As if that were not enough, the Kennedy campaign also accused the Eisenhower-Nixon team of allowing the Soviet Union to establish a lead in nuclear missile production—creating a “missile gap” which, if left unchallenged, could allow the USSR to achieve clear military superiority over the United States in the near future. Not only did JFK have no credible evidence for this charge; he had been given top-secret intelligence demonstrating that the missile gap actually vastly favored the United States. Kennedy chose to disbelieve the intelligence, or disregard it, in order to press home the alarmist message that the United States, under Eisenhower’s leadership, was on the verge of falling under Soviet military domination. In other words, Kennedy ran on the claim that the United States was falling dangerously behind the Soviet Union in the one category that still truly mattered—nuclear deterrence—even though he possessed clear evidence that the United States held the lead.
—  Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall, America’s Cold War (2009), 191

One of the most famous shots in all of documentary history.

Watch more from the game-changing documentary PRIMARY here, debuted in honor of today’s vote in Wisconsin.

Nov. 5, 1960: Senator John F. Kennedy was making closing arguments before overflow crowds in the New York area on the weekend before Election Day, despite heavy rains. “I don’t know any place in the United States where Democrats would turn out on a rainy Saturday afternoon like this,” he said in Wantaugh, N.Y. “I understand the sun is shining on Mr. Nixon in California. Well, it won’t be shining after Tuesday,” he said. Outside the Concourse Plaza Hotel in the Bronx, where Senator Kennedy stood on a car to be better seen by the throng, he was “met by placards proclaiming ‘The Home of the Bagel Knows Big Jack is Able.’ ” Photo: Meyer Liebowitz/The New York Times

January 5, 1960

Original caption: While her husband strides purposefully into the political limelight, Mrs. John Kennedy, wife of the Massachusetts Senator, manages to keep in the background, at least temporarily. Here, Mrs. Kennedy holds daughter Caroline, 2, on her lap while seated at a piano as the tot looks at a story book. They are waiting for the Senator to complete a televised interview in Washington. Senator Kennedy has just announced his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

If you’re running against Nixon you don’t have to say anything. You don’t even have to get out of bed in the morning to beat him. My goodness, if I’d ever had a chance to run against him, it would have been the easiest campaign I ever had. I could have stayed right in Washington and licked him because Nixon is a shifty-eyed, goddamn liar, and people know it. I can’t figure out how he came so close to getting elected President in 1960. They say young Kennedy deserves a lot of credit for licking him, but I just can’t see it. I can’t see how the son of a bitch even carried one state.
—  Harry S. Truman, on Richard Nixon, during a series of interviews with journalist Merle Miller
In those early years, we saw ourselves as political opponents but not political rivals. We shared one quality…He was shy, and that sometimes made him appear aloof. But it was shyness born of an instinct that guarded privacy and concealed emotions. I understood those qualities because I shared them.
—  Richard Nixon, on his early relationship with John F. Kennedy when they first took their seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1947.

September 12, 1960: JFK Talks about Religious Freedom Amid Questions about his Catholic Faith

John F. Kennedy was the first (and so far, only) Catholic president of the U.S., and he was frequently questioned about his Catholic faith during the 1960 campaign for president. 

According to Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen, “The single biggest obstacle to his election was his religion. You should have seen the hate mail that came in, both from rednecks and from liberal intellectuals who should have known better.”

On September 12, 1960, JFK addressed these concerns in a speech to Protest ministers in Houston, Texas. In his address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, Kennedy spoke about the separation of church and state and religious tolerance:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him…

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood…

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it…

And in fact, this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died, when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches; when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom; and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey. But no one knows whether they were Catholic or not, for there was no religious test at the Alamo.


On This Day in History September 26, 1960: In a first for the medium of television, the first Presidential debate between candidates took place in Chicago as Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Democrat Senator John F. Kennedy met to discuss domestic issues going into the election of 1960. The debate was moderated by Howard Smith of CBS News, with a panel of of questioners made up of Walter Cronkite of CBS News, John Edwards from ABC News, John Chancellor of NBC News and Frank Singiser of Mutual News.

While those who listened on the radio felt that the debate was fairly even between both candidates, it was on the television that the difference in candidates was seen. 

According to the article 1960: Kennedy and Nixon clash in TV debate from the BBC On This Day 1950-2005 website

Among television viewers, Mr Kennedy was regarded the outright winner of the first debate. He appeared tanned, confident and well-rested after campaigning in California.

By contrast, his opponent had recently spent two weeks in hospital for a serious knee operation and still looked underweight with a pallid complexion. He refused any make-up to improve his colour.

The American political landscape would never be the same since not only was how the candidates sounded important but more and more how they looked and carried themselves on live television mattered. 

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