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Profiles in Courage

Profiles in Courage
Author John F. Kennedy
Subject United States Senators
Genre Biography
Publication date
Pages 272
ISBN ISBN 978-0-06-095544-1
Preceded by Why England Slept
Followed by A Nation of Immigrants

Profiles in Courage is a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight United States Senators throughout the Senate's history. The book profiles senators who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions. It begins with a quote from Edmund Burke on the courage of the English Statesman, Charles James Fox, in his 1783 attack upon the tyranny of the East India Company in the House of Commons.[1]

The book focuses intensely on mid 19th century antebellum America and the efforts of Senators to delay the Civil War. Profiles was widely celebrated and became a best seller. John F. Kennedy is credited as the author, although the extent of his contribution has been questioned. In his 2008 autobiography, Kennedy's speechwriter Theodore Sorensen wrote that, while Kennedy provided the theme and supervised its production, Sorensen had written most of the book.


  • History and background 1
  • Summary of senators profiled 2
  • Reception 3
  • Authorship controversy 4
  • Accuracy 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

History and background

Kennedy was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, 1948 and 1950 for the state of Massachusetts. In 1952 and 1958, he was elected a Senator from Massachusetts, and served in the Senate until resigning after he was elected president in 1960. It was a passage from Herbert Agar's book The Price of Union about an act of courage by an earlier senator from Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams, that gave Kennedy the idea of writing about senatorial courage. 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.[2] With help from research assistants and the Library of Congress, Kennedy wrote the book while bedridden during 1954 and 1955, recovering from back surgery.

Summary of senators profiled


After its release on January 1, 1956, Profiles in Courage became a best seller. Although the book was not nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Kennedy's father Joseph asked columnist Arthur Krock, 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.[3]

Profiles in Courage was made into a television series 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. On December 7, 1957,[4] journalist Drew Pearson appeared as a guest on The Mike Wallace Interview and made the following claim live on air: "John F. Kennedy is the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him."[5] 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 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.'"[5]

It was later reported that the statement "I wish that Kennedy had a little less profile and more courage" was actually made by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.[6]

Joseph P. Kennedy saw the broadcast, then called his lawyer, Clark Clifford, yelling: "Sue the bastards for fifty million dollars!"[5] Soon Clifford and Robert Kennedy showed up at ABC and told executives that the Kennedys would sue unless the network issued a full retraction 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.[5]

According to The Straight Dope, years later historian Herbert Parmet analyzed the text of Profiles in Courage and wrote in his book Jack: 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.[7] The thematic essays that comprise the first and last chapters "may be viewed largely as [Kennedy's] own work", however.[3]:401

In addition to Kennedy’s speechwriter Sorensen, Jacqueline Kennedy recruited her history instructor from

  • Profiles in Courage Summary, Analysis and Discussion Study guide providing background, history, major characters, chapter summary, and other information on the work. Used for the history section listed above.
  • ?Profiles in CourageDid John F. Kennedy really write (from The Straight Dope)
  • Profiles In CouragePhotos of the first edition of

External links

  1. ^ "Frontpiece: Item 3- Edmund Burke quotation, typescript". Retrieved 28 December 2014. 
  2. ^ Sorensen, Ted; Myers, Joanne J., (May 21, 2008). (Private Lunch)Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
  3. ^ a b Leamer, Laurence (2001). The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963. HarperCollins.  :402–403
  4. ^ "Drew Pearson". Retrieved 28 December 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Walls, p. 34
  6. ^ Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years", David Talbot, New York: Free Press (2007), p36.
  7. ^ Adams, Cecil (November 7, 2003). """Did John F. Kennedy really write "Profiles in Courage?.  
  8. ^ Garry Wills, The Kennedy Imprisonment (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982) 135-137.
  9. ^ "Her Story, Their Words: Behind the Scenens of the Best-Sellers". 11 June 2014. 
  10. ^ Farhi, Paul (9 June 2014). "Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  11. ^ Stewart, David O., (2009). Impeached: the Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy. Simon & Schuster. New York, N.Y. ISBN 978-1-4165-4749-5. Page 308.
  12. ^ Stewart, David O. Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy. Simon & Schuster, 2009, pp.185, 186, 188, 189, 242, 269, 278, 279, 280, 282, 285, 292, 297–99, 309.
  13. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War by Nicholas Lemann. Farrar, Straus &Giroux. New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-374-53069-3. Pages 205–209.


See also

Kennedy also praised Lucius Lamar, who, while working in the public eye towards reconciliation, privately was an instigator of growing racial agitation.[13]

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 ..."[11] However, Ross lost his bid for re-election two years after casting the vote acquitting Johnson. There is also evidence that Edmund Ross was bribed to vote for Johnson's acquittal,[12] which is not mentioned in Profiles in Courage.


In May 2008, according to Sorensen's autobiography, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Sorensen said he wrote “a first draft of most of the chapters” of Profiles in Courage and “helped choose the words of many of its sentences”.[9][10] Sorensen also said, in his autobiography: "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". 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.


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