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President-Elect John F. Kennedy Gives his Famous 'City on a Hill' Speech at the Massachusetts State House on January 9, 1961

Image Courtesy of JFK Library

On January 9, 1961, President-Elect John F. Kennedy Delivered his now-famous "City on a Hill" speech at the Massachusetts State House before a joint session of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 

Kennedy was welcomed to the Chamber by Governor John A. Volpe and Senate President John E. Powers of South Boston.  

"Fully 1,000 people crammed the House Chamber," reported The Boston Globe, and "Capitol Police estimated that some 5,000 more surrounded the State House  in bitter cold to get a fleeting look at the next president."

The event was carried live by all three Boston television stations, and a full pool of radio and print reporters.  

During his nine-minute speech, Kennedy addressed the audience as a proud native son, mindful of his family's deep connection to the Commonwealth.

"I have welcomed this opportunity to address this historic body, and, through you, the people of Massachusetts to whom I am so deeply indebted for a lifetime of friendship and trust. For fourteen years I have placed my confidence in the citizens of Massachusetts--and they have generously responded by placing their confidence in me.

"Now, on the Friday after next, I am to assume new and broader responsibilities. But I am not here to bid farewell to Massachusetts....this has been my home; and, God willing, wherever I serve this shall remain my home.  It was here my grandparents were born--it is here I hope my grandchildren will be born."

And Kennedy was mindful of Massachusetts' place in history, citing John Winthrop's perspective when the Puritans first arrived in Boston in 1630.   

"I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.

"We must always consider," he said, "that we shall be as a city upon a hill--the eyes of all people are upon us." 

Plaque at the Massachusetts State House

"The enduring qualities of Massachusetts--the common threads woven by the Pilgrim and the Puritan, the fisherman and the farmer, the Yankee and the immigrant--will not be and could not be forgotten in this nation's executive mansion. They are an indelible part of my life, my convictions, my view of the past, and my hopes for the future."

In this speech, Kennedy uttered his now-famous phrase, "Of those to whom much is given, much is required."

Kennedy said history will measure elected leaders based on four qualities: courage, judgement, integrity and dedication.

Read the full speech here

Massachusetts' leading officials, largely an Irish-American contingent, were in attendance, including Lt. Governor Edward F. McLaughlin, Secretary of State Joseph D. Ward, Attorney General Edward J. McCormack, Jr., State Auditor Thomas J.Buckley, State Treasurer-elect John T. Driscoll, MDC Commissioner Robert F. Murphy and House Speaker John F. Thompson.

Read more about JFK's historic speech at MassMoments

Learn more about President Kennedy by visiting the JFK Presidential Library in Boston, the JFK Museum in Hyannis, and the JFK Birthplace in Brookline.  

Let more about Massachusetts' Irish community at


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