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A brief biography of President Kennedy

jfkphotoOn NOVEMBER 22, 1963, when he was hardly past his first thousand days in office, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by assassin's bullets as his motorcade wound through Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was the youngest man elected President; he was the youngest to die, at age 46.

Of Irish descent, he was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917. He was the second of nine children, the son of Rose Fitzgerald and millionaire Joseph P. Kennedy who had served as ambassador to Great Britain under Franklin Roosevelt. John attended Caterbury School in New Milford, Conn., then went to Choate Academy in Wallingford, Conn. where he was voted "most likely to succeed." He attended Princeton University briefly, then majored in government and international relations at Harvard.

After a summer tour of Europe in 1939, Kennedy wrote his college thesis on the failure of England to prepare itself against Nazi Germany. Published in book form in 1949, under the title, "Why England Slept," the work became a best seller. He graduated from Harvard in 1940.

JFK-PT BoatBefore Pearl Harbor, Kennedy entered the Navy as a seaman. He was commissioned an ensign assigned to a PT boat squadron which patrolled the Soloman Islands. In 1943, when his PT boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy, despite grave injuries, led the survivors through perilous waters to safety. His heroic rescue of survivors of his crew won him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal as well as the Purple Heart.PT109 pin

After the war, Kennedy worked as a reporter for Hearst newspapers for a short time. One of his assignments was coverage of the United Nations conference at San Francisco in 1945. He decided to enter politics in 1946, and with the enthusiastic help of his brothers and sisters won the Democratic nomination to the House of Representatives in the eleventh district of Massachusetts. His mother and sisters organized teas at the homes of voters, while his father furnished campaign funds. He won the election and as Congressman voted for Truman's welfare programs, including expanded social security benefits, aid to veterans, and old-age benefits. In 1952, Kennedy upset the veteran Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge by winning his seat in the US Senate.

John and Jackie's weddingHe married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, daughter of a wealthy Wall Street broker, on September 12, 1953. ( They had four children, a girl who was stillborne; Caroline, born Nov. 27, 1957; John Fitzgerald, Jr., born Nov. 25, 1960, and Patrick Bouvier, born August, 1963, died two days later.) Meanwhile, as a Mass. Senator, he worked for bills that would help New England industries. In 1955, while recuperating from a back operation, he wrote "Profiles in Courage," which won the Pulitzer Prize in history.

He and his family began working tirelessly for his presidential nomination as early as 1956. In 1956 Kennedy almost gained the Democratic nomination for Vice President, and four years later was a first-ballot nominee for President.. Millions watched his four television debates with the Republican candidate and current Vice President, Richard M. Nixon. Winning by a narrow margin in the popular vote, Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic President.



Electoral: 537 Popular:
John F. Kennedy, D.


Richard M. Nixon, R.


Harry F. Byrd, D., VA


Others -- 502,773

JFK won 303 electoral votes and Nixon won 219 electoral votes.
The electoral vote figure needed to win the election of 1960 was 269,
and the state of Illinois had 27 electoral votes. Therefore if JFK had not won
Illinois, he still would have won the election with 276 electoral votes.

I hope that puts to rest the outrageously ridiculous "the mafia helped Kennedy buy the election of 1960" theories.



    • Secretary of State, Dean Rusk (1961-63)
    • Secretary of the Treasury, C. Douglas Dillon (1961-63)
    • Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara (1961-63)
    • Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy (1961-63)
    • Postmaster General, J. Edward Day (1961-63) John A. Gronouski, Jr. (1963)
    • Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall (1961-63)
    • Secretary of Agriculture, Orville L. Freeman (1961-63)
    • Secretary of Commerce, Luther H. Hodges (1961-63)
    • Secretary of Labor, Arthur J. Goldberg (1961-62) W. Willard Wirtz (1962-63)
    • Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Abraham A. Ribicoff (1961-62) Anthony J. Celebrezze (1962-63)

His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." As President, 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; before his death, he laid plans for a massive assault on persisting pockets of privation and poverty.

Responding to ever more urgent demands, he took vigorous action in the cause of equal rights, calling for new civil rights legislation. His vision of America extended to the quality of the national culture and the central role of the arts in a vital society.

Kennedy's accomplishments

He wished America to resume it's old mission as the first nation dedicated to the revolution of human rights. He establishedJFK the Peace Corps which sends Americans to assist the people in underdeveloped countries with education, modern farming and industrial methods. With the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps, he brought American idealism to the aid of developing nations. But the hard reality of the Communist challenge remained. A listing of policy instituted by JFK.

Shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy permitted a band of Cuban exiles, already armed and trained by the CIA, to invade their homeland. The attempt to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro was a failure. Kennedy took responsibility for this failure. Later that year he met with Russian Premier Khrushchev in Vienna in an effort to settle differences, but the meeting was fruitless. Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union renewed its campaign against West Berlin. Kennedy replied by reinforcing the Berlin garrison and increasing the Nation's military strength, including new efforts in outer space. Confronted by this reaction, Moscow, after the erection of the Berlin Wall, relaxed its pressure in Europe.

Instead, the Russians now sought to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. When this was discovered by air reconnaissance in October 1962, Kennedy imposed a quarantine on all offensive weapons bound for Cuba. While the world trembled on the brink of nuclear war, the Russians backed down and agreed to take the missiles away. The American response to the Cuban crisis evidently persuaded Moscow of the futility of nuclear blackmail.

Kennedy now contended that both sides had a vital interest in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and slowing the arms race--a contention which led to the test ban treaty of 1963. The months after the Cuban crisis showed significant progress toward his goal of "a world of law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion." His administration thus saw the beginning of new hope for both the equal rights of Americans and the peace of the world.

On a speaking tour which took him to Dallas, Texas, Kennedy was shot as he rode in a motorcade. Kennedy fell into the arms of his wife, who was riding in the open car beside him.



The shocked nation and the world sorrowfully recalled the ringing words of Kennedy's inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

Text and graphics from "Atlas of the Presidents" by Donald E. Cooke, Illustrated by Dwight Dobbins, Revised Edition, Hammond Incorporated, Maplewood, NJ and "The Presidents of the United States of America" 1981 Edition by Frank Freidel, White House Historical Association, Washington, D.C.

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