John F. Kennedy and the New Frontier - The rhetoric and the political results

Term Paper, 2005

19 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. The Situation that awaited JFK at the beginning of the 1960s
2.1 The Creation of the New Frontier
2.2 Interpretation of the „Nomination Acceptance Speech“
2.3 Interpretation of the “Remarks at the Dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center”
2.4 Evaluation of John F. Kennedy’s performance as President
2.5 Performance on Domestic Politics
2.6 Performance on Foreign Affairs



1. Introduction

When it comes to politics, good rhetoric is an important skill for everybody running for an office, at least until one becomes elected.

John F. Kennedy certainly did not become President of the United States just because of his rhetoric skills, but his speeches doubtlessly did play a role. His career in politics is remarkable, after first having been elected to the House of Representatives in 1946 for the Democratic Party it took only fourteen years until he first became elected Senator for Massachusetts in 1952 and then successfully ran for President in 1960. To be able to understand how JFK became so successful in such short time, it is necessary to examine his life till then.

John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on 29 May, 1917. He was born into a wealthy family; his father Joseph P. Kennedy, was a successful businessman.

He received a good primary education at a boarding school and thus went to Harvard University in 1936. He graduated in 1940, and wrote his thesis, called “Why England Slept”, about the reasons for Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement politics. It received a positive echo and was published as a book later, showing John’s talent for history and politics early. But John F. Kennedy also proved to be able “to stand his man” soon after when he joined the Navy and was made Lieutenant and assigned command on a patrol boat on the Pacific Ocean, which was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer in 1943. Lt. Kennedy managed to rescue one of his men who was severely burned and ready to give up. He led the surviving crew members to a nearby island, they were rescued soon after, thanks to a message JFK wrote on a coconut shell. Lt. Kennedy received the “Navy and Marine Corps Medal” for leadership and courage upon his return to the United States.

His further career was strongly determined by his father, who had been ambassador of the United States to Great Britain. Considering that and the talent John had already shown, it is no surprise that Joseph Kennedy convinced his son of going into politics for the Democratic Party; so he ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in Massachusetts’ eleventh congressional district and won it in 1946, which marked the beginning of his political career. Soon after, he married Jacqueline Bouvier. During his early years in Congress, he made a remark towards Theodore C. Sorensen, his future speechwriter and adviser; it underlined his ambitions in the field of politics: “It seems to make so little difference sometimes what we do down here. Only the Executive Branch can really move things.” (Bernstein 281)

His career went on the next level when he was elected Senator of Massachusetts in 1952 and then received the Pulitzer Prize for his second book, “Profiles In Courage”, written about Senators who had been willing to put their political career at stake to fight for what they believed in. In 1956, he applied for the office of Vice President and failed; a small curb to his career. Nevertheless, he decided to run for President himself in 1960 against the Republican Party’s candidate, one Richard M. Nixon. He delivered his outstanding “Nomination Acceptance Speech” in which he laid the corner stone for the political program he planned to apply as President, the so-called “New Frontier”, when he was nominated by the Democratic Party in Los Angeles on July 13th, 1960.

The election campaign, the first one ever to be partially held on television, became a dirty one when the Republicans discovered Kennedy’s religious confession as a target. Irish-Catholics still had to face many prejudices, the insinuation of being unacceptable as President because of the Catholic’s obedience to the Pope in faraway Rome just being one example.

But on November 2nd, John F. Kennedy did beat his opponent by a small margin and became the 35th President of the United States of America, the youngest man and the first and so far only Catholic ever to be elected President (Menéndez Weidman and Shea).

2. The Situation that awaited JFK at the beginning of the 1960s

The past decade of the 1950s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower had been, as W.J. Rorabaugh states, peaceful and prosperous, since the Cold War had come to a thaw in the beginning of the 1950s. The Eisenhower administration itself had been passive and lethargic; intellectual progress had not been made, partly due to the era of McCarthyism. This led so far that intellectuals identified the gravity of the problem which Rorabaugh brought to the point: “the country had lost its sense of purpose” (2-5).

Thus, the young and energetic JFK naturally needed a campaign theme which emphasized the change he intended to make, a program that would be fitting for “the challenging and revolutionary sixties”, as Kennedy described the decade that lay ahead (Bernstein 5).

2.1 The Creation of the New Frontier

The image of the New Frontier was introduced by John F. Kennedy with the speech he delivered on the occasion of accepting the nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate on July 15th, 1960. The key feature of the speech (as well as of the whole image of the New Frontier) is the transfer of the term “frontier” to the situation America faced at the beginning of the new decade and the use of the idealized image of the pioneers of old and its transfer to those willing to support Kennedy. The following interpretation and analysis of the correspondent passages of his speeches will show how JFK illustrated his idea of the New Frontier.

2.2 Interpretation of the „Nomination Acceptance Speech“

“But I think the American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high--to permit the customary passions of political debate. We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. As Winston Churchill said on taking office some twenty years ago: if we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future.”

“Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.”

This passage is the introduction to the key part of the speech; it creates a separation from what Kennedy said before. It also makes clear that Kennedy and the Democratic Party are optimistic in spite of the rather sincere tone in which JFK describes the future.

Hereby a gap is constructed, both in the speech as the main part is reached as well as historically since Kennedy announces the beginning of new times, a new “era” even. This new era demands new ways which he obviously intends to offer.

“Here at home, the changing face of the future is equally revolutionary. The New Deal and the Fair Deal were bold measures for their generations--but this is a new generation.”

Kennedy simultaneously puts his program in the direct tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” program and Harry S. Truman’s “Fair Deal”; but also separates it both by name and by claiming that this “new generation” demands a different kind of program.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


John F. Kennedy and the New Frontier - The rhetoric and the political results
Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt  (Lehrstuhl für Amerikanistik)
Proseminar "American West - Myths of the Frontier"
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This work examines the use of the pioneer myth in Kennedy's rhetoric and the transfer of the frontier image of the American West to the situation at the beginning of the 1960s. Two of his speeches are interpreted and analysed, including his famous "Nomination Acceptance Speech". Furthermore, his political performance is evaluated and compared to the contents of his speeches, the idea is to examine whether or not Kennedy delivered what he promised and to evaluate his presidency.
John, Kennedy, Frontier, Proseminar, American, West, Myths, Frontier
Quote paper
Nils Schnelle (Author), 2005, John F. Kennedy and the New Frontier - The rhetoric and the political results, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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