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JFK's 'city upon a hill' speech was 50 years ago

January 8, 2011

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BOSTON—"We shall be as a city upon a hill."

In 1630, those words were spoken by John Winthrop, the Puritan settler who became governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Fifty years ago, Winthrop's words were quoted by John F. Kennedy in a Jan. 9, 1961, speech to the Massachusetts Legislature.

The speech was JFK's farewell address of sorts to his home state, as he prepared to assume the presidency.

Winthrop used the phrase as a metaphor for the New World settlement and said the "eyes of all people" would be upon it.

Similarly, Kennedy said all eyes would be on the new government he was constructing, and that it must also be like a city upon a hill.

A copy of the speech is on exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.