John F. Kennedy's Presidency

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What was the significance of JFK's inaugural speech?

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The significance of JFK's inaugural speech was to encourage all citizens to work together to achieve the goals of maintaining domestic and global liberty, equality, and peace. He stated that America would not “witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed,” alluding to America's role in the global arena to counter potentially oppressive forces, and he specifically referred to the inauguration day as “a celebration of freedom.”

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JFK's inaugural speech included themes of freedom, equality, and global peace. When Kennedy, the country’s first Catholic president, said that he had “sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago,” it was not explicitly stated but clearly understood that despite the fact that he worshipped in a Catholic church and the American forefathers worshipped in a Protestant church, they all looked to an ethical framework embodied in religious precepts.

The speech called on individuals to proactively engage in service to their country and to the global stage. He called for people to be accountable for taking an active role on the civil arena and having a voice. In fact, a key line from President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech is very well known and quoted often.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

The speech addressed the American people and also spoke to citizens of other nations:

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.

He encouraged each individual to participate to improve the world and to work together to achieve the goals of his presidency, which would be to fight for civil rights and equality. He stated outright that America would not

witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

This latter statement also attested to the monitoring role that he felt America should and would play to counter the forces at play on the global arena with the Cold War and potentially oppressive regimes. In fact, he specifically referred to the inauguration day as “a celebration of freedom.”

These views reflected his core belief that people have an obligation to participate in the fight for freedom and perform their civic duty. The address also outlined the direction his brief presidency would take with the Civil Rights movement and combating the Cold War.

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What was the signifiance of the foundational claim in John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address?

In my mind, the foundational claim of Kennedy's Inaugural Address is to awaken Americans to the sense of change he envisioned his administration to usher.  The claim is made repeatedly in terms of how his government is to act and how Americans should respond to it.  The most famous lines of the speech attest to this.  The significance of this is that President Kennedy felt that the best way to pivot in making his administration one that would be supported by the public was to create the mystique that it was going to be an agent of change in the world.  It very well might have been, but President Kennedy and his advisers understood that it was important to convey this to the public as soon as possible and enable them to understand that they were a part of this "living history" claim that President Kennedy was putting forth in his address.  This helped to make President Kennedy's Inaugural Address something that would be looked upon for so many people at so many different points in history as relevant and meaningful.  President Kennedy understood that the basic claim of constructing America as an agent of change in the world was the only way in which he felt Americans would be able to rally around his administration and lend to it the support he knew would be needed.

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