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John F. Kennedy
45th President of the United States
35th under the US Constitution

 

JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917, the second of the nine children of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Kennedy’s Irish ancestors had immigrated to Boston and his grandfather, Patrick J. Kennedy, was a Boston political leader as well as a successful businessman and saloonkeeper. His maternal grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald was the mayor of Boston, popularly known as “Honey Fitz”. The Kennedy’s lived in a modest but comfortable frame house, but as the family grew, so did their father’s fortune. Joseph Kennedy had become quite wealthy by the time he was 30 making his fortune in stock-market speculation, motion pictures, shipbuilding and real estate. He also would hold several appointive positions in the federal government during the Roosevelt administration, and his driving ambition was to put a son in he White House.

Kennedy’s childhood was happy, even though he was always in the shadow of his older brother Joseph, who dominated family competitions and was a better student. Young Kennedy also was a frail child, with prolonged illnesses that kept him from school. But despite his frequent illnesses, Kennedy was a good athlete. At 13, young Kennedy attended the private Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. He became ill and never returned, graduating from Choate Preparatory School in Wallingford, Connecticut in 1935. After spending that summer studying at the London School of Economics, he entered Princeton University, but again illness forced him home during the Christmas recess because of an attack of jaundice. He resumed his studies in the fall of 1936 at Harvard University, where he continued to be an easygoing student, concentrating on swimming and with his brother Joe, won the intercollegiate sailing title. Kennedy made two more trips to Europe in 1937 and in 1939 when his father was serving as the United States Ambassador to Great Britain. Kennedy graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1940, and he used his undergraduate thesis as the basis for a book Why England Slept, which was a study of Britain’s response to German rearmament prior to World War II. After graduating from Harvard, Kennedy spent a few months studying at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in California.

In the spring of 1941, Kennedy volunteered for the Army, but was rejected because of his degenerative back problem that had plagued him for years. During that summer, he underwent a series of back strengthening exercises, and in September the Navy accepted him. He sensed that if he did not participate in World War II, he was not going to have much of a public life in this country, and he wanted in. In March 1943, Kennedy took command of PT Boat 109 in the South Pacific. To have a man with such frail health as Kennedy’s as your commander could be dangerous and Kennedy should never have been there. However, on the night of August 2, 1943, his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in the waters off New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. Kennedy was thrown across the deck onto his back, the boat being sliced in half and two of the twelve men aboard were killed immediately. Kennedy rallied the survivors and they clung to the wreckage for hours, hoping for rescue. Giving up hope for an immediate rescue, they swam three miles to a small island, with Kennedy towing a wounded crewmember, clenching the strap of Pappy McNulty’s life jacket between his teeth. The men remained on the island for four days, with Kennedy swimming daily along a water route that the American ships used, hoping to find a rescue ship. He finally encountered friendly natives on Cross Island that took a message for help, carved on a coconut shell, to the U.S. infantry patrol. The men were rescued and Kennedy was awarded the Purple Heart and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism. However, the ordeal had aggravated his back and he contracted malaria so he returned to the United States for medical treatment. After an operation on his back, he was discharged early in 1945.

Kennedy’s father had groomed his first son, Joseph, for politics – Joe was going to get the Kennedy’s into the White House. But young Joe was killed in action in 1944, and after working as a reporter for the Hearst International News Service, Kennedy decided to enter politics himself. His opportunity came early in 1946, when he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the House of Representatives seat for the 11th Congressional District of Massachusetts. He ran against nine other candidates and won the primary with 42 percent of the votes. In November, he defeated his Republican opponent and became a congressman at the age of 29, winning reelection in 1948 and 1950. In 1952, Kennedy decided to run against Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., defeating him by more than 70,000 votes, in a campaign the entire Kennedy family took part in.

On September 12, 1953, Kennedy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. The couple had three children: Caroline Bouvier (1957 – ); John Fitzgerald, Jr. (1960 – 1999); and Patrick Bouvier, who died less than 48 hours after his birth on August 7, 1963.

Increasingly troubled by his back, Kennedy underwent spinal surgery. Due to the fact that Kennedy suffered from Addison’s disease, the surgery had to be preformed in two separate procedures in October 1954 and again in February 1955. During his long convalescence, he occupied himself by writing Profiles in Courage, which was published in 1956 and received the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957.

Kennedy returned to the Senate in May 1955 and by the beginning of 1956, he aimed toward higher office. During he Democratic National Convention of that year, he almost was nominated for the vice presidency running with Adlai Stevenson, but he lost on the third ballot to Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. In 1958, Kennedy was reelected to the Senate, winning by the largest margin ever recorded in a Massachusetts senatorial contest. He spoke frequently throughout the country and in January 1960 he formally announced his candidacy for President. By the time of the Democratic National Convention, he had already won seven primary victories, overcoming opposition that a Roman Catholic could not win in a predominantly Protestant state. He won the nomination and the Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson ticket narrowly defeated their Republican opponents, Richard M. Nixon/Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. at the November elections. The margin being only 119,450 votes out of the nearly 69,000,000 cast.

Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic and at the age of 43, the youngest man ever elected President. Theodore Roosevelt was a few months younger than Kennedy when he took office after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, but Kennedy was the youngest elected President. He was sworn in on January 20, 1961 and his inaugural address was widely acclaimed.

In April 1961, Kennedy supported a failed mission by anti-Castro Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. The next year, the Soviets put nuclear missiles in Cuba, but withdrew them after Kennedy imposed a naval blockade. Tensions eased somewhat with the Soviets with the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty, although the “space race” continued. Kennedy was a strong supporter of the arts, while being mindful of the disadvantaged. He and his wife attempted to make the White House the cultural center of the nation. He was an avid reader and was particularly interested in what the press had to say about his administration. He founded the Peace Corps and proposed wide-ranging civil rights legislation, but never lived to see its enactment.

On November 22, 1963, while on his way to make a luncheon speech in Dallas, Texas, Kennedy and his wife sat in an open convertible waving to the crowds who had gathered to greet him. Suddenly, as the motorcade approached an underpass, an assassin fired several shots, striking the President in the neck and head. He was pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital, never regaining consciousness. The bullets that killed Kennedy were fired from the window of a nearby warehouse. Dallas police arrested 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald for the President’s murder. Two days later, on November 24 in the basement of the Dallas police station, Oswald was fatally shot by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, as millions watched on television.

On November 29, President Johnson appointed a commission to conduct a thorough investigation of the assassination headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The Warren Commission’s Report, made public on September 27, 1964, found no evidence of a conspiracy in the assassination and concluded that “the shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald.” However, in 1979, after two years of investigation, the House assassinations committee concluded that Oswald probably was part of a conspiracy that might have included members of organized crime.

 

John F. Kennedy as President-Elect, Criticizing Liberals

            Autograph letter signed “Jack” to William S. White, journalist, biographer and friend of Lyndon Johnson.  White had sent Kennedy some press clippings and Kennedy returned this note with his thanks.  Dated December 1960, 2 pages on pale gray North Ocean Boulevard Palm Beach Florida letterhead, with accompanying envelope addressed, “Mr. William White.”

EnvelopePage 1, and  Page 2.

 

 Transcript:

 Sunday

 

Dear Bill:

            Many thanks for your thoughtfulness in sending the clippings.  The article on reflex reaction of the “liberals” was excellent.

            They have forgotten that the root word is “liberalas” – or “free”.  They have to themselves become imprisoned in the intense world of automatic responses.

            All things look brighter here in the sun-

                                                                        Best regards,

                                                                        Jack    


 

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