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Warren Commission

The assassination of President JOHN F. KENNEDY in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, was a shocking event that immediately raised questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of the president. Those questions increased when the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was murdered while in the custody of Dallas police on November 25 by JACK RUBY, a Dallas nightclub owner.

President LYNDON B. JOHNSON moved quickly to reassure the nation that a thorough inquiry would take place by creating a commission of distinguished public servants to investigate the evidence. On November 29, 1963,

A bipartisan commission was assembled to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy. The Warren Commission included (l-r) Rep. Gerald R. Ford, Rep. Hale Boggs, Sen. Richard Russel, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Sen. John Sherman Cooper, John J. McCloy, Allen W. Dulles, and J. Lee Rankin.

Johnson appointed EARL WARREN, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, to head the commission, which became known as the Warren Commission. Its 1964 report, which sought to put to rest many issues, proved controversial, provoking charges of a whitewash. The facts surrounding the Kennedy assassination remain the subject of debate.

Chief Justice Warren, fearing that his service disrupted the traditional SEPARATION OF POWERS, reluctantly agreed to serve as director of the commission. The other members of the commission were Senators Richard B. Russell of Georgia and JOHN SHERMAN Cooper of Kentucky; two members of the House of Representatives, Hale Boggs of Louisiana and GERALD R. FORD of Michigan; Allen W. Dulles, former head of the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY; John J. McCloy, former head of the WORLD BANK; and James Lee Rankin, former U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL, who was appointed general counsel for the commission.

The Warren Commission began its investigations on December 3, 1963. The commission used accounts and statements provided by the Dallas police force, the SECRET SERVICE, the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, the military, and government and congressional commissions. Over the course of ten months, the commission took testimony from 552 witnesses.

The commission published its conclusions, popularly known as the Warren Report, in September 1964. According to the commission, Oswald acted alone in the assassination. The commission characterized Oswald as a resentful, belligerent man who hated authority. The commission endorsed the "single bullet theory," which concluded that only one bullet, rather than two, struck President Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally, who was sitting directly in front of the president in the open convertible. This was important because it appeared unlikely that Oswald could have fired his rifle twice in succession quickly enough to strike the two men. It found no connection between Oswald's Communist affiliation, his time living in the Soviet Union, and the murder, nor between Oswald and his murderer, Jack Ruby. The commission also found no evidence that Ruby was part of a conspiracy. It criticized the security measures taken to protect Kennedy and recommended that more effective measures be taken in the future.

Although the conclusions of the commission were well received at first, public skepticism soon grew about the findings. In 1966 two influential books were published that challenged the methods and conclusions of the commission. Both Inquest by Edward Jay Epstein and Rush to Judgment by Mark Lane declared that the commission had not investigated deeply enough to produce conclusive results. In that same year, Jim Garrison, a New Orleans district attorney, stunned the public with his revelations of a conspiracy and his accusations against prominent businessman Clay Shaw. Shaw was tried on conspiracy charges but was acquitted in 1969.

Since the release of the Warren Commission report, thousands of articles and books have been published promoting various theories surrounding the assassination. A 1979 special committee of the House of Representatives reexamined the evidence and concluded that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy."

Allegations that federal agencies withheld assassination evidence led Congress to enact the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (44 U.S.C.A. § 2107). The act created the Assassination Records Review Board, an independent federal agency that oversees the identification and release of records related to the assassination of President Kennedy. The act granted the review board the mandate and the authority to identify, secure, and make available, through the National Archives and Records Administration, records related to Kennedy's assassination. Creation of the review board has allowed the release of thousands of previously secret government documents and files.


Galanor, Stewart. 1998. Cover-Up. New York: Kestrel Books.

O'Neill, William L. 1971. Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960s. New York: Quadrangle Books.

Simon, Jonathan. 1998. "Ghosts of the Disciplinary Machine: Lee Harvey Oswald, Life-History, and the Truth of Crime." Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities 10 (winter).

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