Who Wrote JFK's Greatest Speech?

An entire industry has seemingly sprung up to debunk all of our most cherished myths about our nation's leaders. Tell-all book after tell-all book informs us of our past presidents' foibles, from drug use to philandering. But finally, the record has been set straight about one of the great speeches in American history: President Kennedy wrote every word of his famous "Ask Not" speech, according to a new book by Thurston Carter entitled, The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America (Henry Holt). The San Francisco Chronicle provides some fascinating details of the speech in which Kennedy famously said about the work of building America into the great country he believed it could be, "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." While some historians said that Kennedy's aide wrote the speech, luckily for historians Kennedy's secretary used to dig all his old drafts out of the trash (which really annoyed him). Kennedy wrote numerous drafts of the speech; the proof is in his own handwriting. At least one myth -- that our presidents only use professional speechwriters -- has been laid to rest.

Posted on October 23, 2004

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