AP®︎/College US History
John F. Kennedy as president
Read about the election, presidency, and assassination of president John F. Kennedy.
- John F. Kennedy narrowly won the 1960 presidential election against Richard Nixon by carefully cultivating the news media and crafting an effective public image.
- Once in office, Kennedy prioritized domestic economic growth, cutting taxes and boosting federal spending.
- During Kennedy’s brief presidency, the United States experienced both foreign policy triumphs and tragedies, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
- Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
The election of 1960
The 1960 presidential election, which has been described as the “first modern presidential campaign,” pitted Republican Richard Nixon, who had served as Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower, against Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy, scion of the elite Kennedy clan of Massachusetts. Kennedy ran on a strong civil rights platform, hoping to offset the expected hostility from Southern Democrats by adding Texan Lyndon B. Johnson to the ticket as his vice president.
Though Kennedy and Nixon often have been portrayed as ideological opposites, they both agreed on the necessity of US global leadership in the Cold War. Both men were firmly anti-communist and emphasized the importance of maintaining and strengthening US military supremacy.
There were, however, some substantial differences between the two candidates. While Kennedy pledged to revive the economy by strengthening the public sector, Nixon promised to slash federal spending. Kennedy rhetorically embraced the goals of the Civil Rights Movement, while Nixon largely neglected civil rights issues. Unlike Nixon, Kennedy was Roman Catholic, and his campaign dealt with accusations that his loyalty to the Pope would trump his loyalty to the United States.
There were also significant stylistic differences between the two candidates, which were magnified by their appearances on television. The first nationally-televised presidential debate occurred on September 26, 1960. Kennedy appeared charismatic and handsome, and was very effective at crafting a likable on-screen persona. Nixon, on the other hand, frequently seemed sweaty, nervous, and brooding. Those who listened to the debate on the radio thought that Nixon had won, while those who watched on television agreed that Kennedy was the winner. The election was extremely close, but Kennedy ultimately triumphed over Nixon by a slender margin.
John F. Kennedy as president
Once in office, Kennedy embraced an economic model centered on federal tax and spending policies. Originally proffered by the economist John Maynard Keynes, Keynesian economics theorized that federal deficit spending could boost economic growth and lower unemployment.
The Kennedy administration approved a series of stimulus measures to combat the recession, including the extension of social security and unemployment benefits, and a twenty percent increase in military spending. The minimum wage was raised and over $4 billion was allocated for housing construction. Kennedy also announced that he would ask Congress for a $10 billion tax cut unaccompanied by decreases in federal spending. He argued that an economic boom would result from such an approach, and thus tax revenues would be higher despite lower tax rates. While such measures did stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment, they also led to an increase in inflation and set the stage for conflict between corporations and labor unions over wages and prices.
Although he had campaigned on a strong civil rights platform, Kennedy adopted a much more cautious approach once in office. This was partly due to the power of Southern Democrats in Congress, who were threatening to block the president’s entire civil rights agenda. Nevertheless, Kennedy appointed several African Americans to high-profile positions in the federal government and judiciary. In 1963, he introduced comprehensive civil rights legislation, which Congress was still debating at the time of Kennedy’s assassination. The bill he introduced eventually would be passed as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, during the administration of Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson.
The Kennedy administration’s foreign policy included triumphs, tragedies, and everything in between. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. Though Kennedy’s vacillation and indecisiveness about the Bay of Pigs invasion had contributed to the missile crisis in the first place, his determined statesmanship helped defuse tensions and negotiate a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Kennedy authorized the Alliance for Progress, a major trade and aid initiative designed to encourage democratic reform and prevent violent revolution in Latin America. Kennedy also set the stage for increased US involvement in Vietnam by supporting a military coup in South Vietnam.
The presidency of John F. Kennedy was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald, an unstable ex-Marine with ties to the Soviet Union and to the Cuban émigré community in Miami, shot Kennedy from the window of a book depository while the president was riding in a convertible limousine as part of a motorcade. Oswald himself was then murdered while in police custody, by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner with ties to organized crime. Because of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the Kennedy assassination, numerous conspiracy theories have arisen, though the preponderance of evidence suggests that Oswald acted alone.
Kennedy was succeeded in office by his vice president, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
What do you think?
Why did Kennedy win the 1960 presidential election?
What were Kennedy’s greatest accomplishments? What were his most significant shortcomings?
Which do you think was more successful: Kennedy’s foreign policy or his domestic policies? Why?
Want to join the conversation?
- Does the Kennedy family still have a lot of influence on America?(3 votes)
- They are certainly notable, and they've continued to play a role in politics. Edward 'Ted' Kennedy served as a Senator from Massachusetts until 2009. Arnold Schwarzeneggar, who served as governor of California, was married to Maria Shriver (John F. Kennedy's niece). Today, Joseph Kennedy III is a US Representative from Massachusetts. So I'd say yes, they do still have a lot of influence!(9 votes)
- "Because of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the Kennedy assassination, numerous conspiracy theories have arisen, though the preponderance of evidence suggests that Oswald acted alone."
I would like to read more about the conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Does anyone know of a good place to start?
- If the president dies in office, the vice president would take over for them until the vice president's term ends. But what if the vice president gets killed too?(2 votes)
- From the author:At that point the Speaker of the House becomes president. There's a very long list of who takes over if everyone above them is incapacitated.(7 votes)
- Kennedy was succeeded in office by his vice president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. i didn't understand what this sentence mean.(0 votes)
- *"Succeeded in office"* means that someone took over their position just as Lyndon B. Johnson (vice president) did after John F. Kennedy (president) was assassinated.
If the president dies in office, the vice president would take over for them until the vice president's term ends.(10 votes)
- In the last section about Kennedy's assassination, How did that affect people after the tragic moment and why was he assassinated in the first place?(2 votes)
- The article suggests that JFK was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald but he denied that he did so he never gave a real reason for it, though many questioned his mental state. A lot of theories lead to the conclusion that there was more than one assassin firing from more than one direction. This is because the bullet hit his back and throat as well as striking Governor Connally in his back and thigh. The fact that there was more than one assassin led people to believe the murderer wasn't doing it for personal reasons but a group of people were doing the act for ulterior motives.
As for the first part of your question, how did that affect people after the tragic moment, is pretty badly. It is known as the 'shot felt around the world' and many people tuned in to see news reports and watch the clip of the shooting. President Kennedy touched the heart of so many people around the globe that the whole world mourned together.
Follow this link to see how this tragedy brought together loads of people:
- was his father a govener(2 votes)
- If your taking about JFK's father he wasn't. According to Wikipedia his father was an ambassador to the UK, Chairman of the Maritime Commission and Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Hope this helps!(3 votes)
- Was Kennedy the second president to be assassinated ?(1 vote)
- No, he was the fourth. Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley were all assassinated before him.(3 votes)
- what rifle or gun was lho using in the assasination in 1963(1 vote)
- Oswald used a Carcano military rifle to shoot President Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. There's a whole Wikipedia page on the rifle itself, if you want to learn more about how Oswald got the gun, or all the tests that were used to confirm that the gun, left on the floor of the Texas School Book Depository where he shot from, was actually Oswald's and actually fired the shot.(2 votes)
- What was Kennedy doing in Texas when he was assassinated, and who killed him?(1 vote)
- He ventured to Texas near the end of his term as president. It was a political campaign to try and convince the people of Texas to vote for his second term. The president was riding around Dallas as part of a motorcade when he was shot.
There are many conspiracy theories, but it is believed that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin.(2 votes)
- What were his most significant shortcomings?(1 vote)
- JFK's presidency was largely very successful. However, there are a few failures. One could be the Bay of Pigs invasion, which was a total fiasco of a Cuban Invasion that only served to strengthen Castro's hold on Cuba and Cuba's ties to the USSR. Another may be the deeper involvement of the US in the Vietnam War. During JFK's presidency, the US sent ever-increasing loads of troops to Vietnam, which generated some bad press for the war. The government backed their decision up by citing the domino theory, which stated that if one state were to turn to communism, the rest of the world would follow.(2 votes)