Did President John F. Kennedy say about gun control that "we need a nation of minute men"? No, that's not true: The quote cited by those opposed to gun control is from a written message (not a speech) by Kennedy in which he called for Americans "who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom" to support his "New Frontier" effort which focused on the economy, education, welfare, civil rights, health, and other areas that did not involve owning or using guns.
Gun control was not a part of the political debate in 1961. No mention of it was in the 1960 platforms of either the Democratic or Republican parties. It only became a hot topic after the assassination of President Kennedy, and later his brother Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The misleading meme originated as early as 2013 and has been repeated since, including in a post (archived here) published on August 8, 2019 under the title "Why can't we have Democrats that think like this?" The text imposed over a color photograph of President Kennedy speaking read:
JFK ON GUN CONTROL:
Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom. The cause of liberty, the cause of America, cannot succeed with any lesser effort.
This is what social media users saw:
The quote that purportedly showed Kennedy's support for uncontrolled access to firearms (because minute men need them to defend American liberty) was pulled from a written statement released by the White House press office titled "PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S COMMEMORATIVE MESSAGE ON ROOSEVELT DAY, JANUARY 29, 1961." The next day would have been President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 79th birthday and JFK's statement on FDR did not address gun control. It was a message to Democrats to "celebrate not only the triumphs of the past but the opportunities of the future."
Twenty-eight years ago Franklin Roosevelt assumed the leadership of a stricken and demoralized nation. Poverty, distress and economic stagnation blanketed the land. But it was not long before the great creative energies of the New Deal had lifted America from its despair and set us on the path to new heights of prosperity, power and greatness.
Today America is the richest nation in the history of the world. Our power and influence extend around the globe. Yet the challenges and dangers which confront us are even more awesome and difficult than those that faced Roosevelt. And we too will need to summon all the energies of our people and the capacities of our leaders if America is to remain a great and free nation -- if we are to master the opportunities of the New Frontier.
The statement about "minute men" was just one example of JFK's rhetorical use of images from the American Revolution to promote his call for Americans to rally around his New Frontier plans outline just a week earlier in his inaugural address where he said:
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. 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.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
For a better understanding of President Kennedy's call for Americans to help him create his "New Frontier," watch his full inaugural address here:
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