John F. Kennedy
(1917 - 1963)
The 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy or JFK was one of the country's most popular presidents in recent history. The politically well-connected and ambitious Kennedy family patriarch Joseph dedicated his life to assisting his sons' political careers. The second oldest son, JFK was groomed for the presidency by his father after his older brother Joe was killed in World War II.
Education and Early Political Career
JFK graduated with honors from Harvard College, with a degree in government and a concentration in international affairs. After working with his father at the U.S. Embassy in London, Kennedy joined the U.S. Navy Reserve, where he saw active duty in the World War II Pacific Theater. Kennedy famously saved lives of fellow crew members when their PT-109 boat was torpedoed by enemy forces and cut in half.
After the war, JFK served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives before he was elected Senator from that state.
The JFK Presidency
The Bay of Pigs
Kennedy sought to follow through on President Eisenhower’s plan to remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba. In accordance with this agenda, a force of nearly 1500 Cuban exiles sponsored by the US invaded Cuba in April, 1961. However, most were captured or killed by the Cubans. Kennedy had to negotiate an exchange of goods for the captive prisoners.
The next year, Kennedy was made aware of Russia’s missile sites in Cuba. But rather than proceed with an attack on the sites, he imposed a naval blockade to stop and inspect all Russian ships headed for Cuba. The world held its collective breath, hoping no nuclear war would ensue. After just one Russian-flagged ship was detained and inspected, Kennedy and Russian Premier Khrushchev came to an agreement regarding the missiles, and the matter was defused.
Civil Rights Movement
In his first State of the Union address in 1961, Kennedy spoke on the issue of civil rights: “[t]he denial of constitutional rights to some of our fellow Americans on account of race--at the ballot box and elsewhere--disturbs the national conscience.” Nor was this simply a talking point: Kennedy sent the Federal Marshals and National Guard troops to the Universities of Alabama and Mississippi to enforce orders to desegregate. He delivered a televised afterward, urging Americans to realize civil rights were a moral issue – “one as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the Constitution.”
Kennedy also nominated African-American lawyer Thurgood Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, but Marshall’s confirmation was delayed by Southern legislators. Marshall initially served under a recess appointment.
Other Landmarks of the Administration
Kennedy privately opposed American involvement in South Vietnam, but decided that letting the country fall to the communists was not politically expedient.
Kennedy was also initially opposed to spending enormous sums of money on the space program, but changed his outlook after the Russians launched an astronaut in space.
Death and Legacy
President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX, on November 22, 1963, while in a motorcade with his wife Jacqueline Kennedy, the Texas Governor John Connally, and his wife. After Kennedy’s death, Mrs. Kennedy famously said that the JFK administration had been like the one shining moment of Camelot.
"The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena."Theodore Roosevelt