John F. Kennedy Campaign Notes, Presented by Heritage Auctions: What to Know Before You Bid

James Ardis
Published on
John F. Kennedy uncensored campaign notes made while suffering from laryngitis. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
John F. Kennedy uncensored campaign notes made while suffering from laryngitis. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

John F. Kennedy’s political opponent, Hubert Humphrey, watched each young, charismatic member of the Kennedys cross the state of Wisconsin during the 1960 Democratic Primary. Humphrey would later say he “felt like an independent merchant competing against a chain store.” John F. Kennedy’s rise in the primaries felt unstoppable to opponents like Humphrey and can often feel effortless to later observers such as ourselves. But a series of letters written by Kennedy in 1960, coming to auction on April 22nd from Heritage Auctions, point to Kennedy’s many concerns during the campaign.

The seventy-eight pages of notes span both the spring and fall of 1960, including correspondence with his aides while fighting laryngitis in the spring. Many notes point to his insecurities during the campaign. While his main primary opponent, Humphrey, felt overwhelmed by Kennedy’s ground game, private notes show that Kennedy was worried about debating him. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have this before a live audience,” Kennedy writes, “…HH is pretty good with a crowd.” Kennedy’s laryngitis also did not help with these worries as he continued: “and with my voice off [,] we would be better in a studio.”

John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, 1960. Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, 1960. Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. 

Other notes point to the general fatigue of running a presidential campaign. Kennedy’s candidacy effectively began on December 17th, 1959, when a letter meant only for Democratic insiders leaked, revealing his intentions. News outlets across the country let their readers know two weeks before the campaign’s desired date, January 2nd, 1960, of Kennedy’s presidential ambitions. This was an early reminder for Kennedy of how chaotic the campaign trail can be. 

In these letters, Kennedy mentions his reluctance with certain public appearances during the campaign. “There is no sense in giving a speech at a college,” he writes. “My voice can’t take it…That is a s[—–] plan.” Now a basic expectation of any presidential candidate, Kennedy also expressed reservations about a primary debate with Humphrey. “The debate idea is stupid but I had to agree. What are we going to debate or disagree about [?]”

Of particular interest to Kennedy memorabilia collectors will be a letter from late October 1960. In the letter, he laments that his extramarital affairs could be a political liability to him as president. “I suppose that if I win [,] my poon days are over.” He also assumes the subject will come up in the general election’s closing days.  “I suppose they are going to hit me with something before we are finished.” 

John F. Kennedy’s relationships before and during his marriage are an ongoing topic of intrigue. Among his reported partners were actresses Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich. In 2013, former White House intern Mimi Alford discussed her relationship with Kennedy in her memoir Once Upon a Secret. She wrote that, at the time, she did not think she was engaging in an affair with the President. “In my nineteen-year-old mind, I wasn’t invading the Kennedys’ marriage. I was merely occupying the President’s time when his wife was away.”

The wedding of then-Senator John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in 1953. Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
The wedding of then-Senator John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in 1953. Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Items from the former President have regularly come to auction and earned six-figure sums. Kennedy’s love letters to Danish journalist Inga Arvad crossed the auction block for USD 144,000 with Christie’s in 2007. His relationship with Arvad was of particular interest to bidders because she was also Adolf Hitler’s guest at the 1936 Summer Olympics. In 2013, Heritage Auctions sold two flags from the Oval Office during the Kennedy presidency for $425,000. Before coming to auction, the flags were in the care of Kennedy’s secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, who was in the motorcade at the time of his assassination. 

Collectors interested in John F. Kennedy’s campaign notes can view the lot and register to bid in the April 22nd event on the Heritage Auctions website. For the latest information, follow Heritage Auctions on Facebook and Twitter.