John F. Kennedy's Presidency

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What was John F. Kennedy trying to persuade the audience to do during his inaugural address?

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President Kennedy's Inaugural Address is one of the most famous speeches in American history. Given during the height of the Cold War, it is apparent from the beginning of the speech that nuclear weapons and their catastrophic potential weigh heavily on the President's conscience, where he notes that he has...

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President Kennedy's Inaugural Address is one of the most famous speeches in American history. Given during the height of the Cold War, it is apparent from the beginning of the speech that nuclear weapons and their catastrophic potential weigh heavily on the President's conscience, where he notes that he has sworn the same oath as previous presidents, and yet

[t]he world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.

President Kennedy then encourages various classes of peoples and countries around the world to work together for peace and prosperity: our allies; new states that were throwing off colonialism; poor countries; countries in Latin America; the United Nations; and, finally, our adversaries the communist countries. He tells them that a new perspective is rising in the United States,

the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.

His final call out is to the American people to realize they are part of his New Frontier, which became the theme of his administration, and that they will have to volunteer and sacrifice to bring about this new vision of a world that works together,

let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved . . . Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need—not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

Toward the end of the speech is when he speaks the famous lines

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.

So it is apparent from the text of the speech that President Kennedy is urging Americans and the rest of the world to unite and work together to make our planet better for everyone, an ambitious and memorable call to action.

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And 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.

John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech is widely considered one of the best ever delivered. The most famous part, quoted above, illustrates the tenor of the speech, which was a call to service for Americans. As president, Kennedy created a variety of program including the Peace Corps that allowed Americans to serve others, both at home and abroad. He asks the American people to serve their country and other countries that are struggling. His plea is for selfless service without the expectation of reward. At the end of his speech, he asks Americans to pray for strength and for God's blessing but quickly states that here on earth, the work of God is the work of the American people. Kennedy also lays out a similar plan for the United States in the world, that American foreign policy should serve the needs of freedom in the world.

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