What made JFK’s Inaugural Address so effective? Logos of customers who have attended courses Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Email Newsletter FREE weekly newsletter with presentation tips, humor, quotes & anecdotes you can use in your very next speech or presentation. Simply place your email address in the box on the left and press ‘GO’. If anyone ever tells you that speeches don’t make a difference, point them at JFK’s Inaugural Address.
After winning the Presidential election by one of the smallest margins in history, he received a 75% approval rating from the American public the following day, something most of today’s politicians would kill for. The fact that so much of it is still remembered today is an indication of just how powerful his words were. People still debate today who wrote most of the speech – President Kennedy himself or his speechwriter Ted Sorensen – so perhaps we should just agree to look at it as a team effort.
I think there are 4 main reasons it’s been so critically acclaimed. 1.
Simplicity Like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill before him, JFK never used a $10 word when a 10 cent one would do the job just as well. He was a master of simple, plain speaking, which is apparent if we take the penultimate paragraph as being characteristic of the speech as a whole: “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.
I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. ” This paragraph consists of 111 words, but 102 of them consist of only one or two syllables. And of the 9 ‘longer’ words – history, generations, defending maximum, responsibility, generation, devotion, endeavor and Americans – none could be considered either remotely ”fancy’ or unusual by any stretch of the imagination..
It’s also – at 1,355 words – brief. Though not the shortest of Inaugural Addresses, it was still shorter than most. He said to Sorenson, “I don’t want people to think I’m a windbag. ” 2. The ‘Big Picture’ Unlike (say) President Obama’s recent 2nd Inaugural, JFK’s Inaugural was aimed not only at the people of American but the people of the world. It was, after all, delivered at the height of the Cold War (the Cuban Missile Crisis happened only 20 months later). If you read it in full you are immediately struck by how international in character and globally-focused it is.
Using a rhetorical device called anaphora, in successive paragraphs he directs his words … To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe To our sister republics south of our border, To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary 3. Use of Antithesis
President Obama used Tricolon twenty two times in his first Inaugural Address. JFK used it twice. Instead, he made most of his important points using Antithesis, the deliberate juxtaposition of two opposing idea in the same sentence. He uses it three times in the very first sentence of the speech and the most famous words of the entire speech – “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” though technically an example of chiasmus, are a form of antithesis. 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” “… not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God” “United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do … ” “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us” “I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it” “… sk not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man” 4. Alliteration Various studies have shown that alliteration (as in ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper … “) makes poetry much easier to remember. JFK uses the device twenty one times. same solemn oath man holds in his mortal hands for which our forebears fought to friend and foe alike whether it wishes us well or ill we shall pay any price, bear any burden the survival and the success of liberty faithful friends colonial control