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Jfk Inauguration Speech

In: Historical Events

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Axel Twenge
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Issacson
10/13/14

John F. Kennedy was inaugurated on January 20th, 1961. At this time, America was in the middle of the cold war. The soviets had launched sputnik, Fidel Castro recently came into power, and he installed a communist government in Cuba. Truman’s containment policy was still in the forefront of American’s minds. Not to mention, America was also in the midst of the civil rights movement. Kennedy’s election came at a very pivotal time in history, not only was America fighting for foreign freedom but also Americans were fighting for domestic freedom. In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy instantly creates his ethos: “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.” In these opening lines he gives his colleagues a nod of respect, which gives Jefferson the respect of the U.S. Not to mention, his opening lines are drawn from Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural address, which gives Kennedy even more credibility. Immediately, in the intro of his inaugural address, he makes it clear that he wants this day and this election not to be remembered as a party victory, but as a victory for freedom. This intro alone gives him a solid bass of ethos to stand on.
Later in the speech, Kennedy proves himself a brave leader when, he says, “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.” He brazenly accepts the responsibility of the United States’ future in a time of chaos and turmoil. In this line, not only is he building the trust of the American citizens, he is also feeding into their emotions and patriotism. This quote is full of feeling; his use of pathos is clear and apparent. Kennedy continues to show off the build of his character, when he finishes his speech by once again establishing that he is an unselfish leader who believes in a higher power: “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.” Not only is he stressing his ethos as a man of God here, he is also placing some weight on his pathos by referencing “God’s work”. A majority of Americans at this time were firm believers that their nation was built “under God”, and Kennedy plays off of this faith perfectly.
The Cold War was running pretty hot at this point and time, so Kennedy uses patriotism to evoke emotion from Americans. He reminds his audience of the parallels between “the first revolution” and the current generation, “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage.” He refers to the core American value of liberty because every American, especially at this time, holds liberty and freedom close to their hearts. Not only is his use of pathos obvious, his use of logos is vivid. By comparing the first American Revolution to the current state of affairs, he draws a clear connection to the basic American ideals. Although a difficult task to undertake, Kennedy assures his audience that he has faith in their generation. Claiming he would never wish to be part of a different generation, he proclaims, “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.” This quote encompasses the trifecta of: ethos, logos, and pathos. His credibility is undeniable at this point in the speech; he has already laid the groundwork to gain the public’s respect and uses it to inspire them. He also stays consistent with his claims about the greatness of this generation. He uses key words like, “energy, faith, and devotion” to bring the American people forward into the future of their country, at such an unstable time. Once again; he references God when speaking about America becoming a “light” in the world. His use of pathos is deeply driven by his religious beliefs, which many Americans share.
Throughout the address, Kennedy establishes logos through different classifications, analogies, facts, and maxims. Kennedy employs an analogy by describing the spread of Communism from Russia to less developed countries, like Cuba, as a reminder that “those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside,” he uses logos in this analogy, of the tiger, to show that piggy backing on the achievement of other nations will leave you powerless and trapped inside of the belly of communism, no longer free. Kennedy speaks about the facts of the Cold War (the arms race, space race, etc.) to make suggestions for a potential solution with Russia: “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.” He is speaking directly to Russia with this line, in hopes of reaching their rational side. Kennedy reveals his true goal, finding a solution to the Cold War conflict, and his use of logos with his ethos backing him; he stares at Russia as the face of peace and reason. Kennedy also uses maxims, or common phrases, from the Bible to connect with his mostly Christian audience, which he does consistently during the course of his address.
Kennedy established ethos, pathos, and logos effectively in his inaugural address. He verbally shapes his image to the public, then uses that reputation to pull at the heartstrings of America, and finally to hopefully pull at the conscience of Russia through logic. And I believe that he does all of these quite well within the confines of a fifteen-minute speech. At the end of which, he calls his audience, of the American people, to action with one of the most memorable quotes in American history: “Ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” This chiasmus is unforgettably simple and amazingly beautiful.

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