"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."  - President Kennedy's inaugural address, January 20, 1961

About the Exhibit

This exhibit gallery includes a working draft of JFK's inaugural address, the Fitzgerald family bible he used to take the oath of office, and the full video footage of JFK delivering his famous inaugural address.

AR6280-1D  Inaugural Parade for President Kennedy - Military units pass reviewing stand, 20 January 1961.

In the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy pledged "to get this country moving again," and offered voters a new generation of leadership.  He challenged his fellow citizens to join him in the struggle for freedom in the perilous years of the Cold War. On Inauguration Day, January 20, 1961, nearly one million people in the nation's capitol braved the subfreezing temperatures to catch a glimpse of the new President they had elected. The hard issues of the day---the Communist threat, a nuclear arms race, racial unrest, and economic distress---awaited the President and the nation. Assuming office in the midst of the Cold War, JFK understood that his inaugural address would have to instill confidence at home and respect abroad. He believed that democracy thrives only when citizens contribute their talents to the common good, and that it is up to leaders to inspire citizens to acts of sacrifice. And when he exhorted people to "ask not what your country can do for you," he appealed to the noblest instincts, voicing a message that Americans were eager to hear.

  

Kennedy’s inaugural address reflected his core beliefs and life experience. He was a war veteran—a combat hero. He had read the great speeches of the ages, and believed in the power of words. He thought that a democracy thrives only when citizens contribute their talents to the common good, and that it is up to leaders to inspire citizens to acts of sacrifice. And when he exhorted Americans to “Ask not, what your country can do for you,” he appealed to their noblest instincts, voicing a message that Americans were eager to hear. He lifted the spirits of his listeners, even as he confronted the grim reality of the nuclear age. The speech was a sensation.

 

 

  Exhibit Highlights

  View the Inaugural Address Slideshow

Inaugural Address, 20 January 1961

Click here for full version.

Color footage of John F. Kennedy being sworn-in by Chief Justice Earl Warren followed by President Kennedy's inaugural address.

Earliest draft of JFK's Inaugural Address

Kennedy used this draft as a framework for the speech. He had it in front of him as he dictated to his secretary on January 10.