Inauguration of John F. Kennedy
||It has been suggested that Inaugural address of John F. Kennedy be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since February 2014.|
|Date||January 20, 1961|
|Participants||President of the United States, John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
The inauguration of John F. Kennedy as the 35th President of the United States was held on Friday, January 20, 1961 at the eastern portico of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.. This 44th presidential inauguration marked the commencement of the term of John F. Kennedy as President and Lyndon B. Johnson as Vice President.
In 1960, Kennedy gained the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, and millions watched his televised debates with Richard M. Nixon, the Republican candidate. Kennedy won by a narrow margin in the November 1960 election, and became the youngest man and the first Roman Catholic elected and inaugurated as President.
His address at the inauguration encompassed the major themes of his campaign and would define his eventual presidency during a time of economic prosperity, emerging social changes, and diplomatic challenges, ended prematurely on November 22, 1963 by his assassination.
All Presidential inaugurations are organized by the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. For John F. Kennedy's inauguration, this committee was chaired by Senator John Sparkman, and included Senators Carl Hayden and Styles Bridges, and Representatives Sam Rayburn, John William McCormack, and Charles A. Halleck.
Sinatra pre-inaugural ball
Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford organized and hosted a pre-inaugural ball at the D.C. Armory on the eve of Inauguration day, January 19, 1961, considered as one of the biggest parties ever held in Washington, D.C. Sinatra recruited many Hollywood stars who performed and attended, and went as far as convincing Broadway theatres to suspend their shows for the night to accommodate some of their actors attending the gala. With tickets ranging from $100 per person to $10,000 per group, Sinatra hoped to raise $1.7 million ($13.4 million in today's dollars) for the Democratic Party to eliminate its debt brought on by a hard-fought campaign. Many Hollywood stars gave brief speeches or performed acts, rehearsed by Kay Thompson and directed by Roger Edens, and stayed at the Statler-Hilton Hotel where preparations and rehearsals were photographed by Phil Stern. Performances and speeches included Fredric March, Sidney Poitier, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly, Bill Dana, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, Harry Belafonte, and Sinatra himself.
Sammy Davis, Jr., a long-time friend of Sinatra, supporter of the Democratic Party, and member of the Rat Pack, was asked by John F. Kennedy not to attend the gala at the behest of his father Joseph, fearing that his interracial marriage to Swedish actress May Britt was too controversial for the time and occasion, much to Sammy's and Sinatra's dismay. Davis had already postponed his wedding to Britt until after the election, also at the request of the Kennedy campaign via Sinatra. Davis eventually switch his support to the Republican Party and Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. Harry Belafonte expressed sadness at the controversy, stating "It was the ambassador, [but] we didn't know that until after. Sammy not being there was a loss."
At the end of the ball, Kennedy spoke to thank Sinatra on the festivities and his support of the Democratic Party throughout his life and the 1960 campaign, adding "The happy relationship between the arts and politics which has characterized our long history I think reached culmination tonight." Jackeline retired to the White House before the ball ended at 1:30am (ET), and John went to a second pre-inaugural ball hosted by his father Joseph Kennedy, and would finally return to the White House at around 3:30am.
The inaugural nor'easter
A strong nor'easter fell the day before the inauguration, with temperatures at 20 °C (68 °F) and snowfall at 1–2 inches (2.5–5.1 cm) per hour and a total of 8 inches (20 cm) during the night, causing transportation and logistical problems in Washington and serious concern for the inauguration.
On inauguration day, January 20, 1961, the skies began to clear but the snow created chaos in Washington, almost canceling the inaugural parade. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was put in charge of clearing the streets during the evening and morning before the inauguration, and were assisted by more than 1,000 District of Columbia employees and 1,700 boy scouts. This task force employed hundreds of dump trucks, front-end loaders, sanders, plows, rotaries, and flamethrowers to clear the route. Over 1,400 cars which had been stranded due to the conditions and lack of fuel had to be removed from the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Before proceeding to the Capitol in company with outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Kennedy went to a morning Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown. Cardinal Richard Cushing gave the invocation at the inaugural which lasted for 12 minutes, with additional prayers recited by Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church and Reverend Dr. John Barclay of the Central Christian Church of Austin, Texas, and a blessing offered by Rabbi Nelson Glueck. The invocation and prayers lasted a total of 28 minutes. Marian Anderson sang "The Star-Spangled Banner", and a composition by musical Leonard Bernstein titled "Fanfare for the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy" was played.
The oath of office for Vice President was administered by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Sam Rayburn to Lyndon Johnson. This marked the first time a Speaker administered the oath, which had been given in previous inaugurations by either the President pro tempore of the Senate, the ex-Vice President, or a United States Senator.
Robert Frost poem
Following the vice-presidential oath, Robert Frost, then 86 years old, recited his poem The Gift Outright. Kennedy requested Frost to read a poem at the inauguration, suggesting "The Gift Outright", considered an act of gratitude towards Frost for his help during the campaign. Kennedy would later state that he admired the "courage, the towering skill and daring" of Frost, and adding that "I've never taken the view the world of politics and the world of poetry are so far apart. I think politicians and poets share at least one thing, and that is their greatness depends upon the courage with which they face the challenges of life." American poet William Meredith would say that the request "focused attention on Kennedy as a man of culture, as a man interested in culture."
Frost composed a new poem titled "Dedication" specifically for the ceremony as a preface to the poem Kennedy suggested, to the surprise of Kennedy's friends. On the morning of the inauguration, Frost asked Stewart Udall, Kennedy's future Secretary of the Interior, to have his handwritten draft type scripted for easier reading, to which Udall obliged.
Once at the presidential podium, however, the glare of the sun and snow prevented him from reading his papers. When Frost started reading "Dedication", he stumbled on the first three lines, squinting at his papers in view of the crowd and cameras. Vice-President Johnson tried to assist by using his top hat as a shade, however Frost waved the offer aside, took the hat and jokingly said "I'll help you with that", sparking laughter and applause from the crowd and President Kennedy. Understanding the immediacy of the situation, Frost stated to the microphones that "this [the poem] was to have been a preface to a poem which I do not have to read", and began to recite "The Gift Outright" from memory. This marks the first time a poem was read at a Presidential inauguration, a feature repeated by future Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama at their respective ceremonies.
Frost gave the type scripted version of the undelivered "Dedication" poem to Udall after the ceremony, who eventually donated the document to the Library of Congress where it is stored today. The original manuscript version, personally dedicated by Frost, was provided to the President and currently held by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Kennedy's wife Jacqueline framed this manuscript version, writing on the back of the frame: For Jack. First thing I had framed to be put in your office. First thing to be hung there. Frost officially presented the poem to Kennedy in March 1962, retitled to "For John F. Kennedy His Inauguration" and expanding the poem from 42 to 77 lines. The unread poem was finally recited at the U.S. Capitol by Chaplain Daniel P. Coughlin during the 50th anniversary celebrations of Kennedy's inauguration.
Oath of office
The oath of office for the President was administered by Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren to Kennedy using a closed family Bible at 12:51 (ET) Kennedy did not wear an overcoat when taking the oath of office and delivering the inaugural address, despite the cold conditions of 22 °F (−6 °C) with windchill at 7 °F (−14 °C) at noon.
The inaugural address
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Immediately after reciting the oath of office, President Kennedy turned to address the crowd gathered at the Capitol. His inaugural address, the first delivered to a televised audience in color, is considered among the best presidential inaugural speeches in American history.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.—John F.Kennedy, inauguration address, January 1961.
Along with official presidential guests and honorees, including former presidents, vice-presidents, cabinet members, and other Washington officials, the Kennedys invited famous men and women of the arts, including Carl Sandburg, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Rothko, and fashion icon and future Vogue editor Diana Vreeland.
Congressman Tip O'Neill sat next to wealthy Boston businessman George Kara and recalled that Kara had nudged him and said, "Years from now, historians will wonder what was on the young man’s mind as he strode to take his oath of office. I bet he’s asking himself how George Kara got such a good seat." That night, O’Neill and his wife danced over to the president’s box at the ball in the Mayflower Hotel to congratulate him, and sure enough, Kennedy asked, "Was that George Kara sitting beside you?" O’Neill told Kennedy what Kara had said, and Kennedy replied, "Tip, you’ll never believe it. I had my left hand on the Bible and my right hand in the air, and I was about to take the oath of office, and I said to myself, 'How the hell did Kara get that seat?'"
Kennedy's inauguration marked many firsts for the United States. Kennedy was the first, and to this date, the only Catholic inaugurated as commander-in-chief. At the inauguration, Kennedy, then 43, was the youngest elected president replacing the oldest president in American history at that time (Eisenhower, then 70, was surpassed by Ronald Reagan in 1981). The age difference and visual impact of the turnover from Eisenhower's presence to Kennedy's was noticeable at the inauguration. In addition, Kennedy was the first person born in the 20th century to have been inaugurated as President.
- Timeline of the presidency of John F. Kennedy
- United States presidential election, 1960
- United States presidential inauguration
- Poems at United States presidential inaugurations
- Prayers at United States presidential inaugurations
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