From the archives: Jan. 21, 1961

Kennedy offers world new start for peace

Vow to new nations: Won’t allow tyranny

FROM MERLIN ARCHIVE, DON NOT RESEND TO LIBRARY 1/20/1961; JFK Inauguration - President John F. Kennedy delivers inaugural address. Seated near each Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. / kennedy1961 / inauguration
Globe file photo
President John F. Kennedy delivers inaugural address. Seated near each other are Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Boston Globe on January 21, 1961.

Washington — President John F. Kennedy started off his administration with high hopes today, acclaimed by the nation and the entire globe for his inaugural appeal that both sides in the Cold War “begin anew the quest for peace.”

Bareheaded despite the 22-degree temperature and icy wind that cut into the shivering throng in Capitol Plaza, the new 43-year-old leader of the free world made peace the rallying cry for the 1960’s and the new generation, in his singularly brief, 15-minute speech, which was carried electronically all over the earth.

“To this nations who would make themselves our adversary,” declared Mr. Kennedy, his face as solemn as his message, “we offer not a pledge, but a request:


“That both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.”

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Twelve times the throng interrupted with applause.

The loudest response, topping the customary whistling and handclapping, came when Mr. Kennedy declared that trumpets summon us again to join the long struggle of man against the common enemies of tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself, and asked of his listeners:

“Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?”

“Yes,” shouted back the crowd, and a high voice yelled, “Let’s back Jack.”


Kennedy, offering his new horizons to the Communist part of the world, as well as to the West, called upon both sides, “rightly alarmed by the spread of the deadly atom,” to explore problems that unite us, rather than belaboring problems that divide us, to join in invoking the wonders rather than the terrors of science, and for the first time to formulate serious, precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms.

“Together,” he appealed, “let us explore the stars, conquer deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce. Let us both unite to heed in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah — to ‘undo the heavy burdens ... (and) let the oppressed go free’.”

Urgent in his tone, and with a minimum of gestures, he drove home his main appeal in these words:

“So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that servility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to a proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Thus, he envisioned a new society, not of a new balance of power, but “a new world of law.”


He warned that the job before us will not be finished in Franklin D. Roosevelt;s famous 100 days, not in the life of this administration or even our lifetime on this planet.

“But,” came the President’s challenging signal, “let us begin.”

Snow Snarls Events

The aftermath of the four-inch snowfall that struck here on pre-inaugural day, snarling traffic and festivities, was still evident before the new President and the out-going President, 70-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower, took the traditional ride from the White House to Capitol Hill.

Nevertheless, the sky was clear, the sun shining.

There was a big crowd in the Plaza, in front of the Presidential platform with its columned wooden canopy. The new main Capitol staircase was jammed with inaugural fans. So were the long flights of steps leading to the Senate and House sides of the Capitol.

As the United States Marine band played, well-known figured appeared on the main platform.

Former President Harry S. Truman, with silk hat and white scarf, his wife in a mink coat beside him, sat a few steps back of the podium.

Truman seemed to be holding court, for every chief figure in the drama came over to pay respects with a bow or a handshake.

“There’s Bob,” someone cried - and eyes shifted to the President-elect’s brother, Robert, hatless in cutaway, moving around to greet members of the family.

Farther Up Front

The President’s father, former Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, with blue scarf and top hat, was seated up front with his wife, Rose, in mink toque and sable coat.

Presently, there was a burst of handclapping and as the band struck up “Hail to the Chief,” the retiring president and his wife, stepped onto the platform, followed by the new First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy.

The retiring Vice President, Richard Nixon, and his wife, Par, and the wife of the new Vice President, Ladybird Johnson, next took their places.

Now the band struck up “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the crowd applauded and the new President, in cutaway, top hat in hand, accompanies by his new Vice President, similarly informal attire, could be seen moving forward on the platform.

Ceremony Opens

There were handshakes all around. Then Senator John Sparkman of Alabama, chairman of congressional arrangements, opened the ceremony.

The band played “America the Beautiful.”

Cardinal Cushing next intoned his invocation.

Next the Vice President took his oath of office.

Texan Sam Rayburn, speaker of the House longer than any other man in our history, faced Lyndon Johnson, who placed his left hand on the Bible, raised his right and repeated the oath of as given by Rayburn.

Frost Poetry Highlight

Then came a highlight ... 86-year-old poet Robert Frost, in blue scarf, wearing metal-rimmed glasses, his white, yellow tinged hair falling aslant across his forehead, rose to read a poem.

When he found difficulty reading an introduction he had prepared for his poem he said so, “I’m not having good light at all,” he said, faltering. “I can’t see in this light.”

But he proceeded, from memory, to recite his poem, “The Gift of Outright.” There was thunderous applause.

It was now 12:40.

Tall, tan, lean, bare-headed, John F. Kennedy stood beside the podium, his right hand on high, his left hand on a Fitzgerald family Bible, and faced Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, and took the oath as 35th President of the U.S.

Delivers Address

This was the climax. John F. Kennedy was now President, and within moments he faced the throng -- and an incalculable unseen audience around the world -- and launched into his message.

For the new President there was still much ahead before the day was over.

He went to a gathering of dignitaries in the old Supreme Court chamber. There he took the first official step of his administration.

He dispatched to the Senate his nominations for his cabinet plus Adlai Stevenson’s appointment to the United Nations.

Then he sat down to a luncheon of tomato soup and broiled Maine lobster in the Senate dining room.