JFK’s Handwritten Quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”

c. 1961

Add to History Board Share Print
Back to The Collection
Manuscript
See full images and transcript
JFK’s Handwritten Quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”
Autograph Quotation Signed
1 page | SMC 442

Quick Reference

      Background

      The seventeen most inspiring words in 20th century American history were spoken by John F. Kennedy, around mid-day, on January 20, 1961, in Washington, D.C. The occasion was his presidential inauguration, and came as he was concluding his inaugural address. He had just declared that the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans – “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage” – and pledged to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Soon after, he spoke the seventeen words:
       
      And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.
       
      Those words were positively electrifying. No president had ever challenged citizens, in peacetime, to sacrifice or commit to a larger vision. With that single sentence, Kennedy inspired people to new possibilities. He raised their expectations of themselves, and of their nation. In response, some joined the Peace Corps, others the Green Berets; thousands flocked to Washington to be part of the “New Frontier.” Students, thinking ahead to government service, went to law school or into programs with social benefit. All across the country, Kennedy’s words changed lives. “It was a special time,” a Senator remembered years later. “Lord, I’ve never had such a feeling before or since then. It was marvelous; without living it, you can’t express it. It gave the country a lift; it gave the world a lift. People cried in the dusty streets of Africa when he died.” All, really, because of seventeen simple words of inspiration.


      Autograph Quotation Signed, as president, being the “Ask not” quote from his inaugural address, 1 page, quarto, The White House, Washington, no date. Of the greatest rarity. From the estate of General Maxwell Taylor.

      Used with the permission of Shapell legacy partnership.


      Read More

      all pages and transcript

      Page 1/1

      Page 1 transcript
      THE WHITE HOUSE
      WASHINGTON

      And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

      John F Kennedy