The Youthful, Millionaire Senator

President John F. Kennedy's Time in Office

Election of Kennedy

Election of 1960:

  • Republican Party candidate: Richard M. Nixon
  • Democratic Party candidate: John F. Kennedy
  • Nixon seen as gifted party leader and ruthless opportunist
  • Nixon also seen as seasoned statesman
  • Nixon nominated unanimously in Chicago; Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. runs alongside him
  • Kennedy won impressive victories in primary nominations
  • Lyndon B. Johnson runs alongside Kennedy after Kennedy wins first-ballot in L.A.
  • Kennedy's acceptance speech called for American people's sacrifices to achieve great potential - or the New Frontier
  • Kennedy argued Soviets had more prestige and power than America with their Sputniks and nuclear arms
  • Nixon determined America's prestige hadn't slipped
  • Four debates earned Kennedy fans as he held his own against Nixon
  • Kennedy won by pleasant margin of 303 votes to 219 and very close 118, 574 popular votes
  • Kennedy ruled supreme ruling in large industrial centers
  • Kennedy had firm support from workers, Catholics, and African-Americans
  • Kennedy first Catholic to be president as well as youngest

The Cold War

"Flexible Response":

  • Kennedy pushed for developing array of military "options"
  • Options to be precisely matched to intensity of crisis currently at hand
  • As a result, increased spending on conventional military forces
  • Also strengthened Special Forces

Kennedy and Vietnam:

  • Since 1954: Diem government ruled shakily in Vietnam
  • As result, anti-Diem personnel threatened to destroy pro-American government from power
  • Late 1961: Kennedy ordered sharp increase in 'military advisers' in South Vietnam
  • November 1963: Kennedy administration encouraged for successful revolt against Diem
  • Kennedy vowed to South Vietnamese it was "their war"; gave political aid nevertheless
  • More than 15,000 Americans aided Vietnamese at time of Kennedy's death

Berlin Crisis/Construction of Berlin Wall:

  • June 1961: Kennedy meets Soviet premier Khruschev at Vienna
  • Khruschev threatened to make treaty with East Germany and cut off West's access to Berlin
  • Kennedy issued Army Reserves and National Guard to protect Berlin
  • August 1961: Soviets begin building Berlin Wall preventing economic exchange, tearing apart families
  • 1962: Kennedy visited Berlin and paid tribute to Berliners wanting freedom
  • Powerfully stated "I am a Berliner" and "For those who say communism is a better system, come to Berlin."


  • 1961: Kennedy enacts Alliance for Progress - part of Marshall Plan for Latin America
  • Primary goal to aid in closing gap between rich and poor while eliminating communist tensions
  • Disappointing results: little alliance formed and little progress
  • Kennedy inherited scheme to topple Fidel Castro by invading Cuba
  • April 17, 1961: 12,000 exiles landed at Bay of Pigs - no match for Castro's air force
  • Kennedy assumes responsibility for failure
  • October 1962: aerial photographs reveal Soviets secretly installing nuclear missiles in Cuba quickly
  • Soviets intended to blackmail U.S. with weapons in order to back down on Berlin, etc.
  • October 22, 1962: Kennedy orders naval forces to removal weaponry immediately
  • Kennedy recalled any attack on U.S. from Cuba would result in nuclear attack on USSR
  • October 28, 1962: Kbruschev agrees to pull missiles from Cuba; U.S. agrees to return troops and not invade Cuba

Kennedy and Civil Rights

Freedom Riders Tragedies:

  • May 1961: white mob torched Freedom Ride bus near Anniston, Alabama
  • Attorney General Robert Kennedy's personal representative beat unconscious in anti-Freedom ride in Montgomery
  • White Southern officials unwilling and unable to end violence, federal marshalls dispatched to protect Freedom Riders

Affairs with King:

  • 1963: Martin Luther King Jr's phone tapped into by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to reveal if any communist affiliations
  • Healthy relationship with King
  • Kennedy financial backed SNCC and other civil rights groups in forming Voter Education Project
  • August 1963: King led 200,000 black and white demonstrators on "March to Washington"
  • At Lincoln Memorial, King delivers "I Have A Dream" speech

Difficulty Integrating Universities:

  • October 1962: 29 year old air force veteran, James Meredith, encountered violent opposition in attempt to register for University of Mississippi
  • Kennedy sent 400 federal marshals and 3,000 troops to aid Meredith in enrolling for first class

Other Actions:

  • June 11, 1963: Kennedy committed personal and presidential prestige to find solution to segregation
  • Kennedy called for new civil rights legislation to protect blacks
  • September 1963: Explosion blasted Baptist church in Birmingham - killed four black girls

Kennedy's Assasination

  • November 22, 1963
  • Kennedy rode in open limousine in downtown Dallas when shot in the head by concealed riflemen
  • Kennedy died within seconds
  • Lee Harvey Oswald was alleged assassin and was shot to death in front of TV cameras by Jack Ruby
  • Chief Justice Warren struggled to quiet doubts and theories about the murders
  • As result, Johnson takes on as president - sworn in on flight to Washington with Kennedy's body