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Ask Not : The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America

Kennedy Takes Oath as President,
Proclaims a New 'Quest for Peace'

By Edward T. Pollard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 21, 1961; Page A01

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated 35th President of
the United States yesterday as the sun glorified Capitol Hill in
the happy aftermath of a crippling snowstorm.

In his inaugural address, surely one of the most eloquent in
history, the new American leader called on the Communist
world to join with the free world and "begin anew the quest for

He said a live-and-let-live arrangement might not come in his
generation's lifetime, and added simply: "But let us begin."

Leaving the Capitol, President Kennedy and his wife,
Jacqueline, traveled westward to the White House in the
vanguard of a late-starting inaugural parade, to the ecstatic
cheers of onlookers estimated a million by Police Chief Robert

Last night, the Chief Executive and the First Lady dashed
around the city to a five-site Inaugural Ball, and it was well
past midnight before they turned in for their first night's sleep
in the White House.

The official temperature was 22 degrees, 10 below freezing, as
the great drama of the inauguration began. A sharp 18-mile
wind was blowing from the northwest. But the sun, flooding
down from a cloudless sky, took some of the bite out of the
cold, and gave a radiance to the freshly scrubbed Capitol and
to the flags whipping the white marble portico.

Precedents Fall

It was 12:51 p.m. when President-elect Kennedy,
great-grandson of Irish immigrants, began repeating the oath
of office after chief Justice Earl Warren. When he uttered the
final words, "So help me God," some fascinating precedents
tumbled into the history books.

He was the first Roman Catholic and the first man born in the
twentieth century to become President of the United States,
and at 43 he is the youngest man ever elected to the great

He became the first President since Andrew Johnson with a
background of previous service in both the Senate and the

And he became the second man in American history to move
into the White House while both of his parents were living;
the first was Ulysses S. Grant.

Added to all these extraordinary circumstances was the fact
that President Kennedy took over the burden from a man who
at 70 was the oldest Chief Executive in American history.

Attends Mass

President Kennedy began his fateful day at 8 a.m., although
he had been up late the night before.

There were 7.7 inches of snow on the ground as he left his
Georgetown home at 8:55 a.m. to attend Mass at Holy Trinity

President Eisenhower had telephoned his successor the day
before, suggesting that he call at the White House earlier than
planned and have a cup of coffee. He had issued the same
invitation to Vice President Richard M. Nixon, the also-ran in
the exciting 1960 presidential race.

It was 10:55 when the Kennedys left their home at 3307 N. St.
NW for their drive to the White House. The soon-to-be
President now had on his high silk hat and cutaway and his
wife wore a beige suit and pillbox beige hat. A crowd of 500,
including Georgetown University students, cheered the

The President and President-elect left for the Capitol at 11:31
a.m. Their wives followed in a limousine behind two Secret
Service cars, and then followed two more cars, one carrying
the incoming and out going Vice Presidents and the other
their wives.

Although he arrived at the Capitol in plenty of time,
President-elect Kennedy was late for the ceremony that was to
lift him to the summit of his career. This was not surprising to
the reporters who had covered his 1960 campaign, and who
had remembered how he invariably fell behind schedule
usually because he didn't want to disappoint well-wishers
trying to grasp his hand.

It was 12:20 p.m. before the President-elect arrived on the
inaugural stand for a ceremony that was supposed to start at
noon. His wife and Mrs. Eisenhower, Mrs. Nixon and Mrs.
Johnson had taken their front-row seats seven minutes

President Eisenhower had moved onto the scene at 12:09 as
the United States Marine Band played "Hail to the Chief," a
piece he was hearing for the last time in his own honor.

When the outgoing President and his successor were finally
seated alongside each other, they doffed their silk hats and
began an animated conversation.

At 12:20 p.m., Sen. John Sparkman (D-Ala.), Chairman of the
Joint Congressional Inaugural Committee, appeared at the
lectern and called on the Marine Band to open the ceremony
with "America the Beautiful."

Richard Cardinal Cushing, Catholic Archbishop of Boston,
pronounced the invocation, one of extraordinary length.

A short circuit in the wiring system of the lectern occurred
while the Prince of the Church was talking, and smoke began
curling upward from the stand.

The smoke finally was smothered by fireman, electricians,
and Secret Service agents.

Cardinal Cushing was followed by Marian Anderson, who sang
"The Star-Spangled Banner." Then came another prayer, a
shorter one, by Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox
Church. At this point, Lyndon B. Johnson moved to the
forefront and took the oath of office as Vice President. It was
administered by his fellow Texan, Speaker Sam Rayburn.

The Rev. Dr. John Barclay, pastor of the Central Christian
Church of Austin, Tex., said a third prayer, and made way for
Robert Frost, 86-year-old New England Poet.

Frost was to recite his poem, "The Gift Outright," but also had
prepared what he called a "preface." He had trouble reading
this, and was heard to say "I can't see in the sun." Vice
President Johnson jumped up and held his high silk hat over
the manuscript to keep out the glare.

However, Frost gave up the preface, and began reciting his
poem, for which he needed no manuscript.

President-elect Kennedy, who had given Frost a sympathetic
smile, now took off his overcoat and moved forward to take
the oath of office, repeating it after Chief Justice Earl Warren.

His left hand rested on a Douay version of the Bible, the basic
English translation done in the 16th century by Catholic
scholars in the English College at Douay, France. This
particular Bible has been in the possession of the new
President's grandmother, widow of John F. (Honey Fitz)
Fitzgerald, one-time mayor of Boston.

The 42-year-old Bostonian's voice had a ring in it as he
repeated the oath prescribed in the Constitution.

"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of
the President of the United States, and will, to the best of my
ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the
United States."

George Washington, first man to take the oath, added the
words, "so help me God." And President Kennedy, following
the lead of Chief Justice Warren, also spoke them.

Now he was at the pinnacle, No. 1 man in history's greatest
republic, taking command at one of the most dangerous
periods in history.

He was not awed, and he said so as the 50,000 gathered on
the Capitol Plaza cheered.

"I do not shrink from this responsibility I welcome it," he
said. Last night, having changed into his evening attire, the
President and the First Lady left the White House to join
those thousands who turned out for the Inaugural Ball to
celebrate the Democratic Party's recapture of Executive
Power after a Republican interlude of eight years.

Her Bus Was Late, But Not Late Enough

Inauguration spectators southbound on a crowded Wisconsin
Ave. bus suddenly heard a woman say, to no one in particular:
"My God, is this Inauguration Day? Why am I going to work?"

And sorrowfully she added: "I waited 35 minutes for this bus."

Copyright 1961 The Washington Post Company