America the Story of Us: JFK | History04:09

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Published on July 16, 2016

John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy

(May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), commonly referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician who served as the 35th President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the establishment of the Peace Corps, developments in the Space Race, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Trade Expansion Act to lower tariffs, and the Civil Rights Movement all took place during Kennedy’s presidency. His “New Frontier” domestic program was largely enacted as a memorial to him after his death. Kennedy increased the number of American military advisors in South Vietnam by a factor of 18 over Eisenhower and tolerated a military coup against the country’s president.

Kennedy’s time in office was marked by high tensions with Communist states, particularly Cuba. An attempt in April 1961 at the Bay of Pigs to overthrow the country’s dictator, Fidel Castro, was thwarted by Cuban armed forces within three days. Kennedy’s administration subsequently rejected plans by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to orchestrate false-flag attacks on American soil in order to gain public approval for a war against Cuba. In October 1962, it was discovered Soviet ballistic missiles had been deployed in Cuba; the resulting period of unease, often termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, is seen by many historians as the closest the human race has ever come to war featuring the use of nuclear weapons by more than one side.

After military service in the United States Naval Reserve in World War II, Kennedy represented Massachusetts’s 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 as a Democrat. He was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate and served as the junior Senator from Massachusetts from 1953 until 1960. Kennedy defeated Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. Presidential Election. At age 43, he became the youngest man elected president  and the second-youngest president (after Theodore Roosevelt, who was 42 when he became president after the assassination of William McKinley). Kennedy was also the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president. To date, Kennedy has been the only Roman Catholic president and the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize, for his biography Profiles in Courage.

Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested that afternoon and determined to have fired shots that hit the President from a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby mortally wounded Oswald two days later in a jail corridor. The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin, but its report was sharply criticized. The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) agreed that Oswald fired the shots that killed the president, but also concluded that Kennedy was likely assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.The majority of Americans alive at the time of the assassination: 52% to 29%, and continuing through 2013 (61% to 30%), believed that there was a conspiracy and that Oswald was not the only shooter.

Since the 1960s, information concerning Kennedy’s private life has come to light, including his health problems and allegations of infidelity. Kennedy continues to rank highly in historians’ polls of U.S. presidents and with the general public. His average approval rating of 70% is the highest of any president in Gallup’s history of systematically measuring job approval.

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