John F Kennedy as the most memorable presidents

John F. Kennedy is one of the most memorable presidents in United States history. He is remembered as a president who was on the verge of reaching his full potential to lead the country in the right direction. Even though he came from a wealthy background, he carried himself to be very humble and seemed to have a close connection with his people. He used his charismatic personality to demonstrate his abilities as a leader of a country. Being only the second youngest president, it was possible for him to make mistakes. Although he had a rough start in office, he climbed his way up to be one of the United States’ best president. John F. Kennedy represents a turning point in United States history with his actions as president, his influence on the people, and his assassination.

Kennedy’s greatest accomplishments mostly revolved around foreign affairs. A few for example are the creation of the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress. The Peace Corps involved volunteers providing their service in many countries, and the Alliance for Progress was supposed to lessen the spread of poverty and communism in Latin America. Although these are good examples of well made decisions, he also made unforgettable ones. The most well-known one being the approval of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. The invasion involved sending Cuban exiles back to Cuba to start a revolution. He knew there would be consequences if he approved it or not. “If he decided against an invasion, he would risk public attacks…for failing to combat Communism…If he approved an invasion, he risked touching off an international disaster: protests against U.S. imperialism…” (17).[1] Still being in his first year as president, he had to rely on the military and C.I.A. for advice. Both assured him it would be successful, even without military support from the United States. Warnings from those who opposed, such as former secretary of state Dean Acheson and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman J. William Fulbright, were not enough to change Kennedy’s decision. The invasion was a failure, resulting in one hundred invaders killed and twelve hundred imprisoned. Kennedy took responsibility for it and described it as “the worst experience of my life.”[2]

On October 1962, Kennedy made a crucial decision that prevented the United States from experiencing a missile attack by the Soviet Union. The discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba put the United States on edge. Kennedy was afraid if he chose to invade Cuba the missiles might have been launched. Instead, he blockaded the island to prevent any Soviet ships that were importing weapons. After several days of negotiating, the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles, but Kennedy had to promise not to invade Cuba and remove missiles in Turkey. To avoid something like this from happening again, Kennedy, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union negotiated the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on June 1963. This was one of his greatest accomplishments, and he could prove to the world why he was a potential leader again.[3]

Most of his presidency consisted of foreign affairs, but his most prominent domestic issue was the Civil Rights Movement. Around the same time, the Civil Rights Movement was taking place. In the beginning of the movement, he thought it was impossible to pass a civil rights bill through Congress that would end segregation. Instead, he used executive actions to lessen the obstacles African Americans encountered in voting, jobs, and equal access to public places.[4] In Martin Luther King Jr.’s point of view, it seemed like Kennedy was not doing enough or did not believe in the movement as much. When the Freedom Riders rode buses through the South, they were attacked by segregationists. Kennedy responded by telling the riders not to continue with their trip. Even though he eventually sent administration representatives to escort them, black activists were wondering if he was fully supportive of their cause. He was able to gain their full trust when he supported James Meredith, a black air force veteran, wanting to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Although Kennedy urged a peaceful integration, in which he even sent about five hundred federal marshals, the governor of Mississippi still did not approve of Meredith’s enrollment. In the end, Meredith was finally enrolled, and civil rights activists could see Kennedy stand by them. After about one year of fighting the South, especially Alabama, to end segregation, Kennedy proposed the most far-reaching civil rights bill in United States history. His bill’s policies consisted of guaranteeing the right to vote to any citizen with a sixth-grade education and end discrimination in public places. Because of these policies, Congress was not sure whether they should pass it or not. It was not passed until Lyndon B. Johnson was president. He persuaded Congress do so as a tribute to Kennedy’s life and legacy.[5]

Another reason Kennedy is a turning point is his influence on the people, starting from when he ran for president. During his televised debate with Richard Nixon, he presented himself as a person fit to lead a nation. Even the way he spoke directly to the people, which showed how he wanted to change their lives for the better. Compared to Nixon, who was tense and sweating, Kennedy looked more relaxed and in general had control of himself. Because it was the first debate televised, the people had to take notice of the candidates’ look. Whoever watched it thought Kennedy was going to win, and those who listened on the radio thought Nixon was. So, having people recognize Kennedy’s charms and behavior was a huge factor for his win. He was not the only one with good looks; it seemed to run in the family. His wife, Jacqueline, was praised by the public for bringing a certain beauty to the White House. Women aspired to look like her and copied her hair style and fashion sense. Their children, Caroline Bouvier and John Jr., were known throughout the country. The Kennedy family were viewed almost like royalty.[6] The people were worried about the pope influencing Kennedy’s actions because he is the first Catholic president. On September 1960, he had a speech in front of Protestant ministers, and it was televised. In his speech he stated his belief on the separation of church and state and assured the people that his actions as president will not be influenced by his church. The way he delivered the speech and presented himself won over most of the people. Afterwards, very few were still concerned about his religion.[7]

The first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions John F. Kennedy is his assassination. His death was an unfortunate loss for the nation. On November 22, 1963, he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald.[8] Of course the entire nation was shocked upon hearing the devastating news. He was not in office that long, but people already knew he was going to be one of the greatest presidents ever. Knowing his impact on the people and seeing their reactions, Johnson’s first action as president was to declare a national day of mourning, which was on November 25.

In conclusion, John F. Kennedy represents a turning point in United States history because most of his decisions revolving around foreign affairs benefited the country, his election made the people take into account how their president should look, and his sudden death had an enormous impact on the country. If he had not made the decisions he made, the country’s relationship with Cuba could have been worse, the Soviet Union would have lasted longer, the Peace Corps, Alliance for Progress, and Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty probably would not exist, and the Civil Rights Movement could have lasted longer. To this day, the nation still wonders what kind of a president Kennedy would be if he was able to reach the peak of his presidency. But looking back on his actions up until his death, they can assume that he would have been an incredible president.

[1] Robert Dallek, John F. Kennedy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 17

[2] Robert Dallek, John F. Kennedy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 17

[3] Hollar Sherman, John F. Kennedy (New York, NY: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2013), 48

[4] Hollar Sherman, John F. Kennedy (New York, NY: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2013), 49

[5] Robert Dallek, John F. Kennedy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 29-31

[6] Hollar Sherman, John F. Kennedy (New York, NY: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2013), 34-40

[7] Robert Dallek, John F. Kennedy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 13

[8] David E. Kaiser, The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), 362

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