Sunday, January 11, 2009

Great Inaugural Addresses – IV

John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address!
by Charlie Leck

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country!”
Does one sentence a great speech make? Perhaps. In this case, this speech is remembered for the line quoted above. If fact, the entire speech was quite extraordinary.
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that 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, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”
The inaugural speech of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was very carefully crafted. The aides who brought JFK the early drafts had read every single one of the previous inaugural addresses. They were determined that Kennedy’s would be the finest ever. It was worked on and reworked and reworked many times over.

In the end, its delivery seemed to take it beyond prose and closer to poetry.

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
"This much we pledge – and more."
Some historians have ranked the JFK speech among the two best presidential inaugural addresses in our nation's history. High praise!
"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
JFK assumed the office of the President of the United States when he was 43 years old. He became the youngest U.S. President in history. The public was very much aware of this shift toward youthful leadership and it also became one of the themes of the inaugural address. However, the cold wars with the Soviet Union and China were at their zeniths and many Americans wondered if this young President had the stuff to stand up to the sly leaders of those two communist nations.

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it… The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”
Earlier in the speech, JFK had challenged the two super-power communist states to turn toward a “quest for peace,..."
"...before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction."
“So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
I was 20 years old at the time. I had never heard anything like it. The new President’s voice was mesmerizing and enchanting. His delivery was faultless. His tone was strong and sincere. Americans – Democrats and Republicans – knew they had a very special President taking over the reins of government that day. The public knew this man had been a naval hero and that he understood the high cost of war. In his speech, he also made it clear that he was a man of peace.

The weather on inauguration day in 1961 was miserable. Over eight inches of snow had fallen. Pennsylvania Avenue had to be cleared and so too all the bleachers. The wind-chill, when Kennedy rose to speak, was zero. He removed his top hat and peeled off his topcoat and looked out over the thousands who braved the cold. He moved resolutely through the speech he had rehearsed dozens and dozens of times and reached a soaring climax in his closing words.

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

You may read the full text of Kennedy’s address by clicking here!

Here is a remarkable story about Ted Sorenson’s work with JFK to craft the speech. You can also hear an audio of Sorenson explaining the crafting of the speech.

No comments:

Post a Comment