42 pages 1 hour read

James L. Swanson

The President Has Been Shot!: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

Nonfiction | Biography | YA | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


“The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (2013) is a non-fiction history book by James L. Swanson, written for a teen readership. The book covers the presidency of John F. Kennedy, his assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas during November 1963, and how the assassination impacted the country through mass media. The book was a finalist for the YALSA-ALA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction award.

This guide uses the 2013 Scholastic Press edition.

Content Warning: The source text includes graphic descriptions of a historical assassination and of political violence.


John F. Kennedy came from a wealthy New England family. Since the Kennedys were Catholic while most of their neighbors were Protestant, they were looked down upon by the "snobbish New England elite" (1). After the death of his older brother, Kennedy was encouraged by his father to enter politics. After serving as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Kennedy ran for the presidency for the Democratic Party in 1960. He won, in no small part because he made a positive impression during a television debate with his Republican opponent, Richard M. Nixon.

During his first term as president, Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, became popular figures celebrated in the media for their youth and glamor. In terms of policy, he focused on the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. He was a "Cold Warrior" (20) who focused more on foreign policy than domestic affairs. However, tensions over civil rights increased during his administration, such as violence at the University of Mississippi following the admission of the first African-American student (35). This prompted Kennedy to begin to speak out on civil rights reform. In fact, civil rights became a major part of Kennedy's reelection campaign.

As part of that campaign, Kennedy decided to tour Texas, a state where he was unpopular. In Dallas, on November 22nd, 1963, Kennedy and Jackie were riding a motorcade through Dallas. It was then that Kennedy was assassinated. His killer was Lee Harvey Oswald, a self-described Communist whom Swanson describes as "a man of slight build with an oversized ego" (61). Oswald shot at Kennedy three times, striking Kennedy through the back and then in the head with his second and third bullets. Kennedy would not survive the third shot.

The Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, swore the oath of office as the new president on Air Force One with Jackie present. Even though her clothes were covered with the blood of her husband, Jackie refused to change her clothes, wanting people to see the images and "never forget" (157). Meanwhile, Oswald himself was shot and killed by a nightclub owner, Jack Ruby.

Kennedy was buried in a public funeral that was modeled after the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln, who had also been assassinated. Becoming a famous, tragic figure in the public limelight, Jackie eventually retired from Washington, DC in order to claim a private life.