Profiles in Courage
|Author||John F. Kennedy|
|Subject||United States Senators|
|Preceded by||Why England Slept|
|Followed by||A Nation of Immigrants|
Profiles in Courage is a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight United States Senators throughout the Senate's history. The book profiles senators who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions. It begins with a quote from Edmund Burke on the courage of the English Statesman, Charles James Fox, in his 1783 attack upon the tyranny of the East India Company in the House of Commons. The book focuses intensely on mid 19th century antebellum America and the efforts of Senators to delay the Civil War. Profiles was widely celebrated and became a best seller. John F. Kennedy is credited as its author and while it is acknowledged that he had supervised what was written in the final draft, there are credible allegations that most of it was the work of his speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen.
History and background
Kennedy was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, 1948 and 1950 for the state of Massachusetts. In 1952 and 1958, he was elected a Senator from Massachusetts, and served in the Senate until resigning after he was elected president in 1960. It was a passage from Herbert Agar's book The Price of Union about an act of courage by an earlier senator from Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams, that gave Kennedy the idea of writing about senatorial courage. He showed the passage to Sorensen and asked him to see if he could find some more examples. This Sorensen did, and eventually they had enough not just for an article, as Kennedy had originally envisaged, but a book. With help from research assistants and the Library of Congress, Kennedy wrote the book while bedridden during 1954 and 1955, recovering from back surgery.
Summary of senators profiled
- John Quincy Adams, a Senator (1803–1808) (later President and Representative) from Massachusetts, for breaking away from the Federalist Party.
- Daniel Webster, also from Massachusetts, for speaking in favor of the Compromise of 1850.
- Thomas Hart Benton, from Missouri, for staying in the Democratic Party despite his opposition to the extension of slavery in the territories.
- Sam Houston, from Texas, for speaking against the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854, which would have allowed those two states to decide on the slavery question . Houston wanted to uphold the Missouri Compromise. He and Benton's votes against Kansas-Nebraska did just that. This was his most unpopular vote and he was defeated when running for reelection. Two years later he'd regained enough popularity to be elected Governor of Texas. However, when the state convened in special session and joined the Confederacy, Sam Houston refused to be inaugurated as Governor, holding true to his ideal of preserving the Union.
- Edmund G. Ross, from Kansas, for voting for acquittal in the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial. As a result of Ross's vote, along with those of six other Republicans, Democrat Johnson's presidency was saved, and the stature of the office was preserved.
- Lucius Lamar, from Mississippi, for eulogizing Charles Sumner on the Senate Floor and other efforts to mend ties between the North and South during Reconstruction, and for his principled opposition to the Bland–Allison Act to permit free coinage of silver. Lamar returned to Mississippi and gave rousing speeches that eventually led to public approval of his decisions and cemented a legacy of courageousness.
- George Norris, from Nebraska, for opposing Joseph Gurney Cannon's autocratic power as Speaker of the House, for speaking out against arming U.S. merchant ships during the United States' neutral period in World War I, and for supporting the Presidential Campaign of Democrat Al Smith.
- Robert A. Taft, from Ohio, for criticizing the Nuremberg Trials for trying Nazi war criminals under ex post facto laws. Counter-criticism against Taft's statements was vital to his failure to secure the Republican nomination for President in 1948.
After its release on January 1, 1956, Profiles in Courage became a best seller. Although the book was not nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Kennedy's father Joseph asked columnist Arthur Krock, his political adviser and a longtime member of the prize board, to persuade others to vote for it. Profiles in Courage won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957.
Questions have been raised about how much of the book was actually written by Kennedy and how much by his research assistants. On December 7, 1957, journalist Drew Pearson appeared as a guest on The Mike Wallace Interview and made the following claim live on air: "John F. Kennedy is the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him." Wallace replied "You know for a fact, Drew, that the book Profiles in Courage was written for Senator Kennedy ... by someone else?" Pearson responded that he did, and that Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen actually wrote the book. Wallace responded: "And Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for it? And he never acknowledged the fact?" Pearson replied: "No, he has not. You know, there's a little wisecrack around the Senate about Jack ... some of his colleagues say, 'Jack, I wish you had a little less profile and more courage.'"
Joseph P. Kennedy saw the broadcast, then called his lawyer, Clark Clifford, yelling: "Sue the bastards for fifty million dollars!" Soon Clifford and Robert Kennedy showed up at ABC and told executives that the Kennedys would sue unless the network issued a full retraction and apology. Mike Wallace and Drew Pearson insisted that the story was true and refused to back off. Nevertheless, ABC made the retraction and apology, which made Wallace furious.
According to The Straight Dope, years later historian Herbert Parmet analyzed the text of Profiles in Courage and wrote in his book Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980) that although Kennedy did oversee the production and provided for the direction and message of the book, it was clearly Sorensen who provided most of the work that went into the end product. The thematic essays that comprise the first and last chapters "may be viewed largely as [Kennedy's] own work", however.:401
In May 2008, according to Sorensen's autobiography, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Sorensen said he wrote “a first draft of most of the chapters” of Profiles in Courage and “helped choose the words of many of its sentences”. Sorensen also said, in his autobiography: "While in Washington, I received from Florida almost daily instructions and requests by letter and telephone – books to send, memoranda to draft, sources to check, materials to assemble, and Dictaphone drafts or revisions of early chapters." (Sorensen, p. 146) Sorensen wrote that Kennedy "worked particularly hard and long on the first and last chapters, setting the tone and philosophy of the book". JFK "publicly acknowledged in his introduction to the book my extensive role in its composition" (p. 147) Sorensen claimed that in May 1957, Kennedy "unexpectedly and generously offered, and I happily accepted, a sum to be spread over several years, that I regarded as more than fair" for his work on the book. Indeed, this supported a long-standing recognition of the collaborative effort that Kennedy and Sorensen had developed since 1953.
David O. Stewart has questioned the accuracy of the book's chapter on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Of Johnson's defenders in the Senate, Profiles in Courage stated that "Not a single one of them escaped the terrible torture of vicious criticism engendered by their vote to acquit." However, Stewart wrote of the supposed suffering: "It is a myth, ..." and "None was a victim of postimpeachment retribution. Indeed, their careers were not wildly different from those of the thirty-five senators who voted to convict Andrew Johnson ..." However, Ross lost his bid for re-election two years after casting the vote acquitting Johnson. There is also evidence that Edmund Ross was bribed to vote for Johnson's acquittal, which is not mentioned in Profiles in Courage.
Kennedy also praised Lucius Lamar, who, while working in the public eye towards reconciliation, privately was an instigator of growing racial agitation.
- Why England Slept (published version of Kennedy's bachelor's thesis)
- A Nation of Immigrants
- Profile in Courage Award
- Sorensen, Ted; Myers, Joanne J., (May 21, 2008). Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (Private Lunch), Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
- Leamer, Laurence (2001). The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-688-16315-7.:402–403
- Walls, p. 34
- Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years", David Talbot, New York: Free Press (2007), p36.
- Adams, Cecil (November 7, 2003). "Did John F. Kennedy really write "Profiles in Courage?"". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
- "Her Story, Their Words: Behind the Scenens of the Best-Sellers". 11 June 2014.
- Farhi, Paul (9 June 2014). "Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
- Stewart, David O., (2009). Impeached: the Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy. Simon & Schuster. New York, N.Y. ISBN 978-1-4165-4749-5. Page 308.
- Stewart, David O. Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy. Simon & Schuster, 2009, pp.185, 186, 188, 189, 242, 269, 278, 279, 280, 282, 285, 292, 297–99, 309.
- Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War by Nicholas Lemann. Farrar, Straus &Giroux. New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-374-53069-3. Pages 205–209.
- Profiles in Courage Summary, Analysis and Discussion Study guide providing background, history, major characters, chapter summary, and other information on the work. Used for the history section listed above.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Profiles in Courage.|
- Did John F. Kennedy really write "Profiles in Courage?" (from The Straight Dope)
- Photos of the first edition of Profiles In Courage