John F. Kennedy: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States. Learn about Kennedy's life and presidency, as well as facts and quotes about him. Conclude your exploration with a short quiz to see what you learned.

New England Roots

John F. Kennedy (JFK), who would serve as 35th President of the United States (1961-1963), was born on May 29, 1917 in Massachusetts into a wealthy, nine-child family. His father was a hardworking businessman and later ambassador to England, whose travels spurred John's interest in service. His mother was a homemaker who always kept tabs on her children.

Kennedy attended top schools, including Harvard, served his country in the navy, and would enter politics as an unknown. He would persevere, as he did many times, to overcome barriers and be elected president. His term, however, was cut short by Lee Harvey Oswald who assassinated him on November 23, 1963.

John F. Kennedy, 35 President of the United States
John F. Kennedy

A Life of Perseverance: Service and Politics

JFK was constantly injured or ailing when young. Later he developed a chronic back problem after hurting his spine in college. He would use his ailments as motivation to rise above the limits they caused.

A notable example from his early life was his World War II service. As lieutenant of PT-109, a patrol torpedo boat, he rescued his shipmates after they were rammed by a Japanese destroyer. He did this all with a chronically hurt back and these actions earned him hero status.

After his military service, he worked as a journalist before entering politics. Without prior experience, he ran for Congress in 1946 and was considered an underdog. Kennedy ended up serving three terms in the House of Representatives and later the Senate.

Representing Massachusetts required a busy and challenging schedule. He managed to marry Jacqueline Bouvier and raise two children, Caroline and John Jr. Also around this time, his back injury flared up again, requiring surgery and a break from politics. While recovering, he wrote a now-famous book, Profiles in Courage, detailing the political battles of U.S. Senators.

The Kennedy Family - John, Jr., Jackie, Caroline, and JFK
Kennedy Family

At one point in the 1956 race, Kennedy was nearly nominated for vice president. Motivated by this, he ran for it in 1960. Other inspiration came from his late brother, Joe Jr., who wanted to be chief executive one day. His brother also desired to be the first catholic president. Kennedy made these dreams a reality while also becoming the youngest president ever elected.

Presidency and Assassination

Now a mainstay in politics, Kennedy ran on the democratic presidential ticket against republican Richard Nixon in 1960. His victorious election was due in many ways to his perseverance and ability to rise above the odds, as well as the long hours spent campaigning. Kennedy's desire for service was made known in his inaugural speech, imploring Americans:

'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.'

The feats of Kennedy's short presidency are many. As a young executive, he was full of energy and vigor. He believed in the New Frontier, a way of thinking and doing things to push the U.S. forward in areas including science and technology, education, social reform, and democracy. His youth and invigoration inspired many to admire him. In fact, they called his White House 'Camelot' because it seemed so full of promise and hope.

Kennedy created the Peace Corps and won the thirteen day faceoff that was the Cuban Missile Crisis where Soviet nukes were in Cuba, ready to attack the U.S. He had previously battled the Soviet Union over the city of Berlin, Germany as well. JFK also accelerated the Space Race against the Soviet Union by pledging a man on the moon. Kennedy proposed through a May, 1961 speech to Congress:

'I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.'

Racial issues, such as those championed by Martin Luther King, Jr., were also a key part of Kennedy's term. While he would not live to see it, his efforts to get Congress to address racial inequality culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Kennedy meets with military advisers during the Cuban Missile Crisis October, 1962
Cuban Missile Crisis Advisors

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