Was JFK’s Speech in Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ Authentic?

"What is it to be an American?" the fictional president asked during a visit to the U.K. in the second season of the popular Netflix drama. How true-to-life were his remarks?

  • Published 12 June 2019

Claim

A speech delivered by the fictional John F. Kennedy in an episode of "The Crown" was derived from real utterances by Kennedy.

Rating

What's True

The majority of the fictional speech came from Kennedy's 1960 Democratic National Convention address, with several lines taken word-for-word from that source. Another section of the fictional speech appears to have originated with an article written by Kennedy.

What's False

The fictional speech was not taken word-for-word, in its entirety, from any particular speech Kennedy made.

Origin

The popular Netflix drama series The Crown has won plaudits from some commentators and drawn criticism from others for the way in which its writers have combined accurate portrayals of real incidents and historical episodes with useful fabrications in recounting the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in the 1950s and 1960s.

In Episode 8 of Season 2, “Dear Mrs. Kennedy,” the British royals are shown hosting a visit to the U.K. by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy. During a dinner, Kennedy (played by Michael C. Hall) delivers remarks that have prompted inquiries from Snopes readers about their authenticity and provenance.

In the episode, the fictionalized version of Kennedy gives the following speech:

What is it to be an American today? Prosperous, powerful, privileged. Certainly. And yet, it is also troubling. I look around me and find our people as divided as never before — indeed, as at no time since our civil war. There has been a change, a slippage, in our moral and intellectual strength. Blight has descended on our regulatory agencies and a dry rot, beginning in Washington, is seeping into every corner of America.

Too many of us have lost our way, our will, and our sense of historic purpose. It is time for a renewal, a new generation of leadership, healing leadership, but we cannot do it alone. And so I am asking each of you to be pioneers in this renewal, in this healing, in the reclaiming of great American values: freedom, tolerance, and equality of opportunity. Then we can claim our position and responsibilities as leaders of a truly free world. God bless you all and God bless the United States of America.

In reality, that fictional speech borrowed heavily from Kennedy’s actual address to the 1960 Democratic National Convention, at which he accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency. Several phrases were taken word-for-word from that address, known as the “New Frontier” speech.

Stacey Chandler, a research archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, shared her insights with Snopes, pointing out the overlap between the two texts:

“The Crown” — Season 2, Episode 8 Democratic National Convention, 15 July 1960
“There has been a change, a slippage, in our moral and intellectual strength. Blight has descended on our regulatory agencies and a dry rot, beginning in Washington, is seeping into every corner of America.

“Too many of us have lost our way, our will, and our sense of historic purpose. It is time for a renewal, a new generation of leadership, healing leadership, but we cannot do it alone. And so I am asking each of you to be pioneers in this renewal, in this healing, in the reclaiming of great American values: freedom, tolerance, and equality of opportunity.”

“There has also been a change – a slippage – in our intellectual and moral strength. Seven lean years of drought and famine have withered a field of ideas. Blight has descended on our regulatory agencies – and a dry rot, beginning in Washington, is seeping into every corner of America – in the payola mentality, the expense account way of life, the confusion between what is legal and what is right.

“Too many Americans have lost their way, their will and their sense of historic purpose. It is a time, in short, for a new generation of leadership – new men to cope with new problems and new opportunities…”
—-
“But I believe the times demand invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be new pioneers on that New Frontier.”


Through her research, Chandler has also traced the first lines of Kennedy’s fictional remarks in The Crown to an opinion column Kennedy penned for Life magazine in August 1960, when he was still a U.S. senator for Massachusetts:

“The Crown” — Season 2, Episode 8 Life Magazine, 22 August 1960
“What is it to be an American today? Prosperous, powerful, privileged. Certainly.” “It is not enough to debate ‘What is the meaning of America?’ Each of us must also decide ‘What does it mean to be an American?’ Upon us destiny has lavished special favors of liberty and opportunity — and therefore it has demanded of us special efforts, particularly in times such as these.”



Kennedy’s 1960 convention speech can be read in full here, and watched in full here. His August 1960 column for Life can be read in full here.

Although the speech from Season 2, Episode 8, of The Crown was not taken verbatim and in its entirety from a speech that Kennedy delivered in reality, the majority of it came from his 1960 Democratic National Convention address, with several lines taken word-for-word from that source. Another section of the fictional speech appears to have originated in an article written by Kennedy. As such, the fictional speech has a high level of authenticity, and we therefore issue it a rating of “Mostly True.”

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