a patrol torpedo boat , or PT boat .
While his boat, PT-109 , was cruising west of New Georgia (near the
Solomon Islands on August 2 , it was rammed by a Japanese destroyer . He
was thrown across the deck onto his already injured back, but somehow rallied
the survivors onto a nearby small island, himself towing a wounded man
three miles through the ocean. After a few days of searching, he found
two friendly islanders, whom he sent for aid with a message carved on a
coconut . For these actions, Kennedy received the Purple Heart , Navy Medal
and Marine Corps Medal . However, his back injury had been aggravated after
being thrown on his boat, and he also contracted malaria . He was honorably
discharged in early 1945 , just a few months before the Japanese surrender.
In May 2002 a National Geographic expedition found what is believed
to be the wreckage of that PT-109 in the Solomon Islands.
Early political career
After World War II, he entered politics (partly to fill the void of his
popular brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. , who was killed in the war). When
Representative James M. Curley vacated his overwhelmingly Democratic district
to become mayor of Boston , Kennedy ran for that seat. After a long and
strenuous campaign, he beat the Republican opponent by a large margin.
He was reelected two times, but had a mixed voting record, often diverging
from then-President Harry S. Truman and the rest of the Democratic Party.
In 1952 , Kennedy decided to run for the Senate . He defeated the Republican
incumbent, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. , by a margin of about 70,000 votes.
He made good his slogan, "Kennedy will do more for Massachusetts", having
voted and passed many ordinances that helped its citizens, especially its
businessmen. However, he diverged from his constituents by speaking for
censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy , who was most famous for his advantageous
manipulation of the Red Scare . Although Kennedy was ill during the 77-22
vote (the other 99 senators all voted), he had spoken repeatedly with the
Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12 , 1953 . He underwent
many spinal operations in the two following years, and had a prolonged
absence from the Senate. However, while recovering from an operation, he
wrote about acts of political courage by eight U.S. Senators, and published
the book, Profiles in Courage . This book later received the Pulitzer Prize
for Biography. When he returned to the Senate in 1955 , many critics called
him an "untrue liberal ". He had adopted many moderate positions; however,
two years later, he adopted an extremely liberal position on labor, but
was forced to accept a more moderate bill, the Landrum-Griffin Bill . He
then decided to run for the office of President of the United States .
1960 Presidential election
On July 13 , 1960 the Democratic party nominated him as its candidate for
President. Kennedy asked Lyndon B. Johnson , a senator from Texas , to
run with him as Vice President . In the general election on November 8
, 1960 , Kennedy beat Republican Richard Nixon in a very close race. At
the age of forty-three, Kennedy was the youngest man elected President
and the first Catholic.
Theodore H. White 's 1961 book about that election campaign, The Making
of the President 1960 , was not only a national best-seller but is also
often used as a supplementary text in high school and college courses in
U.S. government and history. When he was elected, he became the youngest
person to be elected president ( Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest to
be president, but he first came to office by succeeding William McKinley
when the latter was assassinated).
President of the United States
John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President on January 20 , 1961
. In his inaugural speech 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.
President Kennedy, together with his wife and two children, brought
a new, youthful spirit to the White House . The Kennedys believed that
the White House should be a place to celebrate American history, culture,
and achievement. They invited artists, writers, scientists, poets, musicians,
actors, and athletes to visit them. Jacqueline Kennedy also shared the
same interest in American history as her husband. Gathering the finest
art and furniture the United States had produced, she restored all the
rooms in the White House to make it a place that truly reflected America's
history with a sense of beauty. Everyone was impressed and appreciated
her hard work.
The White House also seemed like a fun place, because of the Kennedys'
two young children, Caroline and John-John. There was a pre-school, a swimming
pool, and a tree-house outside on the White House lawn. President Kennedy
was probably the busiest man in the country, but he still found time to
laugh and play with his children.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was probably the most important event during
Kennedy's presidency. Through skill and steadfast thinking, Kennedy was
able to both control the warmongers in the cabinet who wanted war (to redeem
themselves for the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba ), as well as the
ambitious Communist organizations from using threat to gain strength (much
like Hitler did 25 years early through appeasement ). Many people consider
the Cuban Missile Crisis the closest point the world came to Nuclear War.
The crisis all began on October 14, 1962 when spy planes took photographs
of the contruction site of a Nuclear missile silo in Cuba. If Kennedy attacked
the sites, then it would have killed many Russians, which would lead to
Nuclear War . If the U.S. did nothing, it would appear to the world that
the U.S. was weak. A peace settlement was nearly impossible. Everyone remembered
the days leading to WW2 where appeasement only made the agressor more agressive.
A temporary solution was found, a blockade of war materials. A solution
came a week later, while the world stood on the brink. The Soviet Union
agreed secretly to remove the missiles if the U.S. both agreed never to
invade Cuba, as well as remove the missiles 6 months later from Cuba. Kennedy
was honored for decades after the crisis for preventing the possible war.
President Kennedy worked long hours, getting up at seven and not going
to bed until eleven or twelve at night, or later. He read six newspapers
while he ate breakfast, had meetings with important people throughout the
day, and read reports from his advisers. He wanted to make sure that he
made the best decisions for his country. I am asking each of you to be
new pioneers in that New Frontier , he said. The New Frontier was not a
place but a way of thinking and acting. President Kennedy wanted the United
States to move forward into the future with new discoveries in science
and improvements in education, employment and other fields. He wanted democracy
and freedom for the whole world.
One of the first things President Kennedy did was to create the Peace
Corps . Through this program, which still exists today, Americans can volunteer
where help is needed. They can help in areas such as education, farming,
health care, and construction. Many young men and women have served as
Peace Corps volunteers and have won the respect of many people throughout
President Kennedy was also eager for the United States to lead the way
in exploring space. The Soviet Union was ahead of the United States in
its knowledge of space and President Kennedy was determined to catch up.
He said, No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can
expect to stay behind in this race for space . Kennedy was the first President
to ask 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.
President Kennedy had to deal with many serious problems here in the
United States. The biggest problem of all had to do with racial discrimination.
The US Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 that segregation in public schools
would no longer be permitted. Black children and White children should
be able to go to school together. This was now the law of the land. However,
there were many schools, especially in southern states, that did not obey
this law. There was also racial segregation on buses, in restaurants, movie
theaters, and other public places.
Thousands of Americans joined together, people of all races and backgrounds,
to peacefully protest this injustice. Martin Luther King, Jr . was one
of the famous leaders of the movement for civil rights. Many civil rights
leaders didn't think President Kennedy was supportive enough of their efforts.
The President believed that holding public protests would only anger many
white people and make it even more difficult to convince the members of
Congress who didn't agree with him to pass civil rights laws. By June 11,
1963, however, President Kennedy decided that the time had come to take
stronger action to help the civil rights struggle. He proposed a new Civil
Rights bill to the Congress and he went on television asking Americans
to end racism. One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln
freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free,
he said. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds
[and] on the principle that all men are created equal. President Kennedy
made it clear that all Americans, regardless of their skin color, should
enjoy a good and happy life in the United States.
For various reasons, Kennedy was, during the time he served, perhaps
the most popular president in U.S. history. He was a handsome, photogenic
man who seemed open and accessible, and his administration marked a notable
increase in direct media exposure of the president to the public at large,
through television broadcasts from the Oval Office , televised press conferences
, and numerous photo spreads in popular magazines. His glamorous wife "
Jackie " was as newsworthy as he was, and the way they handled personal
tragedies, especially the death of their newborn son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy
in August 1963 , enhanced their public image. The "charisma" Kennedy and
his family projected posthumously led to the figurative designation of
" Camelot " for his administration.
Information released after his death leaves no doubt that he had at
least one, and probably several extramarital affairs while in office, including
liaisons in the White House . Such things were not then considered fit
for publication, and in Kennedy's case, they were never publicly discussed.
Assassination and Aftermath
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas , on November 22 ,
1963 . This was a shattering and extraordinary event in the lives of most
Americans who lived through it; "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?"
was a frequent question in the years that followed, and could still be
heard for many decades afterwards. Lee Harvey Oswald , apprehended for
the crime, was himself fatally shot by Jack Ruby before he could be formally
charged or brought to trial. Four days after Kennedy and Oswald were killed,
President Lyndon Johnson created the Warren Commission to investigate the
assassination. See John F. Kennedy assassination for further details of
the circumstances surrounding Kennedy's death.
On March 14 , 1967 Kennedy's body was moved to a permanent burial place
and memorial at Arlington National Cemetery .
Kennedy's life and the subsequent conspiracy theories surrounding his
death have been the inspiration for many films. Recent ones include Nigel
Turner's 1988 mini series The Men Who Killed Kennedy , Oliver Stone
's 1991 blockbuster, JFK , and 1993 's JFK: Reckless Youth ,
which looked at Kennedy's early years.
Kennedy was the most recent Democratic president to push for income
tax cuts to improve the economy. He was also the most recent Northern Democrat
to win the Presidency.
In November of 2002 long-secret medical records were made public, revealing
Kennedy's physical ailments were more severe than previously thought. He
was in constant pain from fractured vertebrae despite multiple medications,
in addition to suffering from severe digestive problems and Addison's disease
. Kennedy received multiple injections of procaine before press conferences
in order to appear healthy.
Kennedy's portrait appears on the U.S. half dollar .