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Presidents and Faith: Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton was born as William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946. His father had died in a car accident three months before he was born and he later took the surname of his stepfather Roger Clinton. He regularly attended a preschool program at First Baptist Church in Hope, Arkansas and at age 9 he was baptized at the Park Place Baptist Church. He later described his memory of his baptism in these words:

"I had absorbed enough of my church’s teachings to know that I was a sinner and to want Jesus to save me. So I came down the aisle at the end of Sunday service, professed my faith in Christ, and asked to be baptized. Pastor James Fitzgerald convinced me that I needed to acknowledge that I was a sinner and to accept Christ in my heart, and I did."

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As a child one of the elementary schools he attended was St. John's Catholic Elementary School. In 1959, 13 year old Bill Clinton attended Billy Graham’s crusade in Little Rock. He was so impressed with Graham’s message and refusal to segregate his audience, especially given the controversy over the integration of Central High School and pressure from the White Citizens Council and Little Rock businessmen. Clinton gave this description of that event:

"So here we were with neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood in my state on the verge of violence, and yet tens of thousands of black and white Christians were there together in a football stadium. And when he issued the call at the end of this message, thousands came down holding hands, arm in arm, crying. It was the beginning of the end of the Old South in my home state. I will never forget it."

Clinton attended the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., receiving a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree in 1968. Upon graduation, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He did not earn a degree there because he switched programs and had left to attend Yale University. While at Oxford he participated in Vietnam War protests and organized an event in October 1969 a part of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. Clinton had been critical of President Richard Nixon, of whom he said:

"I believed in Christianity and middle-class virtues too, but I thought living out our true religious and political principles would require us to reach deeper and go further than Mr. Nixon was prepared to go."

In 1975 Clinton married Hillary Rodham, who he had met at Yale Law School, and in 1978 Arkansas residents elected him as the nation’s youngest governor at age 32. But he lost his reelection bid in 1980 to a fundamentalist Baptist. At the time he and Hillary were said to be experiencing marital problems, and rumors spread that he was having extramarital affairs. The birth of his daughter Chelsea in 1980, caused him to reconsider his beliefs and values and he joined Immanuel Baptist Church, a 4,000 member Southern Baptist congregation in Little Rock. He sang in the church choir and joined a Bible study group. His critics accused Clinton of attending church to attract voters he had lost in the last election, Betsey Wright, his longtime chief of staff, said that his motives were more genuine. Clinton said that he benefited greatly from the sermons and spiritual guidance of the church’s pastor W. O. Vaught.

Clinton sought his party's nomination for President in 1992 against improbable odds. President George H. W. Bush was enjoying extraordinarily high approval ratings and Clinton was a relatively unknown national candidate. A woman named Gennifer Flowers appeared in the press to reveal allegations of an affair. Clinton sought damage control by appearing on 60 Minutes with Hillary to acknowledge his failings. Clinton's second-place finish led to his labeling himself "The Comeback Kid" – re-energized his campaign. During the campaign, Clinton spoke about his religious beliefs, saying:

"My faith tells me that all of us are sinners, and each of us has gone in our own way and fallen short of the glory of God."

Clinton defeated Bush in a masterful campaign that took the focus off of Bush's foreign policy successes and on to what the Clinton campaign dubbed "the economy stupid!" He concluded his first inaugural address in January of 1993 by saying:

"And so, my fellow Americans, as we stand at the edge of the 21st century, let us begin anew with energy and hope, with faith and discipline. And let us work until our work is done. The Scripture says, 'And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.' From this joyful mountaintop of celebration we hear a call to service in the valley. We have heard the trumpets. We have changed the guard. And now, each in our own way and with God's help, we must answer the call. Thank you, and God bless you all."

The morning of his inauguration, Clinton participated in a service at the Metropolitan African Methodist Church. The third week of his presidency Clinton asked National Prayer Breakfast guests "to seek the help and guidance of our Lord," adding, "I have always been touched by the example of Jesus Christ."

Clinton told families who had lost loved ones in the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 that "the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness" and that "God's amazing grace enables people to get through and beyond our individual and collective sins and trials."

During his presidency Clinton had frequent contact with Rev. Billy Graham. In November 1995 Clinton told Graham that he felt strengthened by his prayers. He asked Graham to participate in his second inaugural ceremony in 1997, and in a letter to Graham, Clinton wrote: "your counsel, friendship, and prayers have long been a source of strength and joy to me." Soon after accounts of Clinton’s alleged affair with Lewinsky began to surface in March 1998, Graham declared that he would forgive Clinton, calling the President "a remarkable man who had faced a lot of temptations."

But many other conservative Christians never forgave Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, he spoke the following year of the glory of Christian grace. In a public statement Clinton made after news of the affair became public, Clinton said:

"I have been profoundly moved, as few people have, by the pure power of grace, unmerited forgiveness through grace, most of all to my wife and daughter, but to the people I work with, to the legions of American people and to the God in whom I believe. And I am very grateful to all of you who have had any role in that."

After completing two terms as President, Clinton founded the William J. Clinton Foundation to address issues of global importance. These included such issues as the HIV and AIDS Initiative which strives to combat that disease; and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), begun by the Clinton Foundation in 2005, which attempts to address world problems such as global public health, poverty alleviation and religious and ethnic conflict.

Presidents and Faith: Ronald Reagan

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911, the son of Nelle Clyde (Wilson) and John Edward "Jack" Reagan. Jack had his struggles with alcoholism, while Nelle was responsible for the children's moral upbringing. According to author Paul Kengor, in his book God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life, Ronald Reagan was taught by his mother to have faith in the goodness of people, which stemmed from her optimism. Nelle was a member of the Disciples of Christ faith, and in 1922, the eleven year old future president was baptized into in that religion. Reagan said that his mother was opposed to racial discrimination, and he recalled a time in Dixon when the local inn would not allow black people to stay there. Reagan brought them back to his house, where his mother invited them to stay the night and have breakfast the next morning.


Reagan attended Eureka College, a Disciples-oriented liberal arts school. After graduating from Eureka in 1932, Reagan drove himself to Iowa, where he held jobs as an announcer at several stations. He moved to WHO radio in Des Moines as an announcer for Chicago Cubs baseball games. While traveling with the Cubs in California, Reagan took a screen test in 1937 that led to a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers studios. He spent the first few years of his Hollywood career in the "B film" unit. This would lead to a career in films.

Reagan was twice elected as President of the Screen Actors Guild, the labor union for actors, where he worked to root out Communist influence in the industry. In the 1950s he moved into television and was a motivational speaker at General Electric factories. Having been a lifelong liberal Democrat, his views changed. He became a conservative and in 1962 switched to the Republican Party. In 1964, Reagan's speech, "A Time for Choosing", in support of Barry Goldwater's floundering presidential campaign, earned him national attention as a new conservative spokesman.

Reagan was elected Governor of California in 1966. As governor, Reagan raised taxes, turned a state budget deficit to a surplus, challenged the protesters at the University of California, ordered National Guard troops in during a period of protest movements in 1969, and was re-elected in 1970. He twice ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nominations in 1968 and 1976; four years later, he easily won the nomination outright, going on to be elected the oldest President, defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Though divorced and not a regular churchgoer, it was Reagan and not his born-again opponent Jimmy Carter, who received the support of the newly mobilized religious right in the 1980 presidential campaign. Christian conservatives responded enthusiastically to Reagan's position, which he expressed in a 1979 rally, that "the First Amendment was written not to protect the people and their laws from religious values, but to protect those values from government tyranny."

In his first inaugural address, Reagan acknowledged that the United States was "a nation under God". He said:

"I'm told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this day, and for that I'm deeply grateful. We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inaugural Day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer."

Early in his presidency, Reagan spoke of his religious devotion in a letter, in which he wrote:

"My daily prayer is that God will help me to use this position so as to serve Him. Teddy Roosevelt once called the presidency a bully pulpit. I intend to use it to the best of my ability to serve the Lord."

An unsuccessful 1981 assassination attempt is said to have caused Reagan draw nearer to his faith. One of the Secret Service agents, John Barletta, recalled Reagan reflecting: "God knew I needed a nudge. God wanted that assassination attempt to happen. He gave me a wake-up call. Everything I do from now on, I owe to God."

In 1982, Reagan supported a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary school prayer. A year later he awarded the Rev. Billy Graham the Presidential Medal of Freedom and proclaimed 1983 the "Year of the Bible." He called on Americans to join him, stating:

"Let us take up the challenge to reawaken America's religious and moral heart, recognizing that a deep and abiding faith in God is the rock upon which this great nation was founded."

On October 7, 1984, during his campaign for re-election, during a debate with his opponent Walter Mondale, Reagan was asked why he didn't attend church services. He gave this answer:

"I have gone to church regularly all my life, and I started to here in Washington. And now, in the position I hold and in the world in which we live, where Embassies do get blown up in Beirut, but I pose a threat to several hundred people if I go to church. I know the threats that are made against me. We all know the possibility of terrorism. We have seen the barricades that have had to be built around the White House. And, therefore, I don't feel, and my minister knows this and supports me in this position, I don't feel that I have a right to go to church, knowing that my being there could cause something of the kind that we have seen in other places, in Beirut, for example. And I miss going to church, but I think the Lord understands."

Reagan began his second inaugural address in 1985 by asking for a moment of silent prayer for the recently deceased Representative Gillis Long of Louisiana. In the speech he referred to American values of "faith, family, work and neighborhood". He went on to say:

"As an older American, I remember a time when people of different race, creed, or ethnic origin in our land found hatred and prejudice installed in social custom and, yes, in law. There is no story more heartening in our history than the progress that we have made toward the "brotherhood of man" that God intended for us. Let us resolve there will be no turning back or hesitation on the road to an America rich in dignity and abundant with opportunity for all our citizens."

He concluded the speech by saying:

"For all our problems, our differences, we are together as of old, as we raise our voices to the God who is the Author of this most tender music. And may He continue to hold us close as we fill the world with our sound—sound in unity, affection, and love, one people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that He has placed in the human heart, called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world. God bless you and may God bless America."

But Reagan also disappointed some leaders of the religious right by putting domestic social issues on the back burner to economic initiatives and foreign affairs. He did Reagan deliver on his promises to reinstitute school prayer and to outlaw abortion. Many evangelical leaders were angered when Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor as the first female justice on the Supreme Court of the United States because they believed that O'Connor would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the leading decision permitting abortions.

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Reagan left office in 1989 with overwhelming approval from his evangelical supporters. Since 1963 Reagan had generally attended Presbyterian church services at Bel-Air Presbyterian Church, in Bel-Air, California. He became an official member of Bel-Air Presbyterian after leaving the Presidency. In 1994 Reagan disclosed his diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease earlier that year, appearing publicly for the last time at the funeral of Richard Nixon. His condition deteriorated due to the disease, and he died ten years later at the age of 93.

Presidents and Faith: Jimmy Carter

Many believe that James Earl Carter Jr. may have been the most religious of all of the Presidents. Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, the Co-chair Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, has described Carter as such, stating "Jimmy Carter, as a person, is as religious a president as we've had."

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Carter was born on October 1, 1924, at the Wise Sanatorium in Plains, Georgia, where his mother, the former Bessie Lillian Gordy, worked as a nurse. As an 11-year-old growing up in Plains, Ga., Carter accepted Christ as his savior and was baptized in the Baptist Church the following week. He later described his being "born again" as a process, not a single incident. He said:

"Rather than a sudden flash of light or a sudden vision of God speaking, it involved a series of steps that have brought me steadily closer to Christ."

Carter attended the Annapolis Naval Academy. He married his sister Ruth's friend Rosalynn Smith shortly after his graduation in 1946. Carter graduated 60th out of 820 midshipmen in the class of 1946 with a Bachelor of Science degree and was commissioned as an Ensign. From 1946 to 1953, Carter and Rosalynn lived temporarily in Virginia, Hawaii, Connecticut, New York and California, as he served deployments in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. In 1948 he served aboard the USS Pomfret and was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade in 1949. In 1951 he became qualified for command, and served in several duties including Executive Officer. In 1952 Carter began an association with the US Navy's fledgling nuclear submarine program led by then-Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Rickover's demands on his men and machines were legendary, and Carter later said that, next to his parents, Rickover was the greatest influence on his life. In July of 1953 his father died and the family business became his. Against his wife's wishes, he returned to small-town life in Plains, resigning his commission. Carter was honorably discharged from the Navy on October 9, 1953. He served two terms as a Georgia State Senator, from 1963 to 1967, and one as the Governor of Georgia, from 1971 to 1975.

In 1976 Carter ran for President of the United States. As John F. Kennedy had done 16 years before, Carter asked Americans to disregard his personal religious preferences, even though religion had become an issue after Carter proclaimed himself a "born-again" Christian in the 1976 presidential primaries in North Carolina. This actually worked to Carter's advantage politically as disillusionment with the lack of personal integrity during the Nixon years led to a backlash of distrust of politicians. Many evangelical Christians especially felt a kinship with a candidate who they believed shared their values, causing millions of them to vote for Carter in 1976.

During the 1976 campaign Carter was interviewed by Robert Scheer of Playboy Magazine for the publication's November 1976 issue, which hit the newsstands a couple of weeks before the election. While discussing his religion's view of pride, Carter said: "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times."

Carter began his inaugural address by acknowledging the bible he was using on which to take his oath of office. He said:

"Here before me is the Bible used in the inauguration of our first President, in 1789, and I have just taken the oath of office on the Bible my mother gave me just a few years ago, opened to a timeless admonition from the ancient prophet Micah: 'He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.'"

Describing his beliefs at the 1978 National Prayer Breakfast, Carter said, "For those of us who share the Christian faith, the words 'born again' have a very simple meaning: that through a personal experience, we recommit our lives as humble children of God, which makes us in the realest possible sense brothers and sisters of one another."

In an interview with Fox News, Carter was asked to define what he meant by calling himself "born again". He replied as follows:

"In the Book of John, when Christ was questioned by one of the Pharisees, he said, 'You must be born again to have a new life as one of my followers.' So being born again is just like breathing for us. It was a phrase that we used without question for the first 50 years of my existence. And then, of course, evangelical to me is someone who relates their experience with Christ and others in hopes that the other person will accept Christ as savior. So I look upon both these not as a matter of liberal versus consecutive, or fundamentalist versus progressive, or whatever, but as a standard description of someone who is a believer in Christ and who follows the Bible."

As President, Carter espoused a belief in the separation of church and state. He said that he did not believe that Jesus would approve of abortion, but said that he felt it his duty to enforce its legality because the Supreme Court upheld it as the law of the land.

Carter's presidency was once compounded with issues that would try the patience of a saint. He faced double digit inflation rates, mortgage interest rates that passed the 20% mark, high oil prices which led to an "energy crisis", the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and finally a hostage taking incident at the American Embassy in Tehran and a failed attempt to rescue the hostages that would conspire to make Carter look weak and inept. His presidency was not entirely without success however as he was able to bring about a negotiated peace agreement between Egypt and Israel known as the Camp David Accord.

By 1980, Carter's popularity had eroded significantly and he was challenged by Senator Ted Kennedy in the Democratic Party's primaries for the presidential nomination. Carter won his party's nomination but lost the general election in an electoral landslide to Republican nominee Ronald Reagan, who won 44 of 50 states.

After leaving office, Carter embarked on a very busy post-presidential life. In 1982, he established The Carter Center in Atlanta to advance human rights. The non-profit, nongovernmental Center seeks to promote democracy, mediate and prevents conflicts, and monitor the electoral process in support of free and fair elections. It also works to improve global health and to diminish the stigma of mental illnesses and increase crop production in Africa. The Carter Center has monitored 96 elections in 38 countries since 1989. In 2002 Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work "to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development" through The Carter Center.

In 2000, Carter severed his membership with the Southern Baptist Convention, saying the group's doctrines did not align with his Christian beliefs. In April 2006, Carter, former President Bill Clinton, and Mercer University President Bill Underwood initiated the New Baptist Covenant, a movement which has the goal of uniting Baptists of all races, cultures and convention affiliations. Eighteen Baptist leaders representing more than 20 million Baptists across North America backed the group as an alternative to the Southern Baptist Convention. The group held its first meeting in Atlanta, January 30 through February 1, 2008. He said of the move:

"At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities."

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Carter returned home to Georgia, where he resumed teaching Sunday school classes and wrote two books explaining his religious beliefs. Of his book "Our Endangered Values", Carter was asked by an interviewer about the separation of church and state being not only to be a constitutional mandate but a biblical mandate. He explained:

"I just follow the words of Jesus Christ who said, 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s, which to me was an admonition from our savior to separate political affairs from religious affairs."

Presidents and Faith: Richard Nixon

President Richard Milhous Nixon was born into a devoutly religious Quaker family in Yorba Linda, California. Nixon's father Frank came from a conservative Methodist background, but after marrying Hannah Milhous, Frank Nixon joined a Quaker congregation. Hannah Nixon saw to it that the Nixon children "received a common religious upbringing in the Friends Sunday school."

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The Nixon family attended an evangelical Quaker meeting house every Sunday. They prayed silently before each meal, and they observed strict prohibitions on drinking, gambling and swearing. While in middle school, Richard Nixon played piano for Sunday school services and sang in the church choir. He also taught Sunday school services throughout the majority of his undergraduate years in college. Nixon said that in his youth he accepted the "literal correctness of the Bible, the miracles, even the whale story."

Nixon attended Quaker-affiliated Whittier College. In 1933, while an undergraduate at Whittier, Nixon attended lectures on "The Philosophy of Christian Construction" by Dr. J. Herschel Coffin. The death of Nixon's elder brother Harold during that same year was said to have a profound effect on his religious beliefs. In a series of essays written for Dr. Coffin's class, Nixon wrote that many of his childhood religious ideas had been "destroyed but there are some which I cannot bring myself to drop. I still believe that God is the creator. I still believe that He lives today, in some form, directing the destinies of the cosmos. For the time being I shall accept the solution offered by Kant, that man can only go so far in his research and explanations; from that point on we must accept God."

Excerpts from these papers are included in his 1978 autobiography "RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. He said that he no longer accepted as fact many of the miracles mentioned in the Bible, but he still expressed admiration for Christ's message. He wrote that it would be his purpose in life "to follow the religion of Jesus as well as I can." He also wrote:

""Jesus and God are one, because Jesus set the great example which is forever pulling men upward to the ideal life. His life was so perfect that he 'mingled' his soul with God's."

When World War II began, he volunteered to work for the Office of Price Administration. Although as a Quaker he received a religious exemption from military service, he waived it and took a commission in the Navy. After serving in the Navy during the war, Nixon was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946 and to the Senate in 1950. His pursuit of the Hiss Case established his reputation as a leading anti-communist, and elevated him to national prominence.

Nixon was chosen as the running mate for Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican Party presidential nominee in the 1952 election. Nixon served for eight years as vice president. He was unsuccessful in his own presidential campaign in 1960, narrowly losing to John F. Kennedy, and he also lost a race for Governor of California in 1962. In 1968 he ran again for the presidency and was elected when he defeated Hubert Humphrey.

At this time Nixon befriended famous author and clergyman Norman Vincent Peale, who also performed the marriage of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower in December, 1968.

In his first inaugural address in January of 1969, Nixon referenced God while speaking about racial equality. He said:

"This means black and white together, as one nation, not two. The laws have caught up with our conscience. What remains is to give life to what is in the law: to ensure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man."

He concluded by saying:

"Our destiny offers, not the cup of despair, but the chalice of opportunity. So let us seize it, not in fear, but in gladness—and, "riders on the earth together," let us go forward, firm in our faith, steadfast in our purpose, cautious of the dangers; but sustained by our confidence in the will of God and the promise of man."

While president, Nixon regularly attended Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church and he told his chief of staff H. R. Haldemann that he prayed every night. Nixon had a close relationship with the Rev. Billy Graham. The evangelical preacher acted as Nixon's spiritual adviser and became a regular at the White House, preaching on several occasions at White House worship services instituted by the president. Nixon would occasionally mention God and religion in his public speeches, although not with the same frequency as some of his successors. Graham, professed disappointment in Nixon after Watergate, but he persistently called Nixon, describing him as a friend he could never forsake and for whom he often prayed. Graham had been the first speaker at the White House worship services Nixon initiated on the Sunday after his first inauguration in 1969. Twenty-six such services were held during the first two years of his presidency.

Nixon was re-elected President in 1972. He concluded his second inaugural address in 1973 with an appeal to the nation to "serve God's purpose". He said:

"We shall answer to God, to history, and to our conscience for the way in which we use these years... Today, I ask your prayers that in the years ahead I may have God's help in making decisions that are right for America, and I pray for your help so that together we may be worthy of our challenge. Let us pledge together to make these next four years the best four years in America's history, so that on its 200th birthday America will be as young and as vital as when it began, and as bright a beacon of hope for all the world. Let us go forward from here confident in hope, strong in our faith in one another, sustained by our faith in God who created us, and striving always to serve His purpose."

In a speech at the 1974 National Prayer Breakfast, Nixon discussed the necessity of tolerance, stating that it was imperative to "recognize the right of people in the world to be different from what we are. Even some may have different religions. Even some, we must accept, may not have a religious belief, as we understand a religious belief, to believe."

As news of the Watergate break-in was released, and its connection to the White House became more apparent, many religious groups turned on Nixon and called for his resignation. Quakers in Milwaukee and Minneapolis expressed contempt for Nixon's abuse of power and called for his impeachment a full six months before he finally resigned in August, 1974. The National Council of Churches, the nation's largest ecumenical organization, also called for his impeachment.

When the White House Watergate tapes were released, many Evangelicals expressed disappointment and shock at the profanity and and vindictiveness that came out of the President's mouth. Rev. Pat Robertson demanded that Nixon apologize to America's Christians who, he said in 1974, were "the victims of a cruel hoax." Robertson also said: "We can surmise that Dr. Billy Graham has been used for political image-building."

Rev. Wallace Henley, a Southern Baptist preacher and onetime White House aide, wrote a book in the wake of the Watergate scandal entitled, "The White House Mystique." He said fellow evangelicals would not have been so shocked had they not "been so eager to adopt Nixon as one of our own. God could be worshiped in the East Room on Sunday, and lies be told in the press room on Monday. Pragmatism permitted no questions about contradictions. It dictated that whatever had to be done to maintain power, be it in the worship of God or the twisting of information, it should be done."

Since 1996, the National Archives periodically released taped conversations between Nixon and his aides in which Nixon is heard making a number of anti-Semitic remarks.

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Nixon suffered a severe stroke on April 18, 1994, while preparing to eat dinner in his Park Ridge, New Jersey home. A blood clot formed in his upper heart, broke off, and traveled to his brain. He was taken to New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, initially alert but unable to speak or to move his right arm or leg. Damage to the brain caused swelling and Nixon slipped into a deep coma. He died at 9:08 p.m. on April 22, 1994, with his daughters at his bedside. He was 81 years old.

Happy Birthday Zachary Taylor

On November 24, 1784 (231 years ago today), Zachary Taylor, the 12th President of the United States, was born in Barboursville, Virginia. Taylor is another somewhat obscure president that I like, mainly for two reasons: (1) because he was unpretentious and (2) when he was elected, the Whigs in congress thought that he was a weak leader and they expected him to do as they told him. He surprised them by being his own man. If he hadn't died less than two years into his term, I think he would have actually been a very strong and a very memorable president.

Taylor was born on a plantation in Orange County, Virginia, to a prominent family of Virginia planters. He was the third of five surviving sons in his family (a sixth died in infancy) and had three younger sisters. His father, Richard Taylor, had served as a lieutenant colonel in the American Revolution. His mother was Sarah Dabney (Strother) Taylor. Taylor was a second cousin of James Madison, the fourth president.

Taylor's family joined the westward migration out of Virginia and settled near modern day Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River. Taylor's father came to own over 10,000 acres of land throughout Kentucky and he had 26 slaves. In June of 1810, Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith, known as "Peggy". The couple had six children. Taylor's daughter Sarah was the first wife of Confederate States President Jefferson Davis. Sarah died at the age of 21 from malaria. Taylor's youngest son Richard was a Confederate general during the civil war.

Taylor was initially uninterested in politics. He was a successful general in the Mexican War, winning battles at Palo Alto and Monterrey against greater odds. He was relieved of most of his command not because of incompetence, but the reverse. He was such a good commander that President James K. Polk was worried about the popular general becoming too popular. (The strategy didn't work, Taylor ended up succeeding Polk as President anyhow). In total Taylor had a 40-year military career in the United States Army, serving in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War, before gaining notoriety in Mexico. He wasn't much for fancy military dress and he became known as "Old Rough and Ready." There is a story told of how, when soldiers would arrive looking for General Taylor, they would mistake him for a civilian because he would be out of uniform and wearing an old straw hat. It is said that Taylor would play along with the charade for a time to get a laugh.

Taylor ran for president as a Whig in the 1848 presidential election. The Whigs selected him as their candidate even though no one was sure what his politics were. It is said that he had never even voted before. Taylor defeated Democrat Lewis Cass. At the time he was a planter and slaveholder based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Northerners expected him to be a moderate on the issue of slavery while southerners expected that, as a southerner and a slaveholder, Taylor would be on their side on the issue of expansion of slavery into the territories. He surprised them on that issue. As president, Taylor angered many Southerners by taking a moderate stance on the issue of the expansion of slavery. He urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of 1850.

Taylor died July 9, 1850, 16 months after his inauguration. The cause of death is believed to be gastroenteritis. Conspiracy theorists believed that Taylor may have been poisoned and on June 17, 1991 his remains were exhumed and transported to the Office of the Kentucky Chief Medical Examiner for examination. Samples of hair, fingernail, and other tissues were removed, and radiological studies were conducted. The remains were returned to the cemetery and reinterred, with appropriate honors.

Analysis conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed no evidence of poisoning, as arsenic levels were too low. The analysis concluded he had contracted "cholera morbus, or acute gastroenteritis". The report added that the cure may have been worse than the disease. His doctors treated him with "ipecac, calomel, opium and quinine (at 40 grains a whack), and bled and blistered him too."

Presidents and Faith: Zachary Taylor

Little is known about the religious views of President Zachary Taylor. Like his politics (at least before his election), Taylor kept his religious views personal, though he is widely believed to have been an Episcopalian.

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Born in Orange County, Virginia in 1784, Taylor was a descendant of Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim colonist leader of the Plymouth Colony, a Mayflower immigrant, and one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact. When he was a child, his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky. In June 1810, Taylor married Margaret Mackall Smith, better known as "Peggy", who came from a prominent family of Maryland planters. The couple had six children together, four of who survived to adulthood. Taylor was a career soldier who served in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War and lastly in the Mexican War.

Peggy was a devout Episcopalian, who prayed regularly for her soldier husband. It is said that she had made God a promise to give up the pleasures of society if her husband returned safely from Mexican War.

Taylor won outstanding military victories at Monterrey and Palo Alto in the Mexican War and this translated to immense political popularity at home. Even after President James K. Polk transferred the bulk of Taylor's forces to General Winfield Scott, Taylor remained a popular choice for the Whig nomination for President in 1848, even though he had never held political office before. (According to many sources, he had never even voted before.) Taylor won the nomination and the presidency, defeating Democrat Lewis Cass in November of 1848.

Polk's term ended on March 4, 1849, a Sunday. Taylor refused to take the constitutional oath until March 5, because he said he did not want to violate the Lord's Day. Some claim that the President pro tempore of the Senate, David Rice Atchison, became president for a day, but many constitutional scholars dispute this conclusion and argue that Atkinson attained the position only if the President-elect and vice-president-elect died. They also assert that his term as President pro tempore of the Senate expired with the 30th Congress on March 3, two days before Taylor took the oath.

As one member of this community has wisely observed, pretty much every president has inserted some version of "God Bless America" into his inaugural address, and Taylor was no exception. He ended his brief address by saying:

"In conclusion I congratulate you, my fellow-citizens, upon the high state of prosperity to which the goodness of Divine Providence has conducted our common country. Let us invoke a continuance of the same protecting care which has led us from small beginnings to the eminence we this day occupy, and let us seek to deserve that continuance by prudence and moderation in our councils, by well-directed attempts to assuage the bitterness which too often marks unavoidable differences of opinion, by the promulgation and practice of just and liberal principles, and by an enlarged patriotism, which shall acknowledge no limits but those of our own widespread Republic."

In his brief tenure as president of just over two years, Taylor followed a precedent set by Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson before him, Taylor did not issue a proclamation calling for a national day of prayer and fasting while president. In a letter dated Nov. 5, 1849, he wrote:

"While uniting cordially in the universal feeling of thankfulness to God for his manifold blessings, and especially for the abatement of the pestilence which so lately walked in our midst, I have yet thought it most proper to leave the subject of a Thanksgiving Proclamation where custom in many parts of the country has so long consigned it, in the hands of the Governors of the several States."


Taylor is not remembered for his religious devotion. On July 4, 1850, Taylor reportedly consumed raw fruit and iced milk after attending holiday celebrations and a fund-raising event at the Washington Monument, which was then under construction. Over the course of several days, he became severely ill with an unknown digestive ailment. His doctor diagnosed the illness as cholera morbus. Several of his cabinet members had come down with a similar illness. Fever ensued and Taylor's chance of recovery was small. On July 8, Taylor is said to have remarked to one of his doctors:

"I should not be surprised if this were to terminate in my death. I did not expect to encounter what has beset me since my elevation to the Presidency. God knows I have endeavored to fulfill what I conceived to be an honest duty. But I have been mistaken. My motives have been misconstrued, and my feelings most grossly outraged."

Taylor died at 10:35 p.m. on July 9, 1850. He was 65 years old. He was interred in the Public Vault of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., from July 13, 1850, to October 25, 1850. His body was transported to the Taylor Family plot where his parents were buried on the old Taylor homestead plantation known as "Springfield" in Louisville, Kentucky.

Happy Birthday Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States and the only President from New Hampshire, was born on November 23, 1804 (211 years ago today.) Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" (a Northerner with Southern sympathies). Prior to becoming president, Pierce served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. He also fought in the Mexican-American War and became a brigadier general in the Army. His private law practice in his home state was so successful that he was offered several important positions (including Attorney-General in the Cabinet of James K. Polk), which he turned down, because they would have meant a cut in pay.


Pierce was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the son of a former revolutionary war soldier, later a general and governor of the state. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine where he began his lifelong friendship with the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. He became a lawyer and at age 27 was the youngest member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He later served as a member of the US Senate. In 1834 he married Jane Appleton, who had many opposite character traits to her husband.

Pierce served in the Mexican-American War as a brigadier general in the Army. He was later accused by his political enemies of cowardice during the war, but in his memoirs, Ulysses Grant, who also fought in that war, disputed this allegation and said that Pierce was a gallant soldier.

When Pierce returned home from the war, his private law practice was so successful that he was offered several important positions, which he turned down. He was nominated as the party's candidate for president on the 49th ballot at the 1852 Democratic National Convention. He was a compromise candidate after Lewis Cass, James Buchanan, William Marcy and Stephen Douglas couldn't garner enough support to win the nomination. In the presidential election, Pierce and his running mate William R. King defeated the Whig Party ticket of Winfield Scott and William A. Graham by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin in the popular vote and 254 to 42 in the electoral vote.

The Pierces has three sons, all of whom died in infancy. His last born son Benny was killed tragically when the train taking Pierce to his inauguration derailed and eleven year old Benny was decapitated. Jane Pierce saw this as a punishment from God and resented her husband's political ambitions. Jane Pierce was devastated by the incident.

As president, Pierce made many divisive decisions which were widely criticized. His popularity in the Northern states declined sharply after he supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which replaced the Missouri Compromise and renewed debate over the expansion of slavery in the American West. This in turn led to a high level of violence in the Kansas territory between the pro and anti-slavery forces. Pierce's credibility was further damaged when several of his diplomats issued the Ostend Manifesto, a proposal that the United States offer to buy Cuba from Spain, and then go to war if the offer was refused.

Despite a reputation as an able politician and a likable man, during Pierce's presidency he failed to moderate the increasingly bitter factions that were driving the nation towards civil war. The Democratic party abandoned him in the 1856 election and Pierce was not renominated to run in the election. After losing the Democratic nomination, Pierce is quoted as saying "after the presidency, what is there to do but drink?" He struggled with alcoholism and his marriage to Jane Pierce was strained. After leaving office, the Pierces spent three years traveling to Europe and to the Bahamas. His reputation was hurt more during the Civil War when he opposed many of the policies of Abraham Lincoln, and when personal correspondence between Pierce and the Confederate President Jefferson Davis was found in a Union army raid on the home of Davis and leaked to the press. Pierce was confronted by an angry mob at his home in Concord following the death of Abraham Lincoln because his house was not decorated in black bunting, as was the custom. He went out to addressed the mob and managed to calm them down by speaking about his service to the nation.

Franklin Pierce died in Concord, New Hampshire, at 4:49 am on October 8, 1869, at the age of 64 from cirrhosis of the liver. President Ulysses S. Grant, who later defended Pierce's service in the Mexican War in his memoirs, declared a day of national mourning. He was buried next to his wife and two of his sons, all of whom had predeceased him, in the Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.

Presidents and Faith: Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce was born on November 23, 1804 (211 years ago today), in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. He was a sixth-generation descendant of Thomas Pierce, who had moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from Norwich, County Norfolk, England, in about 1634. Pierce's father Benjamin had fought in the Revolutionary War and was very active in state politics. He attended school in Hillsborough before going to Philip Exeter Academy. In 1820 he began attending Beaudoin College in Maine.

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Pierce does not appear to have been particularly religious as a young man, which is remarkable in a way, because on November 19, 1834, Pierce married Jane Means Appleton, a very devout woman. The Reverend Silas Aiken, Jane's brother-in-law, conducted the small ceremony. Jane was the daughter of Jesse Appleton, a Congregational minister and former president of Bowdoin College, and Elizabeth Means. The Appletons were prominent Whigs, in contrast with the Pierces' Democratic affiliation. Jane was shy, devoutly religious, and pro-temperance. From early on in their relationship she encouraged her husband to abstain from alcohol, something that would become a lifelong problem for him. Jane had a strong dislike for politics and she especially disliked Washington, D.C., creating a tension in their marriage as the result of their differing core values and priorities.

The Pierces had three sons, all of whom died in childhood. Franklin, Jr. died 3 days after his birth in 1836. Frank Robert died at the age of four in 1843 from typhoid fever. It was the death of their son 11 years old son Benjamin on January 6, 1853 that was most traumatic for the grieving parents. Benny was killed in a train accident before Pierce's inauguration when the train derailed near and rolled down an embankment near Andover, Massachusetts. Pierce and Jane survived, but in the wreckage they found poor Benny crushed to death, his body nearly decapitated. Pierce was not able to hide the gruesome sight from his wife. The tragedy caused the Pierces both to suffer severe depression afterward. Jane believed that the train accident was divine punishment for her husband's pursuit and acceptance of high office. She wrote a lengthy letter of apology to "Benny" for her failings as a mother and avoided social functions for much of her time as First Lady. For nearly two years, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House, spending her days writing letters to her dead son. Her social duties were performed by her aunt Abby Kent-Means and her close friend Varina Davis, wife of War Secretary Jefferson Davis. She made her first official appearance as First Lady at a New Year's Day reception in 1855 and thereafter served as White House hostess irregularly.

Jane Pierce remained in New Hampshire as Pierce departed for his inauguration, which she did not attend. Pierce, who was the youngest man to be elected president to that point, chose to affirm his oath of office on a law book rather than swear it on a Bible, as all of his predecessors except John Quincy Adams had done. In his inaugural address he referred to how the Americans who fought the Revolution had done so "under the guidance of a manifest and beneficent Providence". In the penultimate paragraph of his address, he said:

"But let not the foundation of our hope rest upon man's wisdom. It will not be sufficient that sectional prejudices find no place in the public deliberations. It will not be sufficient that the rash counsels of human passion are rejected. It must be felt that there is no national security but in the nation's humble, acknowledged dependence upon God and His overruling providence."

Many historians suggest that Pierce was not an especially religious man during his presidency. But at least one historian, Michael Gerhardt, the author of The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy, claims that Pierce sought solace for his grief from his Episcopalian religion.

Pierce's popularity declined sharply after he supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which nullified the Missouri Compromise. Passage of the act led to violent conflict over the expansion of slavery in the American West. Pierce expected to be renominated by the Democrats in the 1856 presidential election, but he was abandoned by his party after being seen as not electable.

After leaving the White House, the Pierces remained in Washington for more than two months, before moving to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The couple spent the next three years traveling, beginning with a stay in Madeira and followed by tours of Europe and the Bahamas. When he returned to the United States, he criticized New England Protestant ministers, who largely supported abolition and Republican candidates, describing their actions as "heresy and treason".

As the Democratic Convention of 1860 approached, some asked Pierce to run as a compromise candidate that could unite the fractured party, but Pierce refused. As several southern states began plans to secede, Pierce sent a letter appealing to the people of Alabama to remain in the Union. When the war began, Pierce proposed an assembly of former U.S. presidents to resolve the issue, but this suggestion was not acted on. Pierce opposed the war, stating in a letter to his wife, "I will never justify, sustain or in any way or to any extent uphold this cruel, heartless, aimless, unnecessary war."

Jane Pierce died of tuberculosis in Andover, Massachusetts in December 1863. She was buried at Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire. Pierce's drinking grew worse after Jane's death. In April 1865, following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, a mob gathered outside Pierce's home in Concord, demanding to know why he had not raised a flag to show his grief. Pierce courageously confronted the crowd. He expressed sadness over Lincoln's death but said that his record of military and public service proved his patriotism. This seemed to quiet the crowd.

It has been said that after Jane's death, Pierce grew increasingly spiritual. On the second anniversary of Jane's death, Pierce was baptized into his wife's Episcopal faith at St. Paul's Church in Concord. He found this church to be less political than his former Congregational denomination, which had alienated Democrats with anti-slavery rhetoric. He spent most of his time in Concord and his cottage at Little Boar's Head on the coast, sometimes visiting Jane's relatives in Massachusetts. Still interested in politics, he expressed optimism when Ulysses S. Grant was elected President.


Pierce's health declined further through mid-1869, as he continued to drink heavily. He returned to Concord that September, suffering from severe cirrhosis of the liver. He died at 4:35 am on October 8, 1869, 46 days before his 65th birthday. President Grant declared a day of national mourning. Newspapers across the country carried lengthy front-page stories examining Pierce's colorful and controversial career. Pierce was interred next to his wife and two of his sons in the Minot enclosure at Concord's Old North Cemetery.

Presidents and Faith: John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy was the first (and so far the only) Catholic president. His religion became a major issue in the 1960 election, when some of his opponents tried to suggest that if he was elected, he would be beholden to the Pope, placing his religion ahead of his country.

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Before 1960, only one Catholic had been the presidential nominee for one of the two major parties. That was Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York, who was the Democratic Candidate for president in 1928. Smith’s campaign opponents spread the rumor that he would have a pipeline from the White House to the Vatican and would amend the Constitution to make Catholicism the nation’s established religion. The strategy played into anti-Catholic prejudice in the previously solidly Democratic south and Smith was soundly walloped at the polls.

Kennedy's Catholicism wasn't a problem when it came to getting elected in Massachusetts where Irish Catholics were a prominent voting block. In 1947, when Kennedy was a representative from Massachusetts, Congress held a hearing on public funding for parochial schools. When a Freemason testified that Catholics owe their loyalties to their church, not their country, Kennedy became upset. He told the witness: “I am not a legal subject of the Pope. There is an old saying in Boston that we get our religion from Rome and our politics from home.”

Early on during Kennedy's 1960 campaign for his party's nomination, Kennedy's religion became an issue. Protestant leaders, including prominent pastors such as Billy Graham and Norman Vincent Peale, warned that the country would go to hell with a Catholic in the Oval Office. In the Minnesota primary, he defeated Senator Hubert Humphrey with 56% of the vote, but it didn't escape the notice of his strategists that he failed to win a majority of the Protestant vote—an ominous sign.

Kennedy decided to confront the issue head on by entering the West Virginia primary. West Virginia was a state where Catholics made up less than 4% of the electorate. When early polls in the state showed Kennedy trailing by 20 points, he decided to address the issue head on in a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In the speech he said:

"Are we going to admit to the world that a Jew can be elected Mayor of Dublin, a Protestant can be chosen Foreign Minister of France, a Moslem can be elected to the Israeli parliament, but a Catholic cannot be President of the United States? Are we going to admit to the world - worse still, are we going to admit to ourselves — that one-third of the American people is forever barred from the White House? I believe the American people are more concerned with a man's views and abilities than with the church to which he belongs. I believe the founding fathers meant it when they provided in Article VI of the Constitution that there should be no religious test for public office. And I believe that the American people mean to adhere to those principles today."

A vigorous campaign ensued in the primary. The Kennedy family invested a lot of money into the campaign and on the day of primary, Kennedy won by 93,000 to 61,000 for Humphrey. In his victory speech Kennedy said "I think we have buried the religion issue once and for all." But this was wishful thinking on his part.

In September, a group of 150 Protestant ministers met in Washington. They released a statement claiming that Kennedy could not remain independent of Church control unless he specifically repudiated its teachings. Kennedy received an invitation to address the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Once more he confronted the issue head on. In a candid and eloquent address that drew praise from the press, Kennedy made it clear where his true allegiance was. He told the Association:

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President, should he be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

"For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

"Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

"That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe: a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

"I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so, and neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection for it. If they disagree with that safeguard they should be out openly working to repeal it." "

More than 500,000 copies of his remarks were distributed to clergy, especially Protestant clergy, around the nation. This address seemed to clear up the religious issue, at least up to the time that Kennedy captured his party's nomination.

Vice President Richard Nixon was the Republican nominee, and he accused the Kennedy campaign of using the Houston film in predominantly Catholic urban areas in order to stimulate voter turnout. Late in October, three American-born bishops in Puerto Rico issued a statement forbidding Catholics from voting for candidates who disagreed with the Church on abortion and birth control. Kennedy considered responding to their edict, but he concluded that it was unwise to return focus to the issue of his religion. Some historians have suggested that this controversy, coming at the worst possible time, was a factor in halting momentum for Kennedy's campaign.

Kennedy won the presidency in one of the closest elections in American history up to that time. His margin of victory in the popular vote was 118,000 votes out of 69 million. Polling data suggests that religion helped Kennedy in several urban and industrial states, but contributed to his losses in Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee.

In his inaugural address, Kennedy avoided religious themes, but ended with a call for God's blessing. He said:

"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."


Debate continues over just how devoted Kennedy was to his religious beliefs. He was famously unfaithful to his wife, and one of his biographers has suggested that his public displays of piety were solely for political purposes.

John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 at 1:00 p.m., CST. Before he was pronounced dead, Father Oscar Huber had administered the last rites. Father Huber told The New York Times that the President was already dead by the time he arrived at the hospital, and he had to draw back a sheet covering the President's face to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction.

Remembering John F. Kennedy

On November 22, 1963 (52 years ago today), John Fitzgerald died in Dallas, Texas, the victim of an assassination by gunshot. Many years later, conspiracy theories abound as to whether or not he was the target of a lone gunman or whether there were multiple parties involved. Two congressional commissions have come to opposite conclusions on that question.

At 43 years of age he was the youngest man ever elected President (but not the youngest to become President, Theodore Roosevelt achieved that milestone upon the death of William McKinley). He was also the first (and so far the only ) Catholic to become President. On November 22, 1963, when he was barely past his first thousand days in office, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot as his motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was also the youngest President to die in office. Rather than focus on Kennedy's death, as this community has done on previous November 22nds, let's look at his life and his presidency.


John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29th, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, the second eldest child of Joseph P. Kennedy and the former Rose Fitzgerald. He graduated from Harvard in 1940, and joined the Navy during the second world war. In 1943, the PT boat that he was captain of was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. An injured Kennedy led the survivors through perilous waters to safety. When he returned home from the war, he became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area, and was elected to the US Senate in 1952. He married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12, 1953. In 1955, while recuperating from a back operation, he reportedly wrote Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history. However his close adviser and speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, stated in Sorensen's 2008 autobiography that Sorenson was a co-author of the book. To date, Kennedy is the only President to have won a Pulitzer Prize.

In 1956 Kennedy almost won the Democratic nomination for Vice President, at a time when this was decided at the convention in a contested battle. Four years later, Kennedy won his party's nomination for President on the first-ballot. In the Presidential election of 1963, millions watched Kennedy's famous television debates with the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon. He won the election by a narrow margin in the popular vote, but by a larger one in the electoral college, 303 to 219. His Inaugural Address contained the memorable words: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

As President, his economic programs launched the country on its longest sustained expansion since World War II. He formed the Peace Corps, to aid developing nations. He also pursued the race for the conquest of space and boldly predicted that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. But it was on the international front that he faced his biggest challenges. Shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy permitted a band of Cuban exiles, already armed and trained, to invade their homeland. The attempt to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro was a failure. Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union renewed its campaign against West Berlin. Kennedy replied by reinforcing the Berlin garrison and increasing the Nation's military strength, including new efforts in outer space.

The Russians sought to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. When this was discovered by air reconnaissance in October 1962, Kennedy imposed a quarantine on all offensive weapons bound for Cuba. While the world trembled on the brink of nuclear war, the Russians backed down and agreed to take the missiles away. Kennedy argued that both sides had a vital interest in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and slowing the arms race, and a nuclear test ban treaty was signed in 1963.


Years after Kennedy's death, it was revealed that in September 1947, at age 30, and while in his first term in Congress, he was diagnosed with Addison's disease, a rare endocrine disorder. In 1966, his White House doctor, Janet Travell, revealed that Kennedy also had hypothyroidism. He also suffered from chronic and severe back pain.

Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 pm Central Standard Time on Friday November 22, 1963, while on a political trip to Texas to smooth over some tensiions in the Democratic Party between liberals Ralph Yarborough and conservative John Connally. While his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, Kennedy was shot once in the throat, once in the upper back, with the fatal shot hitting him in the head. He was taken to Parkland Hospital for emergency medical treatment, but was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm.

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder of a local police officer, and was subsequently charged with the assassination of Kennedy. He denied shooting anyone, claiming he was a patsy. Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby on November 24, before he could be tried. President Lyndon Johnson created the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination. That body concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin. The United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations was established in 1976 to investigate the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. That committee concluded that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy.


Kennedy is buried in Arlington National Cemetery at a spot overlooking the capitol. His resting place is marked by an "eternal flame."


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