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Kennedy on Kennedy
Roger G. Kennedy, the Director Emeritus of the National Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institution, is the author of the main commentary in our book on John
F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address. (Though Roger shares a surname with JFK, the two
are not related.) Roger has served under four presidents, including working as Director
of the National Park Service for President Clinton. He is also a seasoned observer
and historian of Washington and its presidents.
Roger’s commentary on Kennedy’s Inaugural Address goes beyond the words and penetrates
deeply into the social and political climate of the time, and the enduring legacy
that JFK would leave, despite not living to complete his first term as President.
Here is an excerpt:
It is a masterpiece, the work of a man of first-rate intelligence, magnificently
schooled, who had sought and received the aid of other craftsmen of language. But
it is not the sheer art of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Inaugural Address that moves
us. Rather, it lives in our memories with our prayers, our favorite hymns and lines
of poetry, because it is a summons we wish to heed, calling us and calling Kennedy
himself to service beyond convenience or convention.
We do not merely admire that address—we are inspired by it. Other presidents
had spoken eloquently to us. Kennedy spoke for us, and not only for those of us
who were of his generation, though many of us feel a bond to him. He spoke for us
all, of any age, as Americans, sharing across generational lines a commitment to
freedom. He gave us a sense that we Americans have a special national history of
sharing that commitment with all in the world who desire freedom. There have been
bellicose and bullying perversions of that mission in our heritage as well, but
Kennedy’s invocation was to the generous spirit of those who created our nation,
and those who have sustained it with the aid of our better angels.
© 2009 Roger G. Kennedy. Excerpted from John F. Kennedy: The Making of His
Inaugural Address, published by Levenger Press.
JFK's immortal first words as president; portions in red show where he
changed what he said as he delivered his Inaugural Address.
One of several “back of the envelope” jottings JFK made with ideas for
his speech. The first item he lists: “Space.”
Includes a DVD with color footage of the Inaugural. On the endpapers
is a concordance cloud of JFK’s speech.
JFK’s handwritten version of the Inaugural is dated January 17, 1961
—three days before he delivered it.