The Life and Death of President John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brooklin, Massachusetts, a
suburb of Boston. The other eight Kennedy children were Joseph, Jr. Rosemary Kathleen
Eunice Patricia Robert F. Jean Edward M. “Ted” .
As the Kennedy children grew up, their parents encouraged them to develop their own
talents and interests. Loyalty to each other was important to the Kennedys. But the
brothers and sisters also developed a strong competitive spirit. Jack, as his family called
him, and Joe, his older brother, were especially strong rivals. Jack was quiet and often shy,
but he held his own in fights with his older brother. The boys enjoyed playing touch
John Kennedy attended elementary schools in Brookline and Riverdale. In 1930,
when he was 13 years old, his father sent him to the Canterbury School in New Milford,
Conn. The next year, he transferred to Choate Academy in Wallingford, Conn. Kennedy
was graduated from Choate in 1935 at the age of 18. His classmates voted him “most
likely to succeed.”
Kennedy wrote a thesis for his senior thesis at Harvard. The thesis was why Britain
had not been ready for war. The book that resulted from this was titled Why England
Slept. This book became a best-seller. Kennedy graduated cum laude in 1940. He then
enrolled in the Stanford University graduate business school, but dropped out six months
later. Kennedy enlisted as a seaman in the U.S. Navy after taking a trip through South
For a few months, Kennedy was stationed in Washington, D.C. He applied for sea
duty following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Kennedy was
assigned to a PT boat squadron late in 1942. After learning to command one of the small
craft, he was commissioned as an ensign.
Shortly after midnight on August 2, 1943, a Japanese destroyer cut Kennedy’s PT
boat in two. His boat was assigned to patrol duty off the Soloman Islands in the South
Pacific. Two of the crew were killed and Kennedy and 10 other men clung all night to the
wreckage of their boat. The next morning, Kennedy ordered his men to swim to a nearby
island. Despite himself being injured (back), he spent five hours towing one of the disabled
crewmen to shore. Over the period of the next four days, Kennedy was in the water
searching for help. On the fifth day, he persuaded friendly natives on Cross Island to go
for help. On August 7th, Kennedy’s crew was rescued. For heroism and leadership,
Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. He was also awarded the Purple
Heart for being wounded in combat.
In December 1943, the navy returned Lieutenant Kennedy to the United States.
His back was giving him pain and he was suffering from malaria. Kennedy spent the rest of
his naval service as an instructor and in various military hospitals. He then had a short
career as a newspaper reporter.
John’s family thought that he would become a writer or a teacher. His brother Joe
was going to be the family politician. Joe’s death in 1944 changed his future. Later, as a
U.S. Senator, Kennedy said: “Just as I went into politics because Joe died, if anything
happens to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if
Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him.”
Kennedy began his political career in 1946. He ran for the U.S. House of
Representatives. He opposed nine others for nomination in the solidly Democratic 11th
Congressional District of Massachusetts. He won the nomination and went on to easily
defeat his Republican opponent.
In 1946, Kennedy’s brothers and sisters helped him win the nomination in which he
was campaigning. His mother also helped him. The women organised teas in the homes of
voters. But his father did not take an active part in Kennedy’s political campaigns. His
isolationism before World War II, his conservatism, and his wealth made him a
In January 1947, Kennedy took his seat in Congress. Later that year, he became
seriously ill, and doctors discovered that he was suffering from a malfunction of the
adrenal glands. To control the ailment, he had to take medicine daily for the rest of his life.
In Congress, Kennedy voted for most of the social welfare programs of President
Harry S. Truman. He was re-elected to the House in 1948 and also 1950.
In April 1952, Kennedy announced that he would oppose Republican Senator
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Lodge, a popular and experienced legislator, seemed certain to
Kennedy’s brothers and sisters, their wives and husbands, and his mother joined
him in the campaign. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican presidential candidate,
carried Massachusetts in the 1952 election. But Kennedy upset Lodge by 70,637 votes.
In 1951, Kennedy met his future wife at a dinner party in Washington, D.C.
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was the daughter of a wealthy Wall Street broker, John V.
Bouvier III. She had attended Vassar College and the Sorbonne in Paris. When she met
Kennedy, she was a student at George Washington University in Washington. Later, she
worked as an inquiring photographer for the Washington Times-Herald. She and Kennedy
were married on September 12, 1953. A daughter was still-bron on August 23, 1956, and
was unnamed. Their daughter Caroline was born November 27, 1957. Their son John F.
Jr., was born on November 25, 1960. Another son, Patrick Bouvier, was born prematurely
August 7th, 1963. He died August 9, 1963. Five years after Kennedy’s death, Mrs
Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek millionaire.
Senator Kennedy concentrated at first on helping Massachusetts and New
England. He sponsored bills to help local industries, such as fishing, textile manufacturing,
and watchmaking. Kennedy served on the Senate Labor Committee, and the Government
Operations Committee, chairmanned by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin.
Robert Kennedy, his brother, served for a time on the Government Operations Committee
staff as an assistant counsel.
At the time, McCarthy was the most controversial figue in American politics.
Many people praised him for his attacks on communist influence in government. Others
critized McCarthy because they felt he had violated the civil liberties of persons
investigated by his committee. Kennedy felt that McCarthy often abused his power and
was endangering the honor of the Senate. Kennedy was ill when the Senate condemned
McCarthy in 1954. But he said later that if he had been present, he would have voted for
During his first Senate term, Kennedy’s back caused him severe pain. In October
1954, and in February, 1955, he underwent operations to correct the injury. While
recovering, Kennedy wrote a book about some of the brave deeds performed by U.S.
Senators. For the book, Profiles in Courage, Kennedy was awarded the Pulitzer prize for
biography in 1957.
In 1957, Kennedy was appointed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a
key assignment in Congress. He criticized the foreign policy of the Republican
administration, and supported a program of increased aid to underdeveloped countries.
Kennedy also worked for moderate legislation to end alleged corruption in labor
unions. He was a member of a Senate committee investigating racketeering in
labor-management relations. Kennedy’s brother Robert was counsel for the committee.
The Kennedys and other committee members engaged in dramatic arguments with
controversial labor leaders, including James R. Hoffa, of the Teamsters union.
In June 1956, a movement to nominate Kennedy for Vice-President had gained
strength among Democratic leaders. At the party’s national convention in Chicago,
Kennedy made the presidential nominating speech for former Governor Adlai E.
Stevenson of Illinois. The delegates chose Stevenson to oppose Eisenhower for the second
time. Kennedy worked furiously for the vice-presidential nomination. But he lost to
Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee after a nip-and-tuck battle.
Kennedy began working for the 1960 presidential nomination right after the 1956
convention. He spent nearly every weekend campaigning. In 1958, Kennedy won
re-election to the Senate by a majority of 874,608 votes.
Many Democratic leaders thought Kennedy had several disadvantages as a
presidential candidate. His main drawback was his religion. Alfred E. Smith, the only
Roman Catholic ever nominated for President by a major political party, had been badly
defeated in 1928. Other possible shortcomings included Kennedy’s youth, his family
wealth, and his relative inexperience in international affairs. Some Democrats opposed
Kennedy because they thought he was too conservative, and because he never actively
opposed Senator McCarthy.
Kennedy decided that the key to the presidential nominations would be to win as
many state primary elections as he could. He believed that victories in the pirmaries would
prove he could win the presidency. Kennedy entered and won primaries in seven states.
At the Democratic national convention, Kennedy’s chief opponents for the
presidential nomination were Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, Senator Stuart
Symington of Missouri, and Stevenson. Kennedy won on the first ballot. The delegates, at
the request of Kennedy, nominated Johnson for Vice-President.
The Republicans chose Vice-President Richard M. Nixon to oppose Kennedy for
the presidency. Kennedy’s old opponent, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., then U.S. delegate to
the UN, was Nixon’s running mate.
The 1960 campagin was a hard-fought race. Both candidates were young,
vigorous campaigners. At first, most experts believed Nixon would win. He had the
advantage of being Vice-Presient under Eisenhower, an unusually popular President.
But Kennedy was not as unknown as some persons believed. His good looks,
wealth, and attractive wife had made him a popular subject for articles in newspapers and
magazines. Television also helped Kennedy greatly during his four televised debates with
Nixon. His poise helped answer criticism that he lacked the maturity needed for the
presidency. The debates marked the first time that presidential candidates argued
campaign issues face to face.
Nixon ran chiefly on the record of the Eisenhower administration. Kennedy
promised to lead Americans to a “New Frontiere.” He charged that, under the
Republicans, the United States had lost ground to Russia in the Cold War.
Kennedy defeated Nixon by fewer than 120,000 popular votes. But he won a clear
majority of votes in the electoral college. Kennedy received 303 electoral votes to 219 for
Nixon. Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia received 15 eletoral votes.
Kennedy was inaugurated President on January 20, 1961. As he took charge of the
federal government, he faces such internal problems as increased racial tensions,
unemployment, and a sluggish economy. In foreign affairs, he faced the continuing spread
of Communist influence, and the threat of nuclear war.
The New Frontier, the name Kennedy gave to his program, got off to a slow start.
But the 87th Congress finally began passing measures sponsored by the administration. In
April 1961, the legislators approved aid to economically depressed areas. In May,
Congress approved an increase in the minimum hourly wage from $1 to $1.25. In
September 1962, Congress passed the President’s Trade Expansion Act. The act gave the
President wide powers to cut tariffs so the U.S. could trade freely with the European
One of the most successful of Kennedy’s programs was the U.S. Peace Corps. It
was launched by executive order in March 1961, and was later authorized by Congress.
The corps sent thousands of Americans abroad to help people in developing nations raise
their standards of living. The Peace Corps seemed to carry the enthusaism of the President
to the people of other countries, who often called it “Kennedy’s Corps.”
Kennedy also met major legislative defeats. Congress rejected a cabinet-level
Department of Urban Affairs and Kennedy’s plan for medical care for the aged. Both
measures later passed during Johnson’s presidency. Kennedy’s farm program also suffered
Kennedy reogranized the nation’s defense policies by increasing conventional
weapons. He wanted to be prepared for non-nuclear wars and to amke every effort to
avoid using nuclear weapons.
In March 1962, the major steel producers signed a contract with the steelworkers
union that increased workers’ benefits, but not their wages. Kennedy praised the contract,
which he said would help prevent inflation. On April 10, the United States Steel
Corporation led a move to raise steel prices $6 a ton. Kennedy angrily denounced the
move as causing unnecessary inflation, and the companies canceled it.
In May, prices on the new York Stock Exchange made their sharpest drop since
1929. Many people blamed the Kennedy administration. They felt the President’s action
toward the steel companiew reflected an antibusiness attitude. The President tried to
answer the antibusiness charges in a speech. He said there are three great ideas, or
“myths,” in our domestic affairs that may prevent effective action: (1) that the federal debt
is too large; (2) that the federal government is too big; and (3) that business cannot place
its confidence in his administration.
The President aided business by increasing tax benefits for companies investing in
new equipment. In 1963, he proposed a $10 billion tax cut, which included lowering
corporate taxes. He thought that the public would be able to spend more if taxes were cut.
The increased spending would generate new business, and the taxes received from an
expanded economy would more than offset the revenue lost in the tax cut.
Demands for equal rights for blacks became the major domestic issue during the
Kennedy adminstration. In 1961, a group of black and white freedom riders entered
Montgomery, Ala., by bus to test local segregation laws. Rioting broke out, and Attorney
General Robert F. Kennedy sent U.S. marshals to the city to help restore order. In 1962,
James Meredith became the first black to enroll at the University of Mississippi, despite
much opposition. Two people were killed in the rioting that followed on the university
campus at Oxford. The President ordered 3,000 federal troops to the area to restore
In 1963, demands by blacks for equal civil and economic rights increased. Racial
protests and demonstrations took place in all parts of the United States, in the North and
the South. In May 1963, rioting broke out in Birmingham, Ala. In June, the President
federalized the Alabama National Guard to enfoce the integration of the University of
Alabama. Kennedy federalized the Guard again in September to ensure the integration of
public schools in three Alabama cities. On August 28, 1963, about 200,000 people staged
a Freedom March in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate their demands for equal rights for
To meet the growing demands of the blacks, Kennedy asked Congress to pass
legislation requiring hotels, motels, and restaurants to admit customers regardless of race.
The President also asked Congress to grant the Attorney General authority to begin court
suits to desegregate schools on behalf of private citizens who were unable to start legal
action themselves. In requesting the sweeping civil rights legislation, the President said,
“The time has come for the Congress of the United States to join with the executive and
judicial branches in making it clear to all that race has no place in American life or law.”
Kennedy’s Democratic party gained four seats in the Senate and lost only two seats
in the House in the 1962 elections. This was only the third time in the 1900’s that the party
in power increased its representation in Congress in a midterm election. In his second year
in office, Kennedy appointed two justices of the Supreme Court. The first was Byron R.
White, then Deputy Attorney General. The second was Secretary of Labor Arthur J.
The Kennedy’s brought youth and informality to the White House. Caroline and
John, Jr., were the youngest children of a President to live in the White House in more
than 60 years. Caroline’s antics and bright comments amused the nation.
Women in many countries copied Jacqueline Kennedy’s stylish clothes and hairdo.
In 1961, Mrs Kennedy flew to Europe with her husband. Wherever she went, huge crowds
gathered. President Kennedy presented himself to a Paris luncheon by saying, “I am the
man who accompanie Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris . . . ” In March 1962, Mrs Kennedy
toured Pakistand and India without the President.
Mrs Kennedy won praise for her redecoration of the White House. She gathered
furnishings of past Presidents and made the mansion a historic showplace and a tourist
The President gave recognition to the creative arts by appointing a Special Advisor
on the Arts. Many artists were invited to the White House.
On April 17, 1961, Cuban rebels invaded their homeland to overthrow Fidel
Castro, the Communist-supported dictator. The assualt ended in disaster. President
Kennedy accepted blame for the ill-fated invasion, which had been planned by the United
Another Cuban crisis erupted in October 1962, when the United States learned
that Russia had established missiles on the island capable of stirking U.S. cities. Kennedy
ordered the U.S. Navy to quarantine Cuba. Navy ships were ordered to turn back all ships
delivering Russian missiles to Cuba. Kennedy also called about 14,000 Air Force reservists
to active duty.
For a week, war seemed likely. Then, Russian Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev
ordered all Soviet offensive missiles removed. The President then lifted the quarantine.
In 1961, Russia threatened to give Communist East Germany control over the
West’s air and land supply routes to Berlin. The threat was part of a Russian effort to end
the combined American, British, French, and Russian control of Berlin, begun when World
War II ended. The western nations opposed any threat to the freedom of West Berlin.
In June 1961, Kennedy discussed Berlin with Khrushchev at a two-day meeting in
Vienna, Austria. Nothing was settled, and the crisis deepened. Both countries increased
their military strength. In August, the East Germans built a wall between East and West
Berlin to prevent people from fleeing to the West. Kennedy called up about 145,000
members of the National Guard and reservists to strengthen U.S. military defense. They
were released about 10 months later.
In 1961, the United States established the Alliance for Progress, a 10-year program
of aid for Latin-American countries that agreed to begin democratic reforms. The
President hoped this program would bring social and political reform as well as fight
In 1961, Kennedy was interviewed by Khrushchev’s son-in-law, then editor of
Izvestia, the Russian government newspaper. Izvestia printed the entire interview.
In 1962, Congress approved a plan to purchase up to $100 million worth of bonds
to help finance the U.N.
The westeren Atlantic alliance remained strong, but Kennedy had trouble
establishing a united NATO nuclear force. President Charles de Gaulle refused to commit
France to the NATO nuclear force. He preferred an independent role for his country.
Kennedy made a 10-day tour of Europe in the summer of 1963. He visited West Germany,
Italy, Ireland, and Great Britain.
Southeast Asia continued to be a trouble spot. Kennedy ordered U.S. military
advisers to the area in 1961 and 1962 when the Communists threatened South Vietnam
and Thailand. Kennedy also sent advisers to Laos. In the summer and autumn of 1963, the
U.S. severly criticized the South Vietnamese governemtn headed by Ngo Dinh Diem for
its repressive policies against the country’s Buddhists. The government imprisoned many
Buddhist leaders and students who were leading demonstrations against the Diem
government. Kennedy sent former Republican senator and vice-presidential candidate
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., to South Vietnam as ambassador in 1963.
In September 1961, the Russians resumed testing atomic weapons. The tests broke
an un-offical test ban that had lasted nearly three years. The United States began testing
shortly after the Russians resumed their tests, but the U.S. conducted its tests
underground, which created no dangerous fallout. But in April 1962, the United States
resumed testing in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
In July 1963, Russia, the United States, and Great Britain signed a treaty banning
atomic testing in the atmosphere, outer space, and under water. Testing was permitted
underground. The treaty avoided the issue of internal inspections, which had deadlocked
previous negotiations. Many countries that had no atomic weapons also signed the treaty.
The U.S. Senate approved the treaty in September by a vote of 80 to 19.
This section is in a completely different file. This area is then written in more
detail. Kennedy’s Assassination