Why Were the Kennedy Years Called “Camelot?”

Jacqueline Kennedy, the wife of President John F. Kennedy, coined the phrase “Camelot” to reference her late husband’s presidency. She revealed that he liked listening to music from the Broadway show of the same name.

John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States, from January 20, 1961 until November 22, 1963. After his assassination and burial, Mrs. Kennedy was interviewed by a prominent Life Magazine journalist, Theodore White. During the interview, Mrs. Kennedy decided to craft a dreamy legacy of her late husband’s 1,000 days in office that were in reality quite tumultuous, according to The Daily Beast’s online newspaper. She surprisingly described President Kennedy’s presidency in one word: “Camelot.”

President Kennedy’s Election After eight years as a senator, John F. Kennedy was elected president, defeating then Vice President Richard Nixon by a thin margin, according to Biography. He became the second youngest president in history at age 43, and the first Catholic president, which made his election a historic one.

President Kennedy’s Presidency During his presidency, Kennedy made famous his quote meant to motivate Americans to adopt a more active and involved mode of citizenship: “Ask not what your country can do for you,” he said during his speeches. “Ask what you can do for your country.”

Kennedy’s tenure as president was fraught with tense foreign affairs. He created the Peace Corps in 1961 and the Alliance for Progress in the same year to promote economic ties with Latin America.

The year 1961 was pivotal for Kennedy, as he ordered what turned into a failed mission to overthrow leftist Cuban leader Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. It was also the year the Cold War began, when the Soviet Union built the Berlin Wall to stop Soviets from fleeing to Germany, an American ally. In 1962, Kennedy faced the Cuban Missile Crisis after finding out that ballistic nuclear missiles were sent by the Soviet Union to Cuba. In response, Kennedy blocked the island, which caused extreme tension, putting the United States at the edge of nuclear war until the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles, but with a number of mandates. In 1963, Kennedy negotiated a treaty with Great Britain and the Soviet Union to ease Cold War tension, called the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

President Kennedy’s Assassination During a trip to Dallas, Texas for an appearance, Kennedy rode with his wife and Texas Governor John Connally through cheering crowds lining the city’s downtown streets. A former marine, Lee Harvey Oswald, assassinated Kennedy with two shots. It was a national tragedy when Kennedy died from his mortal wounds at Parkland Memorial Hospital on November 22, 1963. Throughout the years, there have been numerous stories and conspiracy theories about the truth behind who shot Kennedy, and why.

The Camelot Legacy During the famous interview with “Life” magazine, Mrs. Kennedy shared that President Kennedy was a fan of the Broadway musical Camelot, which had music written by Alan Jay Lerner, one of Kennedy’s schoolmates at Harvard University. “Camelot” refers to a kingdom ruled by the mythical King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. In the interview, she said that, “There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot.” This comment echoed a line from the musical, when the King Arthur character says, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”