Analysis of President John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration Speech

Abstract

This paper provides a rhetorical analysis of President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech. Included is the type of text it is, where it was first spoken, and the main objective. My analysis of this speech includes his clear call to action for the American people to unite together with the rest of humanity to ensure human rights, freedom, peace, and stability for the world. Also, the larger debate included is how we as Americans, live in a somewhat utopian society where other countries do not and we need to take the responsibility to ensure this right for everyone. Kennedy utilizes all three emotional appeals, weather stated specifically or inferred, but his most used was his appeal to the emotions of the audience. Also analyzed is his successful use formal and informal style which is inferred and organization which leads to the conclusion that great admiration for this man can come from this speech as well as a call to duty that we can all take upon ourselves with the responsibility to carry out this great man’s idealistic concepts for the world.

JFK Inauguration Speech

John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural speech was given on January 20th, 1961. He spoke to not only the citizens of the United States, but to the entire world. It was clear that his main goal was to unify the entire human race and to make the world a better place for everyone. John F. Kennedy was calling on all Americans to be the difference, to take a stand, to make the change, and to do what is morally right. There was a great reference to our country being the first to revolt against the will of greedy men, and that we are the heirs of that revolution with the duty to uphold and bring basic human rights to all human beings across the globe. His great use of logic and powerful emotions used throughout the speech brought this sense of duty, argued his call to action, and allowed his words to be quite effective in the unification of the citizens of the United States and the rest of the world together.

Utopia is the world that comes to mind after reading President Kennedy’s inauguration speech. In his call to action, he indicated that his administration would be the beginning of change for the betterment of humanity and will need to continue on. He states to “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, 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–and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world” (1961). We as Americans believe in liberty and justice for all people; we are all descendants of the soldiers who fought in the revolutionary war to stand united in upholding such principles. Having this same background, President Kennedy brings more to the unification of the citizens of the United States. As stated previously, Kennedy further brings a connection to the audience through a civic call to duty, which is directed to everyone. He states to the audience and the world to “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country” (1961). Though this is a huge responsibility to the people of the United States, he makes the acknowledgment that this is possible if each citizen puts forth the effort to make a difference. Through the effort of an entire nation combined, the United States will be able to change the world for the better.

In addition to uniting the citizens of the United States as a single entity, President Kennedy then continues to unite the human race as a single entity as well. For example, he made the reference to allies whom we share similar values and cultural origins with, our sister countries, as well as the United Nations, from which he makes a pledge to the many different societies around the world that we will ensure that all humanity will be given equal human rights. He continues to develop his theme of unification by references to goals and cultures common to which we share with countries throughout the world. As a result of this, he effectively united all humans throughout the world as one. Throughout his speech, conveyance of shared backgrounds and morals are used to unite the citizens of the United States and the rest of the world to accomplish the same goals that also unite us together.

Kennedy then continues to unite the world by stating that even if we overlook our similar backgrounds, we as Americans share a core set of values, of morals, of ethics as well. President Kennedy uses these values, these ethical and moral appeals in his speech to unite the country even further. He states that “Now the trumpet summons us again–not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need–not as a call to battle, though embattled we are– but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”–a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself” (1961). There is a stark connection made, with the president’s ability to impact the world and the audience having the very same capability to make an impact on the entire world. With this, the audience is able to accept President Kennedy’s call to duty which then, proceeds to credit his speech as being quite effective.

Kennedy was trying to unite all Americans and all humans as they exist on this earth and to bring the audience to his call to duty. He used Americans shared backgrounds and their core values to strengthen his call to duty as well as connect the country as one. His call to action is based on the three rhetorical appeals, ethos, pathos and logos. He has appealed emotionally to the audience with patriotism, hope, and justice for all humans. Kennedy uses the contrast of feelings such as pride and fear and pity, which works very well to convey his call to action. He then utilized these negative emotions of pity felt by the audience for parts of the world that have people living in poverty which push people further into his call to duty (1961). Kennedy creates these unwanted feelings in a successful attempt to push people to rid themselves of such emotions. Then, in contrast, he continues to utilize emotional appeals by evoking pride in unifying America and the world. He keeps enforcing his call to duty through emotional appeal. Last, but not least, he has used reason in how he used American values and the cause and effect of the revolution in America to becoming a country who believes in liberty and justice for all. His whole speech makes sense and flows well together from point to point.

Kennedy’s utilization of pathos, appealing to the emotions of his audience is of most importance to his inaugural speech, in which the chief aim was to unify all Americans and the world together. He states to “Let us begin anew–remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” (1961).  Kennedy conveyed himself as a man of great integrity that the audience and the world had no choice but to trust him. From my perspective, there was not a single logical fallacy to be found in this entire speech. Also, the speech was very successful in connecting the people of different backgrounds in the world which puts great emphasis on his call to action. It was clear that he was very successful in conveying his goal of working towards providing the people of the entire world with human rights as well as peace and stability. We can conclude by stating the fact that Kennedy had a perfect vision for the world. In his closing, he states that “Whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. 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” (1961). His call to action showed how admirable and responsible a man he is, and proves without a doubt that we should all take responsibility for creating the world in which all are granted life, liberty, and freedom.

References

Kennedy, John F. (1961). John F. Kennedy Quotations, President Kennedy’s Inaugural  Address, January 20, 1961. Retrieved from https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/JFK-Quotations/Inaugural-Address.aspx

Life of John F. Kennedy. Retrieved from https://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/Life-of-John-F-Kennedy.aspx

 

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