Kennedy, Nixon, Anti-Catholicism: the 1960 Presidential Election

A Catholic princeling and a paranoid Quaker walk into a room and the resulting kerfuffle is the 1960 Presidential Election. Beyond the overwhelming duel of personalities between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon, there was one omnipresent concern, the former’s religion, his Catholicism. John F. Kennedy was only the second Roman Catholic presidential nominee and the nation’s only Catholic chief executive. His religion and the charged discourse around it may or may not have helped decide the election for Kennedy, but more pertinently reflects the dynamics of 20th Century religiopolitical strategy and the dynamics of 20th Century American bigotry.

John F. Kennedy, in his successful bid for the Presidency, primarily faced constitutional-national anti-Catholicism from both the evangelical right and the secular left; and was successful in defeating attempts to derail his campaign by using the bigotry of the former to rally a pluralist coalition that included and appealed to the latter. Moreover, Kennedy’s active and sustained engagement with the ‘religious issue’ proved to be the Achilles’ Heel of his opponent’s, Richard Nixon, smother strategy of non-engagement and attempted no-platforming. Finally, this ‘religious issue’ proves to be an insightful reflection of the status of American Catholicism in its Protestantification in the public sphere and as an oppressive boogeyman that could be dispensed with for the sake of solidarity (whether anti-racist, partisan, or pan-Christian).

Before moving onto the analysis of the 1960 Election — several foundational elements must be expanded upon, namely: forms of anti-Catholicism and the history of Catholic presidential nominees.

John Wolffe’s paper “A Comparative Historical Categorisation of Anti-Catholicism” serves as a more than adequate bases of how to, unsurprisingly, categorize anti-Catholicism. Wolffe develops four categories of anti-Catholicism: constitutional-national, theological, popular, and socio-cultural. Theological and popular forms of anti-Catholicism are less relevant to the discussion in this paper, as, by the 1960s, they had faded considerably. Theological anti-Catholicism is primarily an intra-Christian variation, where Catholics are stigmatized for perceived profound errors in Church doctrine. That Catholics are not, in fact, true Christians but a flock led astray by “Popery” and “Romanism.” Popular anti-Catholicism is a much more general, non-print form of antagonism often tied deeply to their place of origin — i.e., physical violence directed at Irish immigrants — and generally (but not always) the form of riots or mob violence. This form was fairly common during the 19th Century. Further, socio-cultural anti-Catholicism is often concentrated around the sexual impropriety and barbary of Catholic institutions (often Convents or perpetrated by religious officers in positions of power); But also extends to the general fear derived from the social and cultural power that the Church Hierarchy holds over various issues (women’s rights, family, and relationships to name a few).

However, the category most important for understanding the 1960 Presidential election is constitutional-national anti-Catholicism. Wolffe describes this form as a “perception of the Catholic Church as an extra-territorial power aiming to achieve worldwide political supremacy, both as an end in itself and as a means to the achievement of its ultimate religious ends. Such ambitions were sometimes attributed more particularly to specific forces within the Church, especially the papacy and the Jesuits” (Wolffe 2015). The perception of the Catholic Church as an organized, aggressive, foreign, and politically hostile entity is vital to understanding American anti-Catholicism. Ironically, anti-Catholic agents often painted the Catholic Church as an illiberal threat to America’s values, especially freedom of worship and speech, while attempting to suppress Catholic’s freedom of speech and worship. Further, this form is especially hostile to public and visible symbols of Catholic otherness and foreign nature (e.g., formal religious ceremonies with foreign cardinals) and internal Catholic separatism (e.g., Catholic communities setting themselves apart from ‘normal’ communities).

However, the story of the 1960 Campaign really begins in 1924 and 1928 with the failed nomination campaign and then failed the presidential campaign of Catholic New York Governor Al Smith. The fear of facing such total political annihilation and utterly virulent anti-Catholic bigotry drove much of the Kennedy campaign’s thinking. In short, the Trauma of Al Smith is vital to understanding the starting point of the Kennedy Campaign.

Al Smith first ran for president in 1924 but fell short of the nomination after the most hotly contested convention in American political history. First, Smith jockeyed to become the ‘Catholic’ candidate, mostly coming against Senator Thomas Walsh of Montana, a Western Catholic who believed that his image that broke from the traditional mold of immigrant and urban Catholicism would make himself more palatable to Protestant audiences. However, Smith became the standard-bearer of pluralism, and the Catholic wing of the party, expressly because he was the son of immigrants and embraced his identity as an urban Catholic. His identity allowed him to speak to the various dispossessed quarters of America; he became “the incarnation of their own hope and pride; he is the man who has gone, as they would like but do not dare to go, out into the great world to lift from them the secret sense of inferiority” (Carty 2004). His ardent self-confidence in his identity and his success in the politics of New York had “earned the respect of those groups that nativists had labeled alien and un-American” (Carty 2004). However, despite all these hopes and support, his ambitions in 1924 were dashed by a brutal contest with William G. McAdoo at the 1924 Democratic Convention. McAdoo, who cast himself as the bearer of Woodrow Wilson’s progressive legacy (who was his father-in-law), actively courted the support of the Ku Klux Klan to block Smith’s nomination and platform planks in support of religious freedom. There were 103 ballots, and voting took ten days; McAdoo’s nomination was blocked by Smith’s remaining delegates in retaliation for McAdoo blocking planks decrying religious bigotry and the Klan. Eventually, a compromise dark horse candidate, John Davis would become the nominee and offered Senator Walsh a place on the ticket, but the Senator turned him down. Placing him in direct conflict with Governor Smith, once more, for the 1928 nomination.

In 1928, Senator Walsh’s argument that his sedate Catholicism could bring Smith’s pluralist coalition while not scaring off Protestants was overwhelmed by Smith’s anti-nativist appeal. Unfortunately, in addition to rallying a pluralist coalition around himself in the Democratic Party, Smith rallied at nativist coalition against himself in the general election — the brightest of his anti-nativism became a target for his enemies, he became a political Icarus. The signs that Smith unapologetic anti-nativist appeal would backfire became apparent almost immediately as:

The Alabama Ku Klux Klan staged a dramatic display of mock political violence at the Houston Democratic National Convention in 1928. After Smith received the party’s nomination, several Klansmen dragged a life-sized representation of the Catholic candidate into the convention hall, slit the effigy’s throat, and splashed false blood on its chest. As the mob chanted “Lynch him!,” others fired bullets into the tattered figure. The spectacle concluded with a mock lynching of the “Smith” carcass. (Carty 2004)

The violence would not remain symbolic, as Smith would be repeatedly met with burning crosses on his campaigning along with an attempted assassination in Billings, Montana. Along with several Hoover-Smith related murders. Smith would face opposition along nearly every axis during his failed presidential campaign.

Even within the Democratic Party, elements attempted to scuttle their own candidate, rallying the Klan to mobilize voters against Smith. Senator Thomas Helfin even went so far to baselessly assert that the Pope was organizing Mexico and Nicaragua into war with the United States. Other elements of the Democratic Party attempted to suppress and undermine the anti-Catholic resistance in the party, but regardless the party was divided — something that Kennedy would take care not to repeat.

Some historians argue that Smith played into nativists’ hands and alienated rural and Protestant Americans by “drinking in defiance of Prohibition, exaggerating his New York roots and accent, and taking excessive pride in ‘outward tokens of his faith,’ according to [historian David] Burner” (Carty 2004). Prohibition was, for many, a religious issue, and Smith’s support for repeal was aggravating and sacrilege. His urbanism was otherized into his failure to live up to the American ideals of assimilation. Governor Smith’s unashamedly and outward expressions of his Catholic faith, such as kissing the ring of papal ambassador Giovanni Bonzano, were easily manipulated into a display of allegiance and subservience to a foreign power. These displays helped to energize Protestant opposition to Smith two-fold by dividing Protestant Democrats and infuriating Protestant Republicans.

Further, liberal Protestants harbored concerns over Smith’s ability to distance himself from the Church in three topics: school aid, Mexico, and contraceptives. Fears over the separation of Church and state would constantly nip at the heels of Smith. Further, after the Mexican government expropriated the Church’s property and systematically attacked Catholic priests, Catholic groups such as the Knights of Columbus lobbied for military intervention. Calls for war deeply concerned liberal supporters of Smith who thought that such action would certainly doom Smith’s presidential campaign. Finally, supporters of contraceptives actively rallied against Smith blaming the Catholic Church for helping to stymie the use of artificial birth control. Even liberals splintered in the face of concerns over Smith’s religion, concerns that the Governor failed to answer and neutralize adequately.

However, the virulence of the opposition and the nakedness of the bigotry did bind together with other parts of his coalition. In the words of Smith biographer Robert Slayton, “it was the attacks by the Klan, by the bigots and the hate-mongers, that drew blacks to Al Smith…they understood that his enemies were their own and that by standing against these force, he was taking on the people and ideas that oppressed them as well” (Carty 2004). Smith had laid the foundations of a rainbow coalition, but at the cost of his own presidential ambitions as he would go on to be thoroughly smashed by Secretary Hoover at the November polls.

Al Smith’s example was vital to the Kennedy Campaign, almost a treatise on what not to do. Smith’s campaign had divided his party and his electoral coalition. It had splintered and shattered more than it had garnered unity and solidarity. Instead of energizing his base, he had organized his enemies against him. Kennedy would not make the same mistakes as his ambition to become president was not just his own.

Joseph Kennedy Sr. also had the ambition to be the first Catholic president of the United States but was blocked before he could ever even run. Joe Kennedy faced similar bigotry to Al Smith, but his response was not to double down on his religion, but instead working to de-emphasize it. Having been a close ally and early supporter of President Roosevelt, Kennedy expected to be able to mount his Presidential bid in 1940; unfortunately, Roosevelt had other ideas. Roosevelt refused to rule out running for a third term and intentionally kept Joe Sr. at his post as US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, despite Kennedy actively undermining US policy (pushing for the British to make an armistice with the Nazis), exactly to prevent Kennedy from mounting a presidential bid. FDR would go on to arrange for his re-nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate and alienated several of the closest allies, Kennedy included. Followed by the death of his eldest son, Joe Kennedy Jr., during a top-secret bomber mission in World War II, the Kennedy Patriarch was dead set on ensuring his second son’s Presidency.

John F. Kennedy, keenly aware of the potential dangers of running as a Catholic, relied on an active strategy to keep in control of the narrative. Kennedy’s aid, Theodore Sorenson, went so far to state that “Senator Kennedy will win in November unless defeated by the religious issue” (Carty 2004). Instead of letting the ‘religious issue’ overtake them, the Kennedy campaign intended to ‘get out in front’ and ‘neutralize’ the issue before it could divide their coalition — and succeeded brilliantly. In every area, and more, where the Smith campaign splintered, the Kennedy campaign solidified. The Kennedy campaign saw the ‘religious issue’ as both an existential threat, but also a potential opportunity — that by engaging with and neutralizing the threat, they could transform the ‘religious issue’ into an advantage. A strategy that would not just neutralize the issue, but weaponize it in service of strengthening their chances on Election Day.

Another crucial factor in understanding the success of the Kennedy Campaign is the strategy of the Nixon Campaign — a strategy of total silence and absolute non-engagement with the ‘religious issue.’ Nixon’s campaign went as far as to issue a gag order regarding the religious issue across the entire campaign apparatus, even forbidding campaign staff from making private jokes about the topic. What was intended to be seen as magnanimous only came off as disinterest and apathy. Nixon often attempted to appeal to an unhyphenated America, saying “I don’t know how to speak to a Jewish group or a Catholic group or Presbyterian group, or any other. I like to talk to Americans” (Cart 2004); but by trying to talk to everyone all at once, he ended up saying very little. Further, as Protestant allies to Nixon, namely his close friend Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, drew the attention of the media with their anti-Catholicism — Nixon himself was unwilling to rebuke his personal friend, and the gag order prevented any other campaign source from denying Republican involvement with these anti-Catholic forces.

Nixon also proved unwilling to hit back, either by using his owns status as a religious minority (a Quaker) or using Catholic Republican surrogates to decry Kennedy as using ‘reverse bigotry’ to advance his personal ambitions. And there was the evidence to do so, Kennedy having produced a document extolling the advantages of his Catholicism electorally when attempting to secure the Vice-Presidential nomination in 1956. Nixon refused to allow a counter strike; so, Kennedy’s talk clearly, talk often strategy went unhindered.

Kennedy did face stiff and vocal opposition to his candidacy on the grounds of his religion; a major source of it was from the evangelical right, which attacked Kennedy’s eligibility on two fronts: directly and indirectly.

The direct approach, and its failures, are best exemplified by Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, a new evangelist preacher whose theology was defined by his blurring of denominational lines, became a vociferous rhetorical opponent to Kennedy’s bid for the Presidency, whose language shifted sharply from feel-good intra-Christian solidarity to nativist anti-Catholicism. Kennedy, on the onset of the campaign, presented an open letter that criticized opposition to a Catholic president on religious grounds alone to both Peale and Rev. Billy Graham to sign. Both refused. In a follow-up appeal to Peale on behalf of the Kennedy campaign, the dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Washington DC, Frank Sayre, received a shockingly frank anti-Catholic response in which Peale “claimed to have ‘gotten very tired of the power hungry and contemptuous attitude of the Roman Catholic Church.’ And to sign a call for tolerance ‘would give the impression to thousands of Protestants that I am for Kennedy or at least openminded toward him, and that would be a falsehood’” (Carty 2004). Peale further expounded his view that Catholics were subservient to a foreign power and an existential threat to the (Protestant) American way of life. Peale and the National Association of Evangelicals would attempt to rally Protestant leaders against Kennedy by assembling a National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom, which would use Americanist secular rhetoric to derail Kennedy’s campaign and hide their own nativist concerns over his Catholicism.

The indirect approach is best exemplified by the conduct of Rev. Billy Graham during the election; like Peale, he felt immense discomfort at the idea of the Catholic President, but conscious of the costs of public bigotry to his own image, he operated through pressure on the Nixon campaign. Graham, a close friend and spiritual advisor to President Eisenhower, was politically aligned with the Republican Party, but not so aggressively so as to make himself partisan. He argued in a private letter to Vice President Nixon that Nixon would be best suited by aggressively courting Protestant votes, noting to the Vice President that Kennedy would “capture the Catholic vote — almost 100 percent of it — no matter the concessions you make to the Catholic church or how you play them up” (Carty 2004). He assumed that Catholics would mindlessly vote for the Catholic candidate. That there was nothing that could dissuade them from voting en bloc and that the only response was fighting so that Protestants would vote en bloc for Nixon by campaigning in only in predominantly Protestant regions and choosing and evangelical running mate. Graham believed that Catholic block voting was dangerous and morally abhorrent, but that Protestant block voting was acceptable and agreeable. Graham, however, never “revealed the ethnic hierarchy nor the accusation of Catholic disloyalty that Peale advanced” (Carty 2004). Regardless, Graham’s underlying assumptions about Catholics ignore that Catholics had voted for Republicans before and that they were far from united in their support for Kennedy. Keenly aware that he could not jeopardize his own standing as an inter-faith leader and that Peale’s appeal to nativism would likely backfire, Graham arranged for an excuse as to not attend Peale’s convention, the NCCRF.

The NCCRF would epitomize the failures of evangelical Protestants to effectively organize against Kennedy in the political environment of the 1960s. However, the conference attempted to position the issue of religious freedom, not nativism, as the main concern of the conference. However, they could not change two facts 1) that the central concern of the conference was that the Catholic Church would dictate about, and a Catholic President would submit to the curia’s order on, matters of public policy 2) Norman Vincent Peale could not but help to say the quiet part out loud. Peale, when asked by a reporter what would be the consequences of the election of a Catholic President, he replied ominously that “Our American culture is at stake. I don’t say it won’t survive, but it won’t be what it was” (Carty 2004). The media that had assembled for the conference saw through Peale’s half-dog whistle rhetoric, which tainted not only his own public image but also the image of the entire conference. It became Peale’s anti-Catholic convention, not a moment of religious freedom against Catholic illiberalism. The conference, which was intended to bring a storm down upon Kennedy, instead only brought scorn down upon itself and attendees — as soon after, a joint statement signed by 100 religious leaders of various faith rejected that religion was an acceptable basis for choosing a political leader, a massive public repudiation targeted squarely at the NCCF and Norman Vincent Peale.

If anything, the NCCF had teed-up JFK for a keynote speech professing his strategy of strict public secularism — and he would deliver just that speech at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, just a few days after the conference. JFK sought to establish his secularism and to reveal the NCCF to be a nativist fraud. He would say:

I believe in an America where the separation of Church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him (Kennedy 1960).

He spoke the language of protestant Americanist secularism, the cudgel that had been deployed against him just days earlier was brought down squarely on the head of anti-Catholic nativism. That it was the nativists who were un-American and illiberal in their misbegotten fears, this speech is close to star-spangled protestant individualism come alive — Kennedy even went on to explicitly say, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office” — a quintessentially Protestant line of reasoning. It was this rhetoric, rhetoric that was disciplined, consistent, and repeated ad nauseum that allowed Kennedy to beat his opponents at their own game; he would not be broken by nativist Americanism, he would break nativists with pluralist (Protestant) Americanism.

However, Kennedy was not only met with opponents to his right but also his left — the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Protestant and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State (POAU) both actively raised concerns over Kennedy’s religion and attempted to prevent his nomination. POAU, who had previously raised concerns over Kennedy’s support of Catholic schools and lack of public secularism in his career, planned to reprint their old material to undermine Kennedy — despite Kennedy’s now ardently secularist rhetoric. POAU then made a critical mistake, that split its liberal members from its protestant members by joining the backfire-incarnate that was the NCCF. The POAU inadeptly split its membership, and the backlash caught the book sales of its leading members, who then attempted to change course and stop the organization from criticizing Kennedy to no avail. So POAU’s attempts to undermine Kennedy only succeeded in undermining their goals.

The ACLU was to POAU as Graham was to Peale, more amenable in its bigotry — as it maintained a principle stand, that they had the right to question Kennedy about his religion, that it was “not improper for voters to seek and consider information — including a particular candidate’s own views — about the effect on governmental matters … his group may hold — for example, Quakers on the use of the armed forces, Catholics on the use of public funds for parochial schools” (Carty 2004). A combination of Democratic establishment pressure and Kennedy’s own position did quiet the ACLU on the matter, but ACLU leadership sought to ensure they had the ability to discuss such matters without being labeled bigots. The ACLU attempted to raise concerns — but was halted by their own caution and Kennedy’s constant secularist inoculation.

Kennedy, however, was able to quickly solidify liberal groups to his side after securing his party’s nomination. Kennedy’s support for classic American public secularism allayed liberal fears and ensured that groups like the Americans for Democratic Action quickly fell behind the new Democratic standard-bearer. Instead of being split by concerns over his religion, progressive organizations painlessly (for the most part) joined Kennedy’s coalition.

Another vital split that Kennedy avoided was an intra-party split, as what had happened to Al Smith in 1928. Key to maintaining party unity in the era of political machines was winning over the support of party leaders; a notable example of Kennedy’s success was former President Harry S. Truman. Truman held deep reservations over Catholics in public life; during interviews for his biography in 1959, he asserted that Catholics “have a loyalty to a church hierarchy I do not believe in…You don’t want to have anyone in control of the government of the United States who has another loyalty, religious or otherwise” (Carty 2004). Truman went as far as to verbally challenge Kennedy’s candidacy by resigning as a delegate just a few days before the national convention. His fellow Freemasons called upon him to prevent Kennedy from securing the nomination. Truman could have easily derailed Kennedy’s general election campaign by aggravating and empowering the ever rebelling Dixiecrat wing of the party.

However, that rapidly disappeared after Kennedy both secured the nomination and personally visited Truman at his family home in Independence, Missouri. Afterward, the former president became a vital and aggressive surrogate for Kennedy, often serving as a rhetorical hatchet-man for the Senator from Massachusetts. In a run of speeches during the last days of the campaign, Truman lashed out at Nixon, saying the “Republican candidate pays lip service to tolerance, but he is quite willing to accept any votes that may come his way by reason of intolerance”, Truman pushed that rhetoric even further a few days later saying simple “If you vote for Nixon, you ought to go to hell” (Carty 2004). Instead of worrying about Truman potentially undermining his campaign, Kennedy’s campaign turned him into an asset that was highly effective at damaging Nixon and reaching out to rural Protestants. Party unity prevailed.

The Kennedy campaign proved successful in neutralizing anti-Catholicism in the African American community as well, as, with their white Protestant siblings, African American religious leaders often rejected supporting Kennedy out of hand; the Kennedy campaign responded with a two-pronged effort of community relations and conversion of community leaders. The Kennedy campaign went as far as to pay New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, one of the then three African American members of Congress, $50,000 to give speeches campaigning for Kennedy. Powell delivered fiery speeches linking the struggle against anti-black racism to struggle against anti-Catholicism that the “leaders [white Protestant preachers] are changing the white robes of the Klan for the black robes of the Protestant clergy” (Carty 2004) by opposing Kennedy on religious grounds.

An unplanned event further accelerated the campaign’s African American outreach program, when Martin Luther King Jr. (not yet a national figure but still a religious leader of some prominence) was arrested for trespassing into a white’s only area of am Atlanta department store. In short order, King was sentenced to four-month gang labor repairing roads, news that devastated his wife, Coretta Scott King. Sargent Shriver, one of Kennedy’s chief aids, pushed for the nominee to call and offer his support to Mrs. Scott King, while Bobby Kennedy argued that such a move could jeopardize Democratic support amongst Southern whites. Kennedy followed the advice of Shriver, telephoning Scott King, though at that stage, offering no more than words of support. However, that immediately earned Kennedy the support of Martin Luther King Sr. who said, “I’ll vote for him, even though I don’t want a Catholic… I’ll take a Catholic or the Devil himself if he’ll wipe the tears from my daughter-in-law’s eyes” (Carty 2004). Soon after, Bobby Kennedy used his influence to convince a Georgia judge to grant MLK Jr. bail. The night of his release, the younger King gave an impassioned sermon linking anti-Catholicism to anti-black racism, though he did not expressly endorse Kennedy.

The Kennedy campaign, wary of scaring off Southern whites, then secretly created a pamphlet highlighting the phone call between Scott King and Kennedy, along with MLK Jr.’s sermon, but attributed these “blue bombs” to an organization of African American ministers from Philadelphia. They further included a statement by Martin Luther King Sr. that said, “I had expected to vote against Senator Kennedy because of his religion. But now he can be my President, Catholic or whatever he is” (Carty 2004). These pamphlets were unsurprisingly solely targeted at and distributed in African American communities. Kennedy had once again turned a potential fracture in his electoral coalition into a source of solidarity. Instead of voting against Kennedy for his Catholicism, many African Americans voted for him because of it.

These vignettes may seem unimportant on their own, but they are vital for three reasons: the skill of the campaign in maneuvering the ‘religious issue,’ the success of their strategy, and the closeness of the election. The campaign expertly seized upon opportunity after opportunity not only to neutralize the ‘religious issue’ but turn it into a source of strength. More importantly, they succeeded in their attempts to capitalize on the opportunities as they presented themselves. And finally, because the 1960 Presidential was incredibly, incredibly close — every single vote counted. Kennedy only won a little more than 110,000 more votes than Nixon. In 17 states, the margin of victory was less than three percent. The ‘religious issue’ could have easily sunk John F. Kennedy’s presidential ambitions.

One final vignette that exemplifies the approach and success of the Kennedy Campaign’s strategy on the religious issue is how Kennedy managed to force an endorsement by Rev. Graham. Though after the election, it is still illustrative of the campaign’s almost unique effectiveness in dealing with anti-Catholicism. In January of 1961, Billy Graham was invited to the Kennedys’ vacation home in Florida. When he arrived, the President-elect immediately shunted him over to his father, and the Kennedy Patriarch made no pretenses and extracted from Graham a promise to perform an interfaith ceremony at the inauguration, to heal over the wounds of the ‘religious issue.’ Graham went golfing with the soon-to-be president, only to happen upon a throng of reporters — Kennedy then turned to the assembled crowd and said, “I want to present to you Dr. Billy Graham, who’s going to answer some question” forcing Graham to make an instant decision — de facto endorse Kennedy or ruin his perception as an inter-faith leader. The ever-image conscious Graham chose the former. That choice is almost a microcosm of the wider campaign, a fight over division and solidarity; Kennedy was able to divide his opponents and unite his friends by both talking often and clearly on his secularism and commitment to American ideals while also being willing to use any underhanded approach, as long as it was not tied back to him.

Kennedy’s Presidency was purchased with one great price — submission to protestant individualism, and not all Catholics agreed that he should have paid it. In the words of Mark Massa, a scholar of anti-Catholicism, “Kennedy’s Houston Speech can be fruitfully seen as a key moment, not only in American Catholicism’s ‘coming of age,’ but also the articulation of the terms of that rite of passage” (Massa 1999). Kennedy’s surrendered Catholic principles for the temporal gain of the Presidency. And had arguably seeded the point that to be Catholic is to be subject to a foreign power, but simply subject to a foreign power in one’s personal, and separable, private life. Moreover, Kennedy’s campaign made that decision for all Catholics, adding the burden of any future non-Protestant-individualist candidate by cementing that Protestant idea into the public consciousness. And compounding that point is that Kennedy was not even much of a Catholic, his wife even going so far as to say, “I think it is unfair for Jack to be opposed because he is a Catholic. After all, he is such a poor Catholic” (Carty 2004). Not only had Catholicism given much ground to Protestantism, but they had practically only received a Catholic in Name Only President in exchange. Kennedy purchased his Presidency on credit, on the card of all Catholics, with the price being the de-facto permanent Protestantization of American presidential politics.


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