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Riding the Tiger > Category: John F. Kennedy

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

POTUS at Play

As President Obama catches some R&R on Martha’s Vineyard, a pictorial montage of 20th century presidents at play reveals how some of his predecessors enjoyed their down time.  It also provides a glimpse of how presidential sports create images of White House occupants.  

What if Jackie Kennedy Had Lived to Celebrate Her 85th Birthday?

Alternative histories are intriguing, but, until recently, I thought they were simply entertaining fictionalized accounts of historical events. Journalist Jeff Greenfield’s Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternative Histories of American Politics is among the best of this genre.  (See Greenfield’s Miller Center forum at http://bit.ly/UFHfmC.)

Academic historians, however, occasionally use counterfactuals to determine the relationships between cause and effect. For example, if Al Gore had won the 2000 presidential election, would the United States have invaded Iraq in 2003? (See Miller Center event with Frank P. Harvey, author of Explaining the Iraq War: Counterfactual Theory, Logic and Evidence at http://bit.ly/1lMQqc8.)

As First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s birthday (July 28, 1929) approached, I began to ponder what she would be like today had she not succumbed to lymphoma in 1994. She is frozen in many memories as the glamorous wife of President John F. Kennedy, only 31 years of age when she entered the White House, or as his stoic widow creating the Camelot legend after his assassination a thousand days later. But what if Jackie Kennedy had lived to celebrate her 85th birthday? 

Why RFK Sat Stone-Faced as LBJ Signed Civil Rights Act of 1964

Attorney General Robert Kennedy (front row, 6th from right), stares straight ahead as President Lyndon Johnson prepares to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Photo: LBJ Library)

What a bittersweet day it was 50 years ago for Robert Kennedy.  The events of July 2, 1964 should have filled him with pride and gratification. But, as the attorney general sat stone-faced at President Lyndon Johnson’s dramatic signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he could barely bring himself to look at the chief executive. A mere six months had passed since Bobby Kennedy had accompanied his sister-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy, into the same White House space (the East Room), where, still wearing her blood-stained suit, she had brought her assassinated husband home from Dallas.

Friday Feature: Looking back through history

Ethyl Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy take a self-portrait

Earlier this year a special collection of Kennedy memorabilia—owned by David Powers, former special assistant to the President—was auctioned by John McInnis Auctioneers. The collection fetched almost $2 million. See more of the collection.

Pictured in this undated photo (left to right) are Ethyl Kennedy (sister-in-law to the President), Jacqueline Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy.

Interested in learning more about the Kennedy Family? Miller Center scholar Barbara A. Perry has written a compelling and intimate portrait of Rose Kennedy, mother to the President. The book becomes available in July. Learn more about Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

President Kennedy, the Press and the National Security Question

Today’s guest post is by Elizabeth Brightwell, a Miller Center Student Ambassador and a fourth year student at the University of Virginia majoring in English and French and working on her MA in Public Policy at the Batten School.

Fifty-two years ago, on April 27th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy addressed the American Newspaper Publishers Association in New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. His speech, titled “The President and the Press,” addressed the role of the press in helping American efforts to curb communism; the speech discussed the standards for releasing sensitive materials that might compromise national security. The President’s address came just over one week after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in which the U.S. trained and funded parliamentary group, Brigade 2506, unsuccessfully invaded Cuba. In the days leading up to the invasion, the media had leaked plans for the invasion, which was intended to be a surprise.

The plans for the Bay of Pigs Invasion began after the Cuban Revolution replaced Fulgencio Batista, an ally of the U.S., with Fidel Castro. A Cuba led by Castro concerned the U.S. government especially because Castro began expropriating the country’s economic assets from the U.S. and developing a relationship with the Soviet Union.  It was actually President Dwight Eisenhower who initiated and authorized the bulk of the Bay of Pigs planning process. President John F. Kennedy, however, gave the final nod of approval for the invasion, which began on April 17th, 1961 and ended in defeat three days later. One hundred and eighteen Americans were killed and 1,202 were captured and the invasion was a major embarrassment for the U.S. President Kennedy subsequently ordered many internal investigations of the invasion plans, preparations and execution.

The plans for the Bay of Pigs were classified and intended to be kept secret in the interest of national security and in the interest of the plans’ success. The plans, however, were not as secret as the Administration would have wished.

This Day in History: The Bay of Pigs Invasion

JFK Decisions Doodle

At a cabinet meeting John F. Kennedy made several attempts to spell decisions. The Kennedy Library does not have sufficient information to determine the date of the meeting, although we suspect it was either during meetings on the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Courtesy of NARA, PD.

Today’s guest post is by Graham Egan, a 2012-2013 Miller Center Student Ambassador and a Third Year Government Major in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics a the University of Virginia.

Today marks the 52nd Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In the early hours of April 17, 1961, a brigade of approximately 1,500 Cuban exiles landed at Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on Cuba’s southern coast, initiating an attempt to overthrow the Communist regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The invasion was the culmination of an increasingly acrimonious situation, one that had been heightened three months earlier when the Eisenhower Administration closed the American embassy in Havana and severed diplomatic relations with the island nation. Although they were funded, armed, and trained by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, the Cuban exile force was quickly overwhelmed and defeated by Castro’s revolutionary army in 3 days. More than 100 of the rebels were killed and 1,200 were captured. The operation was a terrible debacle and a very public embarrassment for the nascent Kennedy Administration.

The CIA first conceived of the plan to overthrow the Castro regime early in 1960. Cuban-American relations had been deteriorating since the Castro regime had seized power during the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Fearing the anti-American rhetoric of the regime and the potential rise of communism so close to US borders, the latter of which was heightened when Cuba signed a trade treaty with the Soviet Union in 1960, President Eisenhower approved the plan on March 17th, 1960. Shortly after, the Eisenhower administration began financing and training a group of anti-Castro exiles in Guatemala. The primary objective of the invasion, as stated in a top-secret policy paper entitled “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” was to “bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention.”

Inaugural History Feature of the Week: JFK

John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

Each week leading up to President Obama’s second inauguration, which will take place on January 21, 2013, RTT will feature an inaugural speech by a previous president from the Miller Center’s archives.

This week marks the 49th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas. With this anniversary in mind, RTT highlights JFK’s inaugural address as well as some of our resources on his assassination.

In preparing for his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961, JFK sought to capitalize on the moment to both inspire the country as well as to discuss the challenges confronting the country in the Cold War. He wanted the speech to be both concise and devoid of partisan rhetoric. JFK tapped his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, to study previous inaugural speeches, especially Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in order to help the president craft a successful speech. JFK told Sorenson, “I don’t want people to think I’m a windbag,” and he also enlisted suggestions from friends and advisors.

A few years ago, Sorenson surmised that the speech “was not Kennedy's best” and “may not even have been Kennedy's most important speech historically, in terms of its impact on our planet.” However, it was “world-changing.” In Kennedy, Sorenson wrote that JFK thought that earlier drafts of the speech focused too heavily on domestic issues and the following lines were cut from the speech:

We must begin by facing the fact that history’s most abundant economy has slackened its growth to a virtual halt. That the world’s most productive farmers have only suffered for their success. . . . That too many of our cities are sinking into squalor.

One of the most significant cuts from earlier versions of the speech was a reference to civil rights:

Our nation’s most precious resource, our youth, are developed according to their race or funds, instead of their own capability.

The reason for the omission of important domestic issues was JFK’s belief that they would inherently raise partisan divisions. Instead, JFK sought to demonstrate his grasp of global issues and the passing of the torch of leadership to a new generation. Thus, the final version of the speech stressed concern for global poverty and opposition to dictatorships. It also stressed America’s role as a champion of liberty throughout the world:

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 to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

JFK’s Inaugural Address also emphasized America’s preference for negotiations and cooperation in the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union. While attempting to downplay tensions on the one hand, JFK also sought to convey American resolve.