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Today in history… memorable inauguration for JFK

12:00am | & Lifestyle

Today, as America swears in its new President, we look back 60 years to the same day in 1961 when it inaugurated one of its most memorable.

John F. Kennedy was sworn in as President on January 20th, 1961, watched my millions on TV around the globe. He became the USA’s 35th President and the youngest ever elected at just 43 years and 236 days old. (Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt was 279 days younger when he became President in 1901, but he wasn’t elected – he took over after President William McKinley was assassinated.)

By contrast, 78-year-old Joe Biden will be the oldest man ever inaugurated when he becomes the 46th President of the United States today. Like Kennedy, Biden is a Democrat and, coincidentally, both men took over from Presidents who had been the oldest to hold office up to that point. Kennedy succeeded General Dwight Eisenhower who was 70 when he stood down – the same age a Donald Trump was when he became President in 2017.

While President Trump has divided opinion over the past four years, Kennedy – widely known as JFK – was much more universally popular. With film star looks and apparently clean-cut, he had a glamorous young wife in Jackie Kennedy Onassis. He seemed to embody the youthful and optimistic outlook of the powerful and affluent America of the late 1950s and early ’60s.

Kennedy was also an accomplished orator, capable of holding an audience in the palm of his hand. Even those who disagreed with his politics were in awe of his ability to enthral a crowd through powerful words skilfully delivered.

One of the best examples came at the close of his inaugural address to the huge crowds gathered in Washington DC and watching on TV worldwide. He implored them: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. These were words which have gone down in history and are forever bound to the legend of JFK.

And yet his tenure as America’s President would be cut tragically short by a sniper’s bullet. On November 22nd, 1963 – less than three years after his inauguration – JFK became the fourth and most recent American President to be assassinated when he was shot in the head as his cavalcade drove through Dallas, Texas. It was an event which shook the world, so that even now people of a certain age will ask: “Do you remember where you were when JFK was shot?”

More than half-a-century on, debate still rages over whether Kennedy really was killed by a disgruntled “lone gunman”, or whether his death was part of a wider conspiracy which cast the sniper, Lee Harvey Oswald, as its ‘patsy’. Since Oswald was himself gunned down just two days later, the truth might never be known.

Whatever the case, it was a devastating end to a Presidency which promised so much when it began 60 years ago today.

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