Profiles in Courage Summary

Profiles in Courage Summary

John F. Kennedy wrote this book with the assistance of Ted Sorensen. This is a presentation of Kennedy's respect for the courage of eight US senators who he believed demonstrated incredible fearlessness when confronting the Senate.

To begin, Kennedy tells of John Quincy Adams, Massachusetts, who made history by walking away from the Federalist Party. That was a nail in the coffin of the Federalist Party, but it was also an act of bravery, says Kennedy, because he made half the room into his enemies.

Then he tells of Daniel Webster's brilliant, persuasive defense of the Compromise of 1850 which helped delay the outbreak of warfare by extending the slavery compromises out West into the new territories. Although it was not a permanent solution, it did prevent real bloodshed, at least for a few years.

Kennedy then tells of Thomas Hart Benton, Missouri, not for betraying his party for better interests, but by defending his party despite vocalizing his disagreements with their opinions. He personally opposed slavery in any case, but he was willing to concede to the Democratic plan to extend slavery Westward, in good faith.

Then, Kennedy tells of Sam Houston, Texas, who spoke out against the Kansas—Nebraska Act. He preferred the model offered in the Missouri Compromise. He and Benton helped to eliminate the disintegration of new states into confusing local politics (concerning slavery specifically). Kennedy also notes Houston's bravery when he became a de facto part of the Confederacy. The Confederate government asked him to be the governor of Texas under the Confederate flag, but Houston refused, preserving his loyalty to the Union.

Edmund Ross, Kansas, is praised next for his vote to acquit Andrew Johnson during the famous impeachment trial. Kennedy says that his vote, along with six others, helped preserve the integrity of the US Presidency.

Lucius Lamar, Mississippi, is praised for his eulogy of Charles Sumner, offered before the senate during Reconstruction (following the Civil War). This speech helped to defeat the Bland—Allison Act which could have kept the North and South permanently on separate money standards.

Next is George Norris, Nebraska. Kennedy praises Norris for opposing Cannon's use of power during his term as Speaker of the House. Norris spoke out against arming US merchant ships during the outbreak of WWI. Instead of allowing public paranoia to inadvertently involve the US in WWI prematurely, Norris supported de-escalation.

Last is Robert Taft, Ohio. Kennedy praises his bravery to speak openly against the licentiousness of the Nuremberg Trials. Taft believed that the trials were an instance of ex post facto legality, which implies that they were being tried without respect for their human rights. This led to his failure in his presidential run in 1948, but Kennedy says he did the right thing when no one else would.

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