John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was the 35th president of the United States of America. Born to a wealthy and politically influential Massachusetts family (Kennedy’s father Joseph served as ambassador to Great Britain from 1938 to 1940), he graduated from Harvard and served in the Navy during World War II, earning the Navy and Marine Corps Medals and the Purple Heart. Following the war, he was elected to the United States Congress for three terms and to the United States Senate twice (1952 and 1958). He won election to the presidency in 1960, in one of the closest elections in American history.
As president, Kennedy announced a bold domestic agenda of reducing poverty and advancing civil rights. But his legislative record was relatively thin. Many of his progressive plans were delayed by conservative southern members of his own Democratic Party. He did, however, boost economic growth by advancing a series of sweeping individual and business tax reductions in 1963.
Kennedy’s foreign policy record was similarly mixed. He gave the go-ahead to an invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro exiles planned by the CIA during the Eisenhower administration. The invasion prompted international criticism; its failure undermined American prestige and contributed to Moscow’s resolve to place missiles in Cuba the following year. This, in turn, led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s greatest success as president. The president rejected military advice to attack the sites and imposed a quarantine on the island, blocking Soviet ships trying to reach Cuba. Kennedy’s and America’s prestige were boosted when the Soviets capitulated to American demands and agreed to dismantle their missile sites.
Kennedy also increased American involvement in Vietnam. By 1963, he had placed 16,000 military advisors in country. Historians differ as to whether he would have continued this policy in Vietnam and expanded America’s military presence had he lived to serve out his full term.
Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November 1963, in Dallas, Texas, by Lee Harvey Oswald. Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president the same day.