In John F. Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage, he discusses men who he believes to be politically courageous. He points out in each case how they stood up for what they believed in no matter what the consequences. JFK goes into detail about eight different men, including, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Thomas Hart Benton. Some of these men were hated and mocked by their own political party and very few others were praised and earned the respect of their country.
John Quincy Adams was a Massachusetts Senator. His support of the Embargo Bill, which cut off all trade with Great Britain, caused him great unpopularity. He was a Federalist. His party, his constituents, and even his home state was against the Embargo Bill, but he supported it on the fact that he was looking at the effect on the whole country not only the state he was representing. He knew he would be hated for his decision to support the Bill, but he did what he thought would be best for the country.
Daniel Webster was a Federalist and a representative for Massachusetts in the House of Representatives and in the US Senate. He was against slavery but when it became a question of preserving the Union, he did what he thought would be best for the country. He compromised his old beliefs of non slavery in order to save the Union. He spoke in front of the Senate on this matter as an America, not a man from Massachusetts. This speech was known as the “Seventh of March” speech. Webster unlike some of the others described in this book succeeded and was praised by the North and South alike.
Thomas Hart Benton was a Senator from Missouri. Senator Benton was against slavery even though he was representing a pro slavery state. He was loyal to the Union, which he had fought for both on the battlefront and on the Congress floor. He was considered guilty of being a traitor and criticized constantly by his own state and constituents.
Sam Houston was the president of the republic of Texas, the first Texas Senator and a member of the Democratic Party. Even though he was a Southerner he was for the preservation of the Union. He talked against both “the mad fanaticism of the North” and “the mad ambition of the South.” When Houston supported the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, that was the last straw that held his career together. He was dismissed by Texas Legislation and a man who felt more strongly about the views of a southern extremist was put in his place. He came back two years later, though, and became Governor of Texas. He used this position in order to continue his fight against the succession of the Union.
Edmund G. Ross was a Kansas Senator. At this time President Andrew Johnson was being tried for impeachment. Ross went under a lot of pressure from his fellow Republicans who wished for Johnson to be impeached. They needed his vote in order to succeed. When the day came, Ross voted against the impeachment keeping the President in office. Because of this, neither him nor any Republican that voted against the impeachment was ever re-elected into the Senate again and when he returned to Kansas, him and his family were constantly harassed.
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar was a Mississippi Representative in the House of Representatives. The country was just coming out of a depression and the easiest way out was to use the “free silver” plan. This would bring the country out of poverty. Lamar’s colleagues were sure that he would support it. Lamar did research on it and found out that it would help for now, but in the long run would hurt America’s economy. He voted no on the measure and was hated for a while, but he kept going and toured the country speaking about why he had made that decision. He was re-elected to the Senate because he had earned the voters respect by showing the courage that he did.
George Norris was a member of the House of Representatives. At the time of his term, the United States was just about to enter into World War I. The Armed Ship Bill, which would arm US naval ships, would push the US into the War without actual attack by Germany. If he could filibuster it, then maybe it would keep the US out of the War. The filibuster failed, he and his fellow colleagues were criticized by people who saw their decision as not defending the US.
He also supported Al Smith. Smith was a Catholic and a “wet,” but Norris still supported him. This caused him even more unpopularity than his decision on The armed Ship Bill.
Robert A. Taft was a Ohio Republican. He was the son of a former President and it was his dream to follow in his father’s footsteps. During this time, the War Crimes Trials of the Axis leaders(or the Nuremberg Trials) were going on. Everyone thought that the people that were involved with killing of the Jews should be killed. Taft thought that the men were being condemned through vengeance, not justice and the hanging of the eleven men would be “a blot on the American record.” These ideas cost him a chance of ever becoming President, but he stood up for what he believed in anyway.
Kennedy did a lot of research to find the men he wrote about in this book. He chose these particular men because he believed them to be some of the most politically courageous men ever. In his own words, Kennedy wrote this book to “indicate that this is a quality which may be found in any Senator, in any political party and in any era.” People involved in politics are said to be scandalous and dishonest, only caring for their own benefit. He wanted to show that there are those out there that do not care what others think and stand up for what they believe will be the best for their country.