Monday, January 20, 2014



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-three years ago today, January 20, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was inaugurated 35th President of the United States on the East Front of the Capitol here in Washington.

John F. Kennedy
Delivering Inaugural Address
January 20, 1961
Associated Press Photo

Todd Purdum of Vanity Fair describes it this way...

"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."

To open the historic proceedings, Marian Anderson sang the National Anthem after which Mr. Kennedy's priest, Richard Cardinal Cushing, delivered the opening prayer.

Geoffrey Perret describes a tense moment during the prayer when...

"blue smoke begins curling from under the rostrum into the 10-degree air."

A heater under the rostrum had an electrical short.  JFK's television adviser, J. Leonard Reinsch, quickly reached under the rostrum and pulled "out a plug."  

The event marked the 1st inaugural in which a poet was invited to participate.  

Eighty-six year old Robert Frost attempted unsuccessfully to read a poem that he wrote specifically for the historic event.  The bright sun reflecting off the Capitol dome along with the snow covered roofs of surrounding buildings made it impossible for the poet to see.

Not to be outdone, Mr. Frost recited one of his poems that he knew 'by heart,' "The Gift Outright"...

"The land was ours before we were the land's.
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.
And for this occasion, let me change that to: what she will become."

Robert Frost and JFK
The White House

Chief Justice Earl Warren administered the oath of office as the youngest elected president in history was sworn on the Fitzgerald family Bible.

JFK Takes Oath of Office
Photo by Chief Signal Officer

JFK Takes Oath of Office
from Chief Justice Warren
United States Capitol
January 20, 1961

President Kennedy's Inaugural Address, considered one of the best of the 20th century, included the following words...

"We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom -- symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning -- signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

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.

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 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."

Todd Purdum 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."

Geoffrey Perret tells us that while JFK speechwriter Theodore Sorensen "crafted many of the words" of the address, "the pure Kennedy."

Perret continues...

"Standing in the sunshine, hatless and coatless, he gives a performance not even he could have forseen,"

Later in the Rotunda, Jacqueline Kennedy will touch her husband on the check and say...

"Oh, Jack, you were wonderful. What a day!"


"From That Day Forth,"  by Todd S. Purdum, Vanity Fair, February 2011.

"Jack:  A Life Like No Other," by Geoffrey Perret, Random House, New York, 2001.