John F. Kennedy was a man of the people. So when he went up against Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election JFK did what he does best, traveled 40,000 miles, across all 50 states in a matter of month to meet, face to face, with tens of thousands of potential voters. What you are about to see is largest collection of photos from JFK’s 1960 election ever assembled. The photos are very rare and show a different age in campaigning where television was an emerging promotional tool and people still had direct access to candidates.
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Senator Kennedy stops to eat in a diner in Nashua, New Hampshire, while campaigning for the New Hampshire Primary.
Senator Kennedy delivers a speech during his 1960 presidential bid. Though LIFE assigned some of its top photographers to the campaign, the magazine published very little on the election.
Presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy shaking hands with miner. Mullens, West Virginia April 1960
While part of every candidate's retinue, security was simply not the pressing, public concern in 1960 that it would suddenly and necessarily become within a few short years. Here, seemingly alone in a crowd in Logan County, West Virginia, JFK speechifies from a kitchen chair as, mere feet away, a young boy absently plays with a jarringly realistic-looking toy gun.
Photographer Paul Schutzer took this shot of JFK and his sister Patricia Kennedy Lawford (C) during a campaign bus trip through Washington. Schutzer covered the campaign on and off for the entire year, and developed an extraordinarly close relationship with the Kennedys.
Kennedy delivers a speech at a campaign dinner in Wisconsin early in the campaign. JFK and his democratic rival Hubert Humphrey regarded Wisconsin as an important battleground state.
On a drive through Illinois during the 1960 campaign, photographer Paul Schutzer turns his camera on his colleagues in the press.
Moments before the historical televised Presidential debate.
John F. Kennedy in Grand Prairie, Texas, September, 1960. In the July 25, 1960 issue of LIFE, the magazine reported on JFK's nomination as the Democratic nominee in terms that left little doubt that a formidable figure -- and not some mere Harvard pretty boy -- had arrived for good on the national scene. Of Jack and his 34-year-old brother and campaign manager, Robert, the magazine wrote: "Steam-rolling the crafty old pros of the party with ruthless efficiency, they brought a new era of American politics and delivered the Democratic party to a brand-new and youthful set of owners and operators.... The older pros, resentful of [JFK's] methods and his success, had argued that he was too young and unseasoned. But their argument failed against a towering fact: Kennedy had the magic essential for a candidate, the ability to get votes."
Jackie and JFK ride through a mid-October blizzard of ticker tape in Manhattan's famed "Canyon of Heroes," three weeks before election day, 1960. Kennedy won New York with 53 percent of the vote to Nixon's 47; the margin of victory in many, many states across the country, however, was far smaller than that.
"Already," LIFE noted in its October 10, 1960 issue, "the candidates have traveled a record 40,000 miles in an exhausting, exhilarating marathon. Every stop means another speech, another interview, another crowd to face, another chance to project their thoughts -- and images -- at the voters."
The candidate's motorcade travels through New York state.
"Different parts of his life, work and thoughts were seen by many," Ted Sorensen wrote in , his 2008 memoir of his Kennedy White House years, "but no one saw it all. He sometimes obscured his motives and almost always shielded his emotions.... Although he could be steely and stern when frustrated, he never lost his temper. When times were bad, he knew they would get better -- when they were good, he knew they could get worse."
Kennedy on the stump, October, 1960. In an article published late in the campaign, "Two Brooding Men in a Dazzling Duel," LIFE articulated both the aim and the appeal of the magazine's unprecedented coverage of an election that was quite obviously, when all the votes were finally counted, going to be as close as any in history. Its photographers' pictures, LIFE stated, "set down the moments of drama and meaning -- intimate or dazzling, quiet or clamorous -- of a presidential campaign."
In stark, revealing contrast to the glamorous Kennedy of popular myth, JFK on the stump was a tough, savvy campaigner. Well aware that much of the country distrusted almost everything about him -- his Massachusetts-liberal politics, his Boston accent, his Roman Catholicism -- like any good politician he set about winning over the skeptics by employing the very gifts that generated such suspicion in those who knew little about him.
In the early months of the 1960 primary season it was already plain that JFK enjoyed advantages that his opponents (Sen. Hubert Humphrey, California Gov. Pat Brown, et al.) simply could not counter. First, Kennedy was running a campaign marked by a kind of catalyzing energy and brimming with political talent. But he also relied on an arsenal of personal attributes that most other politicians only dream about: he was young; he was a genuine war hero; he was absurdly handsome; and he had the invaluable ability to make people believe -- whether speaking to crowds, or conversing one-on-one -- that he saw them, heard them, got them.
"Appealing and direct," LIFE noted of Kennedy, "he had won in seven primaries he entered. Tireless, he had campaigned in all 50 states."
Jacqueline watches her husband during a debate.
Kennedy defeated Nixon by only two tenths of a percentage point in the popular vote. Brother Bobby was appointed Attorney General.
Two days after JFK's historic address before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of men watch from afar as he continues his campaign through the state that, three years later, would forever be linked with sudden, violent death and, for millions around the globe, the end of a dream.
Just as Americans had never before encountered a presidential candidate like JFK, they had most certainly never seen a probable First Lady quite like Jacqueline Kennedy. Beautiful, cultured, and legendarily stylish, Jackie Kennedy was far younger than even her very-young husband -- she was just 31 years old on election night -- but she carried herself with a kind of off-hand poise and self-assurance that, for the media and the public, was irresistible.
On a train in Wisconsin in late 1959, the junior senator from Massachusetts speaks to Arthur M. Schlesinger, who would become Special Assistant to JFK in the White House, as well as one of his primary speechwriters. After Kennedy's assassination, Schlesinger wrote an enormously popular history of the Kennedy White House, A Thousand Days, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize (1965).
Kennedy braves an autumn chill while campaigning in an open car at night in Illinois, 1960. Paul Schutzer's photograph, meanwhile, manages to convey the candidate's charisma -- even here, from a distance, we see that peerless, megawatt grin -- as well as the crowd's energy pouring toward the man.
At a campaign stop in Amherst West Virginia, Kennedy addresses miners from atop a station wagon, April, 1960.
Kennedy's Catholicism was a major issue in the campaign. It was publicly discussed, debated, analyzed, and -- frequently -- openly derided. The sticking point for literally millions of Protestants, Baptists, Methodists, and other non-Catholics was that they believed that once in office JFK would be taking his marching orders from Rome. In September, 1960, amid increasingly heated and, indeed, hostile rhetoric about his faith, Kennedy accepted an invitation to speak before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association and famously told the largely skeptical gathering: "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters -- and the Church does not speak for me."
Kennedy dives into a crowd at a campaign event in Los Angeles, July, 1960.
In 1960 the universal sense, among voters as well as the media, seemed to be that the world was spinning a bit faster, and Kennedy was a man -- or was the representative of a generation -- who moved, thought, and acted at that same thrilling, daunting speed. "One could argue," Norman Mailer wrote in , "and one may argue this yet, [that the Democratic convention in July] was one of the most important conventions in America’s history, and could prove conceivably to be the most important. The man it nominated was unlike any politician who had ever run for President in the history of the land, and if elected he would come to power in a year when America was in danger of drifting into a profound decline."
Nixon taking a call at the Ambassador Hotel.
Jack Kennedy "had just a little more courage, just a little more stamina, just a little more wisdom and a little more character than any of the rest of us." -- Stuart Symington, the first Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, a Democratic senator from Missouri for more than 20 years, and one of JFK's rivals for the 1960 nomination, on why Kennedy prevailed on the campaign trail and at the convention.
Kennedy's campaign, symbolically as well as in substance, offered as vivid a choice between two candidates as America's ever faced. Only four years older than Kennedy, Richard Nixon -- Vice President for two successive terms under Eisenhower -- seemed not only of another generation, but by 1960 almost of another century. "If we open a quarrel between the present and the past," Kennedy said at the convention, quoting Winston Churchill, "we shall be in danger of losing the future. Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do."
As charmed as millions of young and older Americans were by the Kennedy charisma, there were just as many observers who were quite adamantly having none of it. The former Governor of New York and two-time GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, for example, captured much of the oppositional attitude toward the JFK juggernaut when he acidly remarked at the Republican convention in Chicago: "Senator Kennedy modestly announced that, like Abraham Lincoln, he was ready. With further modesty, he then proceeded to associate himself with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Christopher Columbus, Alexander the Great and Napoleon. I think there were some others on his list of kindred spirits, but I can't remember them."
John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail was a rock star in a suit and tie. Or was he a movie star who acted the same role over and over again? Whatever the metaphor, one thing's certain: He sent crowds, and especially women in crowds, into something close to a frenzy.
Republican Richard Nixon and Kennedy face off in the first-ever televised presidential debate, September, 1960.
Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, his Vice President pick, campaign in Texas during the general election.
Jackie watches the DNC from the Kennedy home in Hyannisport.
The candidate and his team (Bobby is at far right) work the phones on the night of the Wisconsin primary, April, 1960. Kennedy edged out Humphrey, with 56% of the democratic vote.
Kennedy revises a speech at a July event in California. JFK, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, wrote many of his own remarks.
On the night of the Wisconsin primary, April, 1960.
Jacqueline Kennedy joins her husband on a tv call-in show in West Virginia.
Robert F. Kennedy served as JFK's campaign manager.
Female supporters of Kennedy wait for the candidate to arrive at a campaign appearance.
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