Biographies & Memoirs

Introduction

Few in political history have enjoyed the kind of instant recognition afforded to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, America’s 35th President. Known simply as JFK, Kennedy’s good looks and easy charm was potently deployed through the newly influential medium of television. This meant that his journey to the White House captured the imagination of millions of people, both domestically and internationally.

For many, Kennedy’s inauguration heralded a bright new dawn for US politics. At just forty-three, he was the youngest man ever to be elected President; he was also the first Roman Catholic. With youth, charisma and widespread popularity on his side, the future seemed bright.

Unfortunately, he was denied the chance to live up to his early promise. Barely one thousand days into his presidency, which had been marred by civil unrest in the segregated South and the threat of nuclear war from the Soviet Union, Kennedy’s life was curtailed by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. The country’s youngest-ever elected president thus became the youngest to die – thereby immortalizing JFK as a tragic hero.

However, since his death, details have emerged of a private life at odds with his public persona. Rumours of serial adultery, hidden health problems, a secret marriage, and even drug addictions have since blurred his once pristine image.

This, in an hour, is the history of JFK.

From the Old World to the New

By the mid-twentieth-century, the Kennedy family was among the richest and most powerful in America. Just three generations previously, JFK’s paternal and maternal ancestors had endured lives of poverty in famine-stricken Ireland. Such was their deprivation that both of his great-grandfathers – Thomas Fitzgerald and Patrick Kennedy – were forced to abandon their impoverished country in search of a new and better life in the US State of Massachusetts.

John ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald

In their adoptive country, both families enjoyed success in business and eventually became involved in politics. Thomas Fitzgerald’s son – John Francis Fitzgerald, known as ‘Honey Fitz’ – was a member of both the US House of Representatives and the Massachusetts Senate, in addition to serving two terms as Boston’s first Irish–Catholic mayor. After making his fortune from whiskey importation and a successful foray into banking, Patrick Kennedy’s only son, PJ, also turned his mind to a career in public service. PJ Kennedy would eventually serve five years in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, as well as six years in the State Senate.

Patrick Joseph ‘PJ’ Kennedy

On 7 October 1914, after a seven-year courtship, Honey Fitz’s eldest daughter, Rose, married PJ Kennedy’s eldest son, Joseph, thus merging these two influential Irish–American clans.

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