Biography of John F. Kennedy: 35th President of the U.S.

John F Kennedy, 1962
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The first president born in the 20th century, John F. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917. He grew up in a wealthy family. He was sickly as a child and continued to have health problems the rest of his life. He attended private schools including Choate and Harvard (1936-40), where he majored in Political Science. An active and accomplished undergraduate, Kennedy graduated cum laude.

Fast Facts: John F. Kennedy

  • Birth: May 29, 1917
  • Death: Assassinated while in office, November 22, 1963
  • Key Accomplishments: America's thirty-fifth president and the first Catholic elected to the office. Many key events in American history occurred during his brief time in office, including Alan Shepard's voyage into space and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but he is perhaps most remembered for his glamorous family life, his inspiring speeches, and his tragic early death.
  • Term of Office: January 20, 1961–November 22, 1963
  • Number of Terms Elected: 1 term
  • Spouse: Jacqueline L. Bouvier
  • Children: Caroline and John F. Kennedy, Jr.
  • Education: Majored in political science at Harvard University
  • Notable quote: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable."

Family Life

Kennedy's father was the indomitable Joseph Kennedy. Among other ventures, he was the head of the SEC and the Ambassador to Great Britain. His mother was a Boston socialite named Rose Fitzgerald. He had nine siblings including Robert Kennedy who he appointed as the US Attorney General. Robert was assassinated in 1968. In addition, his brother Edward Kennedy was the Senator from Massachusetts who served from 1962 until 2009 when he passed away.

Kennedy was married to Jacqueline Bouvier, a wealthy socialite, and photographer, on September 12, 1953. Together they had two children: Caroline and John F. Kennedy, Jr.

John Kennedy's Military Career (1941-45)

Kennedy served in the Navy during World War II rising to the rank of lieutenant. He was given command of PT-109. When the boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, he and his crew were thrown into the water. He was able to swim four hours saving himself and a crewman but aggravated his back. He received the Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his military service and was hailed for his heroism.

Career Before the Presidency

Kennedy worked for a time as a journalist before running for the House of Representatives. He won and was reelected twice. He showed himself to be an independent thinker, not always following party line. He was then elected to be a Senator (1953-61). Again, he did not always follow the Democratic majority. Critics were upset that he would not stand up to Senator Joe McCarthy. He also authored Profiles in Courage which won a Pulitzer Prize although there was some question about its true authorship.

Election of 1960

In 1960, Kennedy was nominated to run for the presidency against Richard Nixon, Eisenhower's Vice President. During Kennedy's nominating speech, he set forward his ideas of a "New Frontier." Nixon made the mistake of meeting Kennedy in televised debates where Kennedy came off as young and vital. Kennedy won by the smallest margin of popular votes since 1888, winning by only 118,574 votes. However, he received 303 electoral votes.

Events and Accomplishments of John F. Kennedy's Presidency

Domestic Policy
Kennedy had a tough time getting many of his domestic programs through Congress. However, he did get an increased minimum wage, better Social Security benefits, and an urban renewal package passed. He created the Peace Corps, and his goal to get to the moon by the end of the 60's found overwhelming support.

On the Civil Rights front, Kennedy initially did not challenge Southern Democrats. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that only by breaking unjust laws and accepting the consequences could African Americans show the true nature of their treatment. The press reported daily on the atrocities occurring due to nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. Kennedy used executive orders and personal appeals to aid the movement. His legislative programs, however, would not pass until after his death.

Foreign Affairs
Kennedy's foreign policy began in failure with the Bay of Pigs debacle (1961). A small force of Cuban exiles were to lead a revolt in Cuba but were captured instead. US reputation was seriously harmed. Kennedy's confrontation with Nikita Khrushchev in June 1961 led to the construction of the Berlin Wall. Further, Khrushchev began building nuclear missile bases in Cuba. Kennedy ordered a "quarantine" of Cuba in response. He warned that any attack from Cuba would be seen as an act of war by the USSR.

This standoff led to the dismantling of the missile silos in exchange for promises that the US would not invade Cuba. Kennedy also agreed to a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 with Britain and the USSR.

Two other important events during his term were the Alliance for Progress (the US provided aid to Latin America) and the problems in Southeast Asia. North Vietnam was sending troops through Laos to fight in South Vietnam. The South's leader, Diem, was ineffective. America increased its "military advisors" from 2000 to 16000 during this time. Diem was overthrown but new leadership was no better. When Kennedy was killed, Vietnam was approaching a boiling point.

John F. Kennedy's Assassination

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was mortally wounded while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. His apparent assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed by Jack Ruby before standing trial. The Warren Commission was called to investigate Kennedy's death and found that Oswald had acted alone to kill Kennedy. Many argued, however, that there was more than one gunman, a theory upheld by a 1979 House Committee investigation. The FBI and a 1982 study disagreed. Speculation continues to this day.

Historical Significance

John Kennedy was important more for his iconic reputation than his legislative actions. His many inspiring speeches are often quoted. His youthful vigor and fashionable First Lady were hailed as American royalty; his time in office was termed "Camelot." His assassination has taken on a mythic quality, leading many to posit about possible conspiracies involving everyone from Lyndon Johnson to the Mafia. His moral leadership of Civil Rights was an important part of the movement's eventual success.