HOME: THE JFK LIBRARYRe: Publication of Profiles in CourageWed Nov 22, 2006 19:56
John F. Kennedy had long been interested in the topic of political courage, beginning with his senior thesis at Harvard. The thesis, later published as Why England Slept, was a study of the failure of British political leaders in the 1930s to oppose popular resistance to rearming, leaving the country ill-prepared for World War II. Kennedy’s election to the House in 1946 and the Senate in 1952 gave him personal experience in dealing with the conflicting pressures that legislators face. When Kennedy took a leave of absence from the Senate in 1954 to recover from back surgery, it gave him the opportunity to study the topic of political courage. The project resulted in the publication of Profiles in Courage, which focuses on the careers of eight Senators whom Kennedy felt had shown great courage under enormous pressure from their parties and their constituents. His own battles with physical pain and his experiences in World War II as a PT boat commander also gave him inspiration. Profiles in Courage, which Kennedy dedicated to his wife Jacqueline Kennedy, received the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1957.
The subjects of Profiles in Courage are:
* John Quincy Adams
* Daniel Webster
* Thomas Hart Benton
* Sam Houston
* Edmund G. Ross
* Lucius Lamar
* George Norris
* Robert A. Taft.
In the preface to Profiles in Courage, Senator Kennedy discusses the “problems of political courage in the face of constituent pressures, and the light shed on those problems by the lives of past statesmen.’’
He describes the three types of pressure faced by senators as:
* pressure to be liked
* pressure to be re-elected, and
* pressure of the constituency and interest groups.
John F. Kennedy explains that the book is about his admiration of the courage shown by elected leaders in the face of adverse factions like their electorates, popular opinion and political action committees that pull these elected men in different directions. He writes:
“This is a book about that most admirable of human virtues – courage. ‘Grace under pressure,’ Ernest Hemingway defined it.”
Other often quoted excerpts from President Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book include:
“The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people – faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but also elect men who will exercise their conscientious judgment – faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor and ultimately recognize right.”
“In a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, “holds office”; every one of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve.”
“Without belittling the courage with which men have died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which men have lived.”
“A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”
“In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient – they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.”
Each chapter from the book is summarized below.
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