Rediscover: Profiles in Courage

This past Monday, May 29, marked the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy. In 1955,  then-junior senator from Massachusetts Kennedy wrote (with significant contributions from his speechwriter Ted Sorensen) Profiles in Courage, a collection of eight incidences in which United States senators defied their constituents and parties in pursuit of what they felt was right. Most of these brief biographies cover the 19th century, especially efforts to delay the looming Civil War.

The first entry follows John Quincy Adams and his separation from the Federalist Party, a longtime point of interest for Kennedy as a fellow Massachusetts politician. Other figures include Sam Houston, whose advocacy of the Missouri Compromise was incredibly unpopular in Texas, and Edmund G. Ross, a Kansas senator who cast the decisive vote for acquittal during the 1868 impeachment of Andrew Johnson. The book ends with Robert A. Taft of Ohio, whose legal criticism of the Nuremberg Trials destroyed his chances of earning the 1948 Republican presidential nomination.

Profiles in Courage quickly became a bestseller after its release on January 1, 1956. JFK won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography (with a bit of help from his father, Joseph Kennedy, who asked Pulitzer judge and political adviser Arthur Krock to convince the rest of the jury). Profiles in Courage was last published in 2016 by Harper Perennial ($10, 9780062564634). --Tobias Mutter

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