John F. Kennedy, a wealthy Democratic senator from Massachusetts, was elected
president in 1960, defeating Vice President Richard Nixon. Though
he clearly won the electoral vote, Kennedy's received only 118,000
more votes than Nixon in this close election.
his inaugural address, Kennedy said, "Let the word go forth . . . 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." Kennedy also
challenged Americans to think of ways they could serve, saying "Ask not what your
country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." This statement and
Kennedy's enthusiasm appealed to many young idealists. But Kennedy also had won the
votes of many traditional Democratic voters-members of labor unions, African
Americans, and members of other ethnic groups.
Some analysts see the 1960 election as a turning point in
American politics. Following the election, some aspects of the political process seemed to
have changed forever. As you examine the documents listed to the right, look for factors
that made the 1960 election different from preceding elections. What helped account for
John Kennedy's appeal? What set him apart from Richard Nixon and from previous
presidential candidates? In what ways was he like other candidates?
top of page