Friday, March 21, 2008

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy

Readers of Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy will realize that there is another rarely mentioned loss due to his assassination in 1963 - he did not write more books. Known as an engaging speaker, he also wrote well and had five books to his credit. As youngest president, he might have had many years of writing after his administration. Of course, that is only speculation, as he also had many serious physical problems. He might have died young anyway. He did not get the chance and we will never know.

Profiles in Courage was Kennedy's best known book. In it, he praises the courage of eight U.S. senators, many of whom he would have disagreed with politically. Each of these men risked their political careers to support unpopular positions in which they believed. The first was John Quincy Adams who broke rank with his Federalist colleagues to support President Jefferson's embargo of British goods in retaliation to impressment of American sailors. He also tells stories about Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft. For all, the struggle was voting according to their conscience or according to the directives of their parties and constituents.

Sometimes, the personal details struck me as very interesting. I know that it is very obvious, but I had never realized before that John Quincy Adams, who was the son of a president and lived to be very old, knew Benjamin Franklin and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.

In his introduction, Kennedy said something very interesting about party politics of his time:

"The two-party system remains not because both are rigid but because both are flexible. The Republican Party when I entered Congress was big enough to hold, for example, both Robert Taft and Wayne Morse - and the Democratic side of the Senate in which I now serve can happily embrace, for example, Harry Byrd and Wayne Morse."

What Kennedy implied was that there was not much real difference in the parties. There was more difference in the people who served within the parties. While that seems to have changed much in the fifty years since the publication of Profiles in Courage, it is still difficult to go against the dictates of one's party.

I had to look up Morse, who turns out to have been a progressive who left the Republican Party in protest over Eisenhower choosing Nixon as his vice president candidate in 1952. He served in the Senate as an independent for several years and then ran against Kennedy for the Democratic nomination for president in 1960.

I first read Profiles in Courage on the couch in my grandmother's house in the late 1960s. It is just as good now.

Kennedy, John F. Profiles in Courage. Harper & Brothers, 1956.


suzi w. said...

Still have not read this...but in a political year, maybe a good one to pick up!

Thanks for stopping by. I'm still working on links from blogger to wordpress, so not sure what this comment will link me to.


ActLikeOne said...

I apologize for nitpicking, but Teddy Roosevelt was actually the youngest president when he took over after the assassination of McKinley; JFK was the youngest elected president.

Regardless, I agree that Profiles in Courage is a great book!

ricklibrarian said...

actlikeone is correct. Thanks for the clarification.