It was January 20, 1961, almost 50 years to the day, when President John F. Kennedy delivered one of the most famous and most quoted inaugural addresses in history. Standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, with his family, outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and thousands of citizens looking on, a passionate Kennedy urged Americans to be optimistic about the country's future and to seek public service.
In one of the more famous lines of the address, the 35th President urged Americans to "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your county." Kennedy had just won a tight presidential election against Richard Nixon, and wanted to unite the country, but at the same time challenge the American public to make the country a better place. Below is an excerpt from the speech.
Let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.
Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty.
Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need, not as a call to battle, though embattled we are, but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
And, so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
To watch all of President Kennedy's 14 minute inaugural address click here.
"Civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof, let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." --John F. Kennedy
"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." --John F. Kennedy
1. What do you know about President John F. Kennedy?
2. What is optimism?
3. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the United States?
1. What are some of the phrases or images that struck you in this speech?
2. Which parts of this speech sound old, which parts sound timeless? Why?
3. What do you think President Kennedy was trying to accomplish with this speech?
4. How might JFK's quote, "civility is not a sign of weakness," correlate to modern day politics and the political discourse seen amongst Americans?
5. What politicians, athletes, teachers, parents or friends inspire you? Why?