John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address is considered one of the great speeches of the twentieth century, marking a new era for America. As stirring a speech as it is, it is essentially the same speech that Dwight Eisenhower’s delivered four years earlier. Both speeches begin with salutations to the dignitaries present, swear oaths of service, and invoke God as a force in America’s mission, differing only slightly. Eisenhower states that “we seek . . . the blessings of Almighty God. And the hopes in our hearts fashion the deepest prayers of our whole people” (Eisenhower), grounding American aspirations in religious faith.
Meanwhile, Kennedy’s claim that “the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God” (Kennedy) actively depicts democracy as ordained by God and thus a manifestation of divine work. They discuss the American mission in very similar terms. Both hail America’s strength and its mission to protect vulnerable new nations from the threat of communism. Eisenhower states, “We recognize and accept our own deep involvement in the destiny of men everywhere” (Eisenhower). Kennedy’s speech pledges “our best efforts to help them help themselves .. .
Not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right” (Kennedy). Finally, Kennedy’s admonition to “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” (Kennedy) differs little from Eisenhower’s call to duty, hope for worldwide peace, and policy of overseas intervention to halt communist expansion. Though Kennedy’s speech was hailed as fresh and original, it is in truth not wholly original in the sentiments it expresses.
Its view of a world threatened by communism, and of a United States capable of meeting this challenge in the name of defending freedom, closely matches that of Kennedy’s predecessor, differing more in wording than in anything else.
Anonymous. (n. d. ) “Dwight D. Eisenhower: Second Inaugural Address. ” Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States. Retrieved 21 September 2006 from http://www. bartleby. com/124/pres55. html. “John F. Kennedy: Inaugural Address. ” Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States. Retrieved 21 September 2006 from http://www. bartleby. com/124/pres56. html