John Fitzgerald Kennedy in History
Surrounded by admiration, controversy, and legacy, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States. Fifth of nine children, John was born May 29, 1917 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Kennedy children enjoyed a comfortable childhood, Patrick Joseph Kennedy their father, was a successful business man ensuring his children were well provided for.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, mother to the nine Kennedy children, ensured that they were well taken care of. Rose documented various aspects of her children’s lives, such as medical visits, and physical growth throughout their years. While young, John Kennedy faced many serious medical issues that were life threatening.
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John’s mother recorded he was unhealthy since birth, struggling as an infant, facing diseases such as, “whooping cough, measles, chicken pox”, throughout his childhood. John battled Scarlet Fever before he had turned three years old, a possibly fatal diagnosis at the time. After almost a month of treatment, John began to overcome the sickness much to the relief of his family. Aside from John’s many health problems of his youth, his childhood was rather enjoyed. John received schooling from several prestigious private institutes, such as Choate and Canterbury.
The Kennedy family possessed summer homes in Cape Cod, and Hyannis Port, where the children would often spend their summers. John and his older brother Joseph, enjoyed a close sibling rivalry throughout these years, turning almost everything and anything in to a competition. John enjoyed playing many sports in his youth, including tennis, basketball, football, and golf during his enrollment at Choate. While John was certainly well educated, his academics did not always reflect this.
The headmaster of John’s school once said, “though he was not the best student. He did not work as hard as he could”. With an exception to English and history, it seemed as John was not properly applying himself during his intermediate schoolings. John’s father, who paved a successful path for himself, took notice of his child’s troubles and decided to reach out. Patrick wrote, “know if I didn’t really feel you had the goods I would be most charitable in my attitude toward your failings. After long experience in sizing up people I definitely know you have the goods and you can go a long way… It is very difficult to make up fundamentals that you have neglected when you were very young, and that is why I am urging you to do the best you can. I am not expecting too much, and I will not be disappointed if you don’t turn out to be a real genius, but I think you can be a really worthwhile citizen with good judgment and understanding.”
John eventually turned his negative study habits around, eventually attending his father’s alumni, Harvard University. While at Harvard, John continued playing football with his older brother Joseph, until a back injury sidelined his career. While at Harvard John received his first experience of the political world, traveling as his father secretary while in Europe. Patrick Kennedy was made an ambassador to England, from 1937 to until about 1940.
Both Joe and John Kennedy received many letters from their father while in England, speaking of the relations, and news regarding the events leading to WWII. The famous book, “Why England Slept”, was inspired by these letters, as John wrote his senior thesis at Harvard, on why England was unprepared for war with Germany. In 1940 John graduated from Harvard, rather than enjoy the luxury that came with a degree, both John and Joe Kennedy joined the Navy
. Both brothers joined towards the start of WWII, serving their country valiantly, nothing short of war heroes. Joe was a Navy pilot sent to Europe to patrol the skies, while John was a Lieutenant commander of a patrol torpedo boat in the South Pacific. John received a twelve man crew, their mission was to prevent any incoming Japanese ships from delivering supplies to their soldiers. On August 2nd 1943, John’s ship the PT-109, was rammed by a larger Japanese destroyer, splitting the vehicle in half.
The impact immediately killed two of John’s crew, with the rest managing to escape unharmed. Kennedy was credited with not only leading his team to an island a few miles from the shipwreck, but singlehandedly save one of his crew, Patrick McMahon. McMahon suffering from severe burns on his face and hands, was pulled from the flames of the ship and taken ashore by Kennedy. The crew of the ship was stranded six days on the island, until natives discovered them and quickly sought help.
The crew of the PT-109 was rescued the very next day, thanks to their captain John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Joe Kennedy unfortunately passed a year later, while serving his country Joe’s plane was blown up during a mission. After returning home from war, John was awarded with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroic service during the war. With the end of WWII, John was faced with the decision of which career to pursue. Often considering becoming a teacher or writer, John ultimately took his brothers advice. Before Joe passed, the two had a serious conversation about John’s future, which ultimately led to the start of John’s political career.
Due to his brother’s persuasion, John ran for Congress in Massachusetts, winning the eleventh district in 1946. As a child, Joe declared to his family that he would become the first Catholic President of the United States. Years later he would pave the way for his brother to honor his memory, by fulfilling his legacy. John would serve three terms in the House of Representatives, and in 1952 was elected in to the Senate as a Democrat. While serving in the Senate, John married his wife Jacqueline on September 12th, 1953.
The famous book, “Profiles in Courage”, was written two years after his marriage as John recovered from two major back surgeries. While the book won a Pulitzer Prize and was critically acclaimed at the time, it was later revealed most of the work was done by John’s longtime aid, Theodore Sorenson. The truth behind Profiles of Courage, is one of many controversial events attached to John Kennedy’s legacy. The first Kennedy child Caroline, was born soon after the release of the book in 1957. John nearly received his party’s nomination for Vice President in the election of 1956, prompting himself to declare his presidency of 1960.
Even with Kennedy family funding, and numerous connections, John faced a tough opponent. Picking Lyndon B Johnson, a senator from Texas as his running mate, John faced Richard Nixon. Nixon was a multiple term vice president to Dwight Eisenhower, extremely popular at the time. Kennedy and Nixon were exact opposites of each other, one offering youth, innovative ideas, and change while Nixon offered experience, consistency, and assurance. The election came down to the wire, John winning by a slim margin of votes ultimately besting Nixon. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated January 20th, 1961 as the 35th President of the United States.
John became the youngest president to be elected at 42, as well as the only Roman Catholic President to serve up until this day. During his inaugural speech of 1961, Kennedy is credited with the famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Shortly before his inauguration, the Kennedy family welcomed their second child, John JR. The Kennedy family brought an entirely new era to the White House, with two young children and an entirely different mindset, the White House flourished. Various guests were invited to the white house, ranging from artists, scientists, actors, and athletes, the Kennedy’s believed the White House should be a symbol of culture and accomplishment.
Jacqueline Kennedy is credited with restoring many of the White House rooms, gathering various pieces of art and furniture produced in the United States, she brought distinction to once forgotten places. While John made time for his wife and Children, his short lived term of presidency was no stranger to chaos. John was faced with various problems from countries such as Cuba and Russia during the Cold War, nuclear threat always imminent. The infamous Bay of Pigs landing in April 1961 falls under Kennedy, he approved 1400 CIA trained Cuban exiles, be sent back to Cuba. Rather than sparking a rebellion as hoped, almost all were killed. Two months later in June, President Kennedy arranged a meeting in Vienna with the Soviet leader of the time, Nikita Khrushchev. The city of Berlin was discussed, control was divided between Allied and Soviet power after the war.
Two months after the meeting, East German soldiers began building the infamous Berlin Wall to divide the city. Kennedy remained diplomatic, ensuring citizens of continued Allied support in his famous Berlin Wall speech of 1963. Tensions remained high however, in October of 1962, problems with Khrushchev would arise yet again. Soviet forces were found building nuclear and long range missiles in Cuba, which could pose a possible threat to US shores. Kennedy invoked a naval blockade of Cuba, a tense two week standoff occurred between Soviet forces and the US, a single error could have resulted in war. The Missile Crisis ended in a peaceful agreement between the two forces. Soviet forces would dismantle their arms in exchange for removal of US missiles from Turkey, various other locations near Soviet borders, and a promise not to invade Cuba.
In 1963 Kennedy was effective in brokering a nuclear test ban treaty including himself, Khrushchev, and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Kennedy helped his country avoid nuclear war, allowing the US to prosper in various other aspects. The Space Race of the time was led by the Soviets, former presidents rarely prioritizing the exploration of space. President Kennedy made history yet again, becoming the first president to ask Congress for upward of 22 billion dollars, to fund Project Apollo. President Kennedy is quoted saying, “No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space”. President Kennedy is credited as the founder of the Peace Corps, an organization which allows Americans to volunteer in areas of the world in need of help. Still running today, the corps help in areas such as education, farming, health care, and construction.
While President Kennedy did experience his share of success during his presidency, he had shortcomings as well. Arguably due to his short term of presidency, John was unable to bring Tax Cuts, or pass a Civil Rights Bill. While dealing with various issues during his term the tax issue may not have been prioritized, but the Civil Rights issue was not. While President Kennedy eventually decided to back the Civil Rights movement, his initial stance was soft on the matter. June of 1963, President Kennedy solidified his stance on the matter stating, “This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds…[and] on the principle that all men are created equal”. Better late than never, President Kennedy recognized the hardships of racial discrimination and stood against it.
Later that year on November 21st, 1963, President Kennedy was shot while driving through crowds who had gathered to hear him speak in Dallas, Texas. President Kennedy was shot twice in both the neck and head, while in front of his wife Jacqueline. President Kennedy was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. Lee Harvey Oswald the infamous killer of the beloved Kennedy, was soon shot three days later by a man named Jack Ruby. Ruby killed the only man that could provide more information on the killing, many conspiracy theories surround the motives behind this.
Presidents Kennedy’s was felt nationwide, a man nothing short of legendary. While President Kennedy may not be perfect, the man served his country well and paved a path for change for generations to come.