Although Irish Catholics began to play a major role in local and state politics in the latter nineteenth century, the first Catholic to seek a national office was the popular governor of New York, Alfred E. Smith, who was the Democratic nominee for president in 1928. Anti-Catholic prejudice, the fear that a Catholic president would "take orders" from the Pope, insured Smith's defeat. John F. Kennedy quickly discovered that many Americans were still worried that a young Catholic candidate for president would be under the influence of the Catholic Church and that the nation would ultimately be run by the pope in Rome rather than the president in Washington. Some Americans vowed not to support John F. Kennedy for the presidency for this reason. Fear of a government unduly influenced by religious interests was real and seen as a distinct liability for this Catholic candidate. John F. Kennedy finally decided to try to defeat the issue by meeting it head-on, and on September 12, 1960, he spoke before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in Houston, Texas.

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