The youth and charisma of John F. Kennedy, his wife and children looked to be leading the United States in a new direction. His death ended that new vision
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first President to be born in the 20th century and at his inauguration at the age of 43, he was the youngest elected President. The youngest U.S. President ever inaugurated however was Theodore Roosevelt who became president following the assassination of William McKinley at the age of 42.
John F. Kennedy came from a long line of politicians on both his sides of the family. His maternal grandfather had been mayor of Boston for two terms in the first decade of the century. His father was a businessman who was astute enough to exit the stock market before the Crash of 1929. Thus the Kennedy family did not suffer from the Great Depression.
His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was the first chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission and Ambassador to the Court of St. James, both appointments made during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency.
World War II Service
After he graduated from Harvard, Kennedy joined the Navy. During his naval service he was injured in the South Pacific while commanding a small PT boat. He was decorated, receiving several medals including the Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained.
When he returned home, a naval inquiry found that Kennedy had in the events leading up to the PT boat incident demonstrated poor judgment and poor seamanship, but he was not charged in any way. Exonerated, Kennedy became a hero, a fact that would be publicized in his political campaigns.
The war altered Joseph’s plans for his sons. When Kennedy’s elder brother, a pilot during the war, was killed, it would now be John’s place to take the Kennedy name to the White House.
Kennedy’s Political Career Begins
In 1946 he was elected to the first of three consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1952 he ran for the U.S. Senate against Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Although the Lodge family was an older family, Joseph Kennedy was able to provide more money for his son’s campaign. Kennedy would win by approximately 70,000 votes, which represented just over 51% of the ballots cast.
His public image was one of strength and vigor although he suffered with back pain from his war injuries and malaria as well contracted in in South Pacific. He finally was forced was to resort to back surgery. and during this time he wrote Profiles in Courage about public figures who had risked their careers supporting unpopular causes. The book won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize.
Kennedy then sought the Democratic nomination for vice president. It was the only campaign he ever lost. Senator Estes was chosen to be the running mate for Adlai Stevenson, a ticket soundly defeated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon in a landslide.
Campaign and Election of 1960
Kennedy would go on to win most of the primary contests in 1960. The crucial test of his nomination probably his win over Hubert Humphrey in West Virginia garnering 60% of the ballots cast. The issue in West Virginia was whether Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, had enough support to over anti-Catholic bigotry.
At the convention in Los Angeles, he was nominated on the first ballot and chose the runner-up, Lyndon Johnson as his running mate.
The fall campaign was closely followed, but in the television debates with Richard Nixon his opponent, he appeared confident and charismatic. He won the presidency by just over 110,000 votes but was elected by a comfortable margin in the Electoral College, where the election is actually decided.
The Presidency of John F. Kennedy
He would serve less than two years in office before his life would be ended by an assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, so programs which he might have implemented did not come to fruition during his term.
The Cold War between the United States was a very dangerous political game. Early in his administration Kennedy decided to support a coup d’état to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba with an invasion at the Bay of Pigs. The Cuban Missile Crisis would be avoided later than year.
Successes would be agreement with the Soviets for a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the use of Federal troops to keep order in the desegregation of the University of Alabama.