A Time For Greatness: The Alternate Presidency of John F. Kennedy and beyond

The Election of 1960

Kennedy's first choice
On the afternoon of July 14, 1960, Democratic Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy made official his chosen running mate for that year's election - Missouri Senator Stuart Symington.

The decision was not especially surprising - as Kennedy and Symington had a strong personal relationship from their time together in the Senate. Kennedy's closet advisor, Robert Kennedy, supported the Democratic nominee's choice of running mate.

Robert Kennedy may have had a bigger influence on his brother's choice of running mate than anyone else. It was he who managed to talk John Kennedy out of visiting Lyndon Johnson's hotel suite and offering him the chance to be Vice President.

While the prospect of securing Texas was appealing to many within the Kennedy campaign, the candidate was ultimately swayed by the prospect of having a close working relationship with Symington, rather than the tense relation he had and would continue to have with Johnson.

The choice of Symington was largely welcomed by Kennedy’s inner circle. Symington was a safe choice who would unite the party, given Symington was formerly the favoured candidate of Harry Truman. The former President was delighted to see Symington on the ticket.

However, not everyone close to Kennedy was as accepting of Symington being on the ticket.

"Joe Kennedy berated his sons for the decision not to include Johnson on the ticket. He declared it the "dumbest thing they'd ever done."

-- Ascending to the Throne: John F. Kennedy in 1960, Robert Caro (2011)

All the same, Symington was nominated that evening over the objections of a number of southern delegates.

Symington’s speech was succinct, to the point and reaffirmed the tickets commitment to liberalism and to their platform.

“My fellow Democrats. My fellow Americans.

I accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States.

In doing so I vow to uphold the values and principled of our party.

Only the Democratic Party and can preserve the American way of life for our children and grandchildren.

And only Jack Kennedy can lead the way as the next President in protecting and enriching that way of life.”

The next night on July 15, Senator Kennedy would deliver a speech of his own:

“Let me say first that I accept the nomination of the Democratic Party.

I accept it without reservation and with only one obligation, the obligation to devote every effort of my mind and spirit to lead our Party back to victory and our Nation to greatness.

I am grateful, too -- I am grateful, too, that you have provided us with such a strong platform to stand on and to run on. Pledges which are made so eloquently are made to be kept. "The Rights of Man" -- the civil and economic rights essential to the human dignity of all men -- are indeed our goal and are indeed our first principle. This is a Platform on which I can run with enthusiasm and with conviction.

And I am grateful, finally, that I can rely in the coming months on many others: On an accomplished running-mate who will fight hard for our needs as a nation and as a people, the next Vice President of the United States, Stuart Symington; on a giant of the Democratic Party and one of the great Senate leaders of history, Lyndon Johnson; on one of the most articulate spokesmen of modern times, Adlai Stevenson; on my traveling companion in Wisconsin and West Virginia, Senator Hubert Humphrey; on Paul Butler, our devoted and courageous Chairman; and on that fighting campaigner whose support I now welcome, President Harry Truman.

Kennedy would go out to outline his vision of a “New Frontier”, which were a set of challenges he believed could be overcome, including poverty and civil rights.

Richard Nixon: Heir Apparent

While Kennedy’s speech in Los Angeles was generally well received, one observer, Richard Nixon, was not as impressed.

Watching with two members of his own staff, Nixon concluded that Kennedy’s speech was poor and that he could beat the young Senator in a debate.

The Republican National Convention occurred two weeks later, nominating Vice President Richard Nixon and former Senator Henry Calbot Lodge Jr of Massachusetts.

President Eisenhower was a strong supporter of Lodge and his foreign policy background made up for any deficiencies he might have had as a speaker or campaigner.

However, historians would generally come to regard Nixon’s choice of Lodge as a mistake. The winner of Massachusetts was hardly in doubt in 1960 and Lodge offered very little on the campaign trail.

Nixon briefly spoke of the opposing candidates’ choice of running mate in his own convention speech:

“And tonight, too, I particularly want to thank this convention for nominating as my running mate a world statesman of the first rank, my friend and colleague, Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts.

In contrast to what you saw in Los Angeles, you nominated a man who will embrace the future, rather than retreat to the ideas of yesterday.

Make no mistake, my fellow Republicans, the Democrats would take us back to a time before President Eisenhower’s leadership. A time of economic uncertainly and weakness on the world stage.”

The stage was set for the general election – it would Nixon and Lodge vs Kennedy and Symington.

Nixon had a slim lead over Kennedy coming out of the conventions, but Election Day was still a long way away.

The Campaign Begins
Nixon and Kennedy had competing themes that they were running on.

As part of his “New Frontier” Kennedy ran on a number of key ideas including a stronger national defence (citing the “missile gap”), an end to tight monetary policy, civil rights, economic development and more.

Nixon by comparison campaigned on the basis that he had the experience to keep America strong in the fight against communism and continue the work that began in the Eisenhower administration.

The two opposing candidates differed in terms of their strategy for winning voters.

At the RNC, Nixon had promised to campaign across all 50 states. In retrospect, this proved to be another mistake on his part.

While Nixon spread himself thin across the nation, Kennedy maintained a far more focused strategy.

Kennedy campaigned across several key states he felt that he could swing his way such as New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The Kennedy campaign was less certain of maintaining the Solid South, with the loss of Texas being a particular hurdle to get over when it came to the necessary number of Electoral College votes. They were not helped by the fact that Senator Johnson did little to help the Kennedy/Symington ticket.

After all, no Democratic candidate had won the Presidency without winning Texas since it became a state in 1845.

In an attempt to offset this, Kennedy campaigned aggressively up and down the West Coast. He went to farms and big cities alike, talking about urban issues as well as issues that effected Oregon farmers.

“We did not abandon Texas or the South entirely, but we knew that without Johnson it would be almost impossible to win Texas. Without Texas it would be a tough climb to get to 269 electoral college votes. Campaigning on the west coast was our best bet. California might have been Nixon’s home state, but polling was close there.”

-- A quote Stephen Edward Smith on CBS’s award winning documentary The Campaign of 1960 (1971)

Kennedy still made clandestine backroom deals with southern politicians to ensure their support come election day. During a tour of Georgia, Kennedy met with Governor Ernest Vandiver and promised he would not use federal troops to enforce segregation. In return, Vandiver would support the young Senator from Massachusetts in his bid for the presidency.

Kennedy also benefited from several celebrity endorsements and even a campaign jingle sung by Frank Sinatra, a rendition of his hit song, High Hopes.

Still, he trailed Nixon in all but a few states. Something needed to happen to shake up the race.

Thankfully for him, that something was just around the corner.

Turning point
While campaigning in Greensboro on August 17th, North Carolina, Nixon injures his left knee on a car door. Despite the injury, Nixon continues campaigning.

On August 24, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a press conference in which he was asked about a key achievement of Nixon’s during his administration. The President responded, “If you give me a week, I might think of one.”

The statement severely undermined the narrative of Nixon’s experience. Several television ads were developed and aired by Democrats which highlighted this statement.

Nixon’s bad luck continued through August and September as a physician reveals his knee has become badly infected.

From August 29 to September 9, Nixon is stuck in Walter Reed hospital. This robbed him of valuable campaign time.

On September 9, Nixon is released from hospital and begins campaigning again on the 12th of that month.

However, shortly after resuming active campaigning, Nixon caught a cold. Anxious to make up lost time, he campaigned despite this.

It was over this period that the Nixon and Kennedy campaigns agreed to three Presidential debates and one Vice Presidential debate, held in between the first and second debate.

The Nixon campaign never would have agreed to any Vice-Presidential debate had Johnson been Kennedy’s running mate, however with Symington they felt that Lodge could prove his competence to the voting public.

The Debates

The first Presidential debate proved to be yet another setback for the Nixon campaign.

Prior to the debate, Kennedy had made sure to consult with television producers to discuss television camera angles and the general position. His choice of blue suit was designed to make him stand out from the backdrop of the set and he made sure to apply stage makeup warn by actors.

Furthermore, his campaign staff ensured he was well rested and prepared prior to the debate.

By comparison, Nixon campaigned up until a few hours prior to the debate. He made no effort to account for the differences between a traditional debate and a televised debate, nor wear makeup or wear an appropriate suit.

His inadequate preparation was made worse by the fact his intense schedule had prevented him from recovering from his bout with illness or his knee injury. His sickly appearance and shifty demeanour detracted from his performance.

As a result, television audiences favoured Kennedy by a wide margin, even if both men were regarded as giving strong performances when looking at content alone.

With 70 million viewers, the debate proved a major boon to the Kennedy campaign. After the debate, Kennedy went from being slightly behind Nixon to slightly ahead.

He even had a slight lead in Nixon’s home state of California, Washington and Wisconsin among other key states.

The Vice-Presidential debate occurred one week later.

Any hope that the Vice-Presidential debate would reverse the success of last weeks were ultimately not realised.

Topics included foreign affairs and how both men would support their respective running mates as Vice President, should they win.

The foreign affairs section of the debate was largely inconclusive – both men demonstrated a solid understanding of world affairs and US military capabilities, given Lodge was the former UN Ambassador and Symington a former Secretary of the Air Force and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

However, regarding the relationship to their running mates, Symington was thought to have given a stronger, more impassioned response.

He cited the strong rapport he had with Kennedy, their agreement on key issues and Kennedy’s assurances that he would have key involvement in the major issues facing administration.

Lodge made a gaffe when he said that he would be as involved in the Nixon administration as Nixon was in Eisenhower’s. This brought back memories of Eisenhower’s “give me a week” line.

Ultimately though, this debate had a little less than half the number of viewers of the first Presidential debate and the impact on the polls was slight, if any.

Privately, however, Nixon was furious. He had hoped Lodge might rise to the challenge and stem the bleeding of from the first debate, but this did not occur.

For the second debate, Nixon was far more prepared. He went through much of the same preparation that Kennedy did before their first debate.

The result of that preparation paid dividends. Nixon was regarded as having won that debate.

His bump in the polls was not as strong as Kennedy’s however, due to the smaller audience.

Finally, in the third debate, both men gave perhaps their strongest performance.

While Kennedy initially wanted to disagree with Nixon on the issue of Quemoy-Matsu, he ultimately decided it would be unwise to let Nixon have any excuse to paint him as weak on the issue of communism.

Thus, he largely agreed with Nixon’s position that the US should commit itself to defending Quemoy and Matsu alongside Formosa.

As the debates concluded, it was becoming clear this race was going to be one of the closest in American history.

A critical endorsement
Through October and leading into November, the candidates continued their respective strategies.

Nixon traveled from state-to-state, while Kennedy focused on several key states and made stronger use of the medium of television.

Another major event would shake up the race for the presidency – the arrest of Martin Luther King Jr.

As news of the arrest made headlines, Sargent Shriver was able to convince his brother-in-law to discretely contact Governor Vandiver to pull strings behind the scenes to get King out.

Shriver also pressed Kennedy make a phone call to Coretta Scott King, which he promptly did:

“I want to express to you my concern about your husband. I know this must be very hard for you. I just wanted you to know that I was thinking about you and Dr. King…If there is anything I can do to help, please feel free to call on me.”

-- Senator Kennedy during his call to Coretta Scott King

Sure enough, after 30 hours of confinement, Martin Luther King Jr was released from jail on a $2000 bond.

King’s release and Kennedy’s involvement in making it happen had a profound impact on the race.

Kennedy, who had previously been regarded as lukewarm on the issue of African American affairs, was now the overwhelming favourite of black voters.

Martin Luther King Jr made mention of Kennedy in a speech after his release:

“I understand from very reliable sources that Senator Kennedy served as a great force in making the release possible. For him to be that courageous shows that he is really acting upon principle and not expediency. I hold Senator Kennedy in very high esteem… I am convinced he will seek to exercise the power of his office to fully implement the civil rights plank of his party’s platform.”

The Reverend’s father, Martin Luther King Sr, made a full endorsement of the Senator from Massachusetts:

“I had expected to vote against Senator Kennedy because of his religion. Now he can be my president, Catholic or whatever he is.”

-- Martin Luther King Sr.

Nixon’s silence on this issue was regarded as a betrayal by his African American supporters, including Jackie Robinson. Martin Luthor King Jr felt a very personal sense of betrayal due to Nixon’s inaction, as he had multiple meetings with the Vice President and the two had formed a mutual respect.

Now, it appeared King and much of the African American community would support John F. Kennedy for President.

They would expect that support to be paid back in full if and when Kennedy got into the White House.

The final stretch
As the campaign entered its final two weeks, it became clear that Kennedy had gained a slim but consistent lead over Nixon.

But the Nixon campaign still had one card left to play – popular incumbent President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Eisenhower’s health had precluded him from a heavy schedule of campaigning through much of the campaign, so he had to be used sparingly.

It was eventually agreed he would be best served in the final two weeks, making a tour through several key states culminating in a massive rally in New York City, which would be covered by the national media.

Kennedy by comparison continued with his strategy of visiting several key states. He campaigned in California with Pat Brown, Washington with Scoop Jackson, barnstormed the Midwest, visited Missouri with his running mate Stuart Symington and traveled through Pennsylvania to New England, making sure to make his presence known in New York.

Come November 8, there was nothing left to do but wait for the results.

The results
On Election Day, both candidates were anxious about the result. On Election Day, polls had the two candidates essentially dead even.

Nixon was privately very pessimistic about the result. He was the Vice President to one of the most popular Presidents of all time. He was running on a record of peace and prosperity, yet he was likely about to come up short in his own bid for the Presidency.

Kennedy meanwhile was still anxious, but he and his inner circle maintained a cautiously optimistic outlook.

The results began pouring in.

Both candidates watched and listened as states were called…Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Missouri for Kennedy.

Meanwhile, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and Wisconsin went for Nixon.

And on and on it went.

Late into the night, Texas was called for Nixon, a cheer rang out from his offices. Meanwhile, Kennedy’s campaign headquarters was rife with campaign staff cursing and lamenting how they “should have chosen Johnson”.

There was even some talk of what deals could be made with the southern Dixiecrats if neither candidate reached 269 electoral college votes.

Sargent Shriver was said to have very loudly proclaimed, “We are not throwing out the civil rights plank!”

California was projected for Nixon, as was Oregon.

However, Washington went to Kennedy. His extensive campaigning up the west coast had paid off somewhat after all.

Eventually, Illinois was called for Kennedy, as was Arkansas and New Mexico.

Come morning, it was becoming clear who the next President of the United States was going to be.

Nixon called Kennedy to concede.

The incumbent Vice-President then faced the raucous crowd and gave an upbeat concession speech.

“I want to give…my congratulations Senator Kennedy for his fine race in this campaign and to all of you – I am sure all of his supporters are just as enthusiastic for him as you are for me and I thank you for that…I have great faith that our people, Republicans and Democrats alike will unite behind our next President in seeing that America does meet the challenge that destiny has placed upon us.”
-- An excerpt of Nixon's concession speech

Shortly after this, President-Elect Kennedy gave his victory speech:

"To all Americans I say that the next four years are going to be difficult and challenging years for us all that a supreme national effort will be needed to move this country safely through the 1960s. I ask your help and I can assure you that every degree of my spirit that I possess will be devoted to the long-range interest of the United States and to the cause of freedom around the world."
-- An excerpt of Kennedy's victory speech

When the electoral map was filled it, it showed an extremely narrow victory for Kennedy, with 276* electoral college votes to him and 246 to Nixon.

alternate 1960 election.png

*4 of Alabama’s 11 Democratic electors vote for Kennedy, bringing his electoral college total up to 276.

Of the states Kennedy won, Illinois and Washington were particularly close.

Illinois was decided by less than 8,000 while Washington, upon recount, was decided by 590 votes.

In terms of the popular vote, Nixon would earn 49.5% and Kennedy earned 49.2%.

When it was all said and done, John F. Kennedy would become the 4th President in history and the first President since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to win an election despite losing the popular vote.

But all the same, he would become the next President of the United States.

It was up to him to deliver on his commitments and guide the world through what was sure to be a turbulent next 4 years.
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A New Leader For A New Decade
By The Thinnest of Margins
Jack Kennedy was under no illusions about the close nature of his victory. A majority of the voting public had chosen the outgoing Vice President to assume the mantle of the commander in chief.

But for the idiosyncrasies of the American electoral system, Kennedy knew he’d have returned to Hyannis Port a loser.

Not helping matters was the sheer number of conspiracy theories that had spring up in the wake of Kennedy’s razor thin victory.

Pundits and Republican partisans alike had claimed that Chicago mayor Richard Daley had “stolen” votes on Kennedy’s behalf, allowing him to scrape over the line in Illinois and thus, attain the Presidency.

Richard Nixon, to his credit, never pushed any claims about the election being rigged. Not publicly anyway. RNC Chairman, Senator Thruston Ballard Morton did challenge the results in a number of states but these challenges did not amount to any meaningful change to the outcome.

As far as the President-elect and his advisors were concerned however, there was no use dwelling on it. They were focused on the formation of a cabinet to lead America to a New Frontier.

Building Camelot
The President-Elect’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was a key figure during the campaign and transition.

He had suggested to his son to recruit Robert A. Lovett, the former Secretary of Defence under Harry Truman. Lovett and Joe Sr had served together on President's Board of Consultants and the Kennedy patriarch knew firsthand how extreme component the elder statesman was.

The President-elect reached out to Lovett, who politely declined citing his ill health.

However, he did have a number of suggestions – Dean Rusk as Secretary of State, Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defens, and C. Douglas Dillon as Secretary of the Treasury.

Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, was sent to meet with McNamara and to offer him his choice of the Defense or Treasury portfolios.

McNamara had only recently become president of the Ford Motor Company. The incredible lucrative $3,000,000 annual salary was much greater than what he would earn heading up any government department.

Furthermore, McNamara still had plenty of things he wanted to achieve at Ford Motors.

It was for these reason he declined Kennedy’s offer and instead chose to stay at Ford.

As such, they would need to find a different nominee for Secretary of Defense.

Thankfully, Rusk for State and Dillion for Treasury were much easier to convince.

Ultimately, for Defense, the transition team settled on Paul Nitze, an old hat of the Roosevelt and Truman administration and a non-controversial pick.

However, the choice for Attorney General would prove to be quite controversial indeed. The Presidents-elect’s younger brother, Bobby Kennedy, was chosen to head up the Justice Department.

Jack would later make light of the situation, saying:

"I can't see that it's wrong to give him a little legal experience before he goes out to practice law.''

However, privately the President-elect did not want to name his brother as Attorney General, however their father overruled him.

In terms of over appointments, Stewart Udall would lead the Interior Department, while Orville Freeman would become Secretary of Agriculture. The outgoing North Carolina Governor, Luther H. Hodges, was chosen for Commerce Secretary. Chicago based labor lawyer, Arthur Goldberg, was chosen to lead the Department of Labor. Meanwhile, Abraham Ribicoff would preside over the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The Office of Management and Budget would be overseen by David E. Bell.

Kennedy had resisted calls from the liberal wing of the party to appoint Adlai Stevenson to the position of Secretary of State. Both he and his brother did not maintain a high opinion of Stevenson, viewing him as weak, indecisive, and effeminate.

Bobby Kennedy recounted his own opinion of Stevenson, having worked for him during his 1956 campaign:

"I came out of our first conversation with a very high opinion of him. Then I spent six weeks with him on the campaign and he destroyed it all…"

All the same, considering Stevenson’s stature within the party, Kennedy felt obliged to offer him something. Thus, Stevenson was given the post of UN Ambassador.

Larry O’Brien would act as a sort of unofficial Chief of Staff, as he had during the campaign.

The President-Elect also met with Senate Majority Leader Johnson, to smooth over any hard feelings between the two that had come as a result of the Democratic primary and the snubbing of Johnson as Kennedy’s running mate.

The two men may have had an icy personal relationship, but Johnson assured Kennedy that he would see to it that all of Kennedy’s nominees for various cabinet positions would be confirmed.

With a cabinet assembled, it was time to focus on the inauguration…

Lead up to the Inauguration
January 20, 1961 marked the beginning of a new chapter in American history. A new President and Vice President would be sworn into office.

Several massive events were held in DC a day prior to inauguration on January 19th. One of the most prominent of these was a pre-inaugural ball organised by Frank Sinatra which was brimming with celebrities including Sidney Poitier, Nat King Cole, Gene Kelly, and Janet Leigh.

[Sinatra's ball] may have marked the moment when popular entertainment became an indispensable part of modern politics.

— Todd S. Purdum, Vanity Fair (February 2011)

The event was followed by a second pre-inaugural ball hosted by Joseph P. Kennedy.

Another event occurred a day prior to inauguration in the form of a massive snowstorm, which impacted much of the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas.

The storms were so severe that it prevented former President Hoover from flying in to attend the inauguration.

However, come inauguration day the weather had began to clear. Thousands of people from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, District of Columbia employees and Boy Scouts all contributed in a massive effort to clear the streets of snow and abandoned automobiles.

Any fears that the Inauguration and associated events would be cancelled were soon put to rest.

The Inauguration would proceed as planned.

Ask not…
John Fitzgerald Kennedy spent the morning of January 20th, 1961 at a morning Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown.

From there, he went to the Capitol in company with outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Events then proceeded with the customary prayers, blessings, songs, and an orchestral performance of “Fanfare for the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy” by Leonard Bernstein.

Following this, Stuart Symington was sworn in as Vice President of the United States by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson.
“I, William Stuart Symington, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; That I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Following this, the poet Robert Frost, The Gift Outright:

“The land was ours before we were the land’s.

She was our land more than a hundred years

Before we were her people. She was ours

In Massachusetts, in Virginia,

But we were England’s, still colonials,

Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,

Possessed by what we now no more possessed.

Something we were withholding made us weak

Until we found out that it was ourselves

We were withholding from our land of living,

And forthwith found salvation in surrender.

Such as we were we gave ourselves outright

(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)

To the land vaguely realizing westward,

But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,

Such as she was, such as she would become.”

It was then time for John F. Kennedy to take the oath of office:
“I, Jack Fitzgerald Kennedy, do solemnly swear, that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Kennedy would then give one of the most memorable inaugural addresses in the history of US politics:

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has 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 unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

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

And with that, John F. Kennedy had become the next President of the United States.
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Kennedy's full cabinet as of 1961 is the following...

Vice President - Stuart Symington
Secretary of State - Dean Rusk
Treasury - C. Douglas Dillon
Defense – Paul Nitze
Attorney General – Robert Kennedy
Postmaster General – J. Edward Day
Interior – Stewart Udall
Agriculture – Orville Freeman
Commerce - Luther H. Hodges
Labor - Arthur Goldberg
H.E.W. – Abraham Ribicoff
De Facto Chief of Staff – Larry O’Brien
Counselor to the President - Ted Sorensen
Press Secretary - Pierre Salinger
United States Ambassador to the United Nations - Adlai Stevenson II
National Security Advisor - McGeorge Bundy

Deleted member 146578

NIce start! I can see this timeline being a bit optimistic. I just hope JFK does not die on 11/22/63 like IOTL.
I'll be interested to see how this develops. One hopes it's even-handed and not a large bouquet to how Kennedy is remembered filtered by the passage of 57 years.
1960 US Senate Elections

Alabama: Incumbent John Sparkman (D) wins re-election
Alaska: Bob Bartlett (D) wins re-election
Arkansas: John L. McClellan (D) wins re-elelection
Colorado: Gordon L. Allott (R) wins re-election
Delaware: J. Caleb Boggs (R) wins re-election
Georgia: Richard B. Russell Jr. (D) wins re-election
Idaho: Henry Dworshak (R) wins re-election
Illinois: Paul H. Douglas (D) wins re-election
Iowa: Jack Miller (R) wins re-election
Kansas: Andrew F. Schoeppel (R) wins re-election
Kentucky: John Sherman Cooper (R) wins re-election
Louisiana: Allen J. Ellender (D) wins re-election
Maine: Margaret Chase Smith (R) wins re-election
Massachusetts: Leverett Saltonstall (R) wins re-election
Michigan: Patrick V. McNamara (D) wins re-election
Minnesota: Hubert Humphrey (D) wins re-election
Mississippi: James O. Eastland (D) wins re-election
Missouri: Edward V. Long (D) wins special election
Montana: Orvin B. Fjare (R) wins, replacing James E. Murray (R) (Republican gain)
Nebraska: Carl Curtis (R) wins re-election
New Hampshire: Styles Bridges (R) wins re-election
New Jersey: Clifford P. Case (R) wins re-election
New Mexico: Clinton Presba Anderson (D) wins re-election
North Carolina: B. Everett Jordan (D) wins re-election
North Dakota: John E. Davis (R) wins special election, replacing Quentin Burdick (D) (Republican gain)
Oregon: Maurine B. Neuberger (D) wins special election
Rhode Island: Claiborne Pell (D) wins election, replacing Theodore F. Green (D)
South Carolina: Strom Thurmond (D) wins re-election
South Dakota: Karl Mundt (R) wins re-election
Tennessee: Estes Kefauver (D) wins re-election
Texas: Lyndon Johnson (D) wins re-election
Virginia: A. Willis Robertson (D) wins re-election
West Virginia: Jennings Randolph (D) wins re-election
Wyoming: Edwin Keith Thomson (R) wins election, replacing Joseph C. O'Mahoney (R) (Republican gain)

Overall result:

REPUBLICANS: 37 (net change of +3)

DEMOCRATS: 63 (net change of -3)

1960 US House of Representatives Elections

Overall result:

REPUBLICANS: 180 (net change of +27)

DEMOCRATS: 257 (net change of -26)
The First Man In Space
A new reign begins

President Kennedy began his term at a time of both great excitement and great concern. There were new opportunities to move America forward in science, technology, civil rights and more.

But there was also much to worry the new President and keep him up at night. The Cold War was looking to enter a dangerous new phase. Kennedy had campaigned hard on the promise that he would prevent the communists from expanding into South America, Vietnam, and Quemoy-Matsu.

Only time would tell if he would be successful in these endeavors.

Defining Camelot

As President Kennedy took office, it would not be long before the aesthetic of his White House would come to be defined by the national and international media.

The First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, would have a central role in defining the image that her husband’s Presidency would take.

While her husband was the youngest man ever elected President, she herself was one of the youngest First Ladies in history, entering the role at 31 years of age.

As such, Mrs Kennedy sought to instill a youthful spirit into a White House that had been defined for 8 years by a dignified, elder statesman and World War 2 General.

This sense of youthful energy would start with Jackie Kennedy herself.

Mrs Kennedy hired fashion designer Oleg Cassini to design dresses and outfits that would help define the First Lady as a global fashion icon.

This commitment to youth and newel would all be reflected in renovations in the White House.

Within weeks of her husband’s inauguration, the First Lady had brought in Dorothy Parish to refurbish the private living quarters.

The White House would soon be filled with fine art, antique furniture, and other symbols of Americana. Lorraine Waxman Pearce would soon be brought in act as the first ever White House curator.

This commitment to modernization and change would also be reflected in protocol at the White House.

Martinis would be served at White House functions, receiving lines were sidelined in favor of a more relaxed atmosphere and smoking was permitted in the State Rooms.

These events would help define the Kennedy White House as a place of sophistication and style which followed (and sometimes defined) modern trends.

However, the legacy of Kennedy’s presidency was only just beginning to be defined.

Yuri Gagarin: First man in space

On 12 April 1961, the Soviet Union prepared to send the first human being into space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Gagarin entered the Vostok 1 space craft at 04:10 UTC. Approximately 40 minutes later, Gagarin requested the hatch be re-sealed, fearing it was not sealed properly.

Rather than re-bolt the hatch, Oleg Ivanovsky and a group of engineers examined the hatch and assured Gagarin it was adequately sealed.

At 06:07 UTC, the Vostok 1 spacecraft launched from from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Korolev: Preliminary stage ... intermediate... main... LIFT-OFF! We wish you a good flight. Everything’s all right.

Gagarin: Off we go! Goodbye, until [we meet] soon, dear friends.

And with that, the Vostok 1 hurtled toward the upper atmosphere.

"The craft is operating normally. I can see Earth in the view port of the Vzor. Everything is proceeding as planned"

-- Yuri Gagarin, 06:18 UTC , 12 April 1961

By 06:53 UTC, Vostok 1 was known to be in stable orbit.

At 07:02 UTC, famous Yuri Levitan announced to world that a patriot of the Soviet Union, Yuri Gagarin, was the first man in space.

At 7:25 UTC, the spacecraft's automatic systems brought it into the required attitude for the retrorocket firing.

The engine fired for 42 seconds over West Africa. Ten seconds after retrofiring, commands were sent to separate the service module from the re-entry module.

However, a stack of wires prevented the two modules from separating.

Gagarin’s capsule spun wildly, causing him to smash violently into the hatch that was scheduled to blow and eject him from the module.

Unfortunately, Gagarin’s fears about the integrity of the hatch would be justified. The force at which he slammed into the hatch caused several bolts which sealed the hatch to become loose.

As the capsule was engulfed in flames on re-entry, the wires holding the two modules together burnt away.

However, this complication saw the hatch exposed to the heat of re-entry, rather than the heat shield.

The hatch, which was already not adequately sealed, was not designed to stand up such extreme heat, which topped 3000-degrees Fahrenheit.

The bulk of the smouldering, burnt-out wreckage of the Vostok’s re-entry model landed in the northern section of Congo-Léopoldville. *

Yuri Gagarin did not survive. His remains were encased in the smouldering wreckage of the capsule that had become his tomb.

The Aftermath

“Tell me, has he died?”

-- Sergei Korolev, immediately after hearing that ground crews lost contact with Gagarin

In the immediate aftermath of the failure of Vostok 1, there was much debate among the Soviet leadership about how to proceed.

Two major factors made the prospect of a cover up more difficult. Firstly, they had publicly announced that they had put a Soviet man in space.

Secondly, the capsule had landed in a foreign nation, Congo-Léopoldville.

The Soviet Union did not have warm relationships with the African nation, as the current leadership of Congo-Leopoldville had deposed and executed then Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba for his perceived communist sympathies.

As such, it is unlikely they could convince the leadership of Congo-Leopoldville to go along with an attempted cover up.

Ultimately, it was decided that Gagarin would be made a martyr for the cause of Soviet exploration into space.

The news of his death would be announced shortly thereafter:

“Dear Comrades and friends, it is with great sadness that we must announce that Yuri Gagarin, the first man is space, died in the course of his heroic journey. With his sacrifice he opens a new page in the history of the world and proves that the Soviet man can conquer space.”

-- Yuri Levitan, making the first official announcement of Gagarin’s death

President Kennedy was the first to reach out with condolences for the “tragic and sobering loss” of the young cosmonaut, which he called “a tragedy for all mankind.”

However, he discreetly dispatched a team of American engineers and scientists to Congo-Léopoldville to inspect the wreckage of the Vostok 1. This was a valuable learning exercise that could not be passed up.

Though the Soviet’s first attempt to send a man into space may have ended in tragedy, Alan Shepard’s voyage was just around the corner.

*Officially known as Republic of the Congo, however it shared this name with its north-western neighbour.
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Events In Cuba + The Space Race Continues
A change of plans
During the campaign, Kennedy had taken a hard-line stance against Fidel Castro, who he deemed a major threat to the United States and an enemy in the war against communism.

On January 28th, 1961, President Kennedy was informed of Eisenhower’s plans to use Cuban exiles as an invasion force and take down the Communist government.

The meeting was attended by Vice President Stuart Symington, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Defense Secretary Paul Nitze, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, General Lemnitzer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Assistant Secretaries Mann and Vance, and Tracy Barnes of the CIA.

From there, the next few weeks and months would involve debate between the State Department, Defence Department and CIA to determine what the best course of action would be to depose Castro.

Over the course of the planning stage, debate was had over what direct involvement the United States should have and what the political ramifications might be.

In particular, there was debate over the extent to which American airpower should be involved in the invasion.

In early April, officials from State and Defence Departments, as well as the CIA, attempted to come to a compromise on the issue of airpower.

They argued that limited strikes made two days prior to invasion would give the impression that Cuban defectors in the air force. Any greater involvement than that would demonstrate overt US involvement in the operation.

Aides would later report that the Vice President questioned the consensus being built by the State Department and others:

Symington: Mr President, political considerations aside, without enough air support this plan will absolutely fail. Trying to take a half measure with this will be disastrous.

Kennedy: Well then Stu, I guess we’re going to have to attend a few more meetings to sort this out.
- A conversation between President Kennedy and Vice President Symington, April 6th, 1961

President Kennedy, frustrated with the way the invasion was being planned, would seek help from the only other man who had helmed an invasion plan aimed at Castro’s Cuba.

The next day, Kennedy made a fateful call to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Kennedy: I don’t think we can show our hand [in Cuba]. Secretary Rusk and the rest seem convinced that if we’re seen to take action, the Soviets will be apt to cause problems in Berlin or elsewhere. We can’t let this kind of thing embolden the soviets.

Eisenhower: The only thing to do when you go into this kind of thing is ensure it is a success. The Soviet Union will have questions about where Cuba received their arms and equipment. There is an obvious answer for that. I don’t see how we can hide our involvement and I don’t believe that our actions in Cuba would embolden the Soviets to do something that they would not otherwise do.

Kennedy: You don’t really know what the complexities are and how tough the job is until you have it.

[Both men laugh]

Eisenhower: Well Mr President, I might only suggest that you consult with the National Security Council and weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of this chosen course.

Kennedy: Well, we’ve certainly had a meeting or two with people involved. [chuckle] But thank you General, I assure this thing is going to be a success.
-- A recording of the phone conversation between President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 7th, 1961. Courtesy of the Kennedy President Library

That would encourage the President to create the National Security Council Executive Planning Command – also known as NESCOM - a body of the United States government made up of members of the National Security Council as well as anyone else the President deemed as helpful.

This would push the timetable for invasion back, but the President viewed it as being a worthwhile endeavor to ensure success.

On April 8, 1961, President Kennedy formally established NESCOMM using a National Security Action Memorandum.

NESCOMM would be made up of the traditional members of the National Security Council, alongside relevant White House staff and several special advisors that Kennedy deemed helpful.

These special advisors included various Under Secretaries, former officials, and members of the Congress. They included Robert A. Lovett, J. William Fullbright, Richard M. Bissell Jr., Thomas E. Morgan, Richard Russell, Henry “Scoop” Jackson and long-time diplomat Thomas C. Mann.

The first NESCOMM meeting was called on April 10, 1961. Kennedy had taping equipment installed in meeting rooms to ensure records were kept for his later memoirs.

Only the President’s brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, was made aware that the NESCOMM meetings were being taped.

President John F. Kennedy: On the question of using exiles as opposed to our own forces…is it not preferable that they be seen as a force within Cuba, rather than an invasion force sent by Yankees?

Senator J. William Fullbright: We need to consider, Mr President, the prospect that the exiles might meet resistance that proves too strong for them to overcome. Will we let them fail? Or send troops? If it came to that…it may well undo the last 30 years [of diplomacy with Latin America].

Richard Bissell: Even in the worst case, the invaders can turn guerrilla. They’ve got the training.

Vice President Stuart Symington: In the worst-case scenario, the invaders get killed on the beach head before they get the chance.

Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson: However we do it…if we don’t get rid of Castro, the Soviet Union will have a platform to spread their influence into this hemisphere. Then we'll all be in trouble.

-- An excerpt of the first NESCOMM meeting, April 10, 1961, courtesy of the Kennedy President Library.

Over the next weeks and months, these meetings would form the basis for Kennedy’s plans in Cuba.

The Home Frontier

April 29, 1961, marked the end of Kennedy’s first 100 days President.

From January 25 to April 27, the President sent 28 messages to Congress outlining his ideas of programs to address the recession, decrease unemployment, to allow more citizens to attain adequate housing, and to improve America’s education system.

Progress in these areas remained slow.

However, the President was not without his areas of success.

The President’s first State of the Union Address on January 30, 1961 was well received by the public and by the members of Congress alike. It outlined his vision to reinvigorate the American economy:
“We cannot afford to waste idle hours and empty plants while awaiting the end of the recession. We must show the world what a free economy can do--to reduce unemployment, to put unused capacity to work, to spur new productivity, and to foster higher economic growth within a range of sound fiscal policies and relative price stability.

I will propose to the Congress within the next 14 days measures to improve unemployment compensation through temporary increases in duration on a self-supporting basis--to provide more food for the families of the unemployed, and to aid their needy children--to redevelop our areas of chronic labor surplus--to expand the services of the U.S. Employment Offices--to stimulate housing and construction--to secure more purchasing power for our lowest paid workers by raising and expanding the minimum wage--to offer tax incentives for sound plant investment--to increase the development of our natural resources--to encourage price stability--and to take other steps aimed at insuring a prompt recovery and paving the way for increased long-range growth. This is not a partisan program concentrating on our weaknesses--it is, I hope, a national program to realize our national strength.

Efficient expansion at home, stimulating the new plant and technology that can make our goods more competitive, is also the key to the international balance of payments problem. Laying aside all alarmist talk and panicky solutions, let us put that knotty problem in its proper perspective.”

-- President John F. Kennedy’s first State of the Union Address on January 30, 1961

February 2, 1961, saw President Kennedy send his Economic Message to Congress.

The legislative proposals included:
  • A temporary supplemented added to unemployment benefits
  • The extension of aid to the children of unemployed workers
  • The redevelopment of distressed areas
  • An increase in unemployment benefits
  • An increased minimum wage
  • The provision of energy relief to feed grain farmers.
  • A comprehensive slum clearing and home building program
By the end of March, these 7 measured had become law.

Kennedy knew successes like these, while not a pittance, were not the sort of broad change that would ensure the success of his New Frontier.

If he were to get through some of his more ambitious proposals, the President would need more finesse when dealing with Congress, particularly the conservative coalition of Southern Democrats and Northern Republicans.

On April 28th, 1961, Kennedy met with Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson to discuss a path forward for his New Frontier Agenda.
After Vostok

In the aftermath of the Vostok 1 disaster, the Soviet Union had lobbied the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FIA) to officially certify Yuri Gagarin as the first man in space.

The governing body declined. Most observers felt this was a public relations move by the Soviets and they did not expect to be successful.

Meanwhile, wreckage of Vostok 1 was returned to the Soviet Union a little over two weeks after its fateful and tragic crash.

During this time, American engineers and scientists inspected the wreckage to determine what issues caused the crash.

This caused minor tension with the Soviet Union. Khrushchev decried the actions but did little else beyond condemn the move.

“The American capitalists have defiled the great achievement of Soviet scientists and insult the memory of a great patriot, Yuri Gagarin. They descended upon him like vultures and have insulted the Soviet people.”

-- Nikita Khrushchev in an address to the Soviet public, April 16, 1961.

With the inspections included, it was determined that no findings from the Vostok 1 would prevent or delay the impending launch of Mercury-Redstone 3.

Freedom 7
On the morning of May 5th, 1961, American astronaut Alan Shepard sat inside the cockpit of the Mercury-Redstone 3, also called ‘Freedom 7’.

Weather conditions had pushed back the launch twice already, but it looked as though the launch would finally go ahead.

Shepard had entered the cockpit at 5:15 AM, with launch scheduled for 7:20 AM.

However, cloud cover, minor fixes and technical malfunctions pushed back the launch time by several hours. Shepard had been sitting in the Freedom 7 far longer than anyone anticipated, to the point where he was forced to relieve himself inside his spacesuit.

Regardless, by 9:34 AM ET, the countdown was completed, and the Freedom 7 lifted off as 45 million American television viewers looked on.

As part of his mission, Shepard was required to test the manual controls aboard his spacecraft. This differed from the Vostok 1 which was automatic in nature and where manual flight could only be done by overriding the controls.

He successfully adjusted its orientation and found its responses were similar to those of the Mercury simulator.

After returning the craft to automatic pilot, Shepard made observations on his view from the Mercury’s periscope. He would report that landmasses were easily distinguishable from the clouds, coastlines, and oceans, but he had difficulty identifying cities.

After 5 minutes and 15 seconds in flight, Shepard began preparations for re-entry, the most dangerous moment of spaceflight and one which had doomed his Soviet predecessor.

Three retrofire rockets fire for 10 seconds each, beginning at 5 second individuals to ensure firing overlaps.

At 5 minutes and 45 seconds into the flight, the periscope retracts in preparation for re-entry.

At 6 minutes and 15 seconds into the flight, the retrofire pack is jettisoned, ensuring the heat shields were clear.

At 7 minutes and 15 seconds into the flight, the automatic systems re-oriented the spacecraft, rolling the spacecraft at 10 degrees per second to stabilise it for re-entry.

At 15 minutes at 28 seconds, the Freedom 7 made splashdown. Shepard reported that he made safely landed.

After approximately 10 minutes, he squeezed out the door of the craft and into the sling of a rescue helicopter before being taken to the USS Lake Champlain.

The 45 million American glued to their TV sets would never forget the moment that an American astronaut, Alan Shepard, had become the first human to go into space and return safely to Earth.

The White House sought to immediately capitalise on the moment, using it as an opportunity to showcase American scientific ingenuity and highlight this as an achievement of the Kennedy administration.

The Soviet Union were privately furious that the Americans had beaten them in sending and returning the first man into space, but they publicly sent a message of congratulations on the “impressive achievement” of sending a man into space.

Two days later on May 7th, 1961, Alan Shepard met with President John F. Kennedy and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Medal of Honor and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Following this, Shepard began a multi-day long tour across America’s major cities. Millions gathered in the streets to welcome America’s newest hero.

Shepard’s tour of New York was the largest parade since Douglas McArthur returned there in 1951 after being dismissed by Harry Truman.

President Kennedy would later jokingly admit at a press conference that he hoped Shepard had no Presidential ambitions in 1964 because he “wouldn’t stand a chance” at re-election if that were the case.

Despite this victory, Kennedy and his administration knew that the competition between themselves and the USSR in the realm of space was far from over.
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Deleted member 146578

I can see Kennedy’s presidency being a little bit more successful than how it was in our world. Kinda wish we lived in this alternate universe, but good update. Just a small correction though. On the April 6, 1961 call, you said it was a call between President Kennedy and Vice President Kennedy, when Stuart Symington was the VP ITTL.
I can see Kennedy’s presidency being a little bit more successful than how it was in our world. Kinda wish we lived in this alternate universe, but good update. Just a small correction though. On the April 6, 1961 call, you said it was a call between President Kennedy and Vice President Kennedy, when Stuart Symington was the VP ITTL.
Thanks for catching that I'll fix it now.
The Man Behind the Curtain

Kennedy hoped to use the glow of the Freedom 7 success to pass more of his agenda.

Over the past few weeks and months, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson had been reaching out to numerous members of the Congress on the various proposals of the Kennedy administration.

One measure he felt confident he could make headway on was Kennedy’s proposal for a Department of Housing and Urban Affairs.

Much of the opposition to the proposal from Southern Democrats was based on the belief that Kennedy would appoint an African American to the post.

Senate Majority Leader Johnson sought to belay those fears. He used the power of his office and the famous Johnson Treatment

Lydon Johnson: Now on the matter of this new cabinet post the President is proposing…

Congressman O.C. Fisher: That new housing department?

Senator Johnson: Mhm. I hear there’s some opponents to this [department] because of some concern over who the President might appoint to lead it…

Congressman O.C. Fisher: Well -

Senator Johnson: I have it on good authority that the President is going to appoint one of our own to the post. Mayor Cutrer will get the position. Now I think he’d do a great job, don’t you?

Congressman O.C. Fisher: I question why we even need a new federal department –

Senator Johnson: Well this was included in that god damn party platform. You know the one. Still, it’s good to see it go to a Texan. I think he’ll do a lot for Texas.

Congressman O.C. Fisher: My constituents –

Senator Johnson: Don’t shit me, Ovie. How is the President going to get re-elected if he doesn’t have a damn thing to show for his first term? You do want the President to get re-elected, don’t you?

Congressman O.C. Fisher: Of course.

Senator Johnson: Well, I know this will be good for the President. And it’ll be good for Texas. If Kennedy loses in ’64 that’ll be bad for all of us. Nixon carried this damn state last time. How much longer before you’re out of a job?

-- Johnson on a phone call to Texas Congressman Ovie Clark Fisher, April 29, 1961

One by one, Majority Leader Johnson and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn brought reluctant Congressman and Senators into the fold.

On March 10th, 1961, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1961 was introduced into the Senate by Senator John Sparkman (D-AL). Representative Dante Fascell (D-FL).

Lyndon Johnson’s involvement in the process was noted by later historians as being central to Kennedy’s legislative success.
In many ways, the Kennedy years marked the zenith of Johnson’s political power. His influence and clout among the Congress far outweighed Kennedys. This created a situation where Johnson was practically a shadow President in control of Kennedy’s entire domestic agenda.

-- Lyndon Johnson: The Man Behind the Curtain by Robert Caro (2001)

The Freedom Riders
On May 4, 1961, the day before Alan Shepard’s fateful flight into space, another monumental event in American history began to take shape.

A group of young people, led by CORE Director James Farmer, boarded Greyhound buses intent on travelling through the South to challenge the region’s non-enforcement of Supreme Court decisions such as Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960).

Those who engaged in this non-violent protest action to challenge the South’s Jim Crow travel laws would later become known as the Freedom Riders.

The group travelled through Virginia and North Carolina with only minor impediment.

However, things turned violent once in the South Carolina town of Rock Hill on the 12th of May. One young rider, John Lewis was attacked by two white men after entering a segregated waiting room.

After the incident, the Freedom Riders split off onto two buses – one Greyhound and one Trailways.

On May 14th, the first of the Freedom Rider buses, the Greyhound, arrived in Anniston, Alabama.

The bus was descended upon by an angry mob, chasing it down and firebombing it.

The riders were able to escape the burning bus, but were promptly beaten by white supremacists, many of which were active members of the KKK.

It was only when warning shots were fired by local law enforcement that the mob ceased their assault, preventing the event from becoming an outright lynching.

Similar scenes took place in Birmingham, as KKK members, with the blessing and support of Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor. He, along with the local police, organised for there to be no law enforcement response to Klan violence for 15 minutes.

A crowd of white supremacists and numerous members of the national press.

When the riders departed the Trailways bus and attempted to enter an all-white lunch counter, they were viciously assaulted by the mob. The violence was not contained just to the Freedom Riders, but some members of the press were also attacked, causing one journalist’s camera to be destroyed.

By the time police arrived 15 minutes after the attack began, most Klansmen had already left.

On the subject of the delayed response, Bull Connor later stated:

“It was Mother’s Day. A lot of policemen were at home with their mothers.”

News of the attacks quickly spread around the United States, shocking much of the sheltered white populace outside the South who were appalled at the photos seen on television and in newspapers.

freedom rides attack.JPG

The viciousness of these attacks brought significant media attention to the racism still prevalent in the South.

Journalists who were present at the site of the attacks gave vivid descriptions of the brutality on display.

Not only that, but many journalists were very deliberate in highlighting that this was not a random act of violence, but a planned effort by those in power in Alabama to uphold the racially segregated status quo.

“The riots have not been spontaneous outbursts of anger, but carefully planned and susceptible to having been easily prevented or stopped had there been a wish to do so.”

-- Journalist Howard K. Smith during a live radio address from his hotel room, May 14th, 1961

While the violence had brought their desegregation efforts to the forefront of the public consciousness, it also made bus drivers unwilling to transport the Freedom Riders any further.

This, combined with the massive attention their efforts had already achieved, caused CORE leader James Farmer to call off the bus ride and instead travel by plane to New Orleans for the planned rally.

However, this did not stop the Freedom Rides.

On May 17th, a continuation of the movement, led by Dianne Nash of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), took a bus to Birmingham and were promptly arrested by Bull Connor. Upon being driven to the Tennessee line and released, they immediately returned to Birmingham.

They were soon joined by two members of the original Freedom Ride, John Lewis, and Hank Thomas.

However, the threats of violence had effectively stalled efforts to continue the Freedom Rides, as no bus driver was willing to transport the activists.

This changed with the intervention of Bobby Kennedy.

US Attorney General Robert Kennedy had been following the events of the Freedom Rides closely. While his brother had been elected with the support of the African American community, the administration’s current focus was primarily addressing the issues of the Cold War, such as communism. He privately regarded these civil rights demonstrations as a distraction from that goal.

However, he knew that civil unrest over Jim Crow could unravel his brother’s presidency and as such, saw it necessary to step in when the Freedom Rides stalled.

The Kennedy administration pressured the Greyhound Company into providing buses to the Freedom Riders.

The Department of Justice sent John Seigenthaler, an aide to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Doar, to act as a negotiator between the federal government and Alabama Governor John Malcolm Patterson.

The Governor had initially refused to even answer the calls of Seigenthaler, but eventually relented and agreed to have state troopers escort the Riders.

However, state troopers abandoned the Freedom Riders at the Montgomery City limits, leaving them at the mercy of the waiting mobs of violent segregationists. The beatings continued and many ambulances refused to transport the activists to hospital.

Eventually, Martin Luther King scheduled an appearance at a local church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Activists, Southerners, politicians and the watching American public all knew one thing – the South was a powder keg waiting to explode.

Madness in Montgomery

It was a warm night in Montgomery, Alabama when Martin Luther King came to town.

The civil rights leader stood at a podium in Abernathy’s First Baptist Church, having just given a speech to a room filled with more than a thousand Freedom Riders.

However, the situation outside resembled something closer to hell, than heaven.

A large, angry mass of segregationist, Klansmen and reactionaries surrounded the first Baptist Church. They threatened to beat or kill anyone who left the building.

Cars were flipped over and set alight. Effigies and wooden crosses were burned.

The scene was incredibly tense. King had reached out to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to get the Alabama National Guard called in to ensure the safety of everyone present.

“They have requested that all of us stay in here for the time being, that nobody will leave. And may I make another personal request on behalf I think all of us — that we must be sure that we adhere absolutely to nonviolence. Now it’s very easy for us to get angry and bitter and even violent in a moment like this. But I think this is a testing point. Now, we had to go out a few minutes ago and counsel with some of our own people who were getting to the point of returning to violence. And we don’t want to do that. We can’t do that. We have won the moral victory.”

-- Martin Luther King on the night of May 21, 1961.

However, word came out over the phone that black taxi drivers stood armed and ready to stage a rescue attempt, should the mob move to attack the church.

It was then that King decided to act. He had to convince the taxi drivers to put away their weapons and leave, lest this act of nonviolent protest devolve into a blood bath.

He enlisted the help of twelve men present to escort him to where the taxi drivers were, so he could talk them into leaving.

King’s escorts lined up in twos, either side of the Reverend and walked out the doors of the church.

No sooner did they step outside the doors did a firebomb sail over the heads of the angry mob and explode in front of King’s entourage.

The two men nearest to the front were caught alight. King was promptly dragged back inside, as two of the men in the middle ran to their burning friends, attempting to put the blaze out.

It was then that all hell broke loose. The angry mob descended upon the church, the volunteers outside and anyone who looked like they might be part of the news media.

The taxi drivers sprang into action, brandishing weapons and seeking to save the peaceful protestors trapped inside.

Violence quickly spread to the greater Montgomery area. Businesses were looted, homes were burnt down,

It was not long before news of the violence reached Washington.

Bobby Kennedy: Good lord, Jack. It’s a bloodbath down there [in Montgomery].

John F. Kennedy: Get Pierre to send out a statement. I’m going to federalise the national guard. This madness can’t go on. Christ, what the fuck is that Governor doing? Son of a bitch.

Bobby Kennedy: This is going to kill us. The south isn’t going to forget this.

John F. Kennedy: Get word and see if King is alright. If he’s been killed the whole country will go to hell.

-- Recording of a phone conversation between John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, May 21st, 1961.

The now federalised Alabama National Guard were promptly deployed to quell the violence.

It would take until late that afternoon for the violence to completely quashed.

Reports would later reveal that the death toll was 48 (38 black deaths, 10 white deaths). Gaining an exact number on how many were injured was impossible but estimates ranged from anywhere between 700 hundred to 1,200.

One in every three buildings in Montgomery reported some form of damage as a result of the rioting.

Martin Luther King was reported injured but alive in the aftermath of the attack. Supporters had managed to get him to a waiting taxi where he was driven away, to safety.

He’d been struck on the head by a pipe and had left the scene bleeding profusely, but to the President’s great relief, he was alive.

Kennedy’s relief at King’s survival was quickly swept away by the stress he felt growing issue of civil rights.

If it was a powder keg, then the events in Montgomery were sure to be a tank of gasoline and matches.

It wouldn’t take long for Kennedy to realise that civil rights, far from being a distraction from the Cold War, would become a central issue in his Presidency.
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Deleted member 146578

Nice update as usual. What changes did you make ITTL that made Kennedy more aggressive on civil rights than he was during his presidency? Also does he still have Addison's Disease and other ailments?
Nice update as usual. What changes did you make ITTL that made Kennedy more aggressive on civil rights than he was during his presidency? Also does he still have Addison's Disease and other ailments?
Yes he still has Addison's Disease and his various other ailments. I'll make sure to touch on those at some point.

ITTL, the big change here is that the Martin Luther King's visit to Montgomery during the Freedom Rides devolves into a massive riot when he is attacked while trying to defuse the situation. Kennedy isn't necessarily "more aggressive" on civil rights ITTL, but sought relatively quick intervention from the National Guard to prevent the unrest from getting worse. He's particularly worried about the backlash if King was killed.

Kennedy's decision making here wasn't necessarily because of his support for civil rights, but was instead based on political calculus and a desire not to see the country fall apart.
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Trouble at home and plans in motion
Between a rock and a hard place
The events of Montgomery had thrust the civil rights issue to the forefront of the public consciousness.

White audiences across the nation had been shocked and appalled at the violence they saw on their television screens and heard about on the radio.

As the smoke cleared and the crowds dispersed, those within the Kennedy administration were torn on how to proceed in the wake of the violence. The likes of Bobby Kennedy and Larry O’Brien were cautious of getting too aggressive on the issue of civil rights, while others like Sargent Shriver and Vice President Symington believed it was both morally and politically right.

President Kennedy: That business in Montgomery…it’s horrific…we’re a bit of an impasse here on how to proceed. If we go too far on this it could bite us trying to get things through the Congress. Bobby believes it’s too early yet to move too far.

Vice President Symington: Mr President, my mother was campaigning for the negros in Baltimore as far back as I can remember. It’s been a hundred years since Lincoln freed the slaves and they are hardly better off now [then they were then]. We can’t kick this can down the road anymore.

President Kennedy: You have some experience in these racial issues when you were Secretary of the Air Force…

Vice President Symington: Yes, Mr President. And back at Emerson we ended the all-white cafeteria and smoking-rooms. It was good for them; it’ll be good for the country.

President Kennedy: Well, I want you to take point on this for now. We can’t do anything big on this before the mid-terms…but start greasing wheels now. I’ll talk to [Senate Majority Leader] Johnson and see what can be done in the Congress.

Vice President Symington: Of course, Mr President.

A day later, Kennedy would go on television, from the Oval Office in the White House, to both address the violence that occurred and how his administration would tackle the issue of civil rights moving forward:

“Good evening, my fellow Americans. Like many of you, I have watched in shock and consternation at events unfolding in Montgomery, Alabama. And like many of you, I have begun to turn my mind to how we might prevent such instances of mindless violence from ever occurring again and ensure fair treatment for all our citizens.

While all of us have a part to play in addressing the ills of society, it is ultimately the duty of the President to lead this nation through times of crisis, both at home and abroad.

It is for this reason that I am announcing the creation of two committees using my executive authority as President of the United States. The first is the President’s Committee on Civil Disorder. And the second will be a Committee on Civil Rights.

These committees will be made of leaders in the areas of government, business, community activism and key figures from our nation’s numerous spiritual denominations.

Those of you who are old enough may remember the Committees on Civil Rights and Mob Violence, created by Harry Truman.

Much like that commission, the findings will be sent to the White House and Congress, so that we might act together as a nation in addressing both concerns.

Until these findings are released however, I am calling on a cooling off period on the practice of demonstrations in the South.”

-- An excerpt of President Kennedy’s address to the nation, May 23rd, 1961.

Robert Kennedy also reached out to the Interstate Commerce Commission, requesting they ban the practice of segregation of interstate bus services.

Privately, Kennedy knew that Dr King and other civil rights leaders would no doubt be disappointed at his decision to introduce commissions instead of concrete legislation.

Thus, he sent Vice President Symington to meet with Dr King in hospital, as a show of respect to the civil rights leader and to maintain credibility with the movement.

Reaction to Kennedy’s speech was extremely mixed. It angered southern politicians and disappointed activists alike.

"We have been cooling off for 350 years, and if we cooled off any more, we'd be in a deep freeze."

-- James Farmer, leader of CORE

Other prominent figures in the black community were not as reserved.

“President Kennedy is doing what other Presidents before him have been doing for 90 years – string the negro along with the promise of half-hearted action at a later date. He’s nothing more than the white figurehead of a political machine to keep the black race in line and secure a few votes."

-- Malcolm X, on the 24th of May 1961.

Meanwhile, Governor John Malcolm Patterson, who had been an ally of Kennedy, made a scathing response to local media:

“The President has betrayed every southern voter who put him in the White House. His commissions are just another excuse by the federal government to impose upon the great state Alabama and our neighbors.”

-- Governor John Malcolm Patterson on the 24th of May 1961.

The Kennedy administration’s actions on civil rights had only just begun, yet the perilous political situation that accompanied it was already beginning to take its toll on the young President.

A suffering President
John F. Kennedy had run in 1960 as a vigorous, young Presidential candidate who would bring a new, high energy approach to the office of the Presidency.

To the public at large, his personal style, electrifying rhetoric and almost omnipresence in the national consciousness had seen him live up to this image.

However, privately, behind the scenes, he spent his life in agony.

Since childhood, Kennedy had dealt with a seemingly endless string of medical woes.

As a young man, his father hired doctors to prescribe him various medical treatments, both orthodox and not so, to cure him. Later studies would suggest these excessive treatments only worsened his issues.

At various times within his life, doctors had deemed that he was at death’s door itself.

Yet somehow, he had persevered.

Janet G. Travell, the personal physician to the President, had made extensive notes on the President’s condition. Even in the first few months of his presidency, included stomach, colon, and prostate issues, high fevers, dehydration, abscesses, sleeplessness, and high cholesterol.

These, compounded with his public struggles with back problems, would be enough to leave most people permanently bedridden.

However, the most serious of the President’s issues was his Addison’s disease, whereby his adrenal glands would not produce enough of the hormone.

The Kennedy campaign had largely avoided questions around Addison’s during the campaign, but the reality of the situation was that the President had the illness and it most certainly impacted his Presidency.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the Presidency’s daily regimen of drugs and medical treatments.

Such drugs included:

  • Injected and ingested corticosteroids to treat his Addison’s
  • Salt tablets to combat dreariness
  • Procaine shots and ultrasound treatments and hot packs for his back
  • Lomotil, Metamucil, paregoric, phenobarbital, testosterone, and trasentine to control his diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and weight loss
  • Penicillin and other antibiotics for his urinary-tract infections and an abscess
  • Tuinal to help him sleep
  • Gamma globulin to stave off infections
Most controversially however, were the “vitamin shots” administered by Dr Max Jacobson, which were later suggested to have included amphetamine and methamphetamine.

This cocktail of drugs terrified most physicians who saw Kennedy, particularly the shots administered by Jacobson.

However, Kennedy would say:

“I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.”

Whether these health ailments would derail the Kennedy Presidency was yet to be known.

However, the coming events would push the limits of Kennedy’s endurance to their breaking point.

Operation Zapata
On May 29th, 1961, John F. Kennedy gave his approval for Operation Zapata to begin.

With the advice and counsel of NESCOMM, Operation Zapata had evolved significantly from what was initially planned.

Firstly, the size of the invasion force had increased to just over 2,000 men. This was up considerably from the 1,500 that had initially been proposed. Given the growing size of the operation and the number of people involved, Kennedy and his allies were amazed that nothing was ever leaked to the press.

He suspected this was due to strict oversight by Richard Helms, the CIA official who was put in charge of overseeing Operation Zapata, after Richard M. Bissell was re-assigned following Kennedy's lukewarm reaction to the man during a NESCOMM meeting.

Secondly, the CIA had given extra time to reconnaissance. In doing so they spotted a number of coral reefs that might have impeded the boats and a radio station that could have been used to alert all of Cuba to the invasion effort.

Thirdly, frank discussions within NESCOMM had seen the President agree to a bombing fleet of fifteen aircrafts be used in the attack. While arguments had been had, sometimes fierce ones, ultimately the President had come to a decision that it was more important succeed in ousting Castro, then in having some sense plausible deniability.

All the same, painstaking efforts were made to make whatever ruse existed be believable.

Considerable time was put aside to ensure that the man who would front the media posing as a defecting member of the Cuban air force looked the part, including the plane he would fly in. Everything from the worn look of the paintjob, to the placement of machine barrels on the plane’s wings was done to ensure he looked authentic.

Once the exiles had gained a foothold on the beachhead, they would send a radio message to the United States, claiming to be the provisional free government of Cuba and inviting them to help overthrow the Castro regime. Those in charge of radio operation had a script prepared and memorized for the event.

With his official go ahead, Operation Zapata was poised to begin.

Even with all the extra planning and considerations made, Kennedy was still nervous. This was no doubt going to be the defining moment of his first year in office.

Only time would tell whether it would be a success or failure.

Deleted member 146578

Another great update. Also does Kennedy also establish the Peace Corps and will he be visiting Khrushchev for the Vienna summit?
Another great update. Also does Kennedy also establish the Peace Corps and will he be visiting Khrushchev for the Vienna summit?
The Vienna summit will be addressed.
However the Peace Corps thing was an oversight on my part. I had meant to include during the 100 days section that Kennedy had created a temporary Peace Corps just as IOTL.

Consider that a blunder on my part, however I will address the Peace Corps eventually.


I have been reading through New York Times articles in their archives for quite some time at this point, and I have to take some issue with the manner in which the Election has been handled; to be fair a lot of the following information is hidden behind paywalls in the Articles of the Timesmachine and may well have never been handled by readily accessible sources elsewhere. My intentions are simply to inform and potentially improve the Story from a historiographical standpoint, and if it were to prove too disruptive or even undesirable to take the information into account I'd understand.
The first is that Lyndon Johnson's nomination had a significantly larger effect in keeping the Southern Democratic Parties in line then may be otherwise considered. Stuart Symington, Hubert Humphrey or Henry Jackson were the major contenders for the Vice Presidency in the period where Kennedy was essentially "walking" to the nomination (late June, early July), with Symington being pushed by just about everyone in the Establishment. Johnson was never on the radar, to the point that even Kennedy didn't consider him a possible choice, due to a belief the Texan was particularly content in his position as the Majority Leader in the Senate. Ignoring the process in which Johnson actually ended up on the ticket, it managed to mollify many of the Southern Democrats who were otherwise on the fence in terms of voting for Kennedy given his and the Democratic Party's stand on Civil Rights, though it in the process also managed to alienate a number of Liberals and Progressives who in turn already saw Kennedy as fairly Conservative for a Democrat and had reservations in supporting him. As for why Symington had the strength he had for the Vice Presidential nomination, he was considered the least likely to injure the ticket's support, based on a belief rife amongst the Democrats of the time that the running-mate tended to be a drag on the ticket rather then a booster. It was also considered a given at this point that it would be a struggle to hold onto the South, with Kennedy's religion and the defeat of Southern Democrats to water-down the Civil Rights plank already turning formerly dependable voters towards Nixon; Stuart's own position on Civil Rights was seen as minor in comparison.
The trouble starts however with Louisiana, which had not yet decided whether the Democratic Electors would be Pledged to the Democratic nominee for the Presidency or would be Unpledged. Then Governor Jimmie Davis was far from keen on Kennedy's nomination, and while he publicly remained silent on the matter he worked hard behind the scenes to try and have the Louisiana Democratic Central Committee in essence strip Kennedy of the Presidential nomination in that State, in much the same way Truman had been stripped of the State nomination back in 1948. The motion was defeated in a vote by the 101 member Central Committee (51-49); given the importance of Johnson's nomination in corralling a number of Southern Democrats back toward the Kennedy ticket, I feel it would be a near certainty that the vote would have gone against Kennedy were Symington on the ticket instead. That wouldn't preclude Kennedy from potentially carrying Louisiana as an Independent given that he was able to boost Catholic turnout there, but straight-ticket voting would probably give the "Democratic" slate the edge. South Carolina's Democratic Convention met about four days later, and with the momentum coming out of Louisiana they would probably go with Governor Holling's original plan of allowing an Unpledged Democratic Electors on the ballot alongside the Pledged Democratic Electors for Kennedy, essentially what was done in Mississippi; Nixon would lose his chance to carry South Carolina, and there would be a more than decent chance that the Unpledged Electors would beat out the Kennedy Electors.
Now Georgia is an interesting case as it voted purely for Electors as opposed to Presidential candidates; there were only Democratic and Republican Electors on the ballot, and none of them were bound to a certain candidate. Ernest Vandiver headed the Democratic slate and was initially seeing Red when they had lost the fight on the Civil Rights plank, and stilly wasn't fully mollified when Kennedy named Johnson as his running-mate. It is virtually guaranteed that the Democratic ticket would carry the State, but it is entirely possible that the Electors would withhold their votes in union with the other Unpledged Electors. It it also entirely possible that Vandiver ignores Kennedy's advances regarding Martin Luther King Jr liberation, and declines to put him in touch with Judge Mitchell; Vandiver wouldn't be interested in forwarding Kennedy's career without major concessions that Kennedy may be loathe to grant. Arkansas under Orval Faubus can also prospectively bolt, but it was not subject to nearly the same level of discussion as the 'Deep South Five'.
In spite of these losses in the South though, as well as the absence of the boost provided by the MLK endorsement, Symington would have done a lot to assuage the concerns of those Northern Democrats that had backed Humphrey for the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominations (at least in comparison to their reaction to Johnson), and also Kennedy's supporters like Walter Reuther and the Labor Unions who saw Johnson as their arch-enemy. Most had returned to the Kennedy ticket in OTL by November, but it isn't unreasonable to imagine that some still sat on their hands or simply refused to vote for Kennedy while supporting Democrats downballot. Still, the lack of support in the South under these circumstances would be crippling; I'm projecting that Kennedy would have lost anywhere from (81) to (63) Electors in the South that he historically won, and he'd have had to carry all the close States as well as Ohio to make up that margin, a tall order. The most likely scenario in most circumstances would be Kennedy having to negotiate with the Unpledged Electors, or at least a number of their delegations.
Note: Apparently the website does not like multiple paragraph spoilers...