Great inaugural addresses: John F. Kennedy

National Constitution Center

Constitution Daily looks back at some of the most noteworthy presidential inauguration speeches. John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1961 was one of the shortest but most powerful addresses made by a president.

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Kennedy, along with several presidents. Source: National Archives.

Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by a narrow margin and became America’s youngest elected president. He developed his speech with writer Ted Sorenson and asked family friend John Kenneth Galbraith to contribute. It includes several oft-repeated passages.

Highlights from the 1961 inaugural address

The inauguration was almost postponed because of snow on the previous evening. Robert Frost read a poem before the speech, and among the political dignitaries at the speech were former presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, and future presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Quote: “So, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Link: Full text of 1961 inaugural address

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