John Fitzgerald Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, democratic senator from Massachusetts, was a new type of presidential election candidate. At the age of 43 he could become the youngest person ever to be elected President. Kennedy was also Roman Catholic, and no Catholic had ever been elected President before. John F. Kennedy's youthful good looks helped him win the White House in 1960 and introduce an era of American politics remembered as Camelot. In his inauguration speech, he challenged his fellow citizens to ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. The youthful president and his wife Jackie drew parallels to the magical time of King Arthur. His New Frontier program asked the nation´s talented and fortunate to work to eliminate poverty and injustice at home, while projecting confidence overseas.

The newest challenge was space. In 1957, the Soviet Union shocked Americans by launching Sputnik, the first satellite to be placed in orbit. Congress responded by creating NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) under President Eisenhower. When Kennedy took office, the issue fell farther behind. The Soviets had already placed a dog in space, and in Kennedy's first year, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the earth. Kennedy challenged the American people and government to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Congress responded enthusiastically by appropriating billions of dollars for the effort. In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon.

Kennedy's greatest foreign policy failure and greatest foreign policy success both involved Cuba. In 1961, CIA-trained Cuban exiles landed in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, hoping to begin a popular uprising that would deprive Fidel Castro of power. When the revolution failed to occur, Castro's troops moved in. The exiles believed air support would come from the United States, but Kennedy refused. Many of the rebels were shot, and the rest were arrested. The incident was an embarrassment to the United States and a great victory for Fidel Castro.

Although Congress blocked many of his programs, his confidence was infectious, and the shock of his untimely death on November 22, 1963, was nothing less than devastating. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder, but was killed himself two days later. In his abbreviated Presidency, Kennedy failed to accomplish all he wanted domestically, nevertheless his proposals concerning medicare, federal support for education, and wilderness protection all became part of Lyndon Johnson's policy.

His Great Society plan declared a war on poverty that produced a glut of legislation. Welfare benefits were increased, health care costs were defrayed, and funds were allotted for cleaning the air and water, rebuilding cities, and subsidizing the arts and humanities.