The Democrat John F Kennedy has been sworn in as the youngest ever elected president of the United States.

The 43-year-old Roman Catholic was inaugurated as the 35th president on a snow-covered Capitol Hill in Washington. He takes over from the oldest president in American history, General Dwight Eisenhower, who is bowing out aged 70.

The president’s Republican rival, Richard Nixon, who came a close second in the race for the White House, also attended the inauguration ceremony.

Millions watched the swearing-in of the new president on television. He chose to wear formal dress, including a top hat, for the occasion.

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“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”

President John F Kennedy

Millions watched the swearing-in of the new president on television

President Kennedy began his speech by addressing “my fellow citizens” – the term first used by President George Washington but rejected by later presidents in favour of the less formal “my fellow Americans”.

His ten-minute address appealed to Americans to unite in the fight against the common enemy of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

For the people of the world struggling against the “bonds of misery”, the president pledged, “our best efforts to help them help themselves”.

He continued: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

He also appealed to the Soviet Union to begin a new quest for peace.

“Let both sides for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations,” he said.

President Kennedy closed his speech with the words: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

His words were greeted with rousing applause.


In Context

President Kennedy was a Harvard graduate and a war hero.

He became a Democratic Congressman in 1946 and a senator in 1952. He married Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953.

He ran against Richard Nixon for the White House. In September 1960 millions watched the pair battle it out in a series of television debates.

Shortly after his election, he supported a Cuban rebel attempt to overthrow the communist regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba.

It was unsuccessful and led the Russians to install nuclear weapons on Cuba in 1962 triggering what became known as the Cuban missile crisis.

The crisis was narrowly averted. In August 1963, Kennedy negotiated the first nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union in what was seen as a first step towards ending the Cold War.

On 22 November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. He was shot in the head as he drove through Dallas, Texas on his way to a political festival.