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John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address


John Simkin
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Email from Steve McCourtie:

I recently visited the "Spartacus Educational" website and noted your biography of John F. Kennedy. I am writing you in the interest of factual accuracy, which is the keystone of credibility. The most stirring line of John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," echoed similar exhortations made by many others. JFK excelled at delivering inspiring speeches. However, he was not very diligent at attributing the origins of many of his most memorable phrases. The “Ask not what your country …” line was very effective when JFK included it in his 1961 speech; it was also effective when first used in a speech more than 2,000 years ago. Anyone crediting/associating JFK with the line should at least add an asterisk (or a footnote) with the following information:

*Researchers attribute the quote to Roman statesman and orator Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero), who used it during a speech in 64 BC; however, some scholars believe Cicero borrowed it from Junvenal (Decimus Junius Junenval), a Roman poet.

Cicero’s speech was – of course – not in English, so translations vary.

Others who used similar quotes:

Captain Felipe Arrellanos (a character in the Walt Disney TV series, “Zorro,” played by George N. Neise) in the episode "Invitation to Death" broadcast during the 1958-1959 season, giving a patriotic speech defending Spain in which he asks "Is this the time for us to be asking, ‘What have you (Spain) done for us?’ We should be asking ‘What can we do for you?’" Was John F. Kennedy paraphrasing/quoting from a “Zorro” scene?!?!?

Khalil Gibran, a poet and author of Lebanese heritage, who published a work in Boston titled "The New Frontier" in 1925: "Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in a desert."

Warren Harding in 1916 at the Republican convention echoed a similar statement: "we must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation." The line is on display in Harding's own handwriting at his Marion, Ohio, home.

Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, "Recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return" during an 1884 Memorial Day speech.

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Email from Steve McCourtie:

I recently visited the "Spartacus Educational" website and noted your biography of John F. Kennedy. I am writing you in the interest of factual accuracy, which is the keystone of credibility. The most stirring line of John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," echoed similar exhortations made by many others. JFK excelled at delivering inspiring speeches. However, he was not very diligent at attributing the origins of many of his most memorable phrases. The "Ask not what your country …" line was very effective when JFK included it in his 1961 speech; it was also effective when first used in a speech more than 2,000 years ago. Anyone crediting/associating JFK with the line should at least add an asterisk (or a footnote) with the following information:

*Researchers attribute the quote to Roman statesman and orator Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero), who used it during a speech in 64 BC; however, some scholars believe Cicero borrowed it from Junvenal (Decimus Junius Junenval), a Roman poet.

Cicero's speech was – of course – not in English, so translations vary.

Others who used similar quotes:

Captain Felipe Arrellanos (a character in the Walt Disney TV series, "Zorro," played by George N. Neise) in the episode "Invitation to Death" broadcast during the 1958-1959 season, giving a patriotic speech defending Spain in which he asks "Is this the time for us to be asking, 'What have you (Spain) done for us?' We should be asking 'What can we do for you?'" Was John F. Kennedy paraphrasing/quoting from a "Zorro" scene?!?!?

Khalil Gibran, a poet and author of Lebanese heritage, who published a work in Boston titled "The New Frontier" in 1925: "Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in a desert."

Warren Harding in 1916 at the Republican convention echoed a similar statement: "we must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation." The line is on display in Harding's own handwriting at his Marion, Ohio, home.

Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, "Recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return" during an 1884 Memorial Day speech.

Thanks for this John,

Warren G. Harding is now a character in the HBO TV series Boardwalk Empire, having been installed as president after running as a dark horse candidate nobody thought had a chance and endorsed by Atlantic City political boss Nucky Johnson.

I have written an article about Harding - The President and the Prodigy, that I will post as soon as it is published, maybe tomorrow.

BK

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