John F. Kennedy on Principles & Values
1959: Big-city mayors recalled anti-Catholic 1928 campaign
[In 1959], Kennedy was campaigning all over the country, but he not only was young--41--but looked much younger, far too young to be a President. Furthermore, he was a Catholic. The veteran big-city bosses were Catholics, all of them: Daley, Lawrence,
DiSalle, De Sapio, Prendergast, Bailey. They would never put a Catholic at the head of their party's ticket. As "Newsweek" analyzed their feelings, "30 years have passed since the defeat of
Al Smith, but they still remember vividly the violent anti-Catholic feeling which the 1928 campaign engendered." Who would take Kennedy seriously anyway? From the Senate, he was little more than a joke: a rich man's son, a "playboy," and,
he said, "sickly" to boot, always away from Washington because of some illness or other, and never accomplishing anything when he was present.
Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 14
, May 1, 2012
1946: Campaigned for House door-to-door in Boston
In the 11th District, campaigning in the neighborhood meant climbing stairs, for these were neighborhoods with block after block of "3-deckers," 3-story tenement buildings, in which often every floor had to be visited because there were different tenants
on every floor, and stairs were very hard on Jack Kennedy's back--he could climb them only one step at a time: by putting a foot on each step, and then pulling the other foot up next to it. The old Boston pols recruited by Joe Kennedy's allies and Joe
Kennedy's cash to take him around looked askance at "the millionaire's kid" at first--"It was tough to sell the guy," one recalls. The pols came to think more of him, however.
They would watch as he headed out on the evening's campaign trail. "The
guy was in agony," one of them came to realize. But "off we'd go again, until 11 or 12 at night, never wasting a minute." He would never admit that he felt the least bit tired or anything. He won the election.
Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 42-43
, May 1, 2012
1960: separate Catholic identity from public life
Kennedy's famous speech [on Catholicism in 1960] is actually quite different from the way it is often described. Instead of reconciling his religious identity with his role in public life, Kennedy entirely separated the two.
In 2008, Mitt Romney's
Mormon faith was likewise perceived as an issue by some voters. Some pundits and political advisors urged him to "do a JFK." Just give a speech, they told him, and reassure voters that your faith will have nothing to do with your presidency. Unlike JFK,
Romney declared that our religious liberty is "fundamental to America's greatness."
Like Kennedy, Romney Mitt praised all Americans' freedom to worship as they choose. Like Kennedy, he also declared that "no authority of my church, or of any other
church, for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions." But unlike Kennedy, he spoke out strongly for America's religious heritage, and how it continues to define us as a nation
Source: America by Heart, by Sarah Palin, p.184-186
, Nov 23, 2010
Legacy is aspiration, not legislative accomplishments
There were relatively few legislative accomplishments during Kennedy's presidency. Much of the landmark legislation that he initiated (such as action on civil rights) was carried through after his death. Uniquely, Kennedy's legacy is his aspiration,
his spirit and challenge, his sentiments and his perceived strength and nobility. These continue to inspire modern politicians across the political spectrum and, perhaps more significantly, people across the world.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.149
, Mar 3, 2010
1960: Today we stand on the edge of a New Frontier
Jack broke tradition and arrived in the convention hall immediately after he had been nominated, to thank the delegates--and to offer a surprised Lyndon Johnson the vice presidential spot, which LBJ immediately accepted.
On the following night, to great cheers, Jack introduced a thrilling new phrase as the descriptive term for his program. "Today our concern must be with the future," he called out. "For the world is changing.
The old era is ending. The old ways will not do."
And then: "The problems [of the past] are not all solved and the battles are not all won. And we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier.
The frontier of the 1960s. A frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats."
Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.150-151
, Sep 14, 2009
The Catholic Question: I follow both my conscience & nation
Despite increasing Republican attacks on Jack's Catholicism, Jack addressed, on live television, a convention of southern Protestant ministers.
Facing these conservative clerics who had regarded him as a likely agent of the Vatican whose loyalties were
to the pope rather than the American people, my brother stood at ease behind the podium and delivered on of the pivotal speeches of his career. He was not the Catholic candidate for president, he told the stony faces before him; he was the Democratic
Party's candidate for president who happened to be a Catholic. Speaking without a trace of defensiveness, Jack gradually disarmed the ministers. "If the time should ever come," he assured them, "When my office would require me to either violate my
conscience, or violate the national interest, I would resign the office." He subtly peeled back the layer of righteousness regarding "the Catholic question: and exposed the bigotry that lay beneath. The ministers sent him offstage with a standing ovation
Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.153-154
, Sep 14, 2009
Camelot: romantic model of public service & inspiration
Many of the friends, aides, and followers who envisioned an Edward Kennedy presidency were basing their hopes on a romantic and ultimately irrelevant model. Whether consciously or not, they seemed enthralled by the dream that the dash and vaulting
aspirations of the early 1960s would return again.
My actual vision of the presidency, to the extent that I turned it over in my mind, was more complex and less romantic. It was and remains a given that my brothers established a soaring standard for
public service, and that their standards to a great extent has defined my life and my aims. I have always measured against that standard.
But my concept of myself as president had little or nothing to do with Camelot. It had nothing to do with that
old preoccupation with "catching up" that I've mentioned. It wasn't about Jack, or Bobby, or my father. The eras that shaped them had passed. The present era was quite different in mood, in collective experience, and in the challenges the nation faced.
Source: True Compass, by Edward M. Kennedy, p.343-344
, Sep 14, 2009
Double life as charismatic leader and cheating husband
Agents assigned to guard Kennedy soon learned that he led a double life. He was the charismatic leader of the free world. But in his other life, he was the cheating, reckless husband whose aides snuck women into the White
House to appease his sexual appetite. Besides one- night stands, Kennedy had several consorts within the White House. One was Pamela Turnure, who had been his secretary when he was a senator, then Jackie's press secretary in the White House.
Two others, Priscilla Wear and Jill Cowen, were secretaries; "neither did much work," says a former Secret Service agent. "We had radio contact with Jackie's detail in case she came back." One afternoon, Kennedy was cavorting in the pool with young women
when Secret Service agents on Jackie's detail radioed that she was returning to the White House unexpectedly. "Jackie was expected back in ten minutes, and JFK came charging out of the pool," says an agent.
Source: In the President`s Secret Service, by Ron Kessler, p. 11-12
, Jun 29, 2009
Insisted on low-security open convertible despite risks
Kennedy aides told the Secret Service that the president wanted to ride in an open convertible, according to the Warren Commission Report. If it had rained, Kennedy would have used a plastic top that was not bulletproof. Kennedy himself told agents he di
not want them to ride on the small running boards at the rear of the car. At 12:30 PM, shots resounded in rapid succession from the Texas School Book Depository. A bullet entered the base of the back of the president's neck. Another bullet then struck hi
in the back of the head, causing a massive, fatal wound.
[Two Secret Service agents were in the limousine], but neither could immediately leap to Kennedy's assistance, as would have been the case if agents had been allowed to ride at the rear of the
car. The "kill shot" to the president's head came 4.9 seconds after the first shot that hit him. If agents had been allowed on the rear running boards, they would have pushed the president down and jumped on him to protect him before the fatal shot.
Source: In the President`s Secret Service, by Ron Kessler, p. 13-14
, Jun 29, 2009
1961: Ask not what your country can do for you
[Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address]: In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it.
I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow
Americans: ask not what your country can do for you00ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Source: They Think You're Stupid, by Herman Cain, p.154
, Jun 14, 2005
Profile in Courage award to honor those with courage
Our family has honored my family's commitment to public service by celebrating that commitment in others. In 1989, we established the
Profile in Courage Award, presented annually to an elected official who stands fast for the ideals upon which this country was founded, often at great personal risk.
These men and women, Republican and Democrat, serving at the local, state, and national level, are the heirs to the eight legendary senators chronicled in this book.
Our collective definition of courage has expanded since "Profiles in Courage" was written--today we honor those with the courage to compromise as well as those who stay the course.
Source: Profiles In Courage, Intro by Caroline Kennedy, p. xii
, Mar 18, 2003
Politics obscures courage; but there is political courage
Senators, we hear, must be politicians--and politicians must be concerned only with winning votes, not with statesmanship or courage. Mothers may still want their favorite sons to grow up to be President, but, according to a famous
Gallup poll of some years ago, they do not want them to become politicians in the process.
Does this current rash of criticism and disrespect mean the quality of the Senate has declined? Certainly not.
Does it mean, then, that the Senate can no longer boast of men of courage?
I am convinced that the complication of public business and the competition for the public's attention have obscured innumerable acts of political courage--large and small- -- performed almost daily in the Senate Chamber.
Source: Profiles In Courage, by Sen. John F. Kennedy, p. 2-3
, Mar 18, 2003
Compromise is essential for functioning government
The way we get along, I was told when I entered Congress, "is to go along." That includes the use of compromise, the sense of things possible. We should not be too hasty in condemning all compromise as bad morals. For politics and legislation are not
matters for inflexible principles.
It is compromise that prevents each set of reformers from crushing the group on the extreme opposite end of the political spectrum. The legislator has some responsibility to conciliate those opposing forces within his
state and party and to represent them in the larger clash of interests on the national level; and he alone knows that there are few if any issues where all the truth and all the right and all the angels are on one side.
Some of my colleagues who are
criticized today as compromising "politicians" are simply engaged in the fine art of conciliating, balancing and interpreting the forces and factions of public opinion, an art essential to keeping our nation united and enabling our Government to function
Source: Profiles In Courage, by Sen. John F. Kennedy, p. 4-6
, Mar 18, 2003
Senators must balance conscience with constituents' views
A senator who is a man of conscience cannot ignore the pressure groups, his constituents, his party. He must judge for himself which path to choose, which step will most help or hinder the ideals to which he is committed. [But] he realizes once he begins
to weigh each issue in terms of his chances for re-election, once he begins to compromise away his principles on one issue after another for fear that to do otherwise would halt his career, then he has lost the very freedom of conscience which justifies
his continuance in office.
But this is no real problem, some will say. Always do what is right, regardless of whether is it popular. Ignore the pressures, the temptations, the false compromises.
That is an easy answer--but it is easy only for those
who do not bear the responsibilities of elected office. Are we rightfully entitled to ignore the demands of our constituents even if we are able and willing to do so? The primary responsibility of a Senator is to represent the views of his state.
Source: Profiles In Courage, by Sen. John F. Kennedy, p. 12-13
, Mar 18, 2003
Senator's loyalties split among party, state, & nation
Nine years in Congress have taught me the wisdom of Lincoln's words: "There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of Government policy, is an inseparable compound of the two, so that our best judgment of the
preponderance between them is continually demanded."
This book is not intended to suggest that party regularity and party responsibility are necessary evils which should at no time influence our decisions. It is not intended to suggest that the
local interests of one's state or region have no legitimate right to consideration at any time. On the contrary, the loyalties of every Senator are distributed among his party, his state, his country and his conscience. On party issues, his party
loyalties are normally controlling. In regional disputes, his regional responsibilities will likely guide his course. It is on national issues, on matters of conscience which challenge party and regional loyalties, that the test of courage is presented.
Source: Profiles In Courage, by Sen. John F. Kennedy, p.242-243
, Mar 18, 2003
We all face tests of courage, with unions, friends, etc.
Not only do the problems of courage and conscience concern every officeholder in our land, however humble or mighty, they concern every voter in our land--and they concern those who do not vote, those who take no interest in Government.
For, in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, "holds office"; every one of us is in a position of responsibility.
These problems do not even concern politics alone--for the same basic choice of courage or compliance continually faces us all, whether we fear the anger of constituents, friends, a board of directors or our union,
whenever we stand against the flow of opinion on strongly contested issues. Politics merely furnishes one arena which imposes special tests of courage.
Source: Profiles In Courage, by Sen. John F. Kennedy, p.245-246
, Mar 18, 2003
Won 1960 election over Nixon by only 0.1%
Kennedy had won 49.7% of the vote & Nixon had taken 49.6%. A mere 112, 803 votes separated the two candidates--the smallest margin of the century. Only a handful of people knew the other side of the story--the cynical manipulation of issues, unrestrained
spending, vote fraud, and dishonesty about Kennedy's intellectual achievements and physical condition. What mattered to the Kennedys was victory, and they had always been willing to pay any price for it. In 1960 as before, that approach proved successful
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.214-215
, Dec 10, 1997
Ambassador father pushed JFK into politics
The ambassador boasted in 1957, "I got Jack into politics; I was the one. I told him Joe was dead and that it was therefore his responsibility to run for Congress.
He didn't want to. He felt he didn't have the ability and he still feels that way. But I told him he had to."
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p. 73
, Dec 10, 1997
1960: Give direction to our traditional moral purpose
Kennedy formally announced his candidacy on January 2, 1960. Among the real issues of 1960, he said, were:
With an agenda emphasizing moral ideals and global concern, Kennedy tossed his hat in the ring.
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.157-158
, Dec 10, 1997
- How to end or alter the burdensome arms race, where Soviet gains already threaten our very existence.
How to maintain freedom and order in the newly emerging nations.
- How to rebuild the stature of American science and education.
- How to prevent the collapse of our farm economy and the decay of our cities.
How to achieve, without further inflation or unemployment, expanded economic growth benefiting all Americans.
- And how to give direction to our traditional moral purpose, awakening every
American to the dangers and opportunities that confront us.
OpEd: 1952: wins Senate seat with dazzle but not substance
The Kennedy image portrayed in the campaign of 1952 was dazzling. Here was youth, energy, intelligence, warmth, and selfless devotion to principle. Few of the cheering voters knew that beneath that surface was a much less substantial reality.
There was indeed intelligence, discipline, and determination. All the Kennedys fought hard and tirelessly. But behind the whole effort was the will and ambition of the Founding Father, Joe Kennedy, who cared little for any principle beyond the advancemen
of his family's power and prestige.
Jack lacked the full measure of his father's ambition cruelty, and will to dominate. He was a more amiable, less focused man; his personality was not the almost carbon copy of the ambassador's that
Bobby's was at the time. Still, Jack like his father and his brother, was without any guiding intellectual, philosophical, or moral vision in his pursuit of office. Politics, like life, was about winning, and little else.
Source: A Question of Character, by Thomas Reeves, p.106-107
, Dec 10, 1997
1947: Diagnosed with Addison's Disease and given Last Rites
[During a Congressional trip] to his ancestral home in Ireland, Kennedy fell desperately ill. A London doctor diagnosed his condition as Addison's disease, a failure of the adrenal glands that can prove fatal.
On Kennedy's return to New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth, he was given the last rites of the church. Many had no clue as to the seriousness of the affliction that weakened Kennedy's physique and yellowed his skin.
That was something the fun-loving Kennedy let no one know.
For Jack Kennedy, staying alive was a serious concern.
He managed the sweet life of the young bachelor despite his bad back, which often had him on crutches, and Addison's disease, which cast doubt over his longer-run prospects.
Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p. 54-57
, Jun 3, 1996
1960: US is standing still & suffering lowered prestige
[President Eisenhower's observations of the Kennedy-Johnson campaign]: At home, the Democrats claimed, the US was standing still; abroad it was suffering from lowered prestige. "Last year," the
Democratic presidential nominee declared, "the Soviet Union exceeded the growth of this country by 3 times."
"Unemployment," he amplified elsewhere, capitalizing on a temporary increase during the month of October, "has doubled in this country since
Mr. Eisenhower took office, while the number of jobs has grown only 15%."
He demanded that the US Information Agency release a public opinion poll which, he alleged, showed that our prestige abroad had reached a new low.
Source: Waging Peace, by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, p.598
, Jan 1, 1965
Freedom of worship is based on religious diversity
The search for freedom of worship has brought people to America from the days of the Pilgrims to modern times. In our own day, for example, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian persecution in Hitler's Germany and the Communist empire have drawn people
from their homes to seek refuge in America. Not all found what they sought immediately. Minority religious sects, from the Quakers and Shakers through the Catholics and Jews to the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, have at various times suffered both
discrimination and hostility in the US.
But the diversity of religious belief has made for religious toleration. In demanding freedom for itself, each sect had increasingly to permit freedom for others. The insistence of each successive wave
of immigrants upon its right to practice its religion helped make freedom of worship a central part of the American creed. People who gambled their lives on the right to believe in their own God would not lightly surrender that right in a new society.
Source: A Nation of Immigrants, by John F. Kennedy, p. 6-7
, Jan 8, 1963
Rendezvous with destiny: get America moving again in 1960s
I believe it my responsibility as the leader of the Democratic party in 1960 to try to warn the American people that in this crucial time we can no longer afford to stand still. We can no longer afford to be second best. I want people all over the world
to look to the United States again, to feel that we're on the move, to feel that our high noon is in the future.
I don't believe that there is anything this country cannot do. I don't believe there's any burden, or any responsibility, that any
American would not assume to protect his country, to advance the cause of freedom. And I believe it incumbent upon us now to do that. Franklin Roosevelt said in 1936 that that generation of Americans had a rendezvous with destiny. I believe in 1960 and
61 and 62 and 63 we have a rendezvous with destiny. And I believe it incumbent upon us to be the defenders of the United States and the defenders of freedom; and to do that, we must give this country leadership and we must get America moving again.
Source: The Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate
, Oct 21, 1960
- Click here for definitions & background information on Principles & Values.
- Click here for VoteMatch responses by John F. Kennedy.
- Click here for AmericansElect.org quiz by John F. Kennedy.
Other past presidents on Principles & Values:
John F. Kennedy on other issues:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)
Past Vice Presidents:
Natural Law Party
Page last updated: Feb 20, 2014