Home > 1932-1964 Campaigns, 1960 Campaign > 1960–JFK “Religion” Ad–David Geaney

1960–JFK “Religion” Ad–David Geaney

In the 1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon presidential election, there was much controversy about John F. Kennedy’s religion. Many Democrats thought that Kennedy would never be able to get elected because states that were predominantly Protestant would never vote for him; they used the 1928 precedent of Democratic presidential nominee and Catholic Al Smith as example.

In order to prove that he could garner support and win a primarily protestant state, Kennedy went up against liberal Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey in West Virginia’s primary. It was initially believed that Kennedy would lose because there was a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment in West Virginia. Kennedy’s superior campaigning resulting in him winning over 60% of the West Virginia primary election vote, thus casting off the idea many had that a Catholic could not win a Protestant State.

Even after winning the Democratic nomination, John F. Kennedy still had to compete with misinformation and bigotry against Catholics throughout the nation. Many believed that should he be elected as President of the United States of America, he would be required to take orders from the Pope. One of the key parts of Kennedy’s campaign was trying to make people realize that this was not the case. He tried to emphasize that his religion was not a factor and that he actually advocated the separation of church and state.

On 12 September 1960, Kennedy made remarks at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, in which he refuted the idea that he would be influenced by Catholic officials should be become President of the United States. He used his experience in the Senate as an example of how he had always served the American people and had never taken orders from the Pope or anyone else in the Catholic hierarchy. Kennedy wanted to make sure that people understood he did not represent Catholicism and they did not represent him in any way what so ever. One of the famous quotes from Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association was, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me.” By directly addressing the issue on the mind of many Protestants in the America, Kennedy was able to dispel the rumors and misinformation about himself as a Catholic.

It was not enough to have one address on the matter, so the Kennedy campaign was forced to make sure the public knew where his loyalties were. To do this, the Kennedy campaign created an ad to address his Catholicism and dispel the thought that it would interfere with his presidency should he become elected.


The ad starts off with a lady asking whether he would be divided between two loyalties, church and state. Kennedy then emphatically states:

I would not. I have sworn to uphold the Constitution in the 14 years I’ve been in Congress, in the years I was in the service… I would fulfill my oath of office… there is no article of [my] faith that would in any way inhibit, I think it encourages, the meeting of my oath of office… I am sure that no one believes I would be a candidate for the presidency if I didn’t think I could fulfill my Oath of Office.

In this ad Kennedy points to his experience in the Congress and in the Navy as evidence that he has fulfilled his Oath of Office in the past without his Catholicism being an issue.  This ad was not flashy or showy like other ads, but got straight to the point, with Kennedy’s response taking up the majority of the ad. By broadcasting Kennedy’s statements, saying that his loyalty was with the United States Constitution and his oath of office, the Kennedy campaign ensured that the American people were left without a doubt about his lotalty. The point was to get the message across that his Catholicism and his candidacy for the Presidency were two separate things that would not interfere with each other.

Kennedy made many public statements reiterating that being Catholic did not divide his loyalties. He sought to inform the public that his loyalty was to the United States Constitution and his oath of office. Kennedy needed to do this in order to dispel the incorrect beliefs American’s had about Catholics, primarily that they were required to do anything the Pope or Catholic hierarchy told them to do and that policy could be dictated from the Catholic Church. Kennedy’s ‘Religion’ ad went a long way to informing the public about his allegiance to the United States and all She stands for.

Sources:

http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1960 – ‘Religion’ ad

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkhoustonministers.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66DZG_Qb8i8

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