Emerging from World War II, John F. Kennedy had the pleasure of bringing the United States into the new era with a speech that would be remembered for years to come. On January 20, 1961, Kennedy was inaugurated as the thirty-fifth president of the United States, his main campaign promise – unity. Throughout the speech he speaks on several degrees of unity, not only within the United States, but with the entire world. Even though Kennedy speaks of how the world has changed, America’s past victories and defeats, and how she will sacrifice what is necessary; he relates it all back to how nothing is possible without unity. With a multitude of emotional appeals, facts hidden within every statement, and his own credibility, President Kennedy was able to remind Americans who they are and to promote his campaign to unite and support their country, not the other way around.
John F. Kennedy is able to express so much with so few words and without directly saying it, this speech is truly a masterpiece. Connecting every fact with a type of emotion that the audience would be able to relate to, Kennedy presents a speech that changes history and turns the page of a new chapter in American history. Kennedy begins his speech by addressing that his election is no victory of sides or parties of the sort, but “a celebration of freedom” (Kennedy 1). He does not want to start his term in civil war, he makes it clear that he is not there for one party or the other, but for America as a whole. This is where it begins, the idea of unity is first introduced. Kennedy continues by telling of how mankind has the ability to accomplish so much in just their “mortal hands” but they are still fighting issues their ancestors fought (Kennedy 2). This, to Kennedy, appears to be the biggest issue with American society, and he plans on fixing it. This is backed up by the famous quote that concludes his speech, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” (Kennedy 25). This is Kennedy’s endgame, he plans on changing his beloved country by convincing the people to do what they can, to not be so selfish and give back to their community. His hopes are that by doing this, the issues such as poverty, hunger, and social status will end, leaving the United States in a peace that has never existed. “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich,” this statement is extremely powerful (Kennedy 8). Kennedy almost directly addresses the time of monopolies and trusts in the 1800’s, subtly referring to people such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie (Foner page 481). Giving the people a throwback to a time when disease ravaged the streets while the wealthy played dress up in their penthouses.
To keep pushing his unity promises, Kennedy uses power and encouragement to reassure the audience that America is the great nation it started as after separating from Europe. He does this through lines like, “oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty” (Kennedy 4). This also containing a very important and powerful keyword: liberty, the very foundation of the United States. Some more of the most emotionally charged words are ones that follow along the lines of war, peace, and revolution. These are trigger words, coming out of two of the biggest wars in history, noone is prepared for another one, to suffer through the pain, loss, sorrow, and hardships. America only wants peace and rest. Kennedy even makes the point to reach out to those not in the United States by stating that American will help those living in poverty. This encourages those of his right to the Presidential seat, by acknowledging the entire world and not just the small country they call home, he encourages his idea of unity.
Even though this speech is extremely metaphorical, there is no doubt that everything said is credible in some way, providing logic and proof behind everything, even if it cannot be directly seen. Immediately, President Kennedy references the higher ups, the Congress men older and more experienced than him, and of course his “forebears” (Kennedy 1). Through this, Kennedy means to reference Presidents before, such as George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, the men who made an enormous impact on his country. Kennedy then moves on to the future, quickly switching to how the people of today’s America can make the original dream for America a reality. By describing his thoughts on new generations as the passing of a torch, Kennedy sets the stage for his reason for running for president. This metaphorical torch is also a connection to the Olympics, a series of games to bring together the communities of the world in a friendly competition. Through this simple phrase he is able to add more emphasis on his unity plan, but also provide some logic and credibility. By having such a hidden connection within his words, Kennedy builds his status, earning respect for himself. He also makes a point to reference biblical people, immediately starting by stating that he has sworn to the “almighty God” the oath “prescribed” by their ancestors (Kennedy 1). Later in the speech he quotes Isaiah, both of these mentions are very risky. There are many people who do not believe in one God meaning that this could cause some major controversy between some people, but he says it anyways, because he will speak his mind and have no lies to merely please the people. He shows his honesty and where his loyalties lie up front with nothing held back.
Even the organization of this essay is precariously placed so that it will flow and empower people. Throughout the speech, Kennedy touches on the hardships that the United States is suffering through, but not only the battles and wars, he talks of the issues that have been fought for centuries: poverty, hunger, and disease. This is his connection through the entire speech, ending with his famous phrase, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” to say that things can and will change if the people unify and help to get it done (Kennedy 25). Kennedy starts his speech strong, speaking of his forebears and initiating his plan for the United States; he also ends his speech this way, with the beginning and end being the most important. He does this because there are sayings that the audience remembers the beginning and end, never the middle. But this does not mean that the middle is just fluff or boring, he still makes several important points to keep the audience engaged. Towards the end, he starts to build to his finishing famous statement by simply using repetition. With his repetition of “Let both sides…” Kennedy addresses his want for worldwide peace and again unity (Kennedy 15 – 19). He hoped that they could put aside their differences and work together to solve problems, which is what eventually happened. In another speech Kennedy promised the United States would touch the moon in a decade, this, along with many other feats in space history, was accomplished through the collaboration with countries such as Germany and the Soviet Union (Schalkwyk 2). “Both sides” applies not only to the United States and the other countries of the world, but also the rich and poor, people of authority and the common folk. Kennedy means to have no one left behind.
Even though he speaks of unity upfront, what Kennedy really wants is for the people of the United states to give back to their country, and put in the effort to make America as glorified as it is said to be. This is stated through every sentence and declaration, using metaphors and other literary devices that make the speech appealing to the bare ear, but still containing so much emotion, logic, and credibility between the lines spoken.
- Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: an American History. W.W. Norton & Company, 2017.
- Kennedy, John. “Inaugural Address.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/historic-speeches/inaugural-address.
- Schalkwyk, James. “International Partnerships.” NASA, NASA, 15 Apr. 2015, www.nasa.gov/ames/partnerships/international.