President Kennedy and His Cabinet

President Kennedy and his cabinet - hitting the ground running. (photo from May 26 meeting)

January 20, 1961 – JFK Meets His Cabinet – The President’s First Cabinet Meeting.

President Kennedy and His Cabinet
President Kennedy and his cabinet – hitting the ground running. (photo from May 26 meeting)

January 20, 1961 – President Kennedy’s First meeting of newly formed Cabinet – NBC Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

President Kennedy spent the eight weeks following his election choosing his cabinet, staff and top officials. He retained J. Edgar Hoover as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Allen Dulles as Director of Central Intelligence. C. Douglas Dillon, a business-oriented Republican who had served as Eisenhower’s Undersecretary of State, was selected as Secretary of the Treasury. JFK balanced the appointment of the relatively conservative Dillon by selecting liberal Democrats to hold two other important economic advisory posts; David E. Bell became the Director of the Bureau of the Budget, while Walter Heller served as the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Robert McNamara, who was well known as one of Ford Motor Company’s “Whiz Kids”, was appointed Secretary of Defense. Rejecting liberal pressure to choose Stevenson as Secretary of State, JFK instead turned to Dean Rusk, a restrained former Truman official, to lead the Department of State. Stevenson accepted a non-policy role as the ambassador to the United Nations. In spite of concerns over nepotism, Kennedy’s father insisted that Robert F. Kennedy become Attorney General, and the younger Kennedy became the “assistant president” who advised on all major issues. McNamara and Dillon also emerged as important advisers from the cabinet.

Kennedy scrapped the decision-making structure of Eisenhower, preferring an organizational structure of a wheel with all the spokes leading to the president; he was ready and willing to make the increased number of quick decisions required in such an environment. Though the cabinet remained an important body, Kennedy generally relied more on his staffers within the Executive Office of the President. Unlike Eisenhower, JFK did not have a chief of staff, but instead relied on a small number of senior aides, including appointments secretary Kenneth O’Donnell. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy was the most important adviser on foreign policy, eclipsing Secretary of State Rusk. Ted Sorensen was a key advisor on domestic issues who also wrote many of Kennedy’s speeches. Other important advisers and staffers included Larry O’Brien, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., press secretary Pierre Salinger, General Maxwell D. Taylor, and W. Averell Harriman. Kennedy maintained cordial relations with Vice President Johnson, who was involved in issues like civil rights and space policy, but Johnson did not emerge as an especially influential vice president.

Here is a report from NBC Radio News on the outcome of that first meeting and discussions of pressing issues on the horizon. By the sounds of it, the plate was pretty full – but it was the new frontier after all.

Here is that report from NBC Radio.




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