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John F. Kennedy: Inaugural Address

John F. Kennedy: Inaugural Address

John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960 by a slim margin over Vice President Richard M. Nixon. During the campaign Kennedy had charged that the United States had fallen militarily behind the Soviet Union during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Therefore, when Kennedy gave his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he focused on U.S. foreign policy.

Kennedy's address revealed how far the United States had moved in international affairs. The isolationism of the 1930s had given way to a foreign policy based on fighting Communism anywhere in the world. He declared that "the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans" committed to defending liberty.

The most quoted lines of the address—"ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country"—became the patriotic rallying cry for Kennedy's New Frontier initiatives, which emphasized the space program, the Peace Corps, and increased defense spending.

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