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John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address

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John Johnson

on 12 January 2016

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Transcript of John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address

Constantine Psyllos
John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address
What is an inaugural address?
Another form of rhetoric used by JFK in his speech was metaphors. The metaphors create images for the audience, therefore making it more appealing to them but also illustrating an idea. Moreover the metaphors make the speech more interesting and make it easier to remember.

Examples of metaphors

-―"And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion..."‖

- “the bonds of mass misery”

- “the chains of poverty”
As oppose to other great speakers, such as President Obama, and Reagan, who are well known for their use of anecdotes and story telling, JFK used Ethos, Pathos and Logos, among other rhetorical features to grasp the attention of his audience.

Rhetorical Features
JFK used antithesis to make his strongest most important points. In fact, he even started his address using antithesis. "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country". This is the most famous sentance of the speech.
Antithesis / Contrast
An inauguration is a formal ceremony which marks the beginning of a major public leader's term of office. The "inaugural address" is a speech given during this ceremony which informs the people of his/her intentions as a leader. One of the most famous inaugural addresses, was John. F Kennedy's, in January of 1961.
Quick Facts
- Friday, January 20th 1961

- Eastern portico of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C

- 44th Presidential Inauguration
Background information
JFK's Inaugural speech was composed by himself and Ted Sorensen. Ted Sorensen, had been given the task of reading all the previous inaugurals, while also trying to identify what had made Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address such a hit.
And still, 50 years later it is still unclear on who had the the bigger role on writing the speech

Throughout the rest of the speech, he continues to use antithesis. For example, when he says "United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do ... ". This use of antithesis, not only gives the audience a sense of purpose but also gives them a group identity, as being united, which makes them empathize and emotional towards the speaker.
During his speech, JFK also uses alliteration repeatedly. To be precise, he uses it 21 times. Some examples of this alliteration are : "we shall
..." or "
us go forth to
". The alliteration not only makes the speech easier to remember for the speaker and audience, but also helps create a mood, according to the sound being repeated.
Reference to past
When talking about past events, and appealing to the audiences emotions about certain past events, JFK gave his audience a sense of being all part of the same movement.

Also the references, when positive, usually get the crowd excited.
“I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.”

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds...”

Three Part Lists
Last but not least, three part lists were one of the most used rhetorical devices along with alliteration in JFK's inaugural address.
He starts his speech with three contrasts :

"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."

Three part lists are a very effective rhetorical device. Firstly three points are enough to back up a statement and show a pattern. Secondly lists make it easier to emphasize points. Thirdly the use of three part lists increases memorability from the audience.
Thank you for watching!

Rhetorical features used in the inaugural address :

Antithesis / Contrast
Emotional words
Appeal to fear
Reference to the past


Ethos, also known as the ethical appeal, is a way of convincing the audience of the speakers credibility or character.

JFK starts his speech of by establishing Ethos. By starting like this, he shows that he does not want his victory to be a victory solely for the Democratic Party, and he expresses how he values unity over partnership. (Reffering to the Republican Party)
“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.”
Logos, also reffered to as appeal to logic, is a way to convince an audience through the use of logic or reason.

JFK establishes Logos through different classifications including, analogies, and facts.
One example of this use of Logos is when he refers to the world as five different categories, and then proceeds to discuss his plans for dealing with each of them.
Very similarly to the way he started, JFK finishes his speech by once again, establishing his Ethos as an unselfish leader who believes in high 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.”

“old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share,” “new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free,” “people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery,” “that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations,” and “nations who would make themselves our adversary”
Pathos, or the emotional appeal, is a way to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions.

One way JFK establishes Pathos, is by appealing to American patriotism. During that time period, patriotic spirit was essential to success in the Cold War.
After reminding the audience of their forefathers, he compares "the first revolution" with the current generation, “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage.”

The theme of war, appeals to Pathos, because it is something that touches everyone, all generations, all races, all people.
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