Historical Highlights

President John F. Kennedy’s First State of the Union Address

January 30, 1961
President John F. Kennedy’s First State of the Union Address President Kennedy's 1963 State of the Union Speech, Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
President John F. Kennedy served three terms in the House of Representatives before being elected Senator and eventually President. He addressed a Joint Session of Congress four times during his presidency.
On this date during the 87th Congress (1961–1963), President John F. Kennedy delivered his first State of the Union Address before a Joint Session of Congress. The occasion marked only the second time a newly elected President chose to give such a speech—the first was Kennedy’s predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. Kennedy delivered his nearly one-hour long address 10 days after his inauguration. Out-going President Eisenhower submitted his last State of the Union Address in writing to Congress on January 12, 1961. The new President began his address by remembering his own three terms in the House (1947–1953), noting that Members of Congress were “among my oldest friends in Washington and the House is my oldest home.” He also vowed to work in tandem with his former colleagues. “I shall neither shift the burden of executive decisions to the Congress,” Kennedy declared to general applause, “nor avoid responsibility for the outcome of these decisions.” Kennedy addressed the domestic economic recession, offering specific policies, including increasing unemployment benefits and offering tax incentives to expanding businesses. He also surveyed the spread of communism to developing nations in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, calling for increased military strength coupled with greater economic and educational aid to these countries. Despite the sobering subject matter, Kennedy ended his speech with a few words of optimism. “The hopes of all mankind rest upon us—not simply upon those of us in this Chamber, but upon . . . the spirit that moves every man and nation who shares our hopes for freedom and the future,” Kennedy intoned. “And in the final analysis, they rest most of all upon the pride and perseverance of our fellow American citizens.”

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