New Frontier

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For other uses, see New Frontier (disambiguation).

The term New Frontier was used by liberal, Democratic[1] presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in his acceptance speech in the 1960 United States presidential election to the Democratic National Convention at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the Democratic slogan to inspire America to support him. The phrase developed into a label for his administration's domestic and foreign programs.

We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier -— the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats. ... Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.[2]

In the words of Robert D. Marcus: "Kennedy entered office with ambitions to eradicate poverty and to raise America’s eyes to the stars through the space program."[3]

Amongst the legislation passed by Congress during the Kennedy Administration, unemployment benefits were expanded, aid was provided to cities to improve housing and transportation, funds were allocated to continue the construction of a national highway system started under Eisenhower, a water pollution control act was passed to protect the country’s rivers and streams, and an agricultural act to raise farmers’ incomes was made law.[4] A significant amount of anti-poverty legislation was passed by Congress, including increases in social security benefits and in the minimum wage, several housing bills, and aid to economically distressed areas. A few antirecession public works packages,[3] together with a number of measures designed to assist farmers,[5] were introduced. Major expansions and improvements were made in Social Security (including retirement at 62 for men), hospital construction, library services, family farm assistance and reclamation.[6] Food stamps for low-income Americans were reintroduced, food distribution to the poor was increased, and there was an expansion in school milk and school lunch distribution. The most comprehensive farm legislation since 1938 was carried out, with expansions in rural electrification, soil conservation, crop insurance, farm credit, and marketing orders. In September 1961, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency was established as the focal point in government for the “planning, negotiation, and execution of international disarmament and arms control agreements.”[7] Altogether, the New Frontier witnessed the passage of a broad range of important social and economic reforms.[8]

According to Theodore White, under John F. Kennedy, more new legislation was actually approved and passed into law than at any other time since the Thirties.[9] When Congress recessed in the latter part of 1961, 33 out of 53 bills that Kennedy had submitted to Congress were enacted. A year later, 40 out of 54 bills that the Kennedy Administration had proposed were passed by Congress, and in 1963 35 out of 58 “must” bills were enacted. As noted by Larry O’Brien, "A myth had arisen that he [Kennedy] was uninterested in Congress, or that he “failed” with Congress. The facts, I believe, are otherwise. Kennedy’s legislative record in 1961–63 was the best of any President since Roosevelt’s first term."[10]

Legislation and programs[edit]


The Kennedy Administration pushed an economic stimulus program through congress in an effort to kick-start the American economy following an economic downturn. On February 2, 1961, Kennedy sent a comprehensive Economic Message to Congress which had been in preparation for several weeks. The legislative proposals put forward in this message included:[6]

  1. The addition of a temporary thirteen-week supplement to jobless benefits,
  2. The extension of aid to the children of unemployed workers,
  3. The redevelopment of distressed areas,
  4. An increase in Social Security payments and the encouragement of earlier retirement,
  5. An increase in the minimum wage and an extension in coverage,
  6. The provision of emergency relief to feed grain farmers, and
  7. The financing of a comprehensive homebuilding and slum clearance program.

The following month, the first of these seven measures became law, and the remaining six measures had been signed by the end of June. Altogether, the economic stimulus program provided an estimated 420,000 construction jobs under a new Housing Act, $175 million in higher wages for those below the new minimum, over $400 million in aid to over 1,000 distressed counties, over $200 million in extra welfare payments to 750,000 children and their parents, and nearly $800 million in extended unemployment benefits for nearly three million unemployed Americans.[6]


Under the Kennedy Administration, the most significant tax reforms since the New Deal were carried out, including a new investment tax credit.[6] President Kennedy said one of the best ways to bolster the economy was to cut taxes, and December 14, 1962, Kennedy stated at the Economic Club of New York that:

"The final and best means of strengthening demand among consumers and business is to reduce the burden on private income and the deterrents to private initiative which are imposed by our present tax system; and this administration pledged itself last summer to an across-the-board, top-to-bottom cut in personal and corporate income taxes to be enacted and become effective in 1963. I am not talking about a 'quickie' or a temporary tax cut, which would be more appropriate if a recession were imminent. Nor am I talking about giving the economy a mere shot in the arm, to ease some temporary complaint. I am talking about the accumulated evidence of the last 5 years that our present tax system, developed as it was, in good part, during World War II to restrain growth, exerts too heavy a drag on growth in peace time; that it siphons out of the private economy too large a share of personal and business purchasing power; that it reduces the financial incentives for personal effort, investment, and risk-taking."[13]

Kennedy specifically advocated cutting the corporate tax rate in this same speech. "Corporate tax rates must also be cut to increase incentives and the availability of investment capital. The Government has already taken major steps this year to reduce business tax liability and to stimulate the modernization, replacement, and expansion of our productive plant and equipment. We have done this through the 1962 investment tax credit and through the liberalization of depreciation allowances—two essential parts of our first step in tax revision which amounted to a 10 percent reduction in corporate income taxes worth $2.5 billion." President Kennedy went on to say he favored tax cuts for the rich as well as the poor:

"Next year's tax bill should reduce personal as well as corporate income taxes, for those in the lower brackets, who are certain to spend their additional take-home pay, and for those in the middle and upper brackets, who can thereby be encouraged to undertake additional efforts and enabled to invest more capital."[13]

On the same evening, President Kennedy said the private sector and not the public sector was the key to economic growth:

"In short, to increase demand and lift the economy, the Federal Government's most useful role is not to rush into a program of excessive increases in public expenditures, but to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures." President Kennedy told the economic club the impact he expected from tax cuts. "Profit margins will be improved and both the incentive to invest and the supply of internal funds for investment will be increased. There will be new interest in taking risks, in increasing productivity, in creating new jobs and new products for long-term economic growth."[14]




Civil rights[edit]




Equal rights for women[edit]

The Presidential Commission on the Status of Women was an advisory commission established on December 14, 1961, by Kennedy to investigate questions regarding women's equality in education, in the workplace, and under the law.[45] The commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt until her death in 1962, was composed of 26 members including legislators, labor union activists and philanthropists who were active in women's rights issues. The main purpose of the committee was to document and examine employment policies in place for women. The commission's final report, American Woman (also known as the Peterson Report after the Commission's second chair, Esther Peterson), was issued in October 1963 and documented widespread discrimination against women in the workplace. Among the practices addressed by the group were labor laws pertaining to hours and wages, the quality of legal representation for women, the lack of education and counseling for working women, and federal insurance and tax laws that affected women's incomes. Recommendations included affordable child care for all income levels, hiring practices that promoted equal opportunity for women, and paid maternity leave.[46]

The Commission, reflecting the views of Roosevelt and the labor unions, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment.

In the early 1960s, full-time working women were paid on average 59 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts. In order to eliminate some forms of sex-based pay discrimination, Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law on June 10, 1963.[47] During the law's first ten years, 171,000 employees received back pay totaling about 84 million dollars.[48]




Under Kennedy, the first significant package of anticrime bills since 1934 were passed.[6] Amongst the Kennedy Administration's anticrime measures included the Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act, which was signed into law on September 22, 1961. This program aimed to prevent youth from committing delinquent acts. In 1963, 288 mobsters were brought to trial by a team that was headed by Kennedy's brother, Robert.


The Kennedy administration with its new Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, gave a strong priority to countering communist political subversion and guerrilla tactics in the so-called "wars of national liberation," in the rapidly decolonizing Third World. As well as fighting and winning a nuclear war, the American military was also trained and equipped for counterinsurgency operations. Though the U.S. Army Special Forces had been created in 1952, Kennedy visited the Fort Bragg U.S. Army Special Warfare Center in a blaze of publicity and gave his permission for the Special Forces to adopt the green beret. The other services launched their own counterinsurgency forces in 1961; the U.S. Air Force created the 1st Air Commando Group and the U.S. Navy created the Navy Seals.

The U.S. Military increased in size and faced possible confrontation with the Soviets in Berlin Wall escalation of tensions in 1961 and with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. American troops were sent to Laos and South Vietnam in increasing numbers. The United States provided a clandestine operation to supply military aid and support to Cuban exiles in the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion.


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