History

John F Kennedy

John F Kennedy

John F Kennedy (known as JFK) was the 35th president of the United States, an immensely popular leader who was assassinated before he completed his third year in office.


Photo: Official Portrait of John F Kennedy (Getty Images)

More information about: John F Kennedy

President Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Texas. According to the Warren Commission established to investigate the assassination, a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, killed the president, but there has been consistent speculation ever since that Kennedy's death was the result of a conspiracy.

He was born John Fitzgerald Kennedy on 29 May 1917 in Massachusetts, into a wealthy and political Irish-American family. Educated at Harvard University, he graduated in 1940. Following naval service in the Pacific in World War Two, he entered politics in 1946, spurred on by his ambitious father Joseph, and won election as a Democrat to the US House of Representatives. In 1952, he was elected to the Senate.

In 1960, Kennedy won the party's presidential nomination and defeated Richard Nixon in the subsequent election that same year. At 43, he was the country's youngest president as well as its first Catholic head of state. He presented himself as a youthful president for a new generation. His wife Jackie added glamour to the presidency, although it was later revealed that he had numerous affairs.

Kennedy's years in power were marked in foreign affairs by Cold War tension, together with a rhetorical commitment to introducing domestic reforms - most of all to expanding the civil rights of African Americans.

He inherited a plan that was devised under the preceding Eisenhower presidency for anti-communist Cuban exiles in the US to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro's government. In April 1961, the 'Bay of Pigs' invasion ended in failure. According to some historians, this led the Soviet Union to conclude that Kennedy was a weak leader, and that they could get away with installing nuclear weapons on Cuba in 1962. The Cuban missile crisis ensued. After a thirteen-day stand-off that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev withdrew the weapons and Kennedy's reputation was restored.

Domestically, Kennedy oversaw the desegregation of the University of Mississippi in 1962, and of the University of Alabama the following year - despite each state's political establishment opposing this policy. More substantial legislation to encode civil rights was not passed, however, until the subsequent administration of Lyndon Johnson (1963 - 1969), who was Vice-President and acceded to the position of President on Kennedy’s assassination.