John Fitzgerald Kennedy, often referred to by his initials JFK and Jack, was an American politician who served as the 35th president of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963.
Kennedy served at the height of the Cold War, and the majority of his work as president concerned relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba.
A Democrat, Kennedy represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate prior to becoming president.
- Full name: John Fitzgerald Kennedy
- Profession: American politician, 35th U.S. President
- Presidential term: 20 January 1961 – 22 November 1963
- Party: Democrat
- Born: 29 May 1917, Brookline, Massachusetts, United States
- Assassinated: 22 November 1963, Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas, Texas, United States
- Spouse: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (m. 1953–1963)
- Grandchildren: John Schlossberg, Tatiana Schlossberg, Rose Schlossberg
- Children: John F. Kennedy Jr., Caroline Kennedy, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy
About John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on 29 May 1917 in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts. He is the son of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., a businessman and politician, and Rose Kennedy (née Fitzgerald), a philanthropist and socialite.
His paternal grandfather, P. J. Kennedy, was a Massachusetts state senator. Kennedy’s maternal grandfather and namesake, John F. Fitzgerald, served as a U.S. Congressman and was elected to two terms as Mayor of Boston.
All four of his grandparents were children of Irish immigrants. Kennedy had an elder brother, Joseph Jr., and seven younger siblings: Rosemary, Kathleen (“Kick”), Eunice, Patricia, Robert (“Bobby”), Jean, and Edward (“Ted”).
Kennedy lived in Brookline for the first ten years of his life and attended the local St. Aidan’s Church, where he was baptized on June 19, 1917.
He was educated at the Edward Devotion School in Brookline, the Noble and Greenough Lower School in Dedham, Massachusetts, and the Dexter School (also in Brookline) through the 4th grade. His father’s business had kept him away from the family for long stretches of time, and his ventures were concentrated on Wall Street and Hollywood.
In September 1927, the family moved from Brookline to the Riverdale neighborhood of New York City. Young John attended the lower campus of Riverdale Country School, a private school for boys, from 5th to 7th grade.
Two years later, the family moved to suburban Bronxville, New York, where Kennedy was a member of Boy Scout Troop 2.
The family spent summers and early autumns at their home in Hyannis Port, a village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Christmas and Easter holidays were at their winter retreat in Palm Beach, Florida. In September 1930, Kennedy, then 13 years old, attended the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut, for 8th grade.
In April 1931, he had an appendectomy, after which he withdrew from Canterbury and recuperated at home.
In September 1931, Kennedy started attending Choate, a prestigious boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, for 9th through 12th grade.
His older brother Joe Jr. had already been at Choate for two years and was a football player and leading student.
He spent his first years at Choate in his older brother’s shadow and compensated with rebellious behavior that attracted a coterie.
They carried out their most notorious stunt by exploding a toilet seat with a powerful firecracker. In the ensuing chapel assembly, the strict headmaster, George St. John, brandished the toilet seat and spoke of certain “muckers” who would “spit in our sea”.
The defiant Kennedy took the cue and named his group “The Muckers Club”, which included roommate and lifelong friend Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings.
During his years at Choate, Kennedy was beset by health problems that culminated with his emergency hospitalization in 1934 at Yale New Haven Hospital, where doctors suspected leukemia.
In June 1934, he was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; the ultimate diagnosis there was colitis.
Kennedy graduated from Choate in June of the following year, finishing 64th in a class of 112 students. He had been the business manager of the school yearbook and was voted the “most likely to succeed”.
In September 1935, Kennedy made his first trip abroad when he traveled to London with his parents and his sister Kathleen.
He intended to study under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics (LSE), as his older brother had done.
Ill-health forced his return to the United States in October of that year, when he enrolled late and attended Princeton University but had to leave after two months due to a gastrointestinal illness.
He was then hospitalized for observation at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He convalesced further at the family winter home in Palm Beach, then spent the spring of 1936 working as a ranch hand on the 40,000-acre Jay Six cattle ranch outside Benson, Arizona. It is reported that ranchman Jack Speiden worked both brothers “very hard”.
In September 1936, Kennedy enrolled at Harvard College, and his application essay stated: “The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several.
I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university.
I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer.
Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a ‘Harvard man’ is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.” He produced that year’s annual “Freshman Smoker”, called by a reviewer “an elaborate entertainment, which included in its cast outstanding personalities of the radio, screen and sports world”.
He tried out for the football, golf, and swimming teams and earned a spot on the varsity swimming team.
Kennedy also sailed in the Star class and won the 1936 Nantucket Sound Star Championship. In July 1937, Kennedy sailed to France—taking his convertible—and spent ten weeks driving through Europe with Billings.
In June 1938, Kennedy sailed overseas with his father and older brother to work at the American embassy in London, where his father was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.
In 1939, Kennedy toured Europe, the Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Middle East in preparation for his Harvard senior honors thesis.
He then went to Czechoslovakia and Germany before returning to London on September 1, 1939, the day that Germany invaded Poland to mark the beginning of World War II.
Two days later, the family was in the House of Commons for speeches endorsing the United Kingdom’s declaration of war on Germany. Kennedy was sent as his father’s representative to help with arrangements for American survivors of the SS Athenia before flying back to the U.S. from Foynes, Ireland, to Port Washington, New York, on his first transatlantic flight.
When Kennedy was an upperclassman at Harvard, he began to take his studies more seriously and developed an interest in political philosophy. He made the Dean’s List in his junior year.
In 1940 Kennedy completed his thesis, “Appeasement in Munich”, about British participation in the Munich Agreement.
The thesis eventually became a bestseller under the title Why England Slept. In addition to addressing Britain’s failure to strengthen its military in the lead-up to World War II, the book also called for an Anglo-American alliance against the rising totalitarian powers.
Kennedy became increasingly supportive of U.S. intervention in World War II, and his father’s isolationist beliefs resulted in the latter’s dismissal as ambassador to the United Kingdom. This created a split between the Kennedy and Roosevelt families.
In 1940, Kennedy graduated cum laude from Harvard with a Bachelor of Arts in government, concentrating on international affairs.
That fall, he enrolled at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and audited classes there. In early 1941, Kennedy left and helped his father write a memoir of his time as an American ambassador. He then travelled throughout South America; his itinerary included Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Kennedy was born into a wealthy political family in Brookline, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1940, before joining the U.S. Naval Reserve the following year.
During World War II, he commanded a series of PT boats in the Pacific theatre and earned the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his service.
After the war, Kennedy represented the Massachusetts’s 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953.
He was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate and served as the junior Senator from Massachusetts from 1953 to 1960.
While in the Senate, Kennedy published his book, Profiles in Courage, which won a Pulitzer Prize. In the 1960 presidential election, he narrowly defeated Republican opponent Richard Nixon, who was the incumbent vice president.
Kennedy’s administration included high tensions with communist states in the Cold War. As a result, he increased the number of American military advisers in South Vietnam.
In April 1961, he authorized an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
Kennedy authorized the Cuban Project in November 1961. He rejected Operation Northwoods (plans for false flag attacks to gain approval for a war against Cuba) in March 1962.
However, his administration continued to plan for an invasion of Cuba in the summer of 1962. The following October, U.S. spy planes discovered Soviet missile bases had been deployed in Cuba; the resulting period of tensions, termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, nearly resulted in the breakout of a global thermonuclear conflict.
The Strategic Hamlet Program began in Vietnam during his presidency. Domestically, Kennedy presided over the establishment of the Peace Corps and the continuation of the Apollo space program.
He also supported the civil rights movement but was only somewhat successful in passing his New Frontier domestic policies.
On November 22, 1963, he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency upon Kennedy’s death.
Marxist and former U.S. Marine Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the state crime, but he was shot and killed by Jack Ruby two days later.
The FBI and the Warren Commission both concluded Oswald had acted alone in the assassination, but various groups contested the Warren Report and believed that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy.
After Kennedy’s death, Congress enacted many of his proposals, including the Civil Rights Act and the Revenue Act of 1964.
Kennedy ranks highly in polls of U.S. presidents with historians and the general public. His personal life has also been the focus of considerable sustained interest, following public revelations in the 1970s of his chronic health ailments and extramarital affairs.