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John F Kennedy stole 1961 speech from headmaster

According to a new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, John F Kennedy stole quotes that came to be known as one of the most famous political speeches in history from his old headmaster.

books Updated: Nov 02, 2011 07:58 IST

According to a new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, John F Kennedy stole quotes that came to be known as one of the most famous political speeches in history from his old headmaster.

The line ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’ became the best-known quote of his 1961 inaugural address.

But according to the book, his former classmates had heard the line ‘time and time again’ in a similar form from their headmaster at Choate School in Connecticut, the Daily Mail reported.

U.S. author Chris Matthews made the claims in his book Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.

He unearthed notes written by George St John, the President’s former headmaster at Choate School in Connecticut, which suggest he had been aware of the ‘ask not’ line for many years.

The papers quote a Harvard College dean’s refrain: “As has often been said, the youth who loves his Alma Mater will always ask not ‘what can she do for me?’ but ‘what can I do for her?’”

The book also includes a reply to a questionnaire about JFK’s time at the school, sent to his former classmates when he was President.

One of the students wrote: “I boil every time I read or hear the ‘Ask not... etc’ exhortation as being original with Jack.”

It has been thought that the “Ask not...” speech was written with the input of Kennedy’s poetic speechwriter Theodore C Sorensen.