The Inspiring Words of Kennedy
50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, & the era of Camelot began. Find out about the challenge he gave to Americans on that day & more.
President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration was 50 years ago today. His short inaugural address — it’s rumored to have been the shortest ever (how long?) — inspired scores of Americans to enter politics, government or the Peace Corps, with its famous challenge to Americans near the conclusion: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Historians regard it as among the nation’s three or four finest inaugural addresses. We’ll look back at those in this slide show, along with JFK’s speech on that frigid day and the attendees of the inauguration.
Speechwriter Ted Sorensen
Ted Sorensen was Kennedy’s longtime aide and a gifted speechwriter. Some scholars say the speech was a true collaboration between the two men, with Kennedy himself inserting many of the lines that have become famous.
For example, Kennedy’s clarion call to “let the world go forth” had been used in a speech he gave in 1956
Eisenhower & other presidents who attended
The inauguration, held outdoors in freezing weather (how cold?) was attended by six past and future presidents:
* Dwight D. Eisenhower
* Harry Truman
* Lyndon B. Johnson
* Richard M. Nixon
* Gerald Ford, then a Republican congressman from Michigan
* A seventh, Herbert Hoover, had a seat reserved, but his flight was canceled for snow.
While some of these politicians have given great speeches, Kennedy’s inaugural address is on par with three of the greatest, from Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address
Date: March 4, 1861
The inaugural address of our 16th president is regarded as one of the best ever. On the eve of the Civil War, just after several Southern states had seceded from the Union, he said:
“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural address
Date: March 4, 1801
The third president gave a memorable inauguration speech, too. One of the most famous quotes from it is this:
“A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous speech
Date: March 4, 1933
The country’s 31st president’s speech has gone down in history as one of the best. One of the most quoted lines is this:
“… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Inaugurations always are attended by a who’s who of the famous. Kennedy’s was attended by iconic authors, his famous father and a poet.
Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.
The father of JFK, Joseph P. Kennedy, was in attendance. The prominent businessman also worked in politics. He held two major roles.
John Steinbeck, the iconic author of several classics, was there, too. He is the winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Prize-winning author James Michener was in attendance. He won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for a series of short stories about World War II.
Henry Luce & Clare Boothe Luce
Clare Boothe Luce was a playwright, journalist, editor and socialite who also held political office.
Her husband, Henry Luce, was the creator of several iconic publications, including Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated. Author Alan Brinkley wrote a biography about Luce, released in 2010.
Poet Robert Frost was there. He won multiple Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.