They stand among the most eloquent words that John F. Kennedy never said. Instead, they exist in writing only — forming the speech Kennedy was scheduled to deliver at the Trade Mart in Dallas to influential business and research leaders early in the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963.
Kennedy was assassinated en route to the gathering, and the words hovered in obscurity amid the panic and devastation that followed…
…For those who continue to ruminate on Kennedy’s truncated legacy, the words have become something of an unintentional last will and testament — a soaring call for progress in space exploration, civil rights, national security, foreign aid and even in critical thinking.
And it quoted freely from the Bible, invoking broad religious sentiments that may seem surprising coming from Kennedy. The nation’s only Roman Catholic president is better known for proclaiming a strict separation of church and state during the 1960 presidential campaign, seeking to allay fears that he would take orders from the Vatican.
“We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom,” the text said, alluding to Isaiah, chapter 62.
“We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve … the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men,’ ” the text continued, quoting from the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2.
“The righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength,” Kennedy would have continued, concluding with a nod to Psalm 127. “For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.’ “
And there’s this, on Kennedy’s Catholicism:
Despite political calculations — and despite Kennedy’s now-well-known adultery and urbane reputation — he maintained a devout Catholic practice, writes author Thurston Clarke in the new book, “JFK’s Last Hundred Days.”
“Few presidents have been as religiously observant as Kennedy, yet reluctant to discuss their faith,” Mr. Clarke wrote. Kennedy attended Mass regularly, prayed at bedtime, lit votive candles and did other devotional acts. John and Jackie Kennedy drew on their faith following the death of a newborn son, Patrick, barely three months before JFK’s assassination.
In fact, the tragedy-haunted couple had planned to name a daughter Arabella before her own still birth in 1956 — named for the ship that carried the Puritans to Massachusetts. It was a remarkable choice, as Kennedy’s fellow Massachusetts Irish-Catholics had long resented the discrimination their forebears suffered from the Puritans’ descendents. But the name also fit Kennedy’s political vision.