Inaugural Address by John F. Kennedy remains one of the most important speeches in American history (Four of the century’s greatest speeches., 1998)that encircles the American socio-political philosophy and set the orientation of a new peaceful and democratic world. The author of comprehensive “Sounding the Trumpet: The Making of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address”, Richard J. Tofel beautifully sums up the speech. He says;
“Kennedy’s inaugural address has become part of the American text. It encapsulates a good bit of what Americans think is the vision that ought to guide public service in this country and define the country’s place in the world. As the actual events of the Kennedy administration recede into history, the speech comes more and more into the foreground as a vision for people of what America can and should be.” (Freed, 2005, p. 68)
“We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. 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—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.” (Kennedy, 1961)
Ceremony was John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address as the 35th president of United States on Friday, January 20, 1961. It was formal occasion of oath-taking and traditionally newly elected president had to make a speech to highlight the broader objectives and agenda of his administration in future. The present audience included the newly elected Vice President Johnson, ex-President Eisenhower, Ex-Vice President and the defeated presidential candidate Nixon, ex-President Truman, Chief Justice, President Eisenhower and other dignitaries but Kennedy’s intended audience was both national and international. The target audience was devoid of demography as his was addressing to international community in general and his nation in particular. His audience was not specific but it was universal like his message in the speech. He also attended to the foes of United States and addressed to the U.S. old allies in the cultural and spiritual spheres the world around. He further spoke to the newly established independent states. So his audience was diverse and all-inclusive i.e. South American States, United Nations sovereign members, European allies and above all the American nation. It included both individuals and nations.
President John. F. Kennedy, who entered the office in 1960, was the youngest and the first Roman Catholic to enter the Presidential office. He was a Harvard graduate who served heroically in the war. He entered the Congress in 1946 and became a member of the American Senate in 1952 as a Massachusetts’ senator. (Kaplan, 2004) In view of the extraordinary ability in vote getting displayed by Kennedy in his native state, he was nominated by the Democrats as its candidate for the Presidency in 1960. It must be noted that Kennedy secured the nomination at the first ballot. In the election, Kennedy was opposed by Richard Nixon, The Republican candidate. Although he was comparatively less known that the rival Nixon But he received much publicity and created a favorable impression in the televised debates between the two contestants. In the elections, Kennedy bitterly criticized the unhealthy economy and the decline of the American prestige abroad since 1952. As a results of all this, Kennedy was able to secure victory over Nixon, though by a narrow margin.
Commenting on the election of Kennedy, Prof. Blum says;
With Kennedy’s election, the first of the established states of the world was turning into a new generation of political leadership…The generation which was born during the First World War, grew up during the depression, fought in the second World War, and began its political career in the atomic age had at last arrived at the seats of power. (Blum. 786)
During his election campaigns, John F. Kennedy has talked of ‘New Frontiers’ and impressed on the need for the nation to move forward. Above-mentioned details manifest the credibility of the speaker and it must be noted that this ceremony revolved around his character and without him this ceremony and speech was not possible. In addition to this fact that only he had to deliver the speech, it must be taken into account that he was excellent orator and he has enamored the nation already during his televised speeches and debates with Nixon.
His tone is persuasive message that creates either an urgent desire to act in his audience. He uses proper tone and choice of words to motivate his audience to action. His style with reference to tone contains the essential elements of specificity and directness. His speech is direct as it avoids confusion and saves time on subsequent clarification. It could have been tempting to write a long, flowery message when he was trying to persuade but he followed the golden rule of comprehensiveness with brevity. So he was as direct as possible, while still maintaining an appropriate tone with his audience. In addition to that, Kennedy’s speech has the quality of being very specific. This style makes his message more understandable.
His speech is based on logical arguments that too contain a wise emotional appeal. It is not based on mere sentimental notions but he presents his pints in a logical way with the help of supporting arguments. He appeals to the mental faculties of people rather than the emotional being. He uses descriptive language that contains adjectives and other modifiers to emphasize certain phrases in his message. This emphasis helps paint a picture for audience; however, he does not overuse this tactic. He utilizes this strategy only when he needs to grab his audience’s attention. He does not use any specific devises to lend style to his speech but relies only on the logic and directness of his message.
In this speech, Kennedy takes into accounts the cherished American ideals and values of democracy, equality and peace. His worldview is based on these notions. World peace remains the chief value that he emphasizes in his speech. He says that United States offers it solemn pledge to the international peace and will do everything to keep world away from the dark shadows of war. Democracy is another value that Kennedy accentuates and offer relentless support for the new States to augments its democratic institutes. He says in this regard that “we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny.” (Kennedy, 1961) Kennedy demonstrates through this speech that United States does not believe in the policy of confrontation but wants his adversaries to join their hands with United States for a peaceful and prosperous world. He says that “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.” (Kennedy, 1961). All these were different facets of the main American value of democracy, peace and equality. Although all these values are not held by the whole target audience yet most of them believe in these values. The communist block, an intended audience of the speech, were fully against the American notions of democracy and peace. (Fairlie, 1986)
In totality, Kennedy’s inaugural speech gives orientation for shaping a whole new world. He does not limit his speech to American nation only but broadens his horizons and addresses the international audience and their issues. His amazing aura of personality lends credibility to his speech. His style is persuasive and he takes into consideration the cherished American values of democracy and equality. So profound is the effect of his inaugural speech that Jeffery Zaslow (2005) rightly said that inaugural moment of Kennedy became cultural turning point.
Blum, J. M. (1968). The National experience; a history of the United States. New York:
Harcourt, Brace ; World.
Fairlie, H. ((1986) Citizen Kennedy [need for civic virtues discussed in J. F. Kennedy’s inaugural
address]. The New Republic. 194, 14
Four of the century’s greatest speeches. (1998, 13 April). Time. 151 (14), 118.
Freed, E. (2005). Fresh Insights Into an Enduring Speech [J. F. Kennedy’s inaugural address;
interview with R. Tofel]. Prologue: Washington, D.C. 37(4). 62-3
Kaplan, H. S. (2004). John F. Kennedy. Dk biography. New York, N.Y.: DK Pub.
United States. (1989). Inaugural addresses of the Presidents of the United States from George
Washington 1789 to George Bush 1989. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O. Retrieved on 07
August, 2008. www.bartleby.com/124/.
Zaslow, J. (2005, 20 January) A Hatless JFK: Inaugural Moments that Became Cultural Turning
Points. Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition) p. D1