"Washington had never seen anything like it: the tidal wave of glamour, promise, and high spirits that descended on the capital for the 1961 inauguration of the youngest president ever elected, John F. Kennedy--a movable, star-studded bash that couldn't be stopped even by a massive snowstorm."*
January 20, 1961
Today John Fitzgerald Kennedy is sworn in as the 35th President of the United States as well as the youngest elected President in our history.
He is the 1st president of Irish descent as both his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., are Irish-Americans.
To open the historic proceedings, Marian Anderson sings Our National Anthem. JFK's priest from Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, delivers the opening prayer.
It is also the 1st inaugural in which a poet is invited to participate. Robert Frost recites "The Gift Outright".
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
Chief Justice Earl Warren administers the oath of office. The new president is sworn in using the Fitzgerald family Bible as Presidents Eisenhower & Truman & Vice-Presidents Nixon & Johnson look on.
JFK begins his Inaugural Address.
Following are some selected highlights:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation," a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask 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."
JFK Inaugural Medal
I always told my students that in my view JFK's inaugural address is the best of the 20th century.
Todd Purdum, writing in Vanity Fair, supports my view. He writes:
"From Kennedy's opening words to his last, the speech was one for the books, ranking, by broad consensus, with FDR's first inaugural as the most stirring of the 20th century...."
"And unlike some speeches whose greatness was appreciated only much later, Kennedy's was widely seen as great from the moment he delivered it."
*From Vanity Fair, "From That Day Forth", by Todd S. Purdum, February 2011.