John Fitzgerald Kennedy is inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States on Friday, January 20, 1961 at the eastern portico of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., becoming the first Irish Catholic to be elected to the office. The inauguration marks the commencement of Kennedy’s only term as President and of Lyndon B. Johnson‘s only term as Vice President. Kennedy is assassinated 2 years, 306 days into this term, and Johnson succeeds to the presidency.
Kennedy takes office following the November 1960 presidential election, in which he narrowly defeats Richard Nixon, the then–incumbent Vice President. In addition to being the first Catholic to become President, he also becomes the youngest person elected to the office.
His inaugural address encompasses the major themes of his campaign and defines his presidency during a time of economic prosperity, emerging social changes, and diplomatic challenges. This inauguration is the first in which a poet, Robert Frost, participates in the program. Frost, then 86 years old, recites his poem “The Gift Outright” at Kennedy’s request as an act of gratitude towards Frost for his help during the campaign.
The oath of office for the President is administered to Kennedy by Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren using a closed family Bible at 12:51 (ET) although he officially became president at the stroke of noon as defined by the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution. He does not wear an overcoat when taking the oath of office and delivering the inaugural address, despite the cold conditions of 22 °F (−6 °C) with windchill at 7 °F (−14 °C) at noon.
Kennedy’s 1366-word inaugural address, the first delivered to a televised audience in color, is considered among the best presidential inaugural speeches in American history. It includes the iconic line “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
Five First Ladies, Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy attend the event, as does future First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford. Former President Harry S. Truman joins Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Kennedy on the platform, as does future Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, making this, retroactively, the largest conclave of the “presidential fraternity” prior to the opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in the 1990s.
Presidential inaugurations are organized by the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. For Kennedy’s inauguration, this committee is chaired by Senator John Sparkman, and includes Senators Carl Hayden and Styles Bridges, and Representatives Sam Rayburn, John W. McCormack, and Charles A. Halleck.