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35th President

Terms: 1961-1963
Political Party: Democrat
First Lady: Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy
Vice President: Lyndon B. Johnson

Highlights from The Kennedys website include:

  • get a historian's perspective on President Kennedy's health and his legacy
  • access a timeline tracking the rise of America's most famous political family
  • see a gallery of photos taken at the Kennedys' Cape Cod compound
  • find out who's who in a Kennedy family tree

Overview

Born: May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts...John Kennedy was the nation's first Roman Catholic president...Forever enshrined in myth by an assassin's bullet, Kennedy's presidency long defied objective appraisal. Recent assessments have revealed an administration long on promise and vigor, and somewhat lacking in tangible accomplishment. His proposals for a tax cut and civil rights legislation, however, promised significant gains in the months before his assassination. While maturation, as evidenced in the handling of the Cuban missile crisis, was apparent, the potential legacy of the New Frontier will forever be left to speculation... Died: November 22, 1963 (Kennedy was the first president to have died before his parents).

Did you know? -- Read some fun facts about John F. Kennedy 

The Era

  • Soviets erect the Berlin Wall (1961)
  • Freedom Riders challenge segregation on interstate buses (1961)
  • Mao's Great Leap Forward ends in China (1961)
  • Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring (1962)
  • March on Washington for civil rights (1963)

 

World Timeline -- See a timeline of world events during John F. Kennedy's administration.

Domestic Politics

On the evening of May 3, 1963, Americans watched on television as Martin Luther King Jr.'s campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama collapsed under a wave of officially sanctioned violence. Birmingham police attacked peaceful black demonstrators with clubs, dogs, and high-pressure fire hoses, and for the first time many citizens understood the breadth of America's racial divide. Perhaps no one regarded the events with more anguish than President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The violence in Birmingham proved that Kennedy's piecemeal approach to civil rights had failed.

Read the page on JFK's Domestic Politics to learn more about the battle for Civil Rights.

Foreign Affairs

In the fall of 1963 American efforts to build a democratic firewall against Communism in South Vietnam were failing. The country's president, Ngo Dinh Diem, ran the nation like a fiefdom. Many Vietnamese began to gravitate toward the Communist opposition. In the White House, a frustrated John F. Kennedy struggled to get Diem -- and the Communist insurgency -- under control. Kennedy had outlined his plan for stopping the spread of communism in his inauguration speech two years before. America would, he said, "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty." Developing nations could expect America to "help them help themselves."

Read the Foreign Affairs page to learn more about JFK's struggle against communism.

Presidential Politics 

Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy and his Republican rival Richard M. Nixon met on September 26, 1960 in a debate that changed the course of American politics. Vice President Nixon defended the Eisenhower administration against charges that its domestic programs had failed. Kennedy denied Nixon's assertions that he lacked the necessary experience. But it was not the content of the debate that made it a political milestone. It was the medium by which most Americans experienced the debate -- television. The power of these televised images revealed itself in post-debate polls. Many radio listeners gave the edge to Nixon. Television viewers, however, overwhelmingly agreed that Kennedy had won. By their next debate, Nixon had solved his appearance problems, but the damage was done. Kennedy had strengthened his bond to a medium which would significantly influence the course of his presidency.

Read the page on JFK's Presidential Politics.

Extended Biography
Access in-depth biographical materials for John F. Kennedy.

Additional Resources
Explore bonus materials for John F. Kennedy, including primary sources, audio interviews, television program transcripts, and in-depth teacher's guides.

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

We invite you to tell us your own stories - whether you lived through a tumultuous time period or learned about it from a relative, a book or a movie.



  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH