President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address: A Rhetorical Analysis

Categories: Rhetoric

President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address is renowned for its eloquence and timeless message. While the line "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" is often cited, the speech's impact extends beyond this memorable quote. Kennedy delivered his address with the awareness that he was addressing not only America but the entire world. Through the use of rhetorical devices such as parallelism, ellipsis, and antithesis, Kennedy effectively conveyed his message of unity, peace, and hope during the Cold War era.

The Power of Parallelism

One of the most prominent rhetorical devices employed by President Kennedy in his inaugural address is parallelism. He skillfully repeats the phrase "Let both sides," emphasizing his desire for unity and peace. In doing so, he underscores the importance of nations coming together instead of standing alone in adversarial conflicts. Kennedy's call for global cooperation and prosperity resonates throughout his speech. He envisions a world where war, tension, and hostilities between nations give way to unity and mutual progress.

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The idea of unity and peace serves as a central theme in his address.

At the outset of his speech, Kennedy demonstrates his unwavering commitment to his vision: "I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world" (Kennedy).

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He is willing to go to great lengths, "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardships, support any friend, oppose any foe," to secure liberty, peace, and unity for his country and the world (Kennedy).

Parallelism permeates Kennedy's speech, with certain phrases becoming instantly recognizable. He uses this rhetorical device strategically to drive home his key points.

Ellipsis and Its Impact

President Kennedy's inaugural address is notable for its brevity and clarity. He conveys his moral intentions and desire to aid not only his nation but the entire world succinctly. Kennedy's use of ellipsis is exemplified when he declares, "This much we pledge - and more" (Kennedy). By adding "and more," Kennedy challenges the audience to consider what more they can do to contribute to their country. He makes it clear that the ideas he has outlined are not exhaustive; there is more that can and should be done.

Furthermore, when he speaks of "a celebration of freedom - symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning - signifying renewal, as well as change," Kennedy emphasizes the profound significance of freedom and the transformative potential it holds (Kennedy). Freedom represents both an endpoint and a new beginning, a renewal, and a change. This use of ellipsis is effective in reinforcing the idea of freedom as a driving force behind his vision for a better world.

Antithesis for Emphasis

Another rhetorical device employed by JFK is antithesis. He skillfully inverts sentences to create memorable phrases and emphasize his central message. For instance, Kennedy asserts that America should "never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate" (Kennedy). This statement encapsulates the essence of his speech - the promotion of peace and the assurance of liberty. Kennedy's most famous line, "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country," not only remains relevant but also embodies the idea that citizens should contribute more to their country than they expect to receive in return.

Enduring Impact

President Kennedy's inaugural address, despite its brevity, continues to resonate with people around the world. It serves as a prime example of a speech that has left a lasting impression due to the effective use of rhetorical devices. Kennedy's speech endures, inspiring new generations to consider their role in contributing to a more peaceful and united world.

By skillfully employing parallelism, ellipsis, and antithesis, President Kennedy conveyed a clear and powerful message. He made it abundantly clear that America was prepared to stand for what is right and unafraid of its adversaries. The speech's impact has endured for over four decades and will likely continue to influence the world for years to come. President Kennedy's rhetorical prowess and his ability to employ various devices effectively ensured that his message of unity, peace, and hope left an indelible mark on history.


In conclusion, President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address stands as a testament to the power of effective rhetoric. Through the skillful use of parallelism, ellipsis, and antithesis, Kennedy delivered a speech that resonated with the world. His call for unity, peace, and hope during the Cold War era continues to inspire individuals to take action and contribute to a better world. Kennedy's inaugural address serves as a timeless example of how the art of oratory can shape history and leave a lasting impact on generations to come.

Cite this page

President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address: A Rhetorical Analysis. (2016, Mar 31). Retrieved from

President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address: A Rhetorical Analysis
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