John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States. Born May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, he was the second of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. The Kennedy and Fitzgerald families were wealthy and politically powerful leaders of the local Irish American community. When Jack Kennedy was 10 years old, the family moved to suburban New York City, although they maintained homes in Massachusetts and Florida.
First at preparatory school and then at Harvard, Kennedy lived in the shadow of his older brother, Joe Jr. Popular, athletic, and talented, Joe seemed destined for success. Jack did not initially distinguish himself in academics, and at Harvard, he joined only the varsity swim team. His coach recalled Jack as “a fine kid, frail and not too strong, but always giving it everything he had.”
By his junior year, the younger Kennedy had made the Dean’s List and developed a profound interest in political philosophy. He made several trips to Europe during 1937-1939 and was in London with his father at the outbreak of World War II. He then wrote his senior honors thesis about Great Britain’s policy of appeasement leading up to the war. Kennedy graduated from Harvard College cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in international affairs in 1940. The same year, his thesis became a best-selling book under the title, Why England Slept.
Profiles In Courage
Despite health problems, Kennedy joined the Navy in 1941 and commanded a patrol torpedo boat. In 1943, a Japanese destroyer struck Lieutenant Kennedy’s boat, sinking it. Badly injured, he managed to lead his surviving crew to safety. He returned home a decorated war hero. The following year, his older brother Joe was killed in action, and the Kennedy family’s political aspirations came to rest on Jack. In 1946, he easily won a seat in Congress, representing a working-class district of Boston. Kennedy rose to the Senate in 1953, and in the same year married Jacqueline Bouvier. While recuperating from back surgery two years later, he wrote the biography Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history.
‘The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a “harvard man” is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.’
— JFK’s Harvard Application
In 1960, Kennedy campaigned for President, debating his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon, on television. Winning by a narrow margin in the popular vote, Kennedy became the youngest man elected President, the second-youngest to serve, and the first Roman Catholic to hold the office.
Kennedy’s brief administration was a noteworthy one in U.S. history. His inaugural address included the famous injunction: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” This call continued Kennedy’s “New Frontier” campaign platform, and under its banner, Kennedy would establish the Peace Corps, expand the space program, and initiate economic incentives. In foreign affairs, Kennedy grappled with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, an escalation of tensions with the U.S.S.R. and its mercurial premier, Nikita Khrushchev, and increasing U.S. involvement in Vietnam. His efforts in slowing the nuclear arms race led to the test ban treaty of 1963.