John F. Kennedy

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Template:Otherpeople Template:Infobox President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917November 22, 1963), often referred to as John F. Kennedy, JFK or "Jack Kennedy", was the 35th President of the United States. He served from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. A member of the politically prominent Kennedy family, he is considered an icon of American liberalism. During World War II, he served as a naval lieutenant in the Pacific theatre and was cited for exceptional bravery. Kennedy served three terms as a Congressman for Boston, a term as Senator for Massachusetts, before his successful 1960 bid for the Presidency.

Major events during his presidency included the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Space Race, early events of the Vietnam War, and the American Civil Rights Movement. In rankings of U.S. presidents, historians usually grade Kennedy above average, but among the general public he is often regarded as among the greatest presidents.

At the age of 43, Kennedy was the youngest person to be elected president. Kennedy was also the only Roman Catholic elected president and the first 20th century-born American president. Kennedy was also the last President to die while still in office, the last Democrat from the North to be elected, and the last to be elected while serving in the U.S. Senate.

Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Official investigations later determined Lee Harvey Oswald to be the culprit. His assassination is considered one of the most defining moments in U.S. history because of its traumatic impact on the entire nation, its impact on the political history of the ensuing decades, Kennedy's status as an icon for a new generation of Americans and American aspirations, and, of course, for the mystery and allegations of conspiracy that surround it.


Early life

Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald.

Years later, it would be revealed that Kennedy had been diagnosed as a young man with Addison's Disease, a rare endocrine disorder. This and other medical disorders were kept from the press, and the public, throughout Kennedy's life.

Kennedy attended Edward Devotion School for four years (Kindergarten in 1922 to Third Grade [1]) and then Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, one of the country's most elite private boarding schools, from which he graduated in 1935. That fall (Sept 25, 1935) he sailed from New York to London with his parents and his sister Kathleen. There he enrolled at the London School of Economics with the intention of studying for a year (political economy under the tutelage of Professor Harold Laski) but an illness hospitalized him shortly after his enrollment. His father insisted he return to the US. Jack sailed from London for New York on Oct 26, 1935. Later that fall of 1935, he enrolled in Princeton University, but was forced to leave after contracting jaundice. The next fall, he began attending Harvard College. Kennedy traveled to Europe twice during his years at Harvard, visiting the United Kingdom, while his father was serving as ambassador to the Court of St. James's. In 1937, Kennedy was prescribed steroids to control his colitis, which only increased his medical problems causing him to develop osteoporosis of the lower lumbar spine [2]. After graduating Harvard, he attended Stanford University’s business school for a few months and then traveled to South America.

In 1940 Kennedy wrote his honors thesis, entitled "Why England Slept" on the British portion of the Munich Agreement. He initially intended for the thesis to be for college only, but his dad encouraged him to publish the book. He graduated cum laude from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in June 1940. His thesis was published in 1940 [3] and became a best-seller.

Military service

In the spring of 1941, he volunteered for the U.S. Army, but was rejected, mainly because of his troublesome back. However, the U.S. Navy accepted him in September of that year with the influence of the director of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), a former naval attaché to Ambassador Joseph Kennedy. As an ensign, he served in the office that supplied bulletins and briefing information for the Secretary of the Navy. It was during this assignment that the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. It was also during this time that he began a romantic relationship with Inga Arvad, a suspected Nazi spy. The relationship ended, however, when Kennedy was transferred to the ONI field office in South Carolina. He attended the Naval Reserve Officers Training School and Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center before being assigned for duty in Panama and eventually the Pacific theater. He participated in various commands in the Pacific theater and earned the rank of lieutenant, commanding a patrol torpedo boat (PT boat).[4]

Image:JFKPT109.jpg On August 2, 1943, Kennedy's boat, the PT-109, was taking part in a night-time military raid near New Georgia (near the Solomon Islands) when it was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy was thrown across the deck, injuring his already troubled spine. Still, Kennedy somehow towed a wounded man three miles through the ocean, arriving on an island where his crew was subsequently rescued. Kennedy said that he blacked out for periods of time during the ordeal. For these actions, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, awarded for heroism not involving conflict with the enemy under the following citation:

For heroism the rescue of 3 men following the ramming and sinking of his motor torpedo boat while attempting a torpedo attack on a Japanese destroyer in the Solomon Islands area on the night of Aug 12, 1943. Lt. KENNEDY, Capt. of the boat, directed the rescue of the crew and personally rescued 3 men, one of whom was seriously injured. During the following 6 days, he succeeded in getting his crew ashore, and after swimming many hours attempting to secure aid and food, finally effected the rescue of the men. His courage, endurance and excellent leadership contributed to the saving of several lives and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Service.

Kennedy's other decorations from the Second World War include the Purple Heart, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was honorably discharged in early 1945, just a few months before Japan surrendered.

In May 2002, a National Geographic expedition found what is believed to be the wreckage of the PT-109 in the Solomon Islands [5].

Early political career: 1946-1960


House of Representatives

In 1946, after a spell as a journalist reporting international affairs, Kennedy entered politics (partly to fill the void of his brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., who was killed in the war). In 1946, Representative James Michael Curley vacated his seat in an overwhelmingly Democratic district to become mayor of Boston and Kennedy ran for that seat, beating his Republican opponent by a large margin. His family played a highly visible role; Kennedy himself moved into a Boston hotel where his grandfather, the former mayor lived. He was reelected twice. He had a mixed voting record often diverging from President Harry S. Truman and the rest of the Democratic Party. He supported internationalism and strongly opposed Communism. He charged that the Truman adminsitration "lost" China when the Communists took over in 1949, alleging "The continued insistence that aid would not be forthcoming, unless a coalition government with the Communists were formed, was a crippling blow to the National Government.... So concerned were our diplomats and their advisers, the Lattimores and the Fairbanks, with the imperfection of the democratic system in China after 20 years of war and the tales of corruption in high places that they lost sight of our tremendous stake in a non-Communist China." [O'Brien 231] Image:Jfkatbcin56.jpg

Joe McCarthy and Kennedy

After 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy was the nation's most prominent Irish-American along with the Kennedy family. Even before becoming famous, McCarthy forged a close friendship with Joseph P. Kennedy, who contributed thousands of dollars to McCarthy, and became one of his major supporters. In the Senate race of 1952, Joseph allegedly worked a deal so that McCarthy, a Republican, would not make campaign speeches for the GOP ticket in Massachusetts. In return, John F. Kennedy would not give any anti-McCarthy speeches that his liberal supporters wanted to hear. [O'Brien p 253-54; Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy p 442] In 1953, McCarthy hired Robert Kennedy (age 27) as a senior staff member. In 1954, when the Senate was threatening to condemn McCarthy, Senator Kennedy faced a dilemma: "How the hell could I get up there and denounce Joe McCarthy when my own brother was working for him?" [Dalleck p 191] John Kennedy ordered a speech to be drafted calling for the censure of McCarthy, but he never delivered it. When the Senate voted to censure McCarthy on December 2, 1954, Senator Kennedy was in the hospital and never indicated then or later how he would vote. The relationship underscored how fiercely anti-Communist was Kennedy's team (especially his father and brother, and with less intensity JFK himself). It caused the distrust of many liberal Democrats (such as Eleanor Roosevelt, who especially feared and hated Joe Kennedy and worried that the son was of the same mold. [O'Brien, pp 274-79, 290.]

Senator, 1953-60

Image:Kennedy vonbraun 19may63 02.jpg In 1952, Kennedy ran for the Senate with the slogan "Kennedy will do more for Massachusetts." In an upset victory, he defeated Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. by a margin of about 70,000 votes.

In 1956, Kennedy campaigned for the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, but convention delegates selected Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver instead. However, Kennedy's efforts helped bolster his reputation within the party.

An example of Kennedy's political suppleness prior to the 1960 campaign was his handling of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He voted for final passage, while earlier voting for the "jury trial amendment", which some people feel rendered the Act toothless. He was able to say to both sides that he supported them.

Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12, 1953. He underwent several spinal operations in the two following years, nearly dying (receiving the Catholic faith's "last rites" four times during his life), and was often absent from the Senate. During this period, he published Profiles in Courage, highlighting eight instances in which U.S. Senators risked their careers by standing by their personal beliefs. The book was awarded the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. In 1958, Kennedy published the first edition of his book A Nation of Immigrants, closely following his involvement in the Displaced Persons Act and the 1957 bill to bring families together.

1960 presidential election

Image:Jfknixon.jpg In 1960, Kennedy declared his intent to run for President of the United States. In the Democratic primary election, he faced challenges from Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, and Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic nominee in 1952 and 1956 who was not officially running but was a favorite write-in candidate. Kennedy won key primaries like Wisconsin and West Virginia. In the latter state, Kennedy made a visit to a coal mine, and talked to the mine workers to win their support, as most people in that conservative, mostly Protestant state were deeply suspicious about Kennedy being a Catholic. Kennedy emerged as a universally acceptable candidate for the party after that victory.

On July 13, 1960 the Democratic Party nominated Kennedy as its candidate for president. Kennedy asked Johnson to be his Vice Presidential candidate, despite clashes between the two during the primary elections. He needed Johnson's strength in the South to win what was considered likely to be the closest election since 1916. Major issues included how to get the economy moving again, Kennedy's Catholicism, Cuba, and whether or not both the Soviet space and missile programs had surpassed those of the U.S. To allay fears that his Roman Catholicism would impact his decision making, he said in a famous speech in Houston, Texas (to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association), on September 12, 1960, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters and the Church does not speak for me." [6] Template:Seealso

In September and October, Kennedy debated Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon in the first televised US presidential debates. During the debates, Nixon looked tense, sweaty, and unshaven compared to Kennedy's composure and handsomeness, leading many to deem Kennedy the winner, although historians consider the two evenly matched as orators. Interestingly, many who listened on radio thought Nixon more impressive in the debate. [7] The debates are considered a political landmark: the point at which the medium of television played an important role in politics and looking presentable on camera became one of the important considerations for presidential and other political candidates.

In the general election on November 8, 1960, Kennedy beat Nixon in a very close race. There were serious allegations that vote fraud in Texas and Illinois had cost Nixon the presidency[8]. There were unusually large margins in Richard Daley's Chicago — which were announced after the rest of the vote in Illinois. The only change after the official recount was a win for Kennedy in Hawaii.

The 1000 Day Presidency: 1961-1963


Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th President on January 20, 1961. In his inaugural address he called all Americans to the duty as citizens. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country", he demanded. He asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself." [9] His most important cabinet appointment was that of his brother Robert Kennedy to be Attorney General. Dean Rusk became Secretary of State, and industrialist Robert McNamara became Secretary of Defense. Kennedy's old rival Adlai Stevenson was sent off to the United Nations. Kennedy called his program "The New Frontier" and hoped to reignite a new wave of youthful idealism.

Domestic policies

As senator, Kennedy had shown limited interest in domestic affairs apart from labor union corruption. As president he ignored that issue. Working with his high-powered economic advisors led by Walter Heller he proposed a Keynesian program known as the New Frontier to stimulate the economy to counter the lagging economic growth of the Eisenhower years. The New Frontier called for reduction of unemployment, an increase in education funding, more spending on public housing, and reducing the income tax. These proposals did not pass Congress. Despite some success in helping Speaker Sam Rayburn weaken the powers of Howard Smith's Rules Committee in 1961, the Congress was still effectively controlled by the Conservative Coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats; the alignment remained unchanged after the status-quo midterm elections of 1962. The tax cuts were eventually enacted after his death as well.

Civil rights

A new issue that Kennedy had not anticipated blazed into view as the civil rights movement in the South, led by Martin Luther King, produced dramatic confrontations with segregationist Democrats, especially governors George Wallace of Alabama, and Ross Barnett of Mississippi. A month before the 1962 election Kennedy sent federal marshals and Army MPs to enforce a federal court order that African American student James Meredith be admitted to the University of Mississippi. Violent resistance by townspeople left two civilians dead, hundreds injured, and 166 federals injured. The confrontation in Alabama in 1963 was nonviolent, and boosted Wallace’s visibility as a leader of southern Democrats. Kennedy ignored the risks to his southern base and spoke out in favor of civil rights legislation, but as in so many instances, no legislation was passed.

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Foreign policies

President Kennedy was primarily interested in foreign policy, and a supporter of the Containment policy to prevent Communist expansion. Weeks after his memorable inaugural address sounded the tocsin for vigorous anti-communism, he encountered disaster when his attempt to roll back Communism in Cuba failed. Kennedy approved a plan devised during Eisenhower's last year in office that called for an invasion under the direction and control of the CIA. On April 17 in what is known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1,500 CIA-trained Cuban exiles, called "Brigade 2506" landed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba hoping to spark a popular rebellion to depose Castro. The CIA had underestimated popular support for Castro, made multiple mistakes in devising and carrying out the plan, failed to provide the air support that was promised but withdrawn by Kennedy at the last minute, and failed to develop an exit strategy. The exiles did not rally the Cuban people as expected; in two days Castro's forces captured most of the invaders. Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release of the 1,189 survivors. After 20 months, Cuba released the captured exiles in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medicine. The incident was a major embarrassment for Kennedy, but he took full responsibility. Historians in 2006 ranked the debacle as the #8 worst presidential mistake ever made.[10]

On the more positive side Kennedy created the Peace Corps and promoted development aid to Latin America.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, sensing weakness, pushed hard on the Berlin issue, and was able to build the Berlin Wall. Kennedy refused to surrender West Berlin and went to the city, proclaiming "Ich bin ein Berliner!" ("I am a Berliner!") Khrushchev and Castro went too far in 1962, secretly setting up medium range missiles in Cuba equipped with nuclear warheads that threatened the southeast as far as Atlanta. In the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy rejected invasion plans but imposed a blockade and demanded the missiles be removed immediately. Khrushchev publicly backed down, but privately got Kennedy to remove American missiles from Turkey, while Castro secured the promise that the United States would never invade his island. The Cuban missile crisis reversed JFK’s image of ineptness in foreign policy. However his quiet, continuous escalation of military involvement in the Vietnam War, culminated in the assassination of Vietnam's president Ngo Dinh Diem, which was tacitly approved by Kennedy.

Support of space programs

Image:JFKNASA.jpg Kennedy was eager for the United States to lead the way in the space race. Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev's son Sergei has said that JFK approached his father twice for a 'joint venture' in space exploration in June 1961 and Autumn 1963. On the first occasion Russia was far ahead of America, and Khrushchev then said 'nyet' ("no"). Kennedy later made a speech at Rice University in September 1962, in which he said, "no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space" and "we choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." [11]. On the second approach to Khrushchev, the Soviet premier was persuaded that cost sharing was beneficial, and American space technology was forging ahead - the U.S. had launched a geostationary satellite, and Kennedy had asked Congress to approve more than 22 billion dollars for Project Apollo, which had the goal of landing an American man on the Moon before the end of the decade. Khrushchev agreed to a joint venture in Autumn 1963, but JFK died in November before the agreement could be formalized. In 1969, six years after Kennedy's death, the Project Apollo goal was finally realized when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon.

Administration and Cabinet


PresidentJohn F. Kennedy1961–1963
Vice PresidentLyndon B. Johnson1961–1963
StateDean Rusk1961–1963
TreasuryC. Douglas Dillon1961–1963
DefenseRobert S. McNamara1961–1963
JusticeRobert F. Kennedy1961–1964
Postmaster GeneralJ. Edward Day1961–1963
 John A. Gronouski1963
InteriorStewart L. Udall1961–1963
AgricultureOrville L. Freeman1961–1963
CommerceLuther H. Hodges1961–1963
LaborArthur J. Goldberg1961–1962
 W. Willard Wirtz1962–1963
HEWAbraham A. Ribicoff1961–1962
 Anthony J. Celebrezze1962–1963

Supreme Court appointments

Kennedy appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Image, social life and family

Template:See Both Kennedy and his wife "Jackie" were very young in comparison to earlier presidents and first ladies, and were both extraordinarily popular in ways more common to pop singers and movie stars than politicians, influencing fashion trends and becoming the subjects of numerous photo spreads in popular magazines.

Image:Kennedy bros.jpg The Kennedys brought a new life and vigor to the atmosphere of the White House. They believed that the White House should be a place to celebrate American history, culture, and achievement, and invited artists, writers, scientists, poets, musicians, actors, Nobel Prize winners and athletes to visit. Jacqueline Kennedy also gathered new art and furniture and eventually restored all the rooms in the White House. Behind the glamorous facade, the Kennedys also suffered many personal tragedies. Jacqueline suffered a miscarriage in 1955, and gave birth to a stillborn daughter in 1956. The death of their newborn son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy in August 1963 was a great loss.

The charisma of Kennedy and his family led to the figurative designation of "Camelot" for his administration, credited by his widow to his affection for the contemporary Broadway musical of the same name.

Kennedy is the third most admired person in the 20th century, according to Gallup.

Assassination and aftermath

Image:JFKmotorcade.jpg Template:Main President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on Friday, November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm CST while on a political trip through Texas. He was the fourth U.S. President to be assassinated, and the eighth to die while in office. Lee Harvey Oswald was charged at 7:00 pm for killing Dallas policeman, J.D. Tippit, by "murder with malice", and also charged at 11:30 pm for the murder of the president (there being no charge of "assassination" of a president at that time). Oswald was fatally shot less than two days later, in a Dallas police station by Jack Ruby. Because of his own murder, Oswald's guilt or innocence was never determined in a court of law. Five days after Oswald was killed, the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, created the Warren Commission, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren, to investigate the assassination. It concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin. A later investigation in the 1970s by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) also concluded that Oswald was the assassin, however, it added that he was likely part of a conspiracy to kill the president, although the committee did not uncover sufficient evidence to identify any other members of the conspiracy.

The assassination is still the subject of widespread speculation, and has spawned a number of Kennedy assassination theories.


Image:JFKCasketLeavesCapitolHill.JPG Television became the primary source by which people kept informed of events surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination, with newspapers the following day becoming more souvenirs than sources of updated information. U.S. networks switched to 24 hour news coverage for the first time ever. 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, even though only one network broadcast it live in America. It was with this event that television matured as a news source rivaling that of newspapers.

The assassination had such an impact on every American, most that were alive when first learning of the news that Kennedy was assassinated vividly remember where they were when they received word. U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson said of the assassination that "all of us...will bear the grief of his death until the day of ours."

Image:JFK grave.jpg On March 14, 1967 Kennedy's body was moved to a permanent burial place and memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Kennedy is buried with his wife and their deceased children, and his brother Robert is also buried nearby. His grave is marked with an "Eternal Flame." Kennedy and William Howard Taft are the only two US Presidents buried at Arlington.

Many of Kennedy's speeches, especially his inaugural address, are considered to be inspiring and iconic. Despite his relatively short term in office and a lack of major legislative changes during his term, Americans regularly vote him as one of the best presidents, in the same league as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Selected excerpts of Kennedy's inaugural address are engraved on marble panels at his grave at Arlington.


Image:Wiki kennedy.JPG Kennedy's legacy has been memorialized in various aspects of American culture. To name a few:


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Kennedy is among the most popular former presidents of the United States; however, a few critics argue that his reputation is largely undeserved. His admirers argue that the opposition was so strong that he had little chance to achieve much during his presidency. However Kennedy did drastically increase the number of American troops sent to fight in Vietnam and he personally took the blame for the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Kennedy's private life has also attracted the ire of critics, some of whom argue that lapses in judgment in his personal life impacted his professional life. Among the critics' charges are: that the Kennedy family concealed from the public his serious, potentially life-threatening health issues (e.g., he suffered from Addison's disease) and his heavy medication regimen; and that he had a long history of extramarital affairs. Seymour Hersh's The Dark Side of Camelot (1998) presents such a critical argument. Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life (2003) is a more balanced biography, but details Kennedy's health issues.


  • The White House also seemed like a more fun, youthful place, because of the Kennedys' two young children, Caroline and John Jr. (who came to be known in the popular press as "John-John" though years later Jacqueline Kennedy denied that the family called him by that name). Outside the White House Lawn, the Kennedys established a pre-school, swimming pool, and tree house.

Kennedy in the movies

See also


Secondary sources

  • Brauer, Carl. John F. Kennedy and the Second Reconstruction (1977), on civil rights
  • Burner, David. John F. Kennedy and a New Generation (1988)
  • Template:Cite book scholarly biography; special attention to medical issues
  • Freedman, Lawrence. Kennedy's Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (2000)
  • Fursenko, Aleksandr and Timothy Naftali. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964 (1997)
  • Giglio, James. The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1991), standard scholarly overview.
  • Harper, Paul, and Joann P. Krieg eds. John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited (1988) scholarly articles on presidency.
  • Harris, Seymour E. The Economics of the Political Parties, with Special Attention to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy (1962)
  • Heath, Jim F. Decade of Disillusionment: The Kennedy-Johnson Years (1976)
  • Kunz; Diane B. The Diplomacy of the Crucial Decade: American Foreign Relations during the 1960s (1994)
  • O'Brien, Michael. John F. Kennedy: A Biography (2005) long and detailed
  • Parmet, Herbert. JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1983)
  • Reeves, Richard. President Kennedy: Profile of Power (1993)
  • Reeves, Thomas. A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (1991) negative assessment
  • Schlesinger, Arthur, Jr. A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965) by a close advisor.
  • Sorenson, Theodore. Kennedy (1966) by a close advisor.

Primary sources

  • Goldzwig, Steven R. and George N. Dionisopoulos, eds. In a Perilous Hour: The Public Address of John F. Kennedy, text and analysis of key speeches (1995)


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External links

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