John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address ranks among the most remembered speeches of the 20th century. Many quote his declaration, “Let the word go forth from this time and place . . . that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans”—which seems to suggest a new approach that Kennedy, who was younger than any preceding president, brought to American governance. It is well to consider the words Kennedy spoke just before this reference to his youth. He acknowledges that human technological capacity has changed, but he insists that American principles have not:
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary belief for which our forebears fought is still at issue around the globe, the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of these human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.