John F. Kennedy: Author "Profiles in Courage?"
Wed Nov 22, 2006 19:02

Did John F. Kennedy really write "Profiles in Courage?"

Cecil replies:

Yes, there's a consensus about Profiles in Courage (1956), which established JFK's intellectual credentials and helped make him a credible presidential candidate. We'll get to that. Yes, we know who did most of the heavy lifting for the book--we'll get to that too. The principal controversy, apparently, has been what to call the curious process by which the book came to be. Even Garry Wills, a Kennedy critic, writes that JFK was the author of the book in the sense that he "authorized" it. Come now. Kennedy conceived the book and supervised its production, but did little of the research and writing. If you or I were discovered doing the same for a sophomore term paper in sociology, we'd get an F.

The idea for the book--a study of heroic U.S. senators--came to Kennedy in 1954, when he was a first-term senator himself. Initially he imagined it as a magazine article, but during a long convalescence after a couple back operations he decided to make it into a book. His chief assistant on the project was his speechwriter Ted Sorensen, often described as his alter ego. (Remember the bit about "Ask not what your country can do for you"? Sorensen was in on that one.) The recuperating Kennedy sent Sorensen a steady stream of notes and dictation, requested books, asked that memos be prepared, and so on. Sorensen worked virtually full-time on the project for six months, sometimes 12 hours a day. He coordinated the work and drafted many chapters. Others also made contributions, most importantly Georgetown University history professor Jules Davids.

The book was published on January 1, 1956, to lavish praise. It became a best seller and in 1957 was awarded the Pulitzer prize for biography. It established Kennedy, till then considered promising but lacking in gravitas, as one of the Democratic party's leading lights, setting the stage for his presidential nomination in 1960.

But doubts about the book's authorship surfaced early. In December 1957 syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace, said, "Jack Kennedy is . . . the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer prize on a book which was ghostwritten for him." Outraged, Kennedy hired lawyer Clark Clifford, who collected the senator's handwritten notes and rounded up statements from people who said they'd seen him working on the book, then persuaded Wallace's bosses at ABC to read a retraction on the air.

Kennedy made no secret of Sorensen's involvement in Profiles, crediting him in the preface as "my research associate," and likewise acknowledged the contributions of Davids and others. But he insisted that he was the book's author and bristled even at teasing suggestions to the contrary. Sorensen and other Kennedy loyalists backed him up then and have done so since.

The most thorough analysis of who did what has come from historian Herbert Parmet in Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980). Parmet interviewed the participants and reviewed a crateful of papers in the Kennedy Library. He found that Kennedy contributed some notes, mostly on John Quincy Adams, but little that made it into the finished product. "There is no evidence of a Kennedy draft for the overwhelming bulk of the book," Parmet writes. While "the choices, message, and tone of the volume are unmistakably Kennedy's," the actual work was "left to committee labor." The "literary craftsmanship [was] clearly Sorensen's, and he gave the book both the drama and flow that made for readability." Parmet, like everyone else, shrinks from saying Sorensen was the book's ghostwriter, but clearly he was.

On a related subject, did JFK's dad, Joseph P. Kennedy, twist arms to get his son the Pulitzer, as some believe? Parmet finds no smoking gun. True, Profiles wasn't among the books recommended to the Pulitzer committee by its judges, a pair of expert reviewers, so when the rather slim volume came out of nowhere and trumped some seriously weighty scholarship, people got suspicious. (Supposedly Profiles won because someone on the committee said his 12-year-old grandson liked it.) New York Times columnist Arthur Krock, a friend of Joe Kennedy's, boasted that he had lobbied hard for the book, but Krock's partisanship was well-known and the committee members were distinguished newspaper folk, not easily swayed. Parmet harrumphs that it would have been unlike Joe P. to let an opportunity slip, but who knows? We do know this: JFK, not for the first or last time, got credit he didn't deserve.


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Cecil Adams can deliver the Straight Dope on any topic. Write Cecil at .


Profiles in Courage - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Profiles in Courage is a book by John F. Kennedy, describing acts of bravery and ... After its release on January 1, 1956, Profiles in Courage was widely ...

Profiles In Courage, John F. Kennedy

Summary The Pulitzer Prize-winning account of men of principle, integrity and bravery in American politics was here available in President John F. Kennedy's Profiles In Courage. Eight men who served the United States Government were selected by John F. Kennedy as models of virtue and courage under pressure. These eight men persevered in their pursuit of justice and the right path, in spite of the coercion and vilification of the majority. These heroes include Mississippi's Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar who stood up to unbounded calumny when he moved to reconcile Northern and Southern differences during the years after the Civil War, and George Norris, who, in 1910, crusaded against the strong and often dictatorial leadership of his own party. Others profiled by Kennedy included John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, and Robert A. Taft. John Kennedy's spirited words and devotion to courage lived on in this novel. A thoughtful and persuasive book about political integrity. (The New York Times) Nominated for a Grammy Award in 1991, a recording of Profiles In Courage featured John F. Kennedy, Jr., reading his father's portrait of courageous Americans. John F. Kennedy inspired one generation, and now others, to believe that politics can be a noble profession. For President Kennedy, history was not a dull, dry subject, but came alive in the stories of people who risked their careers to stand up for what was right for our country, even when it was not the easy thing to do. This distinguished belief is played out in his novel in several ways. For example, President John Quincy Adams faced political aversion from his own Federalist Party which was turning to desert him. Also, Henry Clay showed courage when he dragged himself into Senate meetings through excruciating pain and anguish due to his failing health. John F. Kennedy stated, One man can make a difference, and every man should try. (Preface p.10) Of course, this applies to everyone, including women. Many people first learned how this was true when the read this book. The leaders of the past, like Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and Edmund G. Ross, set a shining example for Americans today to live up to. Later, the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was created by his son, John F. Kennedy Jr.. to be awarded to elected officials who exemplified the kind of courage he wrote about. Interestingly, many of the stories in this book told of courage in standing up against slavery around the time of the Civil War. More than one hundred years later, the struggle for civil rights goes on. The first two Profiles in Courage Award winners, and many other courageous Americans, prove that people must never stop fighting for what they believe is right. The first recipient, Alabama Congressman Carl Elliott, fought for equal opportunity in education and was redistricted of his congressional seat in retaliation for his courageous and principled stand. The second winner, Georgia Democratic Congressman Charles Weltner, took an oath to support his party's ticket in the upcoming fall election. When segregationist Lester Maddox won the preliminary and became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia, Weltner followed his conscious and resigned from politics, rather than violate his oath, or belief that segregation was wrong. Each of these men mentioned in Profiles In Courage risked their careers to do what they believed was right, and often they risked their lives. John F. Kennedy hoped that each person who read this book and learned about courageous people in public life would realize that when a person faces a difficult decision which is bound to be unpopular, they are not alone. Each person must stand up for what they believe in and be willing to take the consequences, if they wanted to make the country a better place to live. Response In Profiles In Courage, the late President John F. Kennedy, then a Massachusetts Senator, paid tribute to a number of Americans, primarily U.S. Senators, who distinguished themselves through acts of political courage. None of the subjects were portrayed as perfect or beyond reproach. Kennedy showed very strongly, in fact, the ethical ambivalence of some of the classic figures in American history in this work. The point he sought to make is not about how heroes were made of different stuff than others. This book is about how human beings can, in a time of moral crisis, find the courage to follow their own truth in the face of opposition. This is a work eminently worth reading, both for historical value, and for inspiration. There were three examples that Kennedy mentions in his book that were particularly interesting. They are: President John Quincy Adams who expressed inner courage in the face of his father's legacy; Senator Daniel Webster who stood by his word in the endless preservation of the Union; and Edmund G. Ross who "preserved for ourselves and prosterity constitutional government in the United States." As a young Senator from Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams faced personal struggles as he ever-attempted to live up to his father's legacy. Because Adams was the son of a prominent Federalist President, he was personally scarred when he received a condemning letter from A Federalist which said, ".. thou hast fallen!" (pg. 27) He had served the Massachusetts Legislature and United States Senate as a Federalist. It was clear in a letter that Adams wrote to his father that it was a goal of the younger Adams to achieve approval of his father. He writes, ...I may again at the end of the week give a better account of myself. I wish, sir, you would give me in writing some instructions with regard to the use of my time, and advise me how to proportion my studies and play, and I will keep them by me, and endeavor to follow them. (pg. 30) This letter was written when Adams was nine years of age. His early feelings of inadequacy were evident in this letter. Furthermore, Adams writes at the age of forty-five in his diary, "I have done nothing to distinguish it (his life) by usefulness to my country and to mankind... weakness and infirmities have sometimes... constantly paralyzed my efforts of good." (pg. 30) Adams forever yearned to change mankind the way the elder John Adams had. It took a lot of courage on the part of Adams to overcome this feeling of insecurity. Despite this, Adams distinguished himself as a brilliant Secretary of State, independent President, and an eloquent member of Congress, Minister to The Hague, Emissary to England, Minister to Prussia, Minister to Russia, and much more. Such a legacy has never been paralleled in history since. A second chapter that showed incredible courage, was that of Daniel Webster, a ingenious Congressman who expressed his firm beliefs with eager passion in the heat of bitter contest. Caught in the midst of acrid debate between the North and South, Webster spoke out. He turned his back on his previous opposition to slavery in the new territories, on his own place in history, and on a last chance at the ever-sought Presidential seat. He would rather risk his career and all that he earned, than risk the unity of the States. Webster spoke for the earnest cause of the Union for over three hours, with no applause at the end. A reporter noted, Mr. Webster has assumed a great responsibility, and whether he succeeds or fails, the courage with which he has come forth at least entitles him to the respect of the country. (pg. 61-62) Daniel Webster was perhaps the most talented figure in our Congressional history. He had a striking appearance and speaking tone that caught the sense of oneness who all that listened: ..he looked like one, talked like one, was treated like one and insisted he was one. (pg. 53) However, the South did cede from the Union, and cede from Daniel Webster. The North also ceded support for Daniel Webster. He felt alienated and ignored as many newspapers viciously attacked his cause. Because Webster was a courageous man of his word, he would not back down from his infamous speech. He would not weaken his plea for the Union, and thus he died a "disappointed and discouraged man." There was no better example of courage in standing by one's word as the story of Daniel Webster. Finally, courage on a different aspect was the courage to save the President, by Edmund G. Ross. He was constantly tortured and pressured by the press, public, and the political scene during the impeachment hearings of President Andrew Johnson over the Tenure of Office Acts. Finally, it was time to vote for or against impeachment. Twenty-four "guilty" verdicts were pronounced by the time the Chief Justice reached Ross. He knew the rest of the votes were practically certain "guiltiness." Only his one vote was needed to obtain the thirty-six votes needed to impeach the President of the United States. He responded in a unhesitating voice, "Not guilty." Ross later noted: ..I almost literally looked down into my open grave. Friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life desirable to an ambitious man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth... (pg. 118) Wild rumors spread about Ross throughout the country and Ross' political career was over. He was referred to as "a miserable poltroon and traitor" (pg. 121) by the New York Tribune. Edmund G. Ross gave all that he knew up in the name of doing the right thing, and he saved President Jackson from impeachment. Profiles In Courage, by John F. Kennedy was a profound literary work inside and out. There was in-depth analysis, and behind the scenes stories which gave the audience a completely new outlook at American political history. There were many more examples of courage in this book outside of the stories mentioned here. However, John Quincy Adams who faced fears from himself and masked them with courage, Daniel Webster who stood for the Union and nothing less, and Edmund G. Ross who saved an American President are three of the most engaging examples mentioned in this book. They gave the reader insight to stories taught in history classes. Overall, Profiles In Courage, is an openly recommended book for anyone looking to learn more about the personal struggles of politicians, and examples of virtuous courage of The United States of America.


Profiles In Courage

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