Public life was not the first choice among possible futures for John F. Kennedy as he returned from World War II. Kennedy in principle could have chosen among many career paths. Kennedy’s own inclination seems to have leaned in the direction of becoming a journalist, a writer of nonfiction books, or even an academic. Kennedy’s father, Joseph, however, was determined that his sons not enter the business world; he had amassed sufficient wealth to allow his sons to choose a future that did not have to lead to significant additional income. The reality was that if Kennedy had chosen a career other than politics, it would have meant going against the wishes of his strong-willed father. John Kennedy, from the time his older brother, Joseph Jr., was killed in action during World War II, became his father’s designated aspirant to high political office; JFK’s father, after the end of the war, planned to build “the greatest political dynasty of the age … one remaining son at a time.” Kennedy was easily elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948 and to the Senate in 1952 and again in 1958. But his time in Congress was not fulfilling for either his or his father’s ambitions. During his fourteen years in Congress, Kennedy “failed to penetrate the inner circle.” The conservative Southern senators who controlled the Senate, in particular, “viewed him as too detached, independent, overrated, and overly ambitious.”
- Space Effort
- Launch Vehicle
- Space Program
- Central Intelligence Agency
- Presidential Campaign
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The point that Joseph Kennedy expected his eldest living son to run for public office is made in almost every biography of John F. Kennedy and his family. The quote is taken from Vincent Bzdek, The Kennedy Legacy: Jack, Bobby and Ted and a Family Dream Fulfilled (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009),53. The assessment of Kennedy as a congressman is from James N. Giglio, “John F. Kennedy and the Nation,” in James N. Giglio and Stephen G. Rabe, Debating the Kennedy Presidency (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), 99. The description of Kennedy is by Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, quoted in Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober, The Kennedy Presidency: An Oral History of an Era (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, Inc., 1993), 33.
Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, Apollo: Race to the Moon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), 61.
Memorandum on John Kennedy’s voting record on space issues from Walter (Jenkins), who was Lyndon Johnson’s top aide during his Vice Presidential years, to the Vice President, September 28, 1962, Vice Presidential Papers, 1962 Subject Files, Box 181, LBJL. Geoffrey Perret in Jack: A Life Like No Other (New York: Random House, 2001) suggests (312) that Kennedy voted against establishing NASA. This does not seem to be correct; the final bill to create NASA was approved by the Senate on July 15, 1958, by a voice vote.
Speech of John F. Kennedy, “United States Military and Diplomatic Policies— Preparing for the Gap,” August 14, 1958, reprinted from the Congressional Record, Pre-Presidential Files, Box 901, JFKL.
Letter from William Everdell to Senator John Kennedy, February 6, 1960, and Letter from John F. Kennedy to William Everdell, February 16, 1960, Pre-Presidential Files, Box 747, JFKL. Who actually composed this response for Kennedy’s signature is unknown; Kennedy may have dictated it himself. Kennedy’s close aide Theodore Sorensen noted that “Senator Kennedy signed very little of the correspondence he approved for his signature and dictated even less of it. Staff members composed letters in accordance with his thinking … On the other hand, he sometimes answered mail not worthy of his time.” Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 57.
Address of Senator John F. Kennedy Accepting the Democratic Party Nomination for the Presidency of the United States, July 15, 1960, http://HYPERLINK “http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/” http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/Speeches/JFK/JFK+Pre-Pres/1960/Address+of+Senator+John+F.+Kennedy+Accepting+the+Democratic+Party+Nomination+for+the+Presidency+of+t.htm. As a footnote to this history, the author was present at the Los Angeles Coliseum as Kennedy made his acceptance speech.
Democratic Party Platform of 1960, July 11, 1960, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29602
Theodore H. White, The Making of the President, 1960 (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1961), 272; Sorensen, Kennedy, 117–118; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), 15, 69.
Memorandum from Senator [John] Kennedy to Archibald Cox, September 2, 1960, NHRC, Folder 012492. It is worth noting that President Eisenhower had approved the CORONA reconnaissance satellite program in February 1958 and that CORONA flew its first successful mission in August 1960, before JFK’s question. The CORONA program was very highly classified, and clearly Senator Kennedy was not aware of its existence. For information on the CORONA intelligence satellite program, which was not declassified until 1995, see Dwayne A. Day, John M. Logsdon, and Brian Latell, Eye in the Sky: The Story of the CORONA Spy Satellites (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998)
Ralph E. Lapp in consultation with Trevor Gardner and Frank McClure, and coordinated with Samuel K. Allison, Harrison Brown, Ernest C. Pollard, Richard B. Roberts, and Harold C. Urey, “Position Paper on Space Research,” September 7, 1960, 3, 11, 13–15, NHRC, Folder 012492. For an example of Lapp’s views, see Ralph E. Lapp, The New Priesthood: The Scientific Elite and the Uses of Power (New York: Harper & Row, 1965)
“Briefing Paper on Space,” undated, in Pre-Presidential Files, Box 993A, JFKL. In what seems to be Kennedy’s handwriting, the notation “Library” appears on the first page of the paper, indicating that it may have been read by the candidate.
Interview of Edward C. Welsh by the author, August 14, 1967, cited in John M. Logsdon, The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1970). 65. The quote is from Edwin Diamond, The Rise and Fall of the Space Age (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1964), 31.
This speech is quoted in Vernon van Dyke, Pride and Power: The Rationale of the Space Program (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964), 23.
Neil Sheehan, A Fiery Peace in the Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon (New York: Random House, 2009), 362.
Sorensen, Kennedy, 610–613 and Theodore C. Sorensen, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 189.
© 2010 John M. Logsdon
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Logsdon, J.M. (2010). Before the White House. In: John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon. Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230116313_2
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