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Profiles in Courage

Cover of the first edition of the book.

Profiles in Courage is a 1957 American volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity undertaken by eight United States Senators.

The book details their acts, often involving decisions that went against their own political party, constituencies, or the national mindset of the time, and suffering criticism and loss in popularity as a consequence.

Future Kennedy Administration speechwriter Ted Sorensen acted as the book's ghostwriter, with then-Senator John F. Kennedy being credited as the author.

John F. Kennedy

In 1952, Kennedy was elected as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts following his three terms in the House of Representatives.

Kennedy was inspired to collect tales of Senatorial courage from reading a passage concerning then-U.S. Senator John Quincy Adams in Herbert Agar's The Price of Union. After consulting Sorensen for further examples, he had collected enough for an entire novel, unlike an article like Kennedy originally envisioned.

Profiled Senators

  1. John Quincy Adams (Massachusetts) - For breaking away from the Federalist Party in 1808, following his support of the Embargo Act of 1807 which the Federalist-dominated Massachusetts legislature strongly disapproved of. It led to his losing Federalist Party support, and loss of his position as U.S. Senator. He'd later join the Democratic-Republicans who helped him ascend to become the 6th President of the United States.
  2. Daniel Webster (Massachusetts) - For his support of the Compromise of 1850, a package of five separate bills designed to defuse tension between slave states and free states concerning territories acquired after the Mexican-American War. As such, his popularity in the North saw a decline as did his reputation in Massachusetts.
  3. Thomas Hart Benton (Missouri) - For his loyalty to the Democratic Party despite his opposition to the institution of slavery and its extension into the territories. Despite his loyalty, Democrats in Missouri opted to not support his attempt at reelection in 1851 due to these beliefs.
  4. Sam Houston (Texas) - For his upholding of the Missouri Compromise, and his vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which would've allowed those two states the decision to implement slavery or not. It led to him losing reelection, though he'd recover among his base of support and see election as Governor of Texas. However, when Texas joined the Confederacy during the American Civil War, Houston refused to be inaugurated, holding true to his loyalty to the Union.
  5. Edmund G. Ross (Kansas) - For casting the deciding vote to acquit President Andrew Johnson of impeachment charges, despite his affiliation with the rival Republican Party, so as to preserve the stature and prestige of the office of the U.S. Presidency. He'd lose reelection to the U.S. Senate due to his unpopular decision.
  6. Lucius Lamar (Mississippi) - For his public eulogy of Charles Sumner, popular Radical Republican, on the Senate floor despite their opposing views concerning Reconstruction, so as to help mend ties between the North and South following the American Civil War. As well for his unpopular opposition to the Bland-Allison Act, which sought to permit free coinage of silver. He'd go on, however, to become an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court as nominated by President Grover Cleveland.
  7. George Norris (Nebraska) - For opposing fellow Republican Joseph Gurney Cannon's autocratic-esque reign as Speaker of the House, leading a revolt of 42 fellow progressive Republicans and 149 Democrats to successfully curb his power in 1910. His opposition to arming U.S. merchant ships during the time of U.S. neutrality in World War I. As well as his support for Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith in 1928, due to his opposition to Republican presidential nominee Herbert Hoover as well as his boss President Calvin Coolidge. He'd leave the Republicans in 1936, who had already dropped Norris as a reliable member years prior, and served as an Independent until 1942 where he was beaten by Republican Kenneth S. Wherry.
  8. Robert A. Taft (Ohio) - For his criticism of the Nuremberg Trials for trying Nazi war criminals under ex post facto laws, which means to change the legal consequences of actions that were committed before enactment of the law. This unpopular move was detrimental to his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1948, losing out to fellow Republican Thomas E. Dewey.

Pulitzer Prize

Following its release, Profiles in Courage was lauded by critics and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957. Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, used his connections to ask Arthur Krock, his political adviser and longtime member of the prize board, to persuade others to vote for it.

The book returned to bestseller status in 1961, following Kennedy's election to the U.S. Presidency, and in 1963, following his assassination.

Questions over authorship

President interviewed by Walter Cronkite. President Kennedy ( close-up ). Hyannisport, MA, Squaw Island. - NARA - 194259 (edit)

President John F. Kennedy (1963)

In 1957, on The Mike Wallace Interview, journalist Drew Pearson appeared as a guest and stated 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." Later acknowledging Sorensen's contributions to the novel and further adding: "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."

It was later reported that the statement, "I wish that Kennedy had a little less profile and more courage" was actually made by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Shortly afterward, Joseph P. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Joseph's lawyer Clark Clifford arrived at ABC and demanded a full retraction and apology. Mike Wallace and Drew Pearson refused, however ABC complied, which made Wallace furious as a result.

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