John F. Kennedy’s Presidency lasted just under three years, but in this time he was able to achieve several victories, both foreign and domestic.
Entering the office of President with those famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
On the home front, Kennedy sought to “get America moving again” by passing through congress a domestic agenda which he called the “New Frontier.”
In this domestic agenda was contained certain extensions of the New Deal policies pushed by Roosevelt and Truman (and sustained by Eisenhower), such as increases in education and medical coverage for the elderly. Also in this agenda, however, were tax cuts (which wouldn’t be passed until after his death) and civil rights legislation (for which he would be fondly remembered).
Kennedy famously issued a statement to Congress in May of 1961 which spurred on the Space Race which had begun under Eisenhower, declaring that America would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, which seemed at the time like an impossible task, but which was indeed accomplished under President Nixon in 1969.
Furthering the Cold War
Many of the most famous elements of the Kennedy administration are certainly in the foreign policy department.
Among the events to occur during this, one of the most memorable times in America’s recent history, were the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, wherein Kennedy authorized an invasion of Cuba by local insurgents (though they had been trained in the U.S.) which had been planned mostly under the Eisenhower administration. When this plan failed and most of the invaders had been captured, Kennedy was blamed, in part for not having backed up the invasion with U.S. air support, forcing him into an embarrassing negotiation for the release of the prisoners.
Even more memorable, often times, are some of Kennedy’s victories against communism, such as his ability to stave off disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis which took place during the fall of 1962. American spy planes revealed at that time that the Russians were building missile sites in Cuba. During the thirteen days following this realization, Kennedy was forced to negotiate harshly with the U.S.S.R., while at the same time avoiding nuclear war. The peaceable end to the near-conflict was seen as one of Kennedy’s greatest victories.
Also during Kennedy’s administration America saw the sending of the first troops to Vietnam on a large scale. While some troops had already been sent there on a limited scale even under Eisenhower to help the South Koreans fight the spread of communism from the north, Kennedy dramatically increased troop numbers, thus beginning one of the most controversial wars in American history.
The Assassination and Continued Legacy
During his nearly three years as President, John F. Kennedy achieved a surprising number of accomplishments, both at home and abroad. He was faced with many great challenges, and as a result, there are very few periods of history which are as memorable as this one. The cold war escalated, the space race began in earnest, and the War in Vietnam first entered into the American consciousness.
There is much debate over how Kennedy might have continued his policies or adapted to certain issues had he remained in office longer, and had he won reelection (which would have been very likely). Nevertheless, there is no way of knowing for sure, as President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, while riding in his motorcade through Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald.
There is, of course, a great amount of controversy surrounding this assassination. Despite the fact that a full investigation led by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren later showed that the assassination was the work of a lone, crazed assassin, there are those to this day who retain the belief (irrational as it may be) that there is more to the story than this.
Whether or not there is more to the story of Kennedy’s assassination, the fact that it happened turned this man from a relatively popular President to an even greater national hero; one who is remembered fondly to this day for a great many things – a martyr to the American cause like Lincoln before him.
That fateful day in November of 1963, then, found America suddenly under an entirely new and unexpected President – Lyndon B. Johnson.