JFK’s Speech: Still a Model Fifty Years Later

On January 20, 1961, John Kennedy gave what some consider to be the greatest presidential inaugural speech of the twentieth century. What made it so effective rhetorically? Max Atkinson identifies several key techniques:

  • Contrasts: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”
  • Three-part lists: “Where the strong are just, and the weak secure and the peace preserved”
  • Combinations of contrasts and lists (by contrasting a third item with the first two): “Not because the communists are doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right”
  • Alliteration: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love”
  • Imagery: “The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans”

Atkinson’s brief analysis is well worth reading. Kennedy’s style is well worth imitating.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.