Ted Sorensen on Writing JFK’s Speeches

Sorensen watched JFK deliver words he had written with great satisfaction and pride.
  • Transcript


Question: What was the process of writing a speech for JFK?

Ted Sorensen: There was no mystery to it. He and I had worked together at the end for 11 years. When you . . . Starting in the fall of 1956, we spent three, four years traveling the country together just the two of us to every one of the 50 states. And you get to know somebody, and his way of thinking, and his way of speaking pretty well when you do it day after day in all 50 states for three years or more. And so the ideas were his. The policies were his. The judgments and decisions were his. And when he expressed those decisions in the White House, it was not difficult for me having participated in the meeting to go a few steps down that hall to my office and try to reflect in words on paper the first draft of the decision he wanted to convey to the public. I’m happy to say that I usually submitted it to the President’s Chief Domestic Advisor. That was me. And I submitted it to the President’s Senior Policy Advisor and senior staff member, but that also was me. So being immodest about it, basically I only had to submit it to John F. Kennedy knowing that the policy expressed in the paper was his policy. And I wanted him to be comfortable with the words. And he changed that paper sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot. Sometimes he would reject an entire paragraph. If I liked it, I might find the speech a couple of weeks later and I would try to sneak it back in. Sometimes he would recognize it when I did.

Question: What is it like to watch someone else speak what you wrote?

Ted Sorensen: It’s a great sense of satisfaction and pride. My parents were two dedicated Americans who brought me up to try to change the country and the world – try to make it a better place for all mankind. I was nobody. I was elected to nothing. But there I was able to help shape the words and even the . . . sometimes the thoughts of the leader of the free world. So to have him using words on which I had worked was, of course, a means of satisfaction and pride.


Recorded on: 1/30/08