JFK's New Frontier: Definition, Speech & Program

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  • 0:01 JFK's New Frontier Speech
  • 0:55 New Frontier Metaphor
  • 2:01 New Frontier Program
  • 2:54 New Frontier Victories
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason McCollom
John F. Kennedy's presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1960 laid out his 'New Frontier' policy. Learn about the speech and the programs, and check your understanding with a quiz.

JFK's New Frontier Speech

Politicians are often very good at making speeches. Most can hold their audiences and elicit cheers at the right times. Political leaders must of course be adept at explaining their policies and beliefs to the voters. Frequently, the challenge is translating the excitement and promises of speeches into action and concrete programs. This is the precise situation that President John F. Kennedy faced with his New Frontier speech in 1960.

John F. Kennedy's New Frontier speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1960 set the stage for his presidency, from 1961 until his assassination in late 1963. 'We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier--the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils--a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats,' he proclaimed to the crowd in California.

New Frontier Metaphor

Kennedy used the frontier metaphor because Americans were familiar with it. There was an understanding among most Americans that, historically, they had been adventurers, bravely conquering new frontiers. The speech suggested that there would be challenges ahead, but Kennedy was the president to lead the U.S. in those struggles. 'The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises,' Kennedy explained. 'It is a set of challenges.'

Another aspect of the New Frontier speech included the implication that Kennedy represented a new generation of American leadership, one with fresh ideas and not beholden to a stagnant past. Kennedy was, in fact, the youngest president to date at forty-three years old. He used his relative youth to his advantage, positioning himself as a leader with a new vision. 'Today our concern must be with the future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do,' he intoned. 'The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not.'

New Frontier Program

Like many political speeches, the New Frontier speech was vague enough for Americans to interpret it as they wish. But it did suggest a bold approach--an activist Kennedy presidency characterized by a spate of new domestic programs. Kennedy envisioned his New Frontier program in the tradition of previous major government initiatives: President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s, and President Harry S. Truman's Fair Deal of the 1940s.

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