JFK’s Inauguration: 50 Years Ago Today

We have been going a lit­tle vin­tage late­ly, and we’ll have to do it one more day. For today marks the 50th anniver­sary of John F. Kennedy’s inau­gu­ra­tion, the begin­ing of a pres­i­den­cy that inspired many, even though it last­ed scarce­ly more than 1000 days. Kennedy’s inau­gur­al speech ran 1364 words and took 14 min­utes to deliv­er. That makes it sig­nif­i­cant­ly short­er than the longest inau­gur­al address (William Hen­ry Har­ri­son took 8,445 words in 1841) but longer than the ters­est one – George Wash­ing­ton spoke mere­ly 135 words dur­ing his sec­ond address. With 50 years of hind­sight, we still con­sid­er Kennedy’s speech one of the finest inau­gur­al address­es because, as E.J. Dionne writes this week, it chal­lenged the nation (and still does today) “to har­ness real­ism to ide­al­ism, patri­o­tism to ser­vice, nation­al inter­est to uni­ver­sal aspi­ra­tion,” espe­cial­ly with the eter­nal line: “And so, my fel­low Amer­i­cans: ask not what your coun­try can do for you — ask what you can do for your coun­try.” You can revis­it the speech in full above, and also find oth­er great archival footage with­in the new YouTube Chan­nel spon­sored by the JFK Pres­i­den­tial Library.

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  • Shelley says:

    This speech, made before Kennedy became old­er and wis­er, reads a lit­tle war-like today, I think. But even 50 years lat­er, I’m always struck by how some­thing about this man just shines through when he speaks to the cam­era.

    I think his high point was the speech made after the clash with George Wal­lace. It’s the best use of bit­ter near-sar­casm, I think, in pub­lic speech, when he asks, “Who among us would be sat­is­fied.…”

  • Tim Wilson says:

    At about the 11:20 or 11:25 mark, Lyn­don John­son sees a scrap of paper on the ground, picks it up, gets out his glass­es, reads it, then puts it in his pock­et and resumes lis­ten­ing to Jack as if noth­ing hap­pened.

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