Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
New York : Harper & Row, 1961. Inaugural Edition. Hardcover. 266 pages ; 22 cm. In original price clipped dust jacket with clean and unmarked pages. Binding is firm.
As Allan Nevins writes in the new Foreword to this Inaugural Edition of Profiles in Courage: "It should reassure Americans to know that their President understands so well the utility of the lamp of the Past in guiding our feet."
Not since Woodrow Wilson has there been a President with such a sure sense of history as John F. Kennedy. In vivid and accurate detail, he can bring to life the different periods, personalities and issues of our national past, but most important of all, he draws from these the relevant examples for today. This Pulitzer Prize biography reveals clearly and candidly one of the most significant and agonizing aspects of public life: the need in times of crisis to rise above regional or special allegiance, sometimes even to defy the wishes of constituents in order to follow the dictates of individual conscience on questions of national interest.
The former Senator wrote this book while recovering from an operation necessitated by injuries incurred as skipper of a World War II torpedo boat. He used his "idle" hours to rediscover, and do intensive research on, the courage and patriotism of a handful of Americans who revealed a special sort of greatness. For the most part, Kennedy's patriots are United States Senators, but he also pays tribute to such men as Governor Akgeld of Illinois, and Charles Evans Hughes of New York. All these men disregarded dreadful consequences to their public and private lives to do the one thing that seemed right in itself, though the circumstances in which they made their decisions never presented a clear-cut choice between the good and the bad. Political life, with its demand for compromise, right timing and second-best choices, does not allow courage to be displayed in simple ways.
The figures in this, book range from the extraordinarily colorful to the near drab; from the born aristocrats to the self-made. There is John Quincy Adams, who lost his Senate seat and was repudiated in Boston for supporting his father's enemy, Thomas Jefferson; Sam Houston, who performed political acts of courage as dramatic as those on the field of battle; Edmund Ross, who "looked down into his open grave" as he saved President Johnson from impeachment; and Lamar of Mississippi, who did as much as any man to heal the wounds of civil war. There is Daniel Webster, scourged for his devotion to the Union by the most talented array of constituents ever to attack a Senator; Norris of Nebraska, who dared to stick to the important questions when the rest of the country was occupied with false issues; and Robert Taft, steadfast against the tide of public opinion.
In the opening and closing chapters, which are as inspiring as they are revealing, the ex-Senator draws on his personal experience to tell something of the satisfactions and burdens of a Senator's job—of the pressures, both outward and inward—and of the standards by which a man of principle must work and live. Implicit throughout these pages is the President's pride and confidence in a democratic system which allows not only free discussion but develops qualities of resourcefulness, steadiness, devotion and courage. Books usually portray the courage with which men die. President Kennedy has used immense skill in transforming the facts of history into dramatic personal stories of the courage with which men must live.
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