John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), commonly known as "Jack" or by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from January 1961 until he was assassinated in November 1963.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born at 83 Beals Street in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29, 1917, to businessman/politician Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. (1888–1969) and philanthropist/socialite Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald-Kennedy (1890–1995). His father was the oldest son of businessman/politician Patrick Joseph "P. J." Kennedy (1858–1929) and Mary Augusta Hickey-Kennedy (1857–1923). His mother was the daughter of Boston Mayor John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (1863–1950) and Mary Josephine "Josie" Hannon-Fitzgerald (1865–1964). All four of his grandparents were the children of immigrants from Ireland.
His brothers were Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Jr. (1915–1944), Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy (1925–1968), and Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (1932–2009). Joseph Jr. was killed in action during World War II. Robert was JFK's attorney general and then a senator; Ted was a long serving senator from 1962 until his death in 2009. His sisters were Rose Marie "Rosemary" Kennedy (1918–2005), Kathleen Agnes "Kick" Kennedy (1920–1948), Eunice Mary Kennedy (1921–2009), Patricia Helen "Pat" Kennedy (1924–2006), and Jean Ann Kennedy (born 1928).
Kennedy lived in Brookline for 10 years and attended the Edward Devotion School, the Noble and Greenough Lower School, and the Dexter School through 4th grade. In 1927, the Kennedy family moved to a stately twenty-room Georgian-style mansion at 5040 Independence Avenue (across the street from Wave Hill) in the Hudson Hill neighborhood of Riverdale, Bronx, New York City. Kennedy attended the Riverdale Country School, a private school for boys, from 5th to 7th grade. Two years later, the family moved to 294 Pondfield Road in the New York City suburb of Bronxville, New York, where Kennedy was a member of Scout Troop 2. The Kennedy family spent summers at their home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts and Christmas and Easter holidays at their winter home in Palm Beach, Florida. In September 1930, Kennedy—now 13 years old—attended the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut. In late April 1931, he required an appendectomy, after which he withdrew from Canterbury and recuperated at home.
The Kennedy family at Hyannisport in 1931 with Jack at top left in white shirt. Ted was born the following year. In September 1931, Kennedy was sent to the The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut for 9th through 12th grade. His older brother had already been at Choate for two years as a football player and leading student. He spent his first years at Choate in his older brother's shadow, and compensated for this with rebellious behavior which attracted a coterie. Their most notorious stunt was to explode a toilet seat with a powerful firecracker. In the ensuing chapel assembly, the strict headmaster George St. John brandished the toilet seat and spoke of certain "muckers" who would "spit in our sea". The defiant Kennedy took the cue and named his group The Muckers Club, which included roommate and friend Kirk LeMoyne "Lem" Billings.
During his Choate years, Kennedy was beset by health problems that culminated in 1934 with his emergency hospitalization at Yale – New Haven Hospital where doctors thought he might have leukemia. In June 1934, he was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the ultimate diagnosis there was colitis. Kennedy graduated from Choate in June of the following year. For the school yearbook, of which he had been business manager, Kennedy was voted the "most likely to succeed".
In September 1935, he made his first trip abroad with his parents and his sister Kathleen to London with the intent of studying under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics (LSE) as his older brother had done. Ill-health forced his return to America in October of that year, when he enrolled late and spent six weeks at Princeton University. He was then hospitalized for observation at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He convalesced further at the Kennedy winter home in Palm Beach, then spent the spring of 1936 working as a ranch hand on the 40,000 acres (160 km2) "Jay Six" cattle ranch outside Benson, Arizona. It is reported that ranchman Jack Speiden worked both brothers "very hard".
In September 1936, Kennedy enrolled at Harvard College, where he produced that year's annual "Freshman Smoker", called by a reviewer "an elaborate entertainment, which included in its cast outstanding personalities of the radio, screen and sports world". He tried out for the football, golf, and swimming teams and earned a spot on the varsity swimming team. Kennedy also sailed in the Star class and won the 1936 Nantucket Sound Star Championship. In July 1937, Kennedy sailed to France—bringing his convertible—and spent ten weeks driving through Europe with Billings. In June 1938, Kennedy sailed overseas with his father and older brother to work at the American embassy in London where his father was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James's.
In 1939, Kennedy toured Europe, the Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Middle East in preparation for his Harvard senior honors thesis. He then went to Czechoslovakia and Germany before returning to London on September 1, 1939; that was the day Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, the family was in the House of Commons for speeches endorsing the United Kingdom's declaration of war on Germany. Kennedy was sent as his father's representative to help with arrangements for American survivors of the SS Athenia before flying back to the U.S. from Foynes, Ireland to Port Washington, New York on his first transatlantic flight.
As an upperclassman at Harvard, Kennedy became a more serious student and developed an interest in political philosophy. In his junior year, he made the Dean's List. In 1940, Kennedy completed his thesis, "Appeasement in Munich", about British participation in the Munich Agreement. The thesis became a bestseller under the title Why England Slept. He graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Science cum laude in international affairs that year. Kennedy enrolled in and audited classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business that fall. In early 1941, he helped his father write a memoir of his three years as an American ambassador and then traveled throughout South America.
After military service as commander of Motor Torpedo Boats PT-109 and PT-59 during World War II in the South Pacific, Kennedy represented Massachusetts' 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 as a Democrat. Thereafter, he served in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until 1960. Kennedy defeated Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. presidential election. At age 43, he was the youngest to have been elected to the office,[a] the second-youngest president (after Theodore Roosevelt), and the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president. To date, Kennedy has been the only Catholic president and the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize.
Events during his presidency included the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race—by initiating Project Apollo (which would culminate in the moon landing), the building of the Berlin Wall, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, and increased U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of the crime and arrested that evening. However, Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald two days later. The Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin. The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded that those investigations were flawed and that Kennedy was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.
Television became the primary source by which people were kept informed of events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination. In fact, television started to come of age before the assassination. On September 2, 1963, Kennedy helped inaugurate network television's first half hour nightly evening newscast according to an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite.
Newspapers were kept as souvenirs rather than sources of updated information. In this sense it was the first major "TV news event" of its kind, the TV coverage uniting the nation, interpreting what went on and creating memories of this space in time. All three major U.S. television networks suspended their regular schedules and switched to all-news coverage from November 22 through November 25, 1963, being on the air for 70 hours, making it the longest uninterrupted news event on American TV until 9/11.
Kennedy's state funeral procession and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald were all broadcast live in America and in other places around the world. The state funeral was the first of three in a span of 12 months. The other two were for General Douglas MacArthur and President Herbert Clark Hoover. All three have two things in common: the commanding general of the Military District of Washington during those funerals was Army Major General Philip C. Wehle and the riderless horse was Black Jack, who also served in that role during Lyndon B. Johnson's funeral.
The assassination had an effect on many people, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Many vividly remember where they were when first learning of the news that Kennedy was assassinated, as with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, before it and the September 11 attacks after it. UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson said of the assassination: "all of us..... will bear the grief of his death until the day of ours." Many people have also spoken of the shocking news, compounded by the pall of uncertainty about the identity of the assassin(s), the possible instigators and the causes of the killing as an end to innocence, and in retrospect it has been coalesced with other changes of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, especially the Vietnam War.
The US Special Forces had a special bond with Kennedy. "It was President Kennedy who was responsible for the rebuilding of the Special Forces and giving us back our Green Beret," said Forrest Lindley, a writer for the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes who served with Special Forces in Vietnam.[c] This bond was shown at Kennedy's funeral. At the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Kennedy's death, General Michael D. Healy, the last commander of Special Forces in Vietnam, spoke at Arlington Cemetery. Later, a wreath in the form of the Green Beret would be placed on the grave, continuing a tradition that began the day of his funeral when a sergeant in charge of a detail of Special Forces men guarding the grave placed his beret on the coffin.
Kennedy was the first of six presidents to have served in the U.S. Navy, and one of the enduring legacies of his administration was the creation in 1961 of another special forces command, the Navy SEALs, which Kennedy enthusiastically supported.
Ultimately, the death of President Kennedy and the ensuing confusion surrounding the facts of his assassination are of political and historical importance insofar as they marked a turning point and decline in the faith of the American people in the political establishment—a point made by commentators from Gore Vidal to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and implied by Oliver Stone in several of his films, such as his landmark 1991 JFK.
Although President Kennedy opposed segregation and had shown support for the civil rights of African Americans, he originally believed in a more measured approach to legislation given the political realities he faced in Congress, especially with the Southern Conservatives. However, impelled by the civil rights demonstrations of Martin Luther King, Kennedy in 1963 proposed legislative action. In a radio and TV address to the nation in June 1963—a century after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation—Kennedy became the first president to call on all Americans to denounce racism as morally wrong. Kennedy's civil rights proposals led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's successor, took up the mantle and pushed the landmark Civil Rights Act through a bitterly divided Congress by invoking the slain president's memory. President Johnson then signed the Act into law on July 2, 1964. This civil rights law ended what was known as the "Solid South" and certain provisions were modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1875, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Kennedy's continuation of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower's policies of giving economic and military aid to South Vietnam left the door open for President Johnson's escalation of the conflict. At the time of Kennedy's death, no final policy decision had been made as to Vietnam, leading historians, cabinet members and writers to continue to disagree on whether the Vietnam conflict would have escalated to the point it did had he survived. His agreement to the NSAM 263 action of withdrawing 1,000 troops by the end of 1963, and his earlier 1963 speech at American University, suggested he was ready to end the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War contributed greatly to a decade of national difficulties, amid violent disappointment on the political landscape.
Many of Kennedy's speeches (especially his inaugural address) are considered iconic; Americans regularly vote him as one of the greatest presidents, in the same league as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some excerpts of Kennedy's inaugural address are engraved on a plaque at his grave at Arlington.
He was posthumously awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of goodwill to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in terris is Latin for 'Peace on Earth'.
President Kennedy is the only president to have predeceased both his mother and father. He is also the only president to have predeceased a grandparent. His maternal grandmother, Mary Josephine "Josie" Hannon, died in August 1964, several months after his assassination.
Throughout the English-speaking world, the given name Kennedy has sometimes been used in honor of President Kennedy, as well his brother Robert