John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29,
1917, the second oldest in a family of nine children. His great grandparents had come the
United States from Ireland in the mid-1800, s after a famine caused severe poverty in that
Country. Although their families had not come to the United States with much money,
Both of John Kennedy’s grandfathers became political leaders in Boston. One of them
John Fitzgerald, (for whom he was named), was elected mayor in 1905. John Kennedy’s
Father, Joseph Patrick became a very wealthy businessman, he was and adviser to
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United States Ambassador to Great Britain from
1938 to 1940. John Kennedy (his family called him “Jack,”) moved to New York when
He was ten years old. Since the family spent summer months at their home in Hyannis,
Cape Cod, Jack still lived a good part of his life in Massachusetts. As a boy and a young
man, he traveled to other parts of the United States and to other countries.
After graduating from the Choate School in Connecticut in 1935, he went on to
Harvard College and graduated in 1940. That same year he wrote a best selling book,
called, Why England Slept, it was about some of the decisions, which led to World War
In 1941, John Kennedy joined the Navy. He became the commander of a small
“PT” boat, assigned to the battle in the Pacific against the Japanese. One night while on
patrol, a large enemy ship rammed Kennedy’s boat. Two men in the crew of thirteen
were killed, and the rest led by Lt. Kennedy swam to a nearby deserted island. There
they managed to survive mostly by eating coconuts, until they were rescued a week later.
After World War II, John n Kenney had to choose the kind of work he wanted to
do. He considered becoming a teacher or a writer but soon he decided to run for political
office. In 1946 he was elected to the U.S. Congress, representing a district in greater
Boston, Kennedy a democrat served three terms (six years), in the House of
Representatives, and in 1952 he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
In 1953, he married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. The following year he had a serious
operation on his back. While recovering from surgery, he wrote a book about several
U.S. senators, which had risked their careers to fight for the things in which they
believed. The book, called Profiles in Courage, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for
Biography in 1957. That same year the Kennedy’s first child Caroline, was born.
Kennedy had narrowly missed being picked as the Democratic Party’s candidate
for Vice President in 1956. Soon after, he began a long campaign to become President in
1960. At the convention on July 13, 1960, the Democrats chose Kennedy as their
Presidential candidate. Kennedy asked Lyndon B. Johnson, a senator from Texas, to run
with him for Vice President. In the general election on November 8, 1960, Kennedy
defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon in a very close race, the popular vote was
34,226,731 for Kennedy and 34,108,157 for Nixon. The electoral vote was 303 for the
Kennedy campaign and 219 for Nixon.
Kennedy was the youngest man elected President and also the first Catholic.
John F. 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”.
Soon after the election Kennedy’s second child was born John Jr.
One of President Kennedy’s first important actions was creating the Peace Corps.
Americans who join the Peace Corps go as volunteers to countries requesting assistance.
They served as teachers and provided help in areas such as farming, health care and
Kennedy also wanted Americas to travel to more distant destinations. In May of
1961, after Alan Shepard became the first America astronaut to fly into space Kennedy
asked Congress to spend more money on space exploration, with the goal of landing a
man on the moon by the end of the decade.
During his time as President JFK had to make difficult decisions. Many of the
hardest choices concerned the relationship between our nation and the Soviet Union.
Since World War II there had been a lot of anger and suspicion between the two countries
but never any shooting between Russian and American troops this cold war was a
struggle between the Soviet Union’s communist system of government and America’s
democratic system. Because they distrusted each other both nations spent enormous sums
of money building nucular weapons to use if a war begins hoping to build some trust
between their countries. President Kennedy and the soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
met in June 1961. One topic they discussed was the German city of Berlin. after World
War II, Germany had been divided into two countries: West Germany and East Germany.
West Germany like the United States, was a democratic country where people elected
their leaders. In East Germany a communist country, like the Soviet Union, the
government owned all the farms and factories and made many decisions without the
approval of the people. The city of Berlin was also divided. Through surrounded by East
Germany, half of Berlin was part of West Germany. Many East Germans who did not
want to live in a communist country had moved to West Berlin. During their meeting
Kennedy and Khrushchev strongly disagreed about the future of Berlin. Later that
summer the Soviets built a huge wall diving the two parts of Berlin. For many Americans
and the western Europeans, the Berlin wall became a symbol of communism. In the
summer of 1963 JFK visited West Berlin and spoke to a large crowd near the wall. He
said that America would support democracy in Berlin and that he looked forward to the
The cold War heated up in October 1962, when an America spy plain secretly
flew over Cuba and took photos of several military construction sites. the photos showed
that the Soviets were building nuclear missile launchers in Cuba. Cuba’s communist
government, led by Fidel Castro, was very friendly with the Soviet Union. President
Kennedy faced a very difficult decision. Should he ignore the missiles even though they
were very close to the United States ?. Should he use force to remove the missiles, even
at the risk of starting a nuclear war?. What other actions could he take? because he did
not want to let Cuba and the Soviet Union know that he knew about the missiles,
Kennedy met in secret with his advisers for several days to discuss the problem. After
many long and difficult meetings, he decided to place naval blockade, or ring of ships,
around Cuba to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. Several day
later, Khrushchev, agreed to remove the missiles and bring them back to the Soviet
Union. In exchange the United States promised not to invade Cuba. The Cuban missile
crisis had nearly caused a nuclear war. Many people around the world were impressed
with Kennedy’s leadership during these tense thirteen days.
During the next year, Kennedy and Khrushchev set up a “hot line”, a special
telephone connection between the Presidents office in the white house and the Soviets
leaders office at the Kremlin in Moscow. They hoped this Hot Line would prevent a war
from beginning by mistake. In August 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union
signed a treaty that outlawed nuclear bob test (sound), in the air, under water, and in outer
space. The treaty did not prevent the two countries from building more weapons, but it
did protect the world from the harmful effects of nuclear tests. Kennedy also asked the
American people to think more about making peace with the Soviet Union. “We all
inhabit this small planet”, he said “We all breath the same air we all cherish our children
While international issues demanded a lot of attention, Kennedy also had to deal
with serious problems here in the United States. In most southern states, schools, buses,
restaurants, and other public places were racially segregated. there were separate schools,
separate seats on bused and separate areas in restaurants for whites and blacks. State and
local laws also prevented black Americans from voting . Since the 1950’s many people
Black and white had been working to change these laws. During the 1960 presidential
campaign Martin Luther King Jr.,one of the most famous leaders of the civil rights
movement had been jailed for leading a protest in Georgia. Kennedy called his wife
Coretta Scott King and offered his Many African Americans the decided to vote for
Kennedy Civil rights leaders however were disappointed with the slow and careful pace
of President Kennedy’s efforts to ensure equality for all Americans. Kennedy believed in
challenging unfair laws in the courts rather than holding public demonstrations.
He believed that demonstrations would anger many white southern members of
congress whose help he needed to pass new laws and approve treaties. events however
forced Kennedy to change his views. In May 1961 a group of white and black people
ignored segregation laws and traveled together by bus through the south. In several cities
crowds of angry white people beat these “freedom riders” and burned their buses.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy JFK’s brother had to sent U.S. marshals to protect the
freedom riders. their actions eventually led to the desegregation of all buses and waiting
rooms used for travel between states.
In September 1962, the nation faced the threat of violence in the State of
Mississippi. James Meredith, an African America and an Air Force veteran, applied and
was admitted to the University of Mississippi. However, when he arrived on campus,
university officials would not let him go to class because he was black. Both John and
Robert Kennedy had long talks over the telephone with the Mississippi governor, Ross
Barnett. However, they failed to convince Barnett to allow James Meredith to attend
classes. In order to enforce the Constitution and to protect Meredith, Kennedy ordered the
National Guard and federal marshals to the University. After a riot in which two people
died and dozens were injured, Meredith registered for classes and segregation ended at
Segregation had not ended everywhere, however. Almost a year later, Alabama
governor, George Wallace, who had promised to support segregation “today, tomorrow
and forever”, would not allow African American students to attend the University of
Alabama. After President Kennedy was forced once again to send soldiers to protect
students who wanted nothing more than an education, he decided to speak to the nation
on television about civil rights, He said Americans had a legal and a moral responsibility
to provide equal access to education and guarantee voting rights for all citizens. In
addition to all the problems and challenges of being President, John Kennedy also had to
fulfill the role of our nations head of state. He and his wife Jacqueline hosted dinners and
parties in Washington for the leaders of other nations. They also traveled to Latin
America and Europe, because Mrs. Kennedy believed that the nations capital should be
the center for the arts and culture as well as the center of government and law, she invited
many musicians, writers, and dancers to the White House to perform.
On November 21, 1963 President Kennedy flew to Texas to give several political
speeches. The next day as his car drove slowly past cheering crowds in Dallas shots rang
out, Kennedy was seriously wounded and died a short time later. Within two hours of the
shooting, police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald, and charged him with the murder. On
November 24, 1963, a Dallas man, Jack Ruby, shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald,
before there was a chance to put him on trial. Oswald denied that he shot JFK, most of
the evidence said that he did. To this day many people disagree about JFK’s
Dora Jane Hamblin, Life Magazine, Chicago November 1963
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