In January 1961, the United States was at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. But the country had a new president: a young and vigorous supporter of peace, unity, and change for the country—and the world.
Here are the nineteen best quotes from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.
You probably already know JFK’s most famous quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
These influential words, calling for selflessness and national service, were part of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech just prior to taking on the role of President.
But it wasn’t the only gem in his first official speech as Commander-in-Chief.
The United States had just elected its first Catholic leader—a controversial choice in a divided nation. But here was a new voice promising change after years of anxiety about our national purpose.
Let’s look at the best JFK quotes from his inaugural speech, given at the US Capitol on January 20, 1961.
“We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end as well as a beginning—signifying renewal as well as change.”
“The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”
“… the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”
“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 …”
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
“United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do—for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.”
“… in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”
“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
“… to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.”
“We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”
“… 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.”
“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”
“Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.”
“And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.”
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.”
“… ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
“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.”
Like this post? Pin it for later!
Did you enjoy these JFK quotes from his inaugural address? Do you have another favorite John F. Kennedy quote? Let us know in the comments below!