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Acceptance of Democratic Nomination for President

On the late Friday afternoon of July 15, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts appeared before a crowd of eighty thousand people in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to deliver his formal acceptance of the Democratic party’s nomination for President of the United States. Before what was at the time touted as the largest crowd ever to hear a political speech,  John F. Kennedy spoke of "the New Frontier"  --a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils-- a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.

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WH-HO (crop): White House Portrait of President Kennedy, undated

Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association

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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WH-HO (crop): White House Portrait of President Kennedy, undated

The City Upon a Hill Speech

On January 9, 1961, President-elect John F. Kennedy returned to his native Massachusetts to appear before the state legislature to make his final formal public address before assuming the office of President of the United States. Quoting John Winthrop, one of the early Pilgrims, Kennedy said, “We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill – the eyes of all people are upon us.” In the speech, which would later become known as “The City Upon a Hill” speech, Kennedy paid tribute to the early role Massachusetts played in creating a republic – he thanked the citizens of Massachusetts for a lifetime of friendship and trust -- and he laid out the four essential qualities that he hoped would characterize his government: courage, judgment, integrity and dedication.

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President John F. Kennedy is administered the Oath of Office by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren, 20 January 1961. PX 65-108-SC78830

Inaugural Address

On a frigid Winter's day, January 20, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy took the oath of office from Chief Justice Earl Warren, to become the 35th President of the United States. At age 43, he was the youngest man, and the first Irish Catholic to be elected to the office of President. This is the speech he delivered announcing the dawn of a new era as young Americans born in the 20th century first assumed leadership of the Nation.

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JFK Addresses Joint Session of Congress May 25, 1961

Address to Joint Session of Congress May 25, 1961

In an address to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961 to deliver a special message on "urgent national needs," President Kennedy asked for an additional $7 billion to $9 billion over the next five years for the space program, proclaiming that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” President Kennedy settled upon this dramatic goal as a means of focusing and mobilizing our lagging space efforts. He did not justify the needed expenditure on the basis of science and exploration, but placed the program clearly in the camp of the competing ideologies of democracy vs. communism.

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President John F. Kennedy addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 25, 1961.

Address to the United Nations General Assembly

President Kennedy’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1961 was given at a critical moment in the life of that body, one week after the death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld who had had been killed in a plane crash in the Congo. Some counseled the President to cancel his plans to address the opening of the General Assembly on September 25. But the President believed the UN had to have a future and he decided to speak forcefully on the real issues confronting the Assembly and the world: a stronger United Nations – disarmament and a nuclear test ban – cooperation on outer space and economic development – an end to colonialism – and recognition of the Communist threats to peace over Berlin and Southeast Asia. On September 25, 1961, President Kennedy stood before the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, endorsing a complete and general disarmament, and challenging the Soviet Union to a “peace race.”

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WH-HO (crop): White House Portrait of President Kennedy, undated

Address at University of Washington

As 1961 drew to an end, the United States and the Soviet Union were at the height of the Cold War, and Cuba and Berlin were hot spots. In April 1961, the United States Central Intelligence Agency had organized 1,400 armed Cuban exiles in a failed attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. On August 20, 1961, East Germany erected a five foot high concrete wall dividing East and West Berlin and on October 28, 1961, a tense, 16-hour face off occurred at the Berlin Wall between Soviet and American tanks. On August 31, 1961, the Soviet Union began conducting aboveground nuclear tests, detonating perhaps 15 bombs during September 1961. Local newspapers advised Seattleites on how to construct and stock personal nuclear fallout shelters. It was in this context that President John F. Kennedy arrived at Boeing Airport in Seattle, Washington on November 16, 1961 to deliver a major foreign policy speech at the University of Washington Centennial Convocation. He was also in Seattle to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Senator Warren Magnuson of Washington who first elected to Congress in 1936.

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President John F. Kennedy delivers a 4th of July address at the Governors Conference at Independence Hall, Philadephia, PA, July 4, 1962.

Address at Independence Hall

At an Independence Day celebration at historic Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1962, President Kennedy delivered an address on the importance of the Declaration of Independence to contemporary Americans. “To read it today,” he said, “is to hear a trumpet call. For that Declaration unleashed not merely a revolution against the British, but a revolution in human affairs. Its authors were highly conscious of its worldwide implications.” The President then challenged Americans to “be ready for a Declaration of Interdependence…to discuss with a united Europe the ways and means of forming a concrete Atlantic partnership…to throw off the yoke of poverty…balance our world-wide trade…and deter any aggression in order to achieve a world of law and free choice.” In proposing a “Declaration of Interdependence,” President Kennedy reminded the nation that it could not remain aloof from Western Europe’s trend toward unity. President Kennedy delivered the following speech before an audience that included 43 of the 54 state and territorial governors who were in Philadelphia for the 54th National Governors’ Conference.

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KN-C23643  President John F. Kennedy Address at Rice University in Houston on the Nation's Space Effort

Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort

When John F. Kennedy became president in January 1961, Americans had the perception that the United States was losing the "space race" with the Soviets. President Kennedy understood the need and had the vision of not only matching the Soviets, but surpassing them. On May 25, 1961, he stood before Congress and proclaimed that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy delivered a speech describing his goals for the nation’s space effort before a crowd of 35,000 people in the football stadium at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

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President Kennedy signs the Proclamation for Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba, October 23, 1962.

Address During the Cuban Missile Crisis

On Monday, October 22, 1962, President Kennedy appeared on television to inform Americans of the recently discovered Soviet military buildup in Cuba including the ongoing installation of offensive nuclear missiles. He informed the people of the United States of the "quarantine" placed around Cuba by the U.S. Navy. The President stated that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union and demanded that the Soviets remove all of their offensive weapons from Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world ever came to nuclear war. Recognizing the devastating possibility of a nuclear war, Khrushchev turned his ships back. The Soviets agreed to dismantle the weapon sites and, in exchange, the United States agreed not to invade Cuba.

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WH-HO (crop): White House Portrait of President Kennedy, undated

Address at Vanderbilt University

In May of 1963, President Kennedy added his weight to the federal government’s preparation for the impending clash with the state of Alabama over the integration of the University of Alabama. Less than a week after the bombing of a Black American’s home and hotel in Birmingham, President Kennedy made a one-day trip to Tennessee and Alabama, saluting the ninetieth anniversary of Vanderbilt University and the thirtieth anniversary of the Tennessee Valley Authority, but in addition reminding his listeners of their roles and responsibilities as citizens. In a spirited and eloquent speech before an estimated crowd of 30,000 people in the stadium at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee on May 18, 1963, President Kennedy reminded his listeners that it falls to the educated man to assume the greater obligations of citizenship—for the pursuit of learning, to serve the public and to uphold the law.

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President Kennedy delivers Commencement Address at American University, Washington, D. C., 10 June 1963.

American University Commencement Address

President Kennedy began to feel in the spring of 1963 that there was a possibility for some kind of new movement in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, and he began to look for an opportunity to make a "peace speech". In his commencement address at American University on June 10, 1963, President Kennedy called on the Soviet Union to work with the United States to achieve a nuclear test ban treaty and help reduce the considerable international tensions and the specter of nuclear war at that time. He announced a new round of high-level arms negotiations with the Russians and boldly called for an end to the Cold War. The Soviet government broadcast a translation of Kennedy’s entire speech, and allowed it to be reprinted in the controlled Soviet press.

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AR7969-E (crop) President Kennedy addresses the nation on Civil Rights from the Oval Office of the White House

Televised Address to the Nation on Civil Rights

In 1963, Civil Rights protests became increasingly confrontational as Birmingham, Alabama's police commissioner, Eugene "Bull" Connor, crushed a nonviolent protest with extreme force. In June 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace refused to allow two black students to enter the University of Alabama forcing President Kennedy to use the National Guard to ensure the safety of the students.

On June 11, President Kennedy made the decision to give a televised evening speech announcing his civil rights bill proposal. Although Kennedy delivered part of the talk extemporaneously, it was one of his best speeches--a heartfelt appeal in behalf of a moral cause that included several memorable lines calling upon the country to honor its finest traditions.

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KN-C29248 President Kennedy addresses the people of Berlin, 26 June 1963

Remarks at the Rudolph Wilde Platz, Berlin

In 1961, East German authorities began construction of a 12 foot high wall which would eventually stretch for 100 miles around the perimeter of West Berlin, preventing anyone from crossing to the West and to freedom. Nearly 200 persons would be killed trying to pass over or dig under the wall. President Kennedy arrived in Berlin on June 26, 1963, following appearances in Bonn, Cologne and Frankfurt, where he had given speeches to huge, wildly cheering crowds. In Berlin, an immense crowd of 120,000 Berliners gathered in the Rudolph Wilde Platz near the Berlin Wall to listen to hear President Kennedy speak. They began gathering in the square long before he was due to arrive, and when President Kennedy finally appeared on the podium after having made a visit to Checkpoint Charlie at the Berlin Wall, they gave him an ovation of several minutes.

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KN-C29366(crop) President Kennedy in motorcade in Ireland, June 27, 1963.

Address Before the Irish Parliament

In June 1963, President John F. Kennedy, America’s first Irish-Catholic president, journeyed to his ancestral homeland of Ireland, a homecoming he later described as “one of the most moving experiences” of his life. The President’s eight great-grandparents all migrated to Boston, Massachusetts during the devastating Potato Famine of the late 1840’s, seeking to take advantage of the economic opportunity offered in America. On June 28, the President was invited to address a joint session of the Seanad and the Dail in Leinster House. His Dáil speech was full of references to Irishmen who fought in the American War of Independence and he championed the important place for small nations in the pursuit of world peace. Kennedy’s speech to the combined houses of parliament was the first ceremony in the Dail’s legislative chamber ever seen on national television.

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AR8046 (crop)  President Kennedy delivers radio and television address on the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, July 26, 1963.

Televised Address on Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Following the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev sought to reduce tensions between their two nations. Both leaders realized they had come dangerously close to nuclear war. In a series of private letters, Khrushchev and Kennedy reopened a dialogue on banning nuclear testing. Kennedy selected Averill Harriman, an experienced diplomat known and respected by Khrushchev, to resume negotiations in Moscow. On July 25, 1963, after only 12 days of negotiations, the two nations agreed to ban testing in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater. The following day, in a television address announcing the agreement, Kennedy claimed that a limited test ban “is safer by far for the United States than an unlimited nuclear arms race.”

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KN-C21656 Mrs. Kennedy, President Kennedy, and Madame Malraux congratulate violinist Isaac Stern at the Dinner for Andre Malraux.

Remarks at Amherst College on the Arts

On a beautiful autumn Saturday at the end of October 1963, President Kennedy flew to Amherst College in Massachusetts to take part in a ceremony in honor of the poet Robert Frost who had died in January of that year. In deciding what he might say, the President decided upon Frost’s inaugural theme of poetry and power and the significance of Robert Frost and of poetry for the United States and for the world. In the thousand days of his administration, President and Mrs. Kennedy had sparked a revival of national interest in matters cultural and intellectual. In this speech delivered on October 26, 1963 before an estimated crowd of 10,000 people, President Kennedy made clear the need for a nation to represent itself not only through its strength but also through its art.

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JFK Addresses Joint Session of Congress May 25, 1961

More Selected Speeches

The complete record of his public pronouncements while President can be found in the Public Papers of the Presidents.

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