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Election of 1960

Everyone is voting for Jack
Cause he's got what all the rest lack
Everyone wants to back – Jack
Jack is on the right track.
'Cause he's got high hopes
He's got high hopes
Nineteen Sixty's the year for his high hopes.
Come on and vote for Kennedy
Vote for Kennedy
And we'll come out on top!

Frank Sinatra wrote and performed the campaign song “High Hopes” for Senator John F. Kennedy who ran in the election of 1960. He was only 43 years old, inexperienced in foreign affairs, Catholic by faith and hailed from a wealthy, East Coast family. He was nominated as the candidate of the Democratic Party on July 13, 1960. He ran against Republican candidate Richard Nixon, who had been President Eisenhower's vice president for eight years. Kennedy asked Lyndon B. Johnson, a senator from Texas, to run as his vice president.

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Postcard: "White House American or Roman?" Reproduction by John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

Many Americans worried that a Catholic president might pay more attention to the Pope and the Vatican than to the US Constitution. Therefore, Kennedy established an informal network of advisors to resolve the matter. This group included speechwriter Ted Sorensen, Dean of the National Cathedral Francis Bowes Sayre Jr., and several journalists. Kennedy argued that his beliefs wouldn’t influence his decisions as president of the United States: Religion and politics should be separated. Kennedy received an invitation to address the topic of his religion at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960.
He argued:

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source – where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.“

The speech that Kennedy gave at this event was received positively and used widely in the Kennedy campaign. From then on, Kennedy's Catholic faith only became a secondary matter and did not consume all of his attention.

The presidential election of 1960 was one of the closest elections in American history. Kennedy and Nixon nearly got the same number of votes. During the last days of the campaign, President Eisenhower made several public appearances throughout the United States to support the Republican candidate. Many thought that Nixon, due to his experience in government, was better prepared for the White House.
In the end, Kennedy was elected president on November 8, 1960. One of the reasons for Kennedy 's victory could have been the help that he had offered to the family of Martin Luther King Jr. The famous civil rights activist had been arrested for leading a protest in Atlanta. Many African-Americans began to support Kennedy and voted for him in the elections of 1960.

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Campaign Poster. Reproduction by National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, D.C.

The inauguration took place on January 20, 1961. Kennedy’s speech writer and close adviser Ted Sorensen had drafted several versions of the inaugural speech. In its most famous lines, Kennedy argued that every citizen should play an active role in politics. They should not just expect actions and help from the government. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." 
In the draft it still reads “As not what your country is going to do for you…”.

Most of the speech centered on foreign policy. Kennedy wanted to minimize the Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union. He argued that the problems between the two nations could be solved in peaceful ways and should not be solved through military means. He remarked in his speech:

“But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course--both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war. So let us begin a new--remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."

But he also declared: “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”.

In addition, Kennedy tried to win more allies for the United States and the West among the neutral governments of the third world. He emphasized his negative view on dictatorships, his concern about global poverty, and pointed out that the pursuit of liberty should be one of the most important goals of the new administration.

In his speech he did not want to show any alliance with neither political party. This would only cause trouble due to the narrow margin of his presidential victory and the loss of seats by his party in the House of Representatives. He also avoided talking about domestic issues like civil rights, because he viewed them as very divisive. The new goals of the United States, Kennedy noted, would take time:

“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”


Sasa Schumacher