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Profiles in Courage

Profiles in Courage

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Profiles in Courage is a 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning
Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
The Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography has been presented since 1917 for a distinguished biography or autobiography by an American author.-1910s:* 1917: Julia Ward Howe by Laura E...

 biography describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight United States Senators
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 throughout the Senate's history. The book profiles senators who crossed party
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

 lines and/or defied the public opinion of their constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions. The book was widely celebrated and became a best seller. John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 is credited as its author, but there are credible allegations that most of it was the work of his speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen.

History and background

Kennedy was a senator from Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 from 1953 until he was elected president in 1960. It was a passage from Herbert Agar
Herbert Agar
Herbert Sebastian Agar was an American journalist and an editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal. He won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1934 for his book The People's Choice, a critical look at the American presidency...

's book The Price of Union about an act of courage by an earlier senator from Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States . He served as an American diplomat, Senator, and Congressional representative. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of former...

, that gave Kennedy the idea of writing about senatorial courage
Courage is the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation...

. 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
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

, Kennedy wrote the book while bedridden during 1954 and 1955, recovering from back surgery.

List of senators profiled

  • John Quincy Adams
    John Quincy Adams
    John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States . He served as an American diplomat, Senator, and Congressional representative. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of former...

    , a Senator (1803–1808) (later President and Representative) from Massachusetts, for breaking away from the Federalist Party.
  • Daniel Webster
    Daniel Webster
    Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

    , also from Massachusetts, for speaking in favor of the Compromise of 1850
    Compromise of 1850
    The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War...

  • Thomas Hart Benton
    Thomas Hart Benton (senator)
    Thomas Hart Benton , nicknamed "Old Bullion", was a U.S. Senator from Missouri and a staunch advocate of westward expansion of the United States. He served in the Senate from 1821 to 1851, becoming the first member of that body to serve five terms...

    , from Missouri
    Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

    , for staying in the Democratic Party
    Democratic Party (United States)
    The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

     despite his opposition to the extension of slavery in the territories.
  • Sam Houston
    Sam Houston
    Samuel Houston, known as Sam Houston , was a 19th-century American statesman, politician, and soldier. He was born in Timber Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, of Scots-Irish descent. Houston became a key figure in the history of Texas and was elected as the first and third President of...

    , from Texas
    Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

    , for speaking against the Kansas-Nebraska Act
    Kansas-Nebraska Act
    The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opening new lands for settlement, and had the effect of repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing settlers in those territories to determine through Popular Sovereignty if they would allow slavery within...

     of 1854. Sam Houston was also profiled for opposing Texas' secession from the Union, for which he was deposed from the office of Governor.
  • Edmund G. Ross
    Edmund G. Ross
    Edmund Gibson Ross was a politician who represented the state of Kansas after the American Civil War and was later governor of the New Mexico Territory. His vote against convicting of President Andrew Johnson of "high crimes and misdemeanors" allowed Johnson to stay in office by the margin of one...

    , from Kansas
    Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

    , for voting for acquittal in the Andrew Johnson
    Andrew Johnson
    Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

    Impeachment is a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity, the outcome of which, depending on the country, may include the removal of that official from office as well as other punishment....

     trial. As a result of Ross's vote, along with those of six other Republican
    Republican Party (United States)
    The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

    s, Democrat Johnson's presidency was saved, and the stature of the office was preserved.
  • Lucius Lamar
    Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (II)
    Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar was an American politician and jurist from Mississippi. A United States Representative and Senator, he also served as United States Secretary of the Interior in the first administration of President Grover Cleveland, as well as an Associate Justice of the U.S...

    , from Mississippi
    Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

    , for eulogizing Charles Sumner
    Charles Sumner
    Charles Sumner was an American politician and senator from Massachusetts. An academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the antislavery forces in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans in the United States Senate during the American Civil War and Reconstruction,...

     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
    Bland-Allison Act
    The Bland–Allison Act was an 1878 act of Congress requiring the U.S. Treasury to buy a certain amount of silver and put it into circulation as silver dollars. Though the bill was vetoed by President Rutherford B...

     to permit free coinage of silver
    Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

  • George Norris, from Nebraska
    Nebraska is a state on the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. The state's capital is Lincoln and its largest city is Omaha, on the Missouri River....

    , for opposing Joseph Gurney Cannon
    Joseph Gurney Cannon
    Joseph Gurney Cannon was a United States politician from Illinois and leader of the Republican Party. Cannon served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1903 to 1911, and historians generally consider him to be the most dominant Speaker in United States history, with such...

    '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
    World War I
    World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

    , and for supporting the Presidential Campaign of Democrat Al Smith
    Al Smith
    Alfred Emanuel Smith. , known in private and public life as Al Smith, was an American statesman who was elected the 42nd Governor of New York three times, and was the Democratic U.S. presidential candidate in 1928...

  • Robert A. Taft, from Ohio
    Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

    , for criticizing the Nuremberg Trials
    Nuremberg Trials
    The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

     for trying Nazi
    Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

     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
    Republican Party (United States) presidential primaries, 1948
    The 1948 Republican presidential primaries were the selection process by which voters of the Republican Party chose its nominee for President of the United States in the 1948 U.S. presidential election...

     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
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

, Kennedy's father Joseph
Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. was a prominent American businessman, investor, and government official....

 asked columnist Arthur Krock
Arthur Krock
Arthur Krock was a journalist and received the nickname "Dean of Washington newsmen". Born in Glasgow, Kentucky in 1887, he grew up with his grandparents, Emmanuel and Henrietta Morris...

, 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.

Profiles in Courage was made into a television series
Profiles in Courage (TV series)
Profiles in Courage was a historical anthology series that appeared on NBC from November 8, 1964 to May 9, 1965 . The series was based on the recently assassinated President John F...

 of the same name that aired on the NBC network during the 1964–1965 television season.

Authorship controversy

Questions have been raised about how much of the book was actually written by Kennedy and how much by his research assistants. Some time after April 1957, journalist Drew Pearson
Drew Pearson (journalist)
Andrew Russell Pearson , known professionally as Drew Pearson, was one of the best-known American columnists of his day, noted for his muckraking syndicated newspaper column "Washington Merry-Go-Round," in which he attacked various public persons, sometimes with little or no objective proof for his...

 appeared as a guest on the The Mike Wallace Interview
The Mike Wallace Interview
The Mike Wallace Interview is a series of 30-minute television interviews conducted by host Mike Wallace in 1957-60. Before The Mike Wallace Interview was televised nationally on prime-time in 1957, the host of the show had risen to prominence a year earlier with Night-Beat, a television interview...

and made the following claim live on air: "John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 is the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten
A ghostwriter is a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person. Celebrities, executives, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, magazine articles, or other written...

 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
Ted Sorensen
Theodore Chaikin "Ted" Sorensen was an American presidential advisor, lawyer and writer, best known as President John F. Kennedy’s special counsel, adviser and legendary speechwriter. President Kennedy once called him his “intellectual blood bank.”-Early life:Sorensen was born in Nebraska, the son...

 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
Clark Clifford
Clark McAdams Clifford was an American lawyer who served United States Presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter, serving as United States Secretary of Defense for Johnson....

, 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
A retraction is a public statement, by the author of an earlier statement, that withdraws, cancels, refutes, diametrically reverses the original statement or ceases and desists from publishing the original statement...

 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.

However, years later historian Herbert Parmet analyzed the text of Profiles in Courage and wrote in his book 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.

In May 2008, Sorensen clarified in his autobiography, Counselor, how he collaborated with Kennedy on the book: "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" and that "I did a first draft of most chapters" and "helped choose the words of many of its sentences". 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 ..."

Kennedy also praised Lucius Lamar, who, while working in the public eye towards reconciliation, privately was an instigator of growing racial agitation, as chronicled in the book Redemption: The Last Battle for the Civil War by Nicholas Lemann
Nicholas Lemann
Nicholas Berthelot Lemann is dean and Henry R. Luce professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.Lemann is from New Orleans and he graduated from Harvard University in 1976, but has never attended a school of journalism. He is a journalist, editor, and author...

. Blanche Ames, the daughter of Governor Adelbert Ames
Adelbert Ames
Adelbert Ames was an American sailor, soldier, and politician. He served with distinction as a Union Army general during the American Civil War. As a Radical Republican and a Carpetbagger, he was military governor, Senator and civilian governor in Reconstruction-era Mississippi...

, who in Kennedy's Lamar chapter was described in negative terms for what he supposedly inflicted against Mississippians, tried to get Kennedy to look at the record and correct that section, which Kennedy ignored.

See also

  • Why England Slept
    Why England Slept
    Why England Slept is the published version of a thesis written by John F. Kennedy while in his senior year at Harvard College. Its title was an allusion to Winston Churchill's 1938 book While England Slept, which also examined the buildup of German power...

    (published version of Kennedy's bachelor's thesis)
  • A Nation of Immigrants
    A Nation of Immigrants
    A Nation of Immigrants is a book on American immigration by President John F. Kennedy.-History:The book was originally written by Kennedy in 1958, while he was still a senator. It was written as part of the Anti-Defamation League's series entitled the One Nation Library...

  • Profile in Courage Award
    Profile in Courage Award
    The Profile in Courage Award is a private award given to recognize displays of courage similar to those John F. Kennedy described in his book Profiles in Courage...

External links