Year
1961

John F. Kennedy inaugurated

On January 20, 1961, on the newly renovated east front of the United States Capitol, John Fitzgerald Kennedy is inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States. It was a cold and clear day, and the nation’s capital was covered with a snowfall from the previous night. The ceremony began with a religious invocation and prayers, and then African-American opera singer Marian Anderson sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Robert Frost recited his poem “The Gift Outright.” Kennedy was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice Earl Warren. During his famous inauguration address, Kennedy, the youngest candidate ever elected to the presidency and the country’s first Catholic president, declared that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and appealed to Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1917, Kennedy was the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a wealthy businessman. Both of his grandfathers were politicians, and his father served appointed positions in the Roosevelt administration, most prominently as U.S. ambassador to Britain. Kennedy volunteered to fight in World War II and was decorated for an August 1943 action in which he saved several of his men after the PT torpedo boat he was commanding was sunk in the South Pacific. In 1944, Kennedy’s older brother, Joseph, was killed in a bombing mission over Belgium. Joseph had planned to make a career in politics, and Kennedy, discharged and working as a reporter, decided to enter politics in his place.

He won the Democratic nomination for the 11th Congressional District of Massachusetts, defeated his Republican opponent, and became a U.S. congressman at the age of 29. Twice reelected, he was known in Congress for his foreign policy expertise, often taking a bipartisan stance when it came to issues of national security. In the election of 1952, in which the Republicans won the White House and majorities in Congress, Kennedy captured the Senate seat of Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. after an intensive campaign.

In 1956, he nearly became the running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, winning Kennedy wide national exposure and leading him to consider a bid for the 1960 presidential nomination. In 1957, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book of biographical essays, Profiles in Courage, and in 1958, he was reelected to the Senate by the largest margin in Massachusetts history. By that time, Kennedy’s presidential campaign was in full swing.

The press embraced the young, idealistic senator and his glamorous wife, Jackie, and Kennedy’s father bought a 40-passenger Convair aircraft to transport the candidate and his staff around the country. By the time the 1960 Democratic National Convention convened, Kennedy had won seven primary victories. On July 13, he was nominated on the first ballot, and the next day Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson was chosen as his running mate. Opposed by Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Kennedy performed well in televised debates with Nixon, a new addition to presidential politics. On November 8, he was elected president.

Kennedy, his wife, and family seemed fitting representatives of the youthful spirit of America during the early 1960s, and the Kennedy White House was idealized by admirers as a modern-day “Camelot.” In foreign policy, Kennedy actively fought communism in the world, ordering the controversial Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and sending thousands of U.S. military “advisors” to Vietnam. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he displayed firmness and restraint, exercising an unyielding opposition to the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba but also demonstrating a level-headedness during negotiations for their removal. On the domestic front, he introduced his “New Frontier” social legislation, calling for a rigorous federal desegregation policy and a sweeping new civil rights bill. On November 22, 1963, after less than three years in office, Kennedy was assassinated while riding in an open-car motorcade with his wife in Dallas, Texas.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Donald Trump is inaugurated

In the culmination of his extraordinary rise to power over a tumultuous election year, Donald John Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, D.C. From the time he kicked off his presidential campaign in June 2015 at his namesake Trump Tower in ...read more

Barack Obama is inaugurated

On a freezing day in Washington, D.C., Barack Hussein Obama is sworn in as the 44th U.S. president. The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, Obama had become the first African American to win election to the nation’s highest office the previous ...read more

FDR inaugurated to fourth term

On January 20, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only president to be elected to three terms in office, is inaugurated to his fourth term. At the height of the Great Depression, Roosevelt, then governor of New York, was elected the 32nd president of the United States. In his ...read more

Terry Waite disappears

On this day, British negotiator Terry Waite disappears while attempting to win freedom for Western hostages held in Lebanon. Waite, special envoy of the archbishop of Canterbury, secured the release of missionaries detained in Iran after the Islamic revolution. He also extracted ...read more

Hong Kong ceded to the British

During the First Opium War, China cedes the island of Hong Kong to the British with the signing of the Chuenpi Convention, an agreement seeking an end to the first Anglo-Chinese conflict. In 1839, Britain invaded China to crush opposition to its interference in the country’s ...read more

Arafat elected leader of Palestine

Yasser Arafat is elected president of the Palestinian National Council with 88.1 percent of the popular vote, becoming the first democratically elected leader of the Palestinian people in history. Arafat, the founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), originally ...read more

Iran Hostage Crisis ends

Minutes after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as the 40th president of the United States, the 52 U.S. captives held at the U.S. embassy in Teheran, Iran, are released, ending the 444-day Iran Hostage Crisis. On November 4, 1979, the crisis began when militant Iranian students, ...read more

The Wannsee Conference

On this day, Nazi officials meet to discuss the details of the “Final Solution” of the “Jewish question.” In July 1941, Herman Goering, writing under instructions from Hitler, had ordered Reinhard Heydrich, SS general and Heinrich Himmler’s number-two man, to submit “as soon as ...read more

Richard Nixon takes office

Richard Nixon is inaugurated as president of the United States and says, “After a period of confrontation [in Vietnam], we are entering an era of negotiation.” Eight years after losing to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election, Nixon had defeated Hubert H. Humphrey for the ...read more

New communist offensive anticipated

In continued efforts to disrupt an anticipated communist offensive, a contingent of more than 10,000 South Vietnamese troops begin a sweep 45 miles northwest of Saigon to find and destroy enemy forces. There was much speculation that the North Vietnamese would launch such an ...read more

Ronald Reagan becomes president

Ronald Reagan, former Western movie actor and host of television’s popular “Death Valley Days” is sworn in as the 40th president of the United States. More than any president since the Texas-born Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan’s public image was closely tied to the American West, ...read more

Robert Frost reads at JFK’s inauguration

On this day, 87-year-old Robert Frost recited his poem “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Although Frost had written a new poem for the occasion, titled “Dedication,” faint ink in his typewriter made the words difficult to read, so he recited ...read more

Actress Audrey Hepburn dies

One of America’s most beloved actresses, Audrey Hepburn, dies on this day in 1993, near her home in Lausanne, Switzerland. The 63-year-old Hepburn had undergone surgery for colon cancer the previous November. The daughter of an aristocratic Dutch mother and an English businessman ...read more