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What made JFK's Inaugural Address so effective? tutoring by Dr Cheevers on Skype

I think there are 4 main reasons it's been so critically acclaimed.

1. Simplicity

Like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill before him, JFK never used a $10 word when a 10 cent one would do the job just as well. He was a master of simple, plain speaking, which is apparent if we take the penultimate paragraph as being characteristic of the speech as a whole:
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
This paragraph consists of 111 words, but 102 of them consist of only one or two syllables. And of the 9 'longer' words - history, generations, defending maximum, responsibility, generation, devotion, endeavor and Americans - none could be considered either remotely ''fancy' or unusual by any stretch of the imagination..
It's also - at 1,355 words - brief. Though not the shortest of Inaugural Addresses, it was still shorter than most. He said to Sorenson, "I don't want people to think I'm a windbag."

2. The 'Big Picture'

Unlike (say) President Obama's recent 2nd Inaugural, JFK's Inaugural was aimed not only at the people of American but the people of the world. It was, after all, delivered at the height of the Cold War (the Cuban Missile Crisis happened only 20 months later). If you read it in full you are immediately struck by how international in character and globally-focused it is.
Using a rhetorical device called anaphora, in successive paragraphs he directs his words ...
  • To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share,
  • To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free,
  • To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe
  • To our sister republics south of our border,
  • To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations,
  • Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary

3. Use of Antithesis

President Obama used Tricolon twenty two times in his first Inaugural Address. JFK used it twice. Instead, he made most of his important points using Antithesis, the deliberate juxtaposition of two opposing idea in the same sentence. He uses it three times in the very first sentence of the speech and the most famous words of the entire speech - "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," though technically an example of chiasmus, are a form of antithesis.
  • "We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom, symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change"
  • "... not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God"
  • "United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do ... "
  • "Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us"
  • "I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it"
  • "... ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man"

4. Alliteration

Various studies have shown that alliteration (as in 'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper ...") makes poetry much easier to remember. JFK uses the device twenty one times.
  • same solemn oath
  • man holds in his mortal hands
  • for which our forebears fought
  • to friend and foe alike
  • whether it wishes us well or ill
  • we shall pay any price, bear any burden
  • the survival and the success of liberty
  • faithful friends
  • colonial control
  • struggling to break the bonds of mass misery
  • strongly supporting
  • sovereign states
  • writ may run
  • before the dark powers of destruction
  • the steady spread of the deadly atom
  • sincerity is subject
  • peace preserved
  • bear the burden
  • a grand and global alliance
  • high standards of strength and sacrifice
  • let us go forth to lead the land we love



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