ABSTRACT

Archival research on John F. Kennedy begins with the presidential library in Boston, which has now digitalized significant portions of its holdings (www.jfklibrary.org). There remain some restrictions on access to materials. Visitors to Boston may also wish to use the Nigel Hamilton Collection at the state historical society. Primary materials in published form begin with Public Papers of the Presidents, with three volumes for Kennedy (1962-64), matched by volumes related to his earlier Senate and House career (1964a). Kennedy is also listed as the author of four books: Why England Slept (1940); As We Remember Joe (1945); Profiles in Courage (1956); and the posthumous volume A Nation of Immigrants (1964b). The biographical literature on JFK began to take shape with John

Hersey’s coverage of his heroics in the South Pacific, a very positive profile which was expanded by numerous magazine articles about the glamorous young senator in the 1950s. Even during his presidency, further accounts of the rescue of the PT 109 crew appeared (Hersey 1944; Donovan 1962; Tregaskis 1962). James Macgregor Burns published a good campaign biography (1960) and historian Allan Nevins edited a collection of JFK’s foreign policy speeches in 1960. The presentation of Kennedy in Theodore White’s The Making of the President (1961) continued the process of boosting Kennedy’s credentials, but already Victor Lasky was gathering material for his overtly hostile JFK: The Man and the Myth (1963).

After Kennedy’s assassination, early biographies came from journalists close to the president, such as Pierre Salinger (1966) and

Hugh Sidey (1964), but so-called Camelot scholarship began in earnest with the glorifying narratives of the Kennedy White House from former staffers Arthur Schlesinger (1965) and Theodore Sorensen (1965), Schlesinger being the more culpable of the two. Of all the presidents, Kennedy was, for Schlesinger, the wittiest and wisest. Even JFK’s secretary Evelyn Lincoln, his longtime friend Paul Fay, and his children’s nanny Maud Shaw joined in the eulogies (all 1966). Attention also turned to the larger family, with tributes to Jacqueline Kennedy (Langley Hall and Pinchot 1966) and a full-length biography of Joseph Kennedy (Whalen 1964). At this point controversy erupted over a pending study of the assassination by William Manchester, as the Kennedy family sought to have material retracted because it might harm the reputation of the former first lady and Bobby Kennedy and exacerbate the Kennedy-Johnson feud. The Death of a President eventually appeared in 1967 and remains a key account of the assassination period. By this stage, the initial acceptance of the Warren Commission Report (1964) had given way to forthright criticism, led most notably by Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment (1966). The assassination of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968 intensified the growth of this assassination literature (see below). The many accounts that lament what was lost with JFK’s death are the chief continuation of the Camelot tradition.