Marylanders had a special affinity for John F. Kennedy, who we memorialize this week on the 50th anniversary of his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas. That affinity is more than the fact that Kennedy was a Democrat in a state weighted toward Democrats.
Maryland's heritage of progressive public policy (it was the first state to declare religious tolerance) shares much with the Kennedy vision, known generally under the rubric the New Frontier. It's probably no coincidence that Maryland has produced its own visionaries, such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence; Francis Scott Key, composer of our national anthem; Frederick Douglass, the slave who became a renowned abolitionist; and James Rouse, who founded the city of Columbia.
Kennedy shared with these prominent Maryland men an ability to envision a more enlightened world. He made several appearances in the state, including a ribbon-cutting for Interstate 95 on Nov. 14, 1963, just eight days before his death. He also made a helicopter-and-motorcade visit on Oct. 10, 1962 that went from Patterson Park to the Fifth Regiment Armory, stumping for Democratic congressional candidates Dan Brewster and Carlton Sickles (both won).
But one of his most memorable appearances came when he was running for president. On Sept. 16, 1960, Kennedy spoke to a crowd at the Towson Shopping Center as a young senator.
"I don't think that there is any doubt that during the next four years the task of the president, the burdens that will be placed upon him, the responsibilities which all Americans must meet, will be heavier than they have been at any time since the administration of Abraham Lincoln," Kennedy said during that visit.
"I think this is a great country, but I think we can make it a greater country, and I think it is a powerful country, and I think we can make it more powerful," he said.
Before closing his speech with a quote from a letter written by Lincoln, Kennedy shared a vision.
"I speak of the 1960s as a New Frontier, and I don't speak of the 1960s or my own candidacy in the sense of promising that life will be easy if I am elected. The New Frontier of which I speak is the opportunity for all of us to be of service to the great Republic in a difficult and dangerous time," he said.
All Marylanders who are old enough can remember where they were when they heard the news of the Kennedy assassination. Many Americans regarded it as the end of an era. But in Maryland, the "opportunity" of the New Frontier remains manifest in the way its residents live, work and dream.