John F. Kennedy: Irish Catholic United States President
Part Eight Of “Catholic Power: Irish American Politics” Series
On August 1st, 1945, the twenty-eight-year-old John F. Kennedy traveled through Germany and visited the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountain retreat in the German Alps. In his diary, Kennedy wrote:
“After visiting these places, you can easily understand how that within a few years Hitler will emerge from the hatred that surrounds him now as one of the most significant figures who ever lived. He had boundless ambition for his country which rendered him a menace to the peace of the world, but he had a mystery about him in the way that he lived and in the manner of his death that will live and grow after him. He had in him the stuff of which legends are made.”
Kennedy’s journal was later published and released:
John F. Kennedy, Prelude to Leadership: The European Diary of John F. Kennedy. (Washington DC, Regnery, 1995).
This excerpt can be viewed on the Institute For Historical Review website:
JFK’s worldview was clearly influenced by his Catholic background. He recognized Hitler was a great leader and understood the true purpose of World War II.
However, many critics have claimed that Kennedy was not a true Catholic. Most notably in 1974, New York Times journalist James Reston claimed that Kennedy “didn’t really believe” in his religion.
JFK’s mother, Rose Kennedy replied to these attacks and claimed her son was a “deeply religious man” who “attended church regularly, was a frequent communicant at mass, and understood the meaning of prayer.”
Rose added that JFK “did not hide his Catholic upbringing or downplay its importance during his campaign for election.” She declared that no matter what anyone else says, her son “did believe in and practice his religion.”
However, Kennedy certainly had flaws. Unfortunately, he was also unfaithful to his beautiful wife, Jacqueline. Sometimes he was willing to compromise for personal gain. As a “lace curtain Irish”, he had a desire to assimilate and become part of mainstream America.
Therefore, Kennedy attended the Choate School, a highly selective, prestigious, private, boarding school located in Wallingford, Connecticut. Later, he graduated from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Science in international affairs in 1940.
In September 1941, he joined the U.S. Navy and attended the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. He also attended the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center and commanded a patrol torpedo (PT) boat on the Pacific theatre.
On August 2, 1943, Kennedy’s boat, the PT-109, was destroyed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. Kennedy gathered his wounded crew and they swam to a nearby island. Despite a significant injury to Kennedy’s back, he carried a badly burned crewman through the water with a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth.
For his bravery, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.
In 1960, the Democratic Party nominated Kennedy as its presidential candidate. In the election, Kennedy faced much of the same criticism Al Smith had struggled with in 1928. Protestants claimed Kennedy would “follow the Pope instead of the Constitution”.
However, Kennedy famously declared that his religion was private and that he supported the separation of church and state. In JFK’s 1960 speech to Protestant ministers in Houston, he claimed:
“I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.”
On November 8th 1960, Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, 49.7%-49.5%.
He was sworn in as the 35th President at noon on January 20, 1961, becoming the first Catholic president in the history of the United States.
Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline quickly became American celebrities. They were covered in popular magazines, featured in photo spreads, and influenced fashion trends The media covered them like movie stars instead of politicians, since they were younger than previous presidents and first ladies.
In 1963, Kennedy traveled through Europe and was warmly embraced. On June 26, JFK visited Germany and gave a public speech in West Berlin. He renewed the American commitment to Germany, criticized communism, and famously declared “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a citizen of Berlin“).
The one million people gathered on the streets erupted in applause. After the speech JFK told advisor Ted Sorensen: “We’ll never have another day like this one, as long as we live.”
The next day, Kennedy traveled to Ireland and was treated like a king. Kennedy accepted a grant of armorial bearings from the Chief Herald of Ireland and received honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland and Trinity College in Dublin. He also went to Dunganstown, Ireland and visited the cottage where his ancestors had lived in before coming to America.
Many historians falsely claim Kennedy supported the Civil Rights program during his Presidency. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. actually claimed that JFK “made negroes feel like pawns in a white man’s political game”. King also criticized Kennedy for his “appeasement of the white south” and his “appointment of segregationist judges.”
In 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, presented the Kennedy Administration with allegations that Martin Luther King and some of his closest friends were communists. Kennedy warned King to discontinue the suspect associations with communism. After they continued, the Kennedy administration issued a written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
According to Gallup Polls, Kennedy’s average approval rating throughout his presidency was 70.1%. Since then, no other president has had a higher average approval rating.
However, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas at 12:30 pm on November 22, 1963.
Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of the shooting, but claimed he had been set up. Two days later, Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby (a Jewish mobster, born as Jacob Rubenstein).
In his 1994 Autobiography, “My Life As a Radical Lawyer”, Jewish attorney William Kuntsler remembers a conversation he had with Ruby after the shooting:
“When Jack told me he had killed Oswald “for the Jews,” I believed him. On each of the three occasions we talked, he said, “Bill, I did this so they wouldn’t implicate the Jews.”
This excerpt can be viewed for free on Google books:
Unfortunately, the Jews were never implicated. The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin. However, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded that those investigations were flawed and that Kennedy was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.
A 2004 Fox News poll found that 66% of Americans thought there had been a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy and 74% thought the investigation was a cover-up.
Nevertheless, Kennedy’s death was a tragedy that devastated American Catholics.
Irish Catholic politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan explained:
“I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually. I guess that we thought we had a little more time.”
A Requiem Mass was held for Kennedy at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on November 25, 1963. The honor guard at John Kennedy’s graveside was the 37th Cadet Class of the Irish Army. His body was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and his grave is lit with an “Eternal Flame”.
In the end, the Kennedy’s power, wealth, and glamour came with a tremendous cost. “America’s Royal Family” was ultimately destroyed by their ambition to assimilate and become part of mainstream America.
Their success quickly transformed into the tragedy widely known as the “Kennedy curse“.
The Catholic political movement had reached it’s peak and would never be as powerful again.
This article is part eight of the “Catholic Power: Irish American Politics” series:
Introduction: Jett and Jahn Media Presents “Catholic Power: Irish American Politics”
Al Smith: New York Governor
Father Charles Coughlin: Catholic Fascism?
John Fitzgerald: Boston Mayor
Joe Kennedy: America’s Royal Family?
James Michael Curley: Massachusetts Governor
Frank Hague: Jersey City Mayor
Joe McCarthy: Wisconsin Senator
John F. Kennedy: United States President
Richard J. Daley: Chicago Mayor
Martin P. Mullen: Pennsylvania State Congressman
Conclusion: Modern Catholics & Politics