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The John F Kennedy Administration

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Kennedy had strong plans to help America's economy. He also called for more civil rights for minorities - making him a very liberal president. JFK was something of an idealist, and wanted to make America's role in the world to promote civil and human rights. He didn't want war. His administration even started the Peace Corps.

Of course, the 1960s were a turbulent time for America in foreign relations. Anti-communism and the Cold War were important subjects.

Kennedy was one of the most popular Presidents ever for the period of his term. His charisma and strong economic policies, which led to an enormous period of growth for the nation, made him very well liked.


It has been suggested over and over again that Kennedy had several affairs outside his marriage, the most famous of which being a supposed affair with actress Marilyn Monroe. John and Robert Kennedy both got to know Monroe from high-profile parties. Some suggest that Monroe had an affair with Robert and John at the same time.

The (supposed) Monroe-Kennedy affairs continued for quite some time, but in the summer of 1962, the affair is supposed to have ended because of increased rumours on the subject. The media generally didn't find this sort of thing appropriate to report though, and most of the public was unaware.

The First Lady

The public looked at JFK's marriage and family as perfect, and it would be nicknamed 'Camelot' as a reference to the fictionalised place of truth and compassion where King Arthur lived. However, there was a 12-year age gap between Jackie Kennedy and JFK, and the first lady never really liked her husband being President. She hated campaigning and hated living in the White House. The public did not know this, though. JFK had anything but a perfect marriage.

Jackie was fashionable and smart - the sort of First Lady that America loved. She brought class and dignity to the White House. At one point, she remodelled the White House, to bring the best of everything into the home of the President. She even organised classical music concerts at the White House1.

Mrs Kennedy knew fashion, and her clothing became important, as the American public expected her to constantly wear great dresses. She became the first lady to hire a fashion designer when she brought aboard Oleg Cassini. Joe Kennedy, the wealthy father of JFK, paid for these dresses usually.


Kennedy had already had two children when he went into the Presidency. Caroline Bouvier was born on November 27, 1957. John Fitzgerald was born on November 25, 1960, shortly after winning the election, but before he took office.

However, in the middle of his presidency, JFK and his wife had another child named Patrick Bouvier. He was born on 7 August, 1963, and died on 9 August - two days later. His death made Americans sympathetic of the Kennedys and JFK's popularity increased even more.


As President, it became very important that the nation believe Kennedy was healthy. In order to maintain this image, Kennedy brought in Dr Max Jacobson, who was affectionately referred to as 'Dr Feelgood'. At times in his Presidency, JFK was on over a dozen medications. He might have five to seven injections in his back per day just to feel normal.

Kennedy's health began to improve dramatically in the summer of 1963. However, if he had lived past 1963, Kennedy would have seen several severe side effects from all sorts of medication. For instance, at one point, his cholestoral was at 4102!

Public Speaking

Kennedy had a strong reputation for being a great public speaker. His charisma and quick wit and humour contributed to this. JFK was fittingly the first President with access to the media of television to speak to Americans with. He was an exceptional writer, and was very good with extemporaneous responses in press conferences. He was good at speaking at press conferences, and he knew it.

Some great speeches included:

  • 20 January, 1961 Inauguration Speech

    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.
    And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.
  • 30 January, 1961 State of the Union

    Each day we draw nearer the hour of maximum danger, as weapons spread and hostile forces grow stronger.
  • 1 March, 1961 Peace Corps Remarks

    But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps - who works in a foreign land - will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.
  • 10 June, 1963 Commencement Speech

    What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace - the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living - the kind that enables man and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children - not merely peace for Americans by peace for all men and women - not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
  • 11 June, 1963 Civil Rights Address

    We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution...
  • 26 June, 1963 'Ich bin ein Berliner' Speech

    All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner'.
    There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.


Bay of Pigs Invasion

Dwight D Eisenhower, the President that preceded Kennedy, broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba very shortly before Kennedy was inaugurated. Under the Eisenhower administration, the CIA had been training Cubans to attack Cuba in an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro's government. Kennedy approved the invasion under the advice of several CIA and military officials, as well as his own advisors.

On 15 April, some B-26 Planes bombed Cuban airfields. On 17 April, about 1,500 exiled Cubans with US Weapons landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba hoping to gain support from locals. When the US trained Cubans began to lose, Kennedy refused to give them air support. 90 exiles were killed, and the rest were captured had to be negotiated for by the US. The US eventually had to pay 53 million dollars for their release. This invasion embarrassed the Kennedy government very much.

JFK held himself personally responsible for the Bay of Pigs disaster. He knew that at any time, he could have simply said no. Many members of his administration could have said no as well in meetings, but because they were newly into their roles, they were afraid to question the respected Joint Chiefs of Staff, CIA officials and former President and Supreme Allied Commander During World War II, Dwight D Eisenhower (who okayed the plan during his Presidency)3. This was JFK's first real political defeat, but he accepted responsibility to the American people gracefully.

Victory has 100 fathers and Defeat is an orphan...

The people responded well to this, and his approval ratings shot up to 83%. He commented to one of his advisors, 'The worse I screw up, the higher go my numbers!'. Also as a result of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy fired three 'sacred cows' of US intelligence - Allen Dulles, who was CIA Director and Deputy CIA Directors Charles P Cabell and Richard Bissell4. Kennedy also became dedicated to removing Fidel Castro from power in Cuba, and the CIA would sponsor several assassination attempts at him over the years.

After the Bay of Pigs, JFK never really trusted the CIA ever again. From then on, whenever Kennedy needed strategic and intelligence advice, he would turn to the military or even the FBI. It is even rumoured that near the end of his presidency, JFK signed an executive order that said that future intelligence operations would be handed over to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, basically eliminating the CIA.

Establishment of the Peace Corps

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps - who works in a foreign land - will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.
Excerpt of JFK's Remarks about establishing the Peace Corps

On 1 March, 1961, JFK signed an executive order that established the US Peace Corps5, whose purpose was to help people all over the world with American workers. They also helped to promote the understanding of the American people and a general understanding of people around the world.

Canada Visit

From 16-18 May, 1961, Kennedy visited Ottawa, Canada and addressed a joint session of Parliament. The visit was entirely unremarkable. JFK's main purpose was to speak with Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker about Kennedy's Cold War policies.

While Kennedy planted a tree as a photo-opportunity, he seriously aggravated his back condition. When he arrived back in Washington DC, he got out of Air Force One on a fork-lift and walked away from the aeroplane in crutches. Apparently, he never again had another day without pain.

European Tour and Vienna Summit

Kennedy went to France to visit Charles de Gaulle, to assure him of the American commitment to its securities treaties. He said that if the USSR attacked Europe, the US would attack the USSR. Jackie, who loved Paris, spoke French and occasionally served as a translator.

On 4 June, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President Kennedy met in Vienna for a summit. The main issue was the complicated problem in Berlin. The two leaders would meet four times.

Both sides avoided bringing up Berlin at first, so they first agreed on the neutrality of Laos. Finally, Khrushchev brought up the subject of Berlin, but no real progress was made. Khrushchev threatened to sign a peace treaty with East Germany, which could lead to a war. The most famous conversation was:

Khrushchev: 'Force would be met by force. If the US wants war, that's its problem.'
Kennedy: 'Then, Mr. Chairman, there will be war. It will be a cold winter.'

Since Kennedy had to stay in one seat for several hours of debate with the soviet leader, after his pain injections from Dr Jacobson had worn off, he became exhausted after the Vienna Summit. He spent about two weeks in the White House scarcely getting out of bed after it.

As a result of the summit, Khrushchev thought of Kennedy as weak, and thought that he would crumble under pressure. He said that he pitied the American people because they had this leader. As a result of this, Khrushchev didn't fear US retaliation in the future Cuban Missile Crisis.

Berlin Crisis

By 1961, Germany, and the city of Berlin, was split into East and West Germany. The US occupied West Germany and the USSR occupied East Germany. East Berlin had noticeably worse conditions than West Berlin, and many East Berlin citizens immigrated there. The East lost many of its professionals, and conditions continued to get worse.

In the Vienna Summit, Khrushchev had given the US an ultimatum, to pull out of West Berlin or face the USSR signing a Peace Treaty with East Germany, which could lead to a war. Khruschev gave Kennedy the deadline of making a decision by December 31, 1961. Kennedy, in response to this, stated that the US would defend West Berlin. War loomed.

However, on 13 August, 1961, the USSR and East Berlin governments started construction on what would become the Berlin Wall - separating East and West Berlin. Although this might have been taken as a setback, Kennedy was actually rather grateful that the wall was put up. It defused the crisis for the most part. However, in October, 1961, US and Soviet tanks looked at each other across the West and East Germany borders in Berlin - at a place known as 'Checkpoint Charlie'. The tanks on each side would pull out eventually, but this (along with other confrontations) showed the commitment of the US, which impressed the USSR, and they didn't sign an East Berlin Peace Treaty.

Kennedy had avoided a war - for now.


Recorded Phone Calls

In the summer of 1962, Kennedy had a secret audio recording device installed in the Oval Office to record his telephone calls (at his discretion). He also had audio of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room recorded. JFK never told anyone why he was recording his calls, but many think that it to help him write his memoirs later in life.

Today, these audio recordings give great insight into the way Kennedy acted during crisis and when he was away from the public eye. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy recorded nearly every phone conversation and discussion he could. During his presidency, he recorded about 260 hours of discussion and about 12 hours of telephone calls.

Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the defining moments in JFK's Presidency. It was the second time JFK kept the US from a full scale war with the USSR.

Space Race

By Kennedy's time, Space Exploration was a major topic - and the 'Space Race' between America and the USSR was a major battle of the Cold War. The Soviets, who were generally considered to possess worse technology than the Americans, had already launched the first satellite (Sputnik), had put the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin), had made the first manned orbit and the first lunar landing. American pride was hit hard. Kennedy decided that the US had to be the first nation to get a man on the moon. Early in his presidency, JFK had taken steps toward space exploration.

After the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Kennedy realised that he needed his nation to have its pride and distinction restored - among citizens and among other nations. He appointed his Vice President, Lyndon B Johnson, to chair a committee to investigate the possibility and feasibility of space exploration. Johnson reported back to Kennedy that the US should work towards the goal of putting a man on the moon. He said-

To be first in space is to be first period, to be second in space is to be second in everything.

So Kennedy and NASA worked to improve the technology of the US, and by 5 May, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in Space.

On 25 May, 1961, Kennedy addressed the US Congress about Space Exploration and other things that he considered a need of the nation. He said-

Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides - time for a great new American enterprise - time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.
I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfilment.

By 20 February, 1962, John Glenn would be the first American to orbit the Earth. Kennedy wouldn't live to see Neil Armstrong land on the moon on Apollo 11 in 1969, though. It would be one of JFK's legacies. His goal of an American landing on the moon before the end of the 1960s were accomplished.


European Tour

In 1963, Kennedy went on a five nation Western Europe Tour. He did this in order to improve relations between the US and Europe to unite against the Communists.

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was 'civis Romanus sum.' Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner6.'
I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

On 26 June, 1963, Kennedy delivered his famous 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech to a crowd in front of City Hall in West Berlin. He was very popular there, and his speech is remembered even today.

JFK would visit Italy, Great Britain and Kennedy ended his European tour with a trip to Ireland. He showed his genuine regard for his Irish roots while there7.

Civil Rights

Although JFK was more for civil rights than many Presidents before him, he simply wasn't the civil rights advocate history sometimes looks at him as. However, he did take bold steps toward more civil rights legislation, mostly starting with a speech on 11 June, 1963. He considered it a moral crisis, and said in his speech-

The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.
We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

This announcement came following the University of Alabama Integration crisis. On 11 June, 1963, two qualified, young African American students integrated the University after Alabama Governor George Wallace symbolically stood in the doorway to keep them out. Kennedy had deployed the National Guard to make sure they were allowed to enter.

Racial tension had become an important issue in the 1960s, and Kennedy saw many important civil rights events in his presidency. On 28 August, 1963, the March on Washington was led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. When Kennedy saw Dr King give his famous I have a dream speech, he simply said: 'He's good'.

After Kennedy's death, some wondered if the southerner Lyndon B Johnson would be committed to passing civil rights legislation. As it turned out, Johnson, as one of the most powerful and able legislators in Washington DC, was for Civil Rights. This, along with the fact that saying no to the Civil Rights Act was to decry the memory of the immensely popular Kennedy, helped the bill along.

Johnson was committed to getting the progressive Civil Rights Act passed, which he signed into a law on 2 July, 1964.

Further Reading

1Apparently, when the concerts first started, JFK used to stand up and embrace the musician at pauses in the music as if it was over, so he had to work out a signal with Litita Baldridge - The First Lady's Chief of Staff - so that he would know when it was actually over.2Which is bad.3Demonstrating the 'groupthink' theory, where because each person in a meeting is so excited to be with other members of the meeting that they forget to consider common sense.4Bissell was the most responsible for the invasion.5Based on an idea by Senators Hubert Humphrey and Richard Neuberger.6Which Kennedy meant as 'I am a citizen of Berlin'. Many suggest that it also means 'I am a jelly doughnut', as a 'Berliner' is a type of Jelly Doughnut, but Kennedy's audience knew what he meant.7JFK’s great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, immigrated to Boston from a southeast Ireland farm during the Potato Famine.

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