His face deep-tanned by the Florida sun, his step springy as a watered golf green and sure as the ocean surf, and yet his whole mien somehow sobered and aged by the imminence of grave responsibility, John Fitzgerald Kennedy prepared this week to swear his solemn oath of office as the 35th and—at the age of 43—youngest elected President of the United States.
The new Chief Executive had lost none of his restless energy, or the sudden flash of his eyes, or the spontaneity of his laughter. But much of the brashness of young Jack Kennedy, the cocksure candidate, had vanished, and in its place was a new seriousness, a palpable sense of the awesomeness of his position that well became John F. Kennedy, the President. Where once he had relied confidently on Kennedy wit, wealth, charm, and pluck, he now publicly asked the guidance of God, and the support of a united nation. He had won the free world's most powerful and responsible office largely by questioning the policies of his predecessor in what is often called the "toughest job in the world." Now the time had arrived for him to start supplying not questions, but answers. And upon the answers he supplied would depend on the course of history.
Whether the nation was, indeed, as secure and viable as retiring President Eisenhower depicted in his final State of the Union Message last week, or as precariously situated as Mr. Kennedy and most of his scholarly advisers warned, was a moot point. Probably the answer lay somewhere between the extremes. But no one debated the immensity of the challenges ahead.
Around the restive globe, from Berlin to Laos, the Communist threat seethed and nowhere more ominously than in Cuba, a potential source of infection for all Latin America, just nine jet minutes from U.S. shores. At home, there were emergent problems of racial violence, schools and housing, medical aid for the aged, general economic recession, chronically depressed area, a worrisome imbalance of payments and drain on the nation's gold reserves, military security, and the conquest of outer space.
Sobering Secrets: All these, and more, were in Mr. Kennedy's mind as he secluded himself in the study of his family's Palm Beach villa one night last week to draft his Inaugural Address. He had long been aware of the problems, but now, privy to all the secrets of the White House, he had a sobering new perspective of the manifold obstacles to their solution.
There was a highly personal problem in his mind, too. He sought to go down in history not only as a great President but as one of inspiring eloquence. He was a professional writer, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and his literary standards were as exacting as his standards of government service. The sprawling house was silent, except for the pulsing of the surf outside, and John F. Kennedy was in a reflective and solemn mood as he began to scrawl, barely legible, on a legal pad of ruled, yellow paper, the words that he hoped would help lead a nation to new heights of greatness, his "New Frontier."
Certainly, the new President had prepared himself conscientiously for this lonely moment. In the two months since his election, he had engaged in an unprecedented surge of pre-inaugural activity. In his private Convair, named the Caroline for his daughter, and on commercial airlines, he had flown some 15,000 miles commuting between Washington, Palm Beach, and New York, with side trips to Boston and Texas, as casually as he used to drive from his Georgetown home to his Senate office. He was even airborne when his son, John Jr., was born prematurely on Nov. 25 to his lovely wife, Jacqueline, and among his souvenirs is the microphone through which a plane crew member relayed the news to him. There had been little time for the family that now would enliven the White House, as he studied scholarly task-force reports on 21 pressing issues, and acknowledged somberly that "they don't make very pleasant reading." He had nearly 100 top officials of his Administration—announcing their appointments from his Georgetown porch, his Palm Beach patio, his suite in New York's Hotel Carlyle, wherever he happened to be—and, as a group, they were among the youngest and most intellectual government leaders in history.
He had held forth at nineteen press conferences, conferred with President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, and scores of his own experts on the problems soon to confront him, and received urgent—and conflicting—advice on nearly every issue he faced. Now the only advice he could surely rely on came, ironically, from former Republican President Herbert Hoover. The youngest elected President encountered the oldest of living former Presidents at a Palm Beach party last week, and Mr. Hoover advised simply: "You'll have to decide what is good advice."
Bustler: Last week, his final one is President-elect, was typical of John Kennedy's bustling schedule since his election. Starting in New York with political conferences, it took him to Massachusetts, back to New York, down to Washington, and on to Palm Beach. In Massachusetts he attended a meeting of the Harvard Board of Overseers in Cambridge; delivered a moving address to the State Legislature in Boston, his first formal speech since the campaign; arranged a conference with President Eisenhower the day before inauguration; announced the appointment of Newton N. Minow, a law partner of Adlai Stevenson's, as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and flew back to New York in time to dine at "21" and see the hit musical "Do Re Mi" with a friend. The next afternoon, after a social visit with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, once his political foe, he was off to Washington for a day of conferences with his top officials, before returning to the Palm Beach resident to continue fleshing out the skeleton of his Administration and begin work on the Inaugural address.
Altogether he made some twenty appointments during the week, adding to the egghead reputation of his forces with men like Elvis J. Stahr Jr., president of West Virginia University, as Secretary of the Army, and Jerome B. Wiesner, MIT physicist, to be Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and paying off political debts by naming Gov. George Docking of Kansas a director of the Export-Import Bank, and former Gov. Herschel Loveless of Iowa to the Federal Renegotiation Board.
He appointed attorney George Ball, a former Adlai Stevenson partner, as Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. He earlier had all but wiped out the top echelon of Stevenson's Chicago law firm, which he has raided as ruthlessly as Harvard in his ceaseless search for talent.
Through his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, the new President made one other announcement last week: He had converted all personal stock holdings into government bonds to preclude any possibility of conflict of interest. These did not include irrevocable trust funds, yielding more than $100,000 a year, over which he has no control.
This week, his house thus in order and his Inaugural Address polished to a high literary shine with the help of White House counsel Ted Sorensen and Harvard Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the new President would fly to Washington in time for Thursday's appointment with President Eisenhower. The flight, according to his announced plans to stay close to his desk for six months, would be his last in a long time. The saga of history's most peripatetic President-elect would be at an end.
Ready to Go: The incoming Chief Executive would find the flag-decked capital in a holiday mood of excitement, and gaiety, and keen anticipation; but even more to his liking, he would find his White House staff ready to begin immediate operations, and the way cleared in Congress for speedy action on his legislative program.
For President and Mrs. Kennedy, Inauguration Day would begin about 11 a.m. Friday, when they leave Georgetown and drive to the White House in the familiar Presidential bubble-top Lincoln. There, the new President, a top hat clamped incongruously on his usually undisciplined shock of hair, will walk up the five steps of the north portico of the mansion to greet the President and Mrs. Eisenhower and escort them to the waiting motorcade.
The incoming and outgoing Presidents will ride together in the bubble-top between the cheering of throngs lining the route along Pennsylvania Avenue. Following will be three cars bearing Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Eisenhower; Vice Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Nixon.
The inaugural ceremonies on the new east portico of the Capital are to begin at noon with an invocation by Richard Cardinal Cushing of the Archdiocese of the President's native Boston. Next will come a solo of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Marian Anderson, a poem read by Robert Frost, prayers, the swearing in of Vice President Johnson by his lifelong friend and fellow Texan Sam Rayburn. Then John F. Kennedy will raise his right hand and repeat the oath of office after Chief Justice Warren. And in the hush that follows that ceremony he will step to the battery of microphones, face the vast, expectant crowd in the stands, and speaks the words that a nation, and a world, are awaiting.
They will be tough words, in the vein of Winston Churchill's "blood, sweat, and tears," a sober and sobering appraisal of the problems and dangers ahead; a ringing challenge to face them; a promise of vigorous and dedicated leadership in that bold venture. And it will echo a sentence from the speech that he delivered in Boston to the Massachusetts Legislature: "Humbly, I ask His help in this undertaking, but aware that on earth His will is worked by man, I ask for your help and your prayers, as I embark on the new and solemn journey."
On such a sober note will the new President's first address come to an end, and on such a note will the Administration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy begin.