His parents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy, were members of Boston’s most prominent Irish Catholic political families. His grandfather, P.J. Kennedy was a wealthy banker and liquor trader, and his other grandfather, John E. Fitzgerald was a skilled politician who served as a congressman and mayor of Boston. Jack’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.
Jack’s father Joe had great expectations for his children, and believed that winning was everything and would scold them for finishing in anything but first place. Despite his father’s constant reprimands, Jack was a poor student and a mischievous boy who attended a Catholic boys’ boarding school called Canterbury. He excelled at English and history, but nearly flunked Latin. Despite his poor grades, Jack continued on to an elite Connecticut preparatory school. He remained at best a mediocre student, preferring sports, girls and practical jokes to coursework.
Jack suffered from persistent health problems throughout his childhood and adolescence that forced him to miss months of school at a time and occasionally brought him to the brink of death, he received his last rites four different times. He would later be diagnosed with Addison’s disease, a rare disorder of the adrenal glands. He also had one leg longer than the other and wore corrective shoes, causing him to suffer from chronic back pain.
Handsome, charming and blessed with a radiant smile, Jack was a popular student and womanizer when he attended Harvard University. His lifelong friend Lem Billings stated, “Jack was more fun than anyone I’ve ever known, and I think most people who knew him felt the same way about him.” During this time his father Joe was the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and Jack traveled in Europe as his father’s secretary. Jack wrote his senior thesis about British’s unpreparedness for war and later published the book, “Why England Slept”, selling more than 80,000 copies. Jack graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in international affairs from Harvard College in June 1940.
He failed his medical exam for both the Army and Navy, but through his father’s connections Jack joined the U.S. Navy in 1941 and was given command of a Patrol Torpedo (PT) boat. In August 1943 by the Solomon Islands a Japanese destroyer struck his craft, PT-109, two sailors died and Jack badly injured his back. He helped one badly burned crewman to shore by swimming with the strap for the man’s life vest between his teeth, they were rescued six days later. The incident earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for “extremely heroic conduct” and a Purple Heart for the injuries he suffered.
His older brother, Joe Jr., was not so fortunate and was killed in August 1944 when his Navy airplane exploded on a secret mission against a German rocket-launching site. A grieving Joe Sr. told Jack it was his duty to fulfill the destiny once intended for Joe Jr., to become the first Catholic president of the United States.
Jack left the Navy by the end of 1944 and returned to Boston to work as a reporter for Hearst Newspapers. Following his father’s direction he abandoned his plans to be a journalist and ran for Congress in 1946. Bolstered by his status as a war hero, his family connections and his father’s fortune, Jack won the Democratic Party’s nomination and the general election nearly three to one over his Republican opponent. In January 1947, at the age of 29, Jack entered the 80th Congress. He immediately attracted attention, and criticism from older members of the Washington establishment for his youthful appearance and relaxed, informal style. Despite serving three terms, from 1946 to 1952, Jack found his work in Congress incredibly dull and remained frustrated by stifling rules and procedures that prevented him from making an impact.
The ambitious Jack, seeking greater influence and a larger platform challenged Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge for the U.S. Senate in 1952. He hired his younger brother Robert as his campaign manager who put together what one journalist called “the most methodical, the most scientific, the most thoroughly detailed, the most intricate, the most disciplined and smoothly working state-wide campaign in Massachusetts history – and possibly anywhere else.” Jack narrowly defeated Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. on November 4, 1952 for the Senate seat and was re-elected in 1958.
Shortly after his election, Jack met a beautiful socialite and journalist named Jacqueline Bouvier at a dinner party and, in his own words, “leaned across the asparagus and asked her for a date.” They were married on September 12, 1953. Jack and Jackie Kennedy had three children: Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Patrick Kennedy who died two days later from a pulmonary disease. In 1956, Jackie also gave birth to a stillborn girl whom the couple intended to name Arabella.
Jack’s Senate career got off to a rocky start when he refused to condemn the family friend, Senator Joseph McCarthy, who the Senate wanted to censure for his relentless pursuit of suspected communists. Eventually he planned to vote against McCarthy but missed the vote due to being hospitalized after back surgery.
Jack had his second back operation in February 1955 and nearly died during the procedure. While he was recovering he wrote Profiles in Courage with his longtime aide, Theodore Sorenson. A friend of the Kenedy family, Arthur Krock of The New York Times, lobbied successfully for the book to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1957. Jack remains the only American president to win a Pulitzer Prize.
In 1956 Jack almost gained the Democratic nomination for Vice President and four years later was a nominee for President, he chose Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas as his running mate. Jack faced a difficult battle against his Republican opponent Richard Nixon, a two-term vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Jack, a young, energetic alternative to Nixon benefited from his performance and telegenic appearance in the first-ever televised debates, watched by millions of viewers.
Jack won by a narrow margin (2/10 of 1 percent with 49.75 percent of the votes) becoming the first Roman Catholic President of the United States. At the age of 43 he became the second youngest American president in history, Theodore Roosevelt assumed the office at 42. With his beautiful young wife and their two small children, Caroline and John Jr. who was born just weeks after the election. Jack, due to his family’s trust fund, was the richest man to ever take the oath of office. Hequietly donated his salary as a congressman, senator and president to charities including the Boy Scouts (he was the first Boy Scout to become president) and the United Negro College Fund.
The Kennedy’s lit up the White House with writers, artists, and intellectuals: the famous cellist Pablo Casals, the poet Robert Frost, the French intellectual André Malraux. A graduate from Harvard, Jack stocked his administration with the school’s professors. Jack also secretly installed a taping system in the White House, resulting in the first recorded archive of a president.
His celebrated inaugural address was filled with phrases that have been carved in stone. Borrowing a motto from his prep-school days, putting your country in place of Choate, he exhorted Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” He set out to redeem his campaign pledge to get America moving again, his economic programs launched the country on its longest sustained expansion since World War II. Jack established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, the first Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Ethiopia in September 1962. By the end of the century, over 170,000 Peace Corps volunteers would serve in 135 countries.
An early foreign affairs crisis occurred in April 1961 when Jack approved The Bay of Pigs invasion to send approximately 1,400 Central Intelligent Agency (CIA) trained Cuban exiles in an amphibious landing in Cuba. The action was intended to start a rebellion to overthrow the communist leader Fidel Castro but the mission ended in failure, with nearly all of the exiles captured or killed. Jack accepted responsibility for the failure of the invasion and was heavily criticized. Jack realized he had been drawn into a trap and that the CIA posed a monumental threat to American democracy. It was reported that he told Arthur Schlesinger, an American historian and author, that he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”
Soon after the failed Cuban invasion the Soviet Union renewed its campaign against West Berlin and Jack responded by reinforcing the Berlin garrison and increasing the Nation’s military strength. He went to Vienna to meet Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev for summit meetings on June 3, 1961 with hopes to relax the strained relationship with Russia and nuclear disarmament. It was a humiliating experience for Jack causing more tensions and Moscow erected the Berlin Wall in August 1961.
The Joint Chiefs and the CIA, which disagreed with Jack trying to negotiate with the Soviets were relieved by the summit’s failure. They unveiled their proposal for a pre-emptive thermonuclear attack on the Soviet Union to be launched sometime in late 1963. Jack stormed away from the meeting in disgust, remarking to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “And we call ourselves the human race.”
On September 12, 1962 Jack delivered a speech at Rice University creating a vision that the United States will put a man on the moon “before the end of this decade,” seven years later on July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
In October 1962 air reconnaissance discovered that Russia sought to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. Jack announced a naval blockade of Cuba and the tense standoff lasted nearly two weeks. Khrushchev agreed to dismantle Soviet missile sites in Cuba in return for America’s promise not to invade the island and to remove United States missiles from Turkey and other sites close to Soviet borders.
In July 1963 Jack won his greatest foreign affairs victory when Khrushchev agreed to join him and Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in signing a nuclear test ban treaty. However in Southeast Asia, Jack’s desire to curb the spread of communism led him to escalate U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict.
He privately expressed his dismay over the Vietnam situation and was quietly telling trusted friends and advisers he intended to get out following the 1964 election. He told Montana Senator Mike Mansfield, who would become the Vietnam War’s most outspoken Senate critic, “I can’t do it until 1965, after I’m re-elected.” He also told his Special Assistant and Harvard friend Kenneth O’Donnell, “If I tried to pull out completely from Vietnam, we would have another Joe McCarthy Red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I’m re-elected.” He also told both Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Special Assistant to the President for National Security McGeorge Bundy. Both of these trusted advisers acknowledged in their memoirs that Jack wanted to get out of Vietnam, which were startling admissions against self-interest since these two orchestrated the war’s escalation. Some conspiracy theorists claim that Bundy was a key facilitator in Jack’s assassination.
In June 1963 Alabama Governor George Wallace refused to allow two African American students to enroll in the University of Alabama, Jack sent the Alabama National Guard to the University to protect the two students. He tells the country later in the day that he supports the civil rights movement. In the wake of the march on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Had a Dream“ speech, Jack sends a civil rights bill to Congress which passes in 1964 as the landmark Civil Rights Act.
Jack by passed his own National Security Council and on October 11th had Bundy issue National Security Action Memorandum 263, making it official to withdraw from Vietnam the bulk of U.S. military personnel by the end of 1965, beginning with “1,000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963.”
On November 14th, a week before Dallas, Jack announced that he was ordering a plan for “how we can bring Americans out of there.” On November 21st he reviewed a casualty list for Vietnam that indicated more than 100 Americans had died. This made him angry and he told his assistant press secretary Malcolm Kilduff, “It’s time for us to get out. The Vietnamese aren’t fighting for themselves. We’re the ones doing the fighting. After I come back from Texas, that’s going to change. There’s no reason for us to lose another man over there. Vietnam is not worth another American life.”
On November 22nd, at 12:30 pm, the moment in time that most Americans can remember when and where they heard the news, Jack was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald, a 24-year-old warehouse worker and former Marine with Soviet sympathies fired upon the car hitting Jack twice. At the age of 46, Jack was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Jackie refused to take off her pink Chanel suit, stained with her husband’s blood. She told Lady Bird Johnson, “I want them to see what they have done to Jack.”
Less than two hours later Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States, saving him from not being selected as Jack running mate in the next election.
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the killing but was shot and fatally wounded two days later by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Almost immediately, alternative theories of Kennedy’s assassination emerged, including conspiracies run by the KGB, the Mafia and the U.S. military industrial complex, among others. A presidential commission led by Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded that Oswald had acted alone, but speculation and debate over the assassination still continues.
On November 24th, 1963, two days after Jack died, President Lyndon Johnson told the South Vietnam Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, “I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.” Over the next decade nearly 3 million Americans would enter the paddies of Vietnam, and 58,000 would never return.
Jack was a popular president, both at home and abroad and his family drew famous comparisons to King Arthur’s court at Camelot. Dignitaries from more than 100 countries attended Jack’s funeral, it was the largest gathering of its kind on U.S. soil. Jackie modeled her husband’s funeral ceremonies after Abraham Lincoln’s and an unexpected 250,000 people paid their respects to the former president as he lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Tens of thousands were turned away, some having waited throughout a near-freezing night in a line that stretched for more than 2 miles. The funeral was on November 25th, it was also John Jr.’s third birthday and Caroline turned 6 two days later.
Jack consistently ranks with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as among the most beloved American presidents of all time. His legacy is only slightly tarnished by the stories of his sexual activities. Like his father, he was obsessed with the ritual of sexual conquest and many women, Secret Service agents, and others knew of his philandering but kept it a secret.
It’s hard to imagine how the course of history would’ve been different, Jack’s actions as president reflected his ideas of not only achieving peace internationally but to also desegregating the United States. As historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote, it was “as if Lincoln had been killed six months after Gettysburg or Franklin Roosevelt at the end of 1935 or Truman before the Marshall Plan.”
After living in Washington for several months, Jackie moved to New York. Although raising her two young children was her priority, she also focused on the creation of the John F. Kennedy Library and became involved in the architecture and landscaping details, as well as the academic direction of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
In 1968 Jackie married Aristotle Socrates Onassis, an international shipping magnate and airline owner. After his death, she resumed her career in the writing profession as an editor at Viking Press, and then Doubleday. She stayed active in the arts and led a successful campaign to save New York’s Grand Central Station and also lobbied New York state legislators to prevent private organizations from altering or destroying their property if it was deemed historical architecture, along with numerous other civic activities.
On May 19th, 1994 Jackie died in her New York apartment at 64 years old.
John F. Kennedy Quotes
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
“Democracy and defense are not substitutes for one another. Either alone will fail.”
“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
“I would rather be accused of breaking precedents than breaking promises.”
“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”
“Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate.”
“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”
“Liberty without learning is always in peril; learning without liberty is always in vain.”
“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”
“So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.”
“The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly.”
“The ancient Greek definition of happiness was the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
“The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!’”
“The stories of past courage can define that ingredient-they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.”
“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”
“There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”
“Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.”
“We believe that if men have the talent to invent need machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work.”
“We have come too far, we have sacrificed too much, to disdain the future now.”
“We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.”
“We set sail on this new sea because there is knowledge to be gained.”
“We stand for freedom. That is our conviction for ourselves; that is our only commitment to others.”
“When we got into office, the thing that surprised me the most was that things were as bad as we’d been saying they were.”
“The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.”
“Before my term has ended, we shall have to test anew whether a nation organized and governed such as ours can endure. The outcome is by no means certain.”
“…probably the greatest concentration of talent and genius in this house except for perhaps those times when Thomas Jefferson ate alone.”
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
“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.”
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
“Let every nation know, 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.”
“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.”
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
“Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”
“We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.”
“Mothers may still want their sons to grow up to be President, but according to a famous Gallup poll of some years ago, some 73 percent do not want them to become politicians in the process.”
“This nation was founded by many men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
“I look foreword to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.”
“I look forward to an America in which commands respect throughout the world, not only for its strength, but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world in which we will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.”
“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”
“For 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 futures, and we are all mortal.”
“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”
“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
“All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”
“We need men who can dream of things that never were.”
“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.”
“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
“Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
The Legacy of John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy’s Vision of Peace
John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address Friday, January 20, 1961
The Decision to Go to the Moon: President John F. Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 Speech before a Joint Session of Congress
The History Place four-part Photo History of John Fitzgerald Kennedy
First Lady Biography: Jackie Kennedy
10 Things You May Not Know About John F. Kennedy
50 Facts About the JFK Assassination
Why England Slept – 1961
A Nation of Immigrants
Profiles in Courage
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 – 1963
JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters
Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy
The Strategy of Peace
If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History
The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ
Full Documentary Films – JFK – History Channel Documentaries
John F. Kennedy – President of the United States of America | Biography Documentary
TNC:172 Kennedy-Nixon First Presidential Debate, 1960
“THE AGE OF KENNEDY” (NBC WHITE PAPER) (1966)
“THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 1960” (1963)
President Kennedy 1961 Inaugural Address
JFK – We choose to go to the Moon, full length
Hi quality footage of JFK Assassination
November 22, 1963 – Malcolm Kilduff announces the death of President John F. Kennedy