JFK’s 1960 presidential nomination at 60

Sixty years ago U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts became the second Irish-American Catholic nominated for president. New York Gov. Al Smith was the first in 1928. Both were Democrats. Smith lost to Herbert Hoover. Kennedy would go on to beat Richard Nixon.

The Democrat’s 1960 national convention was staged July 11-15 in Los Angeles. In an explanatory preview, The Irish Press of Dublin described the U.S. presidential nomination and party policy process, its ardfheis, as “the most spectacular free show on the American continent.” These conventions were “the nearest approach to a parliamentary type of government that the American political system allows.”1

Kennedy’s nomination was front-page news across the nation and around the world. The host city Los Angeles Times reported the next morning:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts, who at 43 knew what he wanted and went after it, last night was acclaimed Democratic candidate for President of the United States. His self-predicted victory was clinched 45 minutes after the first balloting began … Kennedy is the second American of the Roman Catholic religion to win presidential nomination by a majority party, and, if the luck of the Irish that attended him July 13 continues through Nov. 8, he would be the youngest U.S. president ever elected.”2

John F. Kennedy delivers his July 1960 nomination acceptance speech. Watch the 22-minute speech.

A few days later in Ireland, the Sunday Independent published a front page “exclusive” on Kennedy’s reply to its request for a “special statement” about his nomination. Kennedy answered:

I am most grateful for the many messages of goodwill and friendship which I have received from Ireland since my nomination. … I am confident that a Democratic Party victory in November will offer us all an opportunity and occasion to break new ground in our common search for peace. In this effort Ireland will unquestionably play an important role … especially by its unique and influential place in the United Nations. … The association between Ireland and USA is an enduring one. In my own public career I have always been impressed by the many unities which exist between the living tradition of Ireland and the ideal of our own democracy. … I am heartened by the generous hope and high resolves which have been conveyed to me from Ireland.3

Liam Cosgrave, 1974

The Independent also featured a guest column by Liam Cosgrave, TD, who said he first met Kennedy in 1955 in Dublin, and again the following year in Washington, D.C. “He impressed me by his lack of pretense and by his direct approach,” Cosgrave wrote. He continued:

I was much taken by his easy, relaxed manner, which was devoid of showmanship of any kind, and also by his sense of humor, so characteristic of an American with Irish antecedents. … Kennedy is shrewd, capable and determined and has employed all these attributes in his carefully planned and efficiently conducted campaign for nomination. … [He] is a worthy inheritor of a great Catholic tradition brought to America by his Irish ancestors. … His achievements may yet add another page to the glorious history of America and to the distinguished part played in that history by men and women of Irish descent.4

Six years later — three years after Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas — Cosgrave was interviewed in Limerick for a John F. Kennedy Library oral history project. Read the transcript.

Previous posts about JFK:

  1. “America’s Most Spectacular Free Show”, The Irish Press, July 8, 1960.
  2. “Sen. Kennedy Nominated”, The Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1960.
  3. “Exclusive: Kennedy sends special message to Ireland”, Sunday Independent, July 17, 1960.
  4. “My Impressions of Senator Kennedy”, Irish Independent, July 19, 1960.

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