John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech Analysis

Introduction, unifying the country, unifying the allies, intentions regarding adversaries, reinstatement of government’s capabilities, kennedy’s rhetoric.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy became President of the United States when the nation needed a strong leader with the capacity to overcome challenges posed by the Cold War and unrest in both Europe and the U.S. In his famous inaugural speech of 1961, Kennedy reinforced himself as a firm individual who was set to unite the Americans and their allies against struggles that affected humanity as a whole. He emphasized the importance of not dividing based on political party allegiance.

While Kennedy was a Democrat, he claimed that he would serve the whole nation indifferent to who supported which party. Unlike previous presidents, John Kennedy did not express aggression toward Americans’ primary adversary, the Soviet Union. Instead, the new President shared his hope that these two great nations can restart their relationships from scratch and avoid mistakes that had been made previously. This paper will provide an analysis of Kennedy’s inaugural address and discuss the rhetoric used by the speaker in order to convince his audience.

Kennedy begins unifying the country at the very beginning of his speech without wasting time discussing other topics. He reminds citizens and politicians that the results of these Presidential elections are not a victory of Democrats or the loss of Republicans. Instead, both parties contributed to this outcome, which is ultimately the correct decision in terms of freedom of choice. Kennedy labels election results as the celebration of freedom and reminds American citizens that they are the successors of the first Americans who attained independence through revolution and swore that the nation would serve humanity and equality.

In other words, Americans should stop dividing and thereby creating more issues and instead focus on solving challenges that society faces. For instance, John Kennedy labels poverty as one of the most significant problems in the world. He also states that people have the capacity and resources to end poverty throughout the world, but because of misuse of these resources, more problems are created. Later in his address, Kennedy provides an example of such issues. Scientific progress achieved within the last several centuries could have been used to end global challenges but is instead being used to wage war and cause more poverty.

Integration of the United States into world affairs is vital for solving global issues. John Kennedy, in his speech, states that countries that share the vision and core values of Americans will imminently receive support from the U.S. In particular, Kennedy believes the mission of the United Nations to be critical, and more money should be used for addressing poverty and economic development than military and wars.

No equality and growth are possible without ensuring the sovereignty of countries. Kennedy assures that the United States will do everything possible to help its neighbors in the Americas to protect their borders from foreign invasion in terms of both military aggression and other geopolitical techniques. When peace is guaranteed, the neighbors can utilize their resources in solving economic problems within their borders. When speaking of neighbors, Kennedy implicitly puts the primary focus on Mexicans, who have significant issues related to poverty. Also, he assures that the Western hemisphere will be under American protection and support.

The Cold War was at its height when Kennedy made his inaugural address. Understanding that an actual war may end the whole of humanity, Kennedy, unlike many other presidents, says that the United States must cooperate with the Soviet Union and reach a peaceful agreement. The president shares his concern about weapons that both nations possess and that any mistake can lead to the destruction of the planet.

Therefore, Kennedy believes that adversaries must seek peace with each other and cooperate on the issues that affect all countries. The fear that humankind may end as a result of military confrontations, according to Kennedy, should be the primary motivation behind the change from an aggressive weapons race to peaceful negotiations. However, despite such intentions, the Soviet Union and the United States had many misunderstandings between each other. Namely, the Cuban Missile crisis almost began the nuclear war between these two nations.

Toward the end of the speech, Kennedy starts speaking of the government and its responsibilities. The heavy use of “we” in the address indicates that Kennedy sees the government not as an entity that exists in isolation, but as an organization of the citizens of the United States. He asks Americans to stop demanding from the government and instead to think about how they can contribute to the achievement of common goals.

For instance, instead of thinking about how the government can assist in a particular situation, people must think of how they can help the government in pursuing a shared vision. In other words, Kennedy wants people to be active and care for the future of the nation. Also, Kennedy sends a message to all people around the world and requests them to collaborate with America for the good of humanity as a whole.

The content of the address is only one reason why the speech is influential and famous. Kennedy’s rhetoric applied in his inaugural address is comprised of many elements that contribute to effectiveness, persuasiveness, and clarity. The speech is effective in the sense that it is striking and poetic. To achieve this state, Kennedy used a variety of rhetorical elements, such as alliteration at the beginning of many sentences, anaphora, and inversion. To persuade his listeners, Kennedy uses a number of methods, including fear when he mentions the potential end of humanity, repetition of important ideas, and application of emotion-arousing words such as freedom and liberty. By contrasting ideas in sequential sentences, Kennedy yields clarity; it is known that objective outlook is reached only when there is empathy and comparison.

Kennedy’s inaugural address is considered to be one of the most famous speeches in the history of the United States. Despite serving only two years of his presidency before his death in 1963, Kennedy is known today as a remarkable president. He started leading the country during challenging times – the United States and the Soviet Union were in the middle of the Cold War, which may have ended with a nuclear war.

However, Kennedy’s intentions were to avoid conflict at all costs because it could end humanity and destroy the world. In his inaugural address, John shares his vision of the future of the U.S. domestic and foreign policies and asks citizens to be more active and contribute to the common cause. Kennedy’s rhetoric makes the speech persuasive, effective, concise, and emotional.

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Rhetorical Analysis of Jfk Inaugural Address

This essay about JFK’s inaugural address examines how he skillfully used rhetorical devices to establish credibility, evoke emotions, and appeal to reason. Through strategic deployment of ethos, pathos, logos, and various rhetorical techniques like parallelism and antithesis, Kennedy effectively conveyed his vision for unity, progress, and responsibility. The address serves as a timeless reminder of the power of persuasive communication in inspiring change and uniting a nation.

How it works

John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address delivered on January 20, 1961, remains etched in the annals of American history as a seminal moment, where the power of oratory met the call for action. Through a meticulous examination of rhetorical devices, Kennedy not only painted a vision for his presidency but also summoned the collective conscience of the American people to embark on a journey towards progress and unity. Delving into the intricacies of JFK’s inaugural address unveils a tapestry woven with ethos, pathos, logos, and an array of rhetorical devices, all orchestrated to captivate, inspire, and propel a nation forward.

At the outset, Kennedy strategically wielded ethos, leveraging his newly-acquired presidential stature to forge a bond of trust and credibility with his audience. Through poignant references to his military service and his unwavering commitment to public service, Kennedy sought to portray himself not merely as a political figure but as a servant leader dedicated to the welfare of the nation. By grounding his ethos in humility and a shared sense of duty, Kennedy endeared himself to the American people, laying the foundation for the profound impact his words would have on the collective psyche of the nation.

Furthermore, Kennedy skillfully appealed to the emotions of his audience, employing pathos to evoke sentiments of patriotism, unity, and hope. Through vivid imagery and emotive language, Kennedy painted a picture of a nation poised at the cusp of greatness, beckoning its citizens to rise above individual interests and embrace a shared destiny. In his iconic call to action, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” Kennedy tapped into the deep well of American idealism, stirring the hearts of his listeners and galvanizing them into action. Through the lens of pathos, Kennedy bridged the gap between rhetoric and reality, transforming his vision into a palpable reality for those who dared to believe.

Moreover, Kennedy employed logos to construct a logical framework for his vision, appealing to reason and pragmatism to garner support for his agenda. By delineating specific policy goals and articulating a clear roadmap for progress, Kennedy sought to assuage any lingering doubts and demonstrate the feasibility of his vision. Whether outlining his commitment to international diplomacy or championing the cause of civil rights at home, Kennedy’s appeal to logos served as a beacon of clarity amidst the tumult of political uncertainty, providing a sturdy foundation upon which his audience could rally behind.

In addition to ethos, pathos, and logos, Kennedy deployed a myriad of rhetorical devices to amplify the potency of his message. Through the strategic use of parallelism, Kennedy imbued his address with a cadence and rhythm that echoed the heartbeat of a nation united in purpose. By repeating phrases such as “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us,” Kennedy not only underscored the importance of unity but also etched his words into the collective memory of the nation, ensuring their enduring resonance for generations to come.

Furthermore, Kennedy employed antithesis to juxtapose contrasting ideas and underscore the urgency of his message. In his impassioned declaration, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” Kennedy juxtaposed the notions of sacrifice and freedom, compelling his audience to confront the weighty responsibilities that accompany the blessings of liberty. Through the artful use of antithesis, Kennedy imbued his words with a sense of gravitas and moral clarity, leaving an indelible imprint on the collective conscience of the nation.

In conclusion, John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address stands as a testament to the enduring power of rhetoric to inspire change and unite a nation. Through the strategic deployment of ethos, pathos, logos, and a host of rhetorical devices, Kennedy not only articulated a vision for his presidency but also ignited a flame of hope and possibility in the hearts of the American people. As we reflect on JFK’s inaugural address, we are reminded of the transformative potential of words spoken with conviction and purpose, and the profound impact they can have on shaping the course of history.

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President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address (1961)

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Citation: Inaugural Address, Kennedy Draft, 01/17/1961; Papers of John F. Kennedy: President's Office Files, 01/20/1961-11/22/1963; John F. Kennedy Library; National Archives and Records Administration.

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On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address in which he announced that "we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."

The inaugural ceremony is a defining moment in a president’s career — and no one knew this better than John F. Kennedy as he prepared for his own inauguration on January 20, 1961. He wanted his address to be short and clear, devoid of any partisan rhetoric and focused on foreign policy.

Kennedy began constructing his speech in late November, working from a speech file kept by his secretary and soliciting suggestions from friends and advisors. He wrote his thoughts in his nearly indecipherable longhand on a yellow legal pad.

While his colleagues submitted ideas, the speech was distinctly the work of Kennedy himself. Aides recounted that every sentence was worked, reworked, and reduced. The meticulously crafted piece of oratory dramatically announced a generational change in the White House. It called on the nation to combat "tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself" and urged American citizens to participate in public service.

The climax of the speech and its most memorable phrase – "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country" – was honed down from a thought about sacrifice that Kennedy had long held in his mind and had expressed in various ways in campaign speeches.

Less than six weeks after his inauguration, on March 1, President Kennedy issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps as a pilot program within the Department of State. He envisioned the Peace Corps as a pool of trained American volunteers who would go overseas to help foreign countries meet their needs for skilled manpower. Later that year, Congress passed the Peace Corps Act, making the program permanent.

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Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, Reverend Clergy, fellow citizens:

We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end as well as a beginning--signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge--and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do--for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom--and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge--to convert our good words into good deeds--in a new alliance for progress--to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support--to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective--to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak--and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, 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.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course--both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

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

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

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.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah--to "undo the heavy burdens . . . (and) let the oppressed go free."

And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need--not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

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?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: 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.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

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History Resources

jfk inaugural speech analysis essay

JFK’s Inaugural Address

By julie baergen, unit objective.

This lesson on President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core–based units. These units were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. Students will demonstrate this knowledge by writing summaries of selections from the original document and, by the end of the unit, articulating their understanding of the complete document by answering questions in an argumentative writing style to fulfill the Common Core Standards. Through this step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

After completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  • Analyze a document for understanding and cite explicit and/or inferred evidence from complex text to support their reasoning.  
  • Determine main ideas from a text.
  • Determine the meaning of general academic words (Tier 2 vocabulary) and domain-specific words (Tier 3 vocabulary) as they relate to the studied document.
  • Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources.
  • Explain the effectiveness of the structure of President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address.

Unit Overview

A brief biography of President John F. Kennedy and an analysis of his Inaugural Address give students exposure to the thirty-fifth President of the United States, his perspective on the role of the United States as a contributor to global affairs, and US citizens’ responsibility to serve their country.

This study of JFK’s Inaugural Address goes beyond analysis of familiar quotations and explores the entire content of the address, including the structure, and ends with an examination of the speech in the context of events of the day. This series of lessons might be used during a study of American presidents, influential Americans, the Civil Rights Movement, etc., and can be used in English language arts as a model for student writing.

While the unit is intended to flow over a five-day period, it is possible to present and complete the material within a shorter time frame. For example, in a high school class or advanced middle school group, the first and second lessons can be used to ensure an understanding of the process with all of the activity (Sections A and B) completed in class on day one. The teacher can then assign lesson three (Section C) as homework. The concluding lessons four and five are completed in class on day two.

Possible Essential Questions

  • "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . . unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed."

What impact did President John F. Kennedy have on preserving human rights in America and the world?

  • "Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce."

Do these ideas from the 1960s still have relevance today?

  • JFK and speechwriter Ted Sorenson studied Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as well as other past inaugural speeches, and consulted with friends and others for suggestions when drafting Kennedy’s address.

How are effective speeches constructed?

Introduction

In November 1960, at the age of 43, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was the youngest man to be elected President of the United States. His Inaugural Address, given on January 20, 1961, is among the most recognizable presidential speeches and was the first ever to be broadcast on color television.

JFK was born into an influential Boston family of Irish descent in 1917. Following family tradition, he entered public service, first through serving in the US Navy and then in government, beginning with a seat in the US Senate in 1952.

Kennedy was both politically influential and a cultural icon. His family—wife Jacqueline Lee Bouvier and the couple’s two young children—captivated the American public.

Kennedy took office during a time of turbulence and change in the United States. Tensions were rising domestically, with civil rights issues coming to a head, as well as globally in relationships between the US and international powers (especially the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Southeast Asia). The Soviet satellite Sputnik launched the space age in 1957, and the United States was under pressure to compete. This is just a sampling of the challenges facing the Kennedy administration in 1961.

It is in this context that President Kennedy addressed the crowds on the Capitol steps in January 1961. A heavy snowfall the previous night did not stop the ceremony as Washington, DC, street maintenance crews scrambled to clear the path for the more than 20,000 people in attendance. JFK’s address to the American people lasted thirteen minutes and fifty-nine seconds and was well received. (For a complete biography of President John F. Kennedy see the Additional Resources section following this lesson plan.)

President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address provides many learning opportunities for students, but first they must understand the content of the document. Students will first read the document (abridged), then engage in a document analysis of the text. The full transcript of the speech is available at the National Archives . Students will benefit from hearing and seeing President Kennedy deliver his address through links provided in the materials section.

Additionally, Kennedy’s use of literary devices such as metaphor and imagery make this inaugural address an excellent model for students as they engage in their own writing.

In Lesson 1, students will complete an initial reading of JFK’s Inaugural Address. They will participate in a teacher-led shared reading of the text and analysis of the opening paragraphs (Section A) of the document.

  • JFK’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (Abridged) – projected for whole class, and one copy per student
  • Section A of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer – projected for whole class, and one copy per student
  • Teacher Resource: Section A of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer Teacher Key
  • Projection device
  • Chart paper and markers for keeping records of class discussions

Procedure (Instruction and Assessment)

  • Tell students they will be engaged in a series of lessons to analyze an important document in American history. The class will start out working together, and students will eventually be asked to do their own analysis of part of the document.
  • Hand out a copy of JFK’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (Abridged) to each student and project the document for the class to see. Allow students an opportunity to read the document silently. Some students may not have the stamina to read the entire document. That’s ok; allow them to struggle a bit. Like exercising, the more students practice reading long documents, the longer they will be able to attend to the text. Students may make notes on their paper of questions they might have and/or words they don’t know. At this point try not to answer a lot of questions, but encourage students to ask them. In a later lesson students will be comparing this document to a historical timeline of events that may clear up some of their questions. Write students’ questions on chart paper and revisit them at the end of the lesson to see if any can be answered. After a reasonable period of time ask students to stop reading. Now would be a good time to record any questions students might have and start a list of words they are not familiar with. Try not to define words for students, but encourage them to use context clues to understand the meaning of words. Allow students to discuss the document and words with each other.
  • The teacher will now begin a shared reading of the document. To share read the document the teacher begins reading Section A aloud, modeling fluency as the students follow along. After a few sentences the students read out loud with the teacher as the teacher continues to model fluent reading. The teacher may stop and think aloud as he/she reads to model good reader skills.
  • After the shared reading, give each student a copy of the JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer for Section A and also project it where students can see it as the teacher records responses during the whole class analysis of Section A.
  • Explain to students that they will be re-reading this first section to select key words that will be used to create a summary sentence demonstrating understanding of what President Kennedy was saying in the opening paragraphs of the address.
  • Key words are those words from the passage that must be there for comprehension of the text. Without them the selection would not make sense. Key words are usually nouns or verbs. They are not "connector" words (are, is, and, so, etc.). The number of key words depends on the length of the original selection. This selection has ninety-one words, so students can pick six or seven key words. The other rule is that students can’t pick words they don’t know. So as the class begins selecting key words, there will be opportunities to teach students how to use context clues, word analysis, and dictionary skills to discover word meanings, which is a more authentic and relevant way to learn.
  • Students select the six or seven words from the text they believe are the key words and then write them in the box to the right of the text on their organizers.
  • The teacher then asks the class for contributions to the class key word list. Through discussion and negotiation the class chooses their list of six to seven words. This discussion is an important part of the lesson as students are practicing communication skills while the teacher encourages and models cooperative learning behaviors. The discussion is also an opportunity for the teacher to listen carefully to student responses and make an informal check for understanding. Key words for Section A might be  Americans, human rights, committed, survival, success, and liberty . (Short word combinations such as human rights are allowed when it makes sense to do so. Whole phrases, however, are not permitted.) Once negotiations are complete and the key words are chosen, or time runs out and the teacher makes the final decision, the students and the teacher write the class list of key words in the provided space on the graphic organizer.
  • Next the teacher explains that the class will use the Key Words to write a sentence that restates or summarizes what President Kennedy was saying. For example: Americans are committed to the survival and success of human rights including liberty. This again is a whole-class negotiation process with the discussion being the most important part. The class may decide that some key words should be omitted to streamline the summary. The teacher and the students copy the final negotiated sentence into the designated space on the organizer.
  • The final step in this analysis process is for students to put the summary statement using the author’s words into a summary statement using the students’ words. Again, this is a class discussion and negotiation process. For example: Americans will do anything necessary to ensure that all the human rights of all people of the world are protected .
  • Using complete sentences and evidence from the text, ask students to answer the Questions to Consider . Solicit possible answers from the students. Use the students’ sentences for lessons in sentence structure, etc. This is also another opportunity to check for understanding.
  • Wrap-up: Discuss the process with the students and review any vocabulary words that students found confusing or difficult. Review the questions students have and see if any can be answered at this time. Students may have questions that require some research. Challenge students to do this on their own and bring their findings to the next lesson.

In Lesson 2 students work in pairs or triads to continue their analysis of JFK’s Inaugural Address. Section B of the address identifies six pledges JFK made to the world on behalf of the United States. Students will decode each pledge to identify the essence of the pledge and to whom it was made. For each pledge students will provide a short answer to a comprehension check question.

  • JFK’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (Abridged)  – projected for whole class, and one copy per student.
  • Section B of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer – projected for whole class, and one copy per student
  • Teacher Resource: Section B of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer Teacher Key
  • Tell students that today they will be working in small groups to complete analysis of Section B of JFK’s Inaugural Address. Set the stage for learning by reviewing the summary statement created in the first lesson. Allow students an opportunity to share any reflections on the lesson and results of any independent research. Record any student questions generated from the review.
  • Using best practices for grouping students, seat students in work groups of two or three and provide each student with a copy of JFK’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (Abridged) . (The ideal would be for students to continue using their self-annotated copy from the previous lesson so they can add to their notes.)
  • Allow students time to read Section B silently and then share read Section B of the address with students as done in Lesson 1. Ask students to work with their partner(s) to identify any patterns of writing they see and provide specific examples from the text. Students may observe that specific groups of people are being addressed, the word pledge is used multiple times usually followed by an action, and there is an explanation following the stated action. Share these patterns with the whole group. As students are working the teacher should be walking around the room listening to students’ conversations, guiding discussions, and keeping everyone on track.
  • Provide a copy of Section B of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer to each student and project the organizer for students to see. The organizer for Section B is formatted differently from the organizer for Section A. This section of the address identifies six pledges JFK made to the world on behalf of the United States. Students will decode each pledge, identify the essence of the pledge and to whom it was made, and provide a short answer to a comprehension check question.
  • The teacher explains to students that he/she will be modeling what students will be doing by completing the first pledge. After that students will work through each pledge one at a time with their partner(s), stopping after each pledge to check in with the whole class. Depending on the students’ abilities after the first two or three pledges students may continue to work on their own without the whole class check.
  • The teacher thinks aloud as he/she first reads what is in the box to the right of the first pledge and identifies what the pledge is and to whom it is pledged, and provides a short answer to the question. Ask students what questions they have about the process. After these have been answered allow students to work with their partner(s) to complete the next pledge. Come together as a class to check responses and answer questions. Continue in this manner with the remaining pledges.
  • Wrap-up: Review the list of recorded student questions and make note of any answers or record additional questions discovered during Lesson 2.

Share the limerick The Lady and the Tiger with students and ask students to explain the relationship between this limerick and the address. Explain to students that President Kennedy has used the literary device of allusion to make a point. (An allusion is a figure of speech whereby the author refers to a subject matter such as a place, event, or literary work by way of a passing reference. It is up to the reader to make a connection to the subject being mentioned. See http://literary-devices.com/ .) Challenge students to include an allusion in their next writing.

In Lesson 3 students continue to work in pairs or triads to analyze Section C of JFK’s Inaugural Address. The teacher will move throughout the room assisting students with guided conversations.

In Section C President Kennedy outlines his vision for America moving forward in the world.

  • JFK’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (Abridged)  – projected for whole class, and one copy per student
  • Section C of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer – projected for whole class, and one copy per student
  • Teacher Resource: Section C of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer Teacher Key
  • Tell students that today they will continue working with JFK’s Inaugural Address in their work groups. At the end of the lesson groups will share their key words and summary statements with the class. Quickly review the summary statement from Lesson 1 and the pledges from Lesson 2. Record any findings from students’ independent research; record students’ answers or partial answers to the recorded questions from previous lessons.
  • Be sure each student has their copy of the abridged inaugural address. Complete a shared reading of Section C with students as done in Lesson 1. Answer any questions students might have about the process for analyzing this section.
  • Set a time limit for students to work in their groups to identify the key words. When time is up ask each group to share their list of key words and be ready to tell why they were chosen. This conversation sets the groups up for writing their summary statements.
  • Each group will now use their key words to write a summary statement, and then re-state the summary in their own words. The teacher is continually moving from group to group guiding students as needed. Allow students to struggle with the process and coach them with guiding questions to find their own information. Check with the class near the end of the time period. Add more time if needed, or stop the activity and move to the next step if students don’t need the extra time.
  • Give each group an opportunity to share their summary statements with the class. This could be done several ways: students share their graphic organizers with a document reader; students record their responses on chart paper and hang on the wall; etc.
  • As work groups are sharing their findings, encourage discussion. This discussion will allow the teacher to check for understanding and broaden the understanding of the other groups. There will be a variety of responses. Responses should be accepted if students can reasonably defend them.
  • Wrap Up: Kennedy’s descriptive writing paints vivid word pictures. Ask students to choose one or more example in this section and write about how Kennedy’s choice of words is used to persuade his audience. For example: Kennedy uses the phrase "a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion . " A beachhead is defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as "an area on a hostile shore occupied to secure further landing of troops and supplies." This paints the picture of people standing together against a common foe. The common foe in this case is described as a jungle of suspicion. Jungles are often dangerous, uncomfortable places. The jungle Kennedy describes is full of suspicion. Kennedy seems to be asking America and the world to stand together against these dangers. His reference to jungles and beachheads implies military action (as might be seen in the conflict to stop the spread of communism in Vietnam).
  • This might be a good place to allow students to hear and see President Kennedy give his address:
  • Video of JFK deliving his Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Ask students to listen to and observe President Kennedy as he speaks. Ask them to think about how the audio and visual presentation adds to the meaning of the address and to be prepared to share their ideas with the rest of the class.

Lesson 4 concludes the analysis of JFK’s Inaugural Address by asking students to complete the process individually. The teacher continues to move throughout the room assisting students with guided conversations.

In Sections D and E, President Kennedy challenges American citizens to participate in making his vision a reality. Section E includes the famous quotation "ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

  • Sections D and E of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer – projected for whole class, and one copy per student
  • Teacher Resource: Sections D and E of JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer Teacher Key
  • Tell students that today they will finish their analysis of JFK’s Inaugural Address by completing the last two, short sections on their own. Quickly review the summary statements from the previous lessons and the pledges from Lesson 2. Record any findings from students’ independent research; record students’ answers or partial answers to the recorded questions from previous lessons.
  • Be sure each student has their copy of the abridged inaugural address. Complete a shared reading of Sections D and E with students as done in Lesson 1. Answer any questions students might have about the process for analyzing this section and encouraging them to take notes on their papers. 
  • Set a time limit for students to identify the key words, use the key words to write a summary statement, and re-state the summary in their own words for Section D. The teacher is continually moving from group to group guiding students as needed. Allow students to struggle with this exercise and coach them with guiding questions to find their own information. Check with the class near the end of the time period. Add more time if needed, or stop the activity and move to the next step if students don’t need the extra time.
  • At this point ask students to meet with their work group partner(s) to share what they have accomplished. Give students about ten to fifteen minutes to discuss their responses with each other and make any changes.
  • For Section E students return to their individual work and complete the activity as before. Student work is collected and checked for understanding.

In Lesson 5 students will compare a timeline of historical events from the 1950s to JFKs inaugural address. A sample timeline is included with this lesson, but teachers should feel free to add to it or create their own. After reading the events listed on the timeline students will look for references to the events in the inaugural speech, and, using evidence from the text, support their reasoning for the match.

  • JFK’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (Abridged) – projected for whole class, and one copy per student and/or the student’s completed JFK’s Inaugural Address Graphic Organizer
  • JFK Inaugural Address Timeline (Use the timeline provided, create your own, or find one available on the Internet.)
  • Tell students that on this last day of working with the text they will be looking at the historical context of the inaugural speech. Kennedy’s address speaks to events of the day and what actions his administration planned to take. It is the students’ task to discover what parts of the inaugural address match up with the entries on the timeline. This will be a class project.
  • Be sure each student has their copy of the abridged inaugural address and/or their completed graphic organizer. Their notes will help them as they begin the activity.
  • Complete a shared reading of the events on the timeline. Answer any questions students might have about the process for analysis.
  • Allow students to sit in their work groups to match the timeline entries to portions of the inaugural address and encourage them to make notes about why these texts match as they will be defending their work to the class.
  • Follow up with a whole class discussion. Revisit the list of unanswered student generated questions. Now is the time to answer any questions that did not come up in the text analysis and/or assign further research to interested students.

Extension (optional)

Further Study: Students research answers to their questions generated through the document analysis. Possible topics might include anything related to civil rights, the space race, US foreign relations, etc.

Further Study: What impact did President Kennedy have on America and the world? AmeriCorps; Civil Rights; Foreign Policy; assassination; etc.

Writing: Use JFK’s Inaugural Address as a model for good writing. Challenge students to practice the literary devices Kennedy uses in their own writing. For example: replace everyday language with imagery; to make a point, allude to a place, event, or literary work that the writer’s audience would know; use parallelism to make sentences more interesting; use metaphors to clarify a concept; follow Kennedy’s pattern to organize an essay.

Additional Resources

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum : All sorts of resources are available for a study of the thirty-fifth President of the United States, including links to audio/visuals, primary documents, and on-line exhibits.

Literary Devices : An online dictionary of literary devices with detailed descriptions and examples.

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John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address

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Historical Continuity

Kennedy reminds Americans of their roots and calls on them to continue the struggle for freedom and democracy, emphasizing the importance of the nation’s founding ideals and the need to continue to constantly defend them. This theme, which highlights American tradition and key historical events and figures, predominates throughout the first section of the speech (Paragraphs 1-4). He references the founding of the US and the Declaration of Independence, “which our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago” (Paragraph 2). He links America’s present to its past because of his belief that its founding principles remained relevant and necessary: “The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God” (Paragraph 2). The importance of those rights receives repeated emphasis: “We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution” (Paragraph 4).

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Rhetorical Analysis Essay Rough Draft: JFK Inaugural Address

This is a rough draft of my rhetorical analysis essay, which I chose to write on JFK’s Inaugural Address. Please let me know what you think of my essay so far!

Here is a link to the speech if you have not read it: http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres56.html

jfk-inaugural-address

3 Comments on Rhetorical Analysis Essay Rough Draft: JFK Inaugural Address

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Tara Zhuoyue Peng

It’s amazing that you chose this topic! JFK’s speech is so important and has been reiterated in classroom environments. So it’s great that you are analyzing his speech. You were able to tackle all the main points of rhetoric and did so with great writing!

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Props to you for getting your essay done early! I love the topic and the actual essay is really well written. Kennedy was an amazing president and I think that your analysis hints at that perfectly. Great Job!

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I did like your Essay because it is to the point and not excessively wordy. One critique is that the last sentence in the second to last paragraph is a fragment. It is not the best to start a sentence with “and”.

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Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy Washington, D.C. January 20, 1961

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, Reverend Clergy, fellow citizens:

We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end as well as a beginning--signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge--and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do--for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom--and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge--to convert our good words into good deeds--in a new alliance for progress--to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support--to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective--to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak--and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, 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.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course--both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

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

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

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.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah--to "undo the heavy burdens . . . (and) let the oppressed go free."

And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need--not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

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?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: 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.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

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    In November 1960, at the age of 43, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was the youngest man to be elected President of the United States. His Inaugural Address, given on January 20, 1961, is among the most recognizable presidential speeches and was the first ever to be broadcast on color television. JFK was born into an influential Boston family of ...

  13. Interpreting JFK's Inaugural Address

    Provide students with the handout Timeline: Kennedy's Inaugural Address which provides a chronology of Cold War and civil rights events that occurred from January 1959 to January 20, 1961. Discuss the historical significance of these events. Divide students into groups of 3-4. Provide each group with one of three profiles of a fictional ...

  14. John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address Themes

    Thanks for exploring this SuperSummary Study Guide of "John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address" by John F. Kennedy. A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

  15. Jfk Inaugural Speech Rhetorical Analysis Essay

    729 Words. 3 Pages. Open Document. John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech is certainly one to remember. It's memorable not for its length, but for the effective content that it beholds. He entices readers by the use of strong rhetoric techniques. His inaugural analyzes style of writing, such as diction, tropes, schemes, and syntax, and applies ...

  16. Analysis of John F Kennedys Speech

    Analysis of John F Kennedys Speech. On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic inaugural address, a speech that is often hailed as one of the greatest in American history. The speech marked the beginning of Kennedy's presidency and set the tone for his administration, focusing on themes of unity, sacrifice, and the responsibility ...

  17. Essay on John F. Kennedy Inaugural Speech Analysis

    John F. Kennedy uses diction, syntax, and Aristotle's method of persuasion in his inaugural address that not only made it uniquely his own, but made it undoubtedly one of the best, emotion tugging, speeches ever. It was a very cold, icy January day when John F. Kennedy made his inaugural address. He was the youngest president to ever take office.

  18. PDF Analyzing the Rhetoric of JFK's Inaugural Address

    RH.9-10.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information. ... John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address to provide them with background information about the speech. 2. Have students read through the text of JFK's inaugural address as they ...

  19. Jfk Inaugural Speech Analysis

    Decent Essays. 789 Words. 4 Pages. Open Document. On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy presented a world-famous inaugural speech. People all over the nation and world were overtaken with a feeling of new hope and inspiration. The three documents presented in this activity, John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech, Eleanor Clift's "Inside ...

  20. Rhetorical Analysis Essay Rough Draft: JFK Inaugural Address

    On a cold day in 1961, John F. Kennedy delivered a speech to the citizens and peoples of both America and the world. After the end of a close and competitive election, he used this speech not to celebrate his victory as president, but to unite the audience. ... 3 Comments on Rhetorical Analysis Essay Rough Draft: JFK Inaugural Address. Tara ...

  21. Jfk Inaugural Address Essay

    Jfk Inaugural Address Essay. 420 Words2 Pages. This inaugural speech is written by John F. Kennedy in 1961. He claimed that we need to fight for freedom, oppose the tyranny, help the poor, and united the nations and nations together to resist the war, and he used parallelism, repetition, metaphor, and alliteration to make his speech more ...

  22. Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

    The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is dedicated to the memory of our nation's thirty-fifth president and to all those who through the art of politics seek a new and better world. Listen to the speech. Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy Washington, D.C. January 20, 1961 Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief ...

  23. Jfk Inaugural Address Analysis Essay

    In 1961 John F. Kennedy gives his inaugural speech to the desperate Americans. The American citizens are in need of hope, and need to believe this young president is the right man to lead their future. His inaugural speech gave Americans comfort, and hope that they needed at the time. Throughout his speech Kennedy uses emotion-arousing words ...