Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
Profiles in Courage
By John F. Kennedy
Forward by Allan Nevins
Historian Allan Nevins describes for readers how each of the subjects selected by Sen. Kennedy for his book was a hero who risked entire careers, reputations, and lives in defense of a noble cause in the face of tremendous adversity.
Sen. Kennedy describes how the idea for this book and most of its research and writing took place as he convalesced from back surgery. He then proceeds to thank the people who helped him with his research, writing, and editing. Perhaps it is fitting that he saved Theodore Sorenson, whom he calls his research associate, for last in his list of thank yous because it has become apparent over time that, while Kennedy selected the subjects and had a hand in the writing of the book, the actual prose belong to Sorenson.
Courage and Politics
In this remarkable essay, Kennedy describes the constant conflicts and pressures confronted by members of Congress when they go about their business and how one’s conscience, desire to accomplish goals must be balanced against his loyalty to his constituents, his loyalty to his nation, and his own sense of what needs to be done.
Kennedy’s essay today should be required reading for all students of American government. With the entirely dysfunctional Senate we have now, this essay is illuminating. With the wingnuts of both parties demanding ideological purity – profiles in courage on each and every issue – this essay is particularly topical.
This is because most people do not understand how the Senate works and what a Senator must do to accomplish the greater good. They assume that the send their senator to Washington to always vote his or her conscience and always do what they know to be right while always voting the way his constituents would have him vote.
However, a senator who routinely defies his party will never accomplish anything. He will be marginalized, so party loyalty is of the essence. Fellow senators understand the pressures of loyalty versus constituent interests and matters of conscience and one need not tow the party line constantly to be an accepted member of the club. But to expect a senator to maintain ideological purity at all times, to vote strictly in the interest of his state at all times when the needs of the nation must be weighed, is unreasonable.
I disapprove of today’s ideological electorate every bit as much as I disapprove of Congress.
Members of the Tea Party and the uber liberals of the Democratic party should read Kennedy’s essay and take it to heart.
Part One: Time and Place
Kennedy sets the stage for his first profile in courage by describing a U.S. Senate that is not the great deliberative body it was designed to be. In 1803, the Senate was little more than an advisory body to the president and the disposer of what the House proposed.
Thus the Senate was until forced to act on the possibility of war for the young nation. As British naval vessels seized American ships and American sailors and impressed them into service in the British Navy in the country’s war against the French, it was clear the situation was becoming untenable for the United States and action would soon be necessary.
Here, we see a young U.S. Senator, heir to a tarnished family legacy, struggle between what he knows is in the best interest of his nation and what the constituents in his home state want and need. The debate over American declaration of war upon Great Britain after the incident between the American ship, The Chesapeake and the British ship, The Leopard.
John Quincy Adams
History refers to John Quincy Adams as “Old Man Eloquent.” This nom de plume comes from his later years in the House of Representatives fighting the fight against slavery in the early days of the abolitionist movement. But before he served his long term in the House, and before he spent four unhappy years in the White House, John Quincy Adams served as the junior senator from Massachusetts.
Young Adams was a Federalist like his father before him. Having served as an ambassador during his father’s administration, he was recalled after Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams to gain the presidency. Massachusetts remained a strong Federalist stronghold and shortly after his return to the United States, Adams was appointed to the Senate by the Massachusetts legislature.
It did not take him long to earn the scorn of Federalists in Massachusetts. In 1803, he had supported Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase. Federalists regarded this as an unconstitutional expansion of executive power. The party, now relegated to a New England sectional party, also saw the westward expansion as a threat to their regional political power. Adams was excoriated in his home state for his support of Jefferson.
After the Chesapeake Incident, Adams was in a quandary which would require him to tap all of the courage he could muster. To retaliate, Jefferson had proposed an embargo on trade with Great Britain. Massachusetts and New England relied heavily on this trade for their economic livelihood. As the war between Great Britain and France wore on, the sentiment in New England was decidedly pro-British.
But Adams realized that such an attack could not pass without retaliation. America was still a young nation and Great Britain was showing contempt for American sovereignty. Although his constituents would have him support and represent their interests in the U.S. Senate, Adams viewed the problem as a national problem. He ultimately cast his vote with the Republicans in favor of the embargo.
The reaction in Massachusetts was every bit as bad as Adams had anticipated. He was excoriated in newspapers, deserted by friends, mocked to his face. What must have made it even more painful for young John Quincy Adams was he committed this act of party defiance in support of Thomas Jefferson – a man he despised for his cunning and duplicity in defeating his father for the presidency.
But Adams expressed no regrets over the vote. He appeared at a Republican meeting to discuss the embargo. To Federalists, this apostasy was beyond the pale. The embargo went into effect and hard times fell on Massachusetts. Adams would not be sent back to the Senate when his term expired.
Time bore out Adams’ wisdom. The British continued and ramped up their antagonism of the United States, eventually leading to war. Today, it is easy to see the wisdom of Adams’ approach to his duties as a legislator. But viewed through Adams’ eyes at the time, it must have seemed to be political suicide. It was not.
Adams would go on to assist in the formation of the Whig Party and would be elected President. His defeat for re-election also seemed to portend his political death. However, he was sent by the electors of his congressional district to the House of Representatives where he served for many years until his death in the House chambers in 1848. He and Andrew Johnson remain the only two presidents to rejoin the legislature upon leaving the presidency.
Part Two: Time and Place
By 1850, the Senate had evolved into the great deliberative body envisioned by the Founding Fathers. This was the Senate’s golden age with the likes of Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, Henry Clay, Salmon Chase, Thomas Hart Benton, and Sam Houston graced the stately senate chamber.
The great issue of the day was slavery and maintaining the union in the face of growing antipathy for the South’s Peculiar Institution in the North and growing distrust of the North’s political clout in the House. Repeatedly, states were admitted two at a time to maintain the balance between slave and free states in the Senate. The architect for these compromises was the Kentucky Senator, Henry Clay.
This delicate balancing act was thrown off balance by the acquisition of Texas and other new lands in the Mexican-American War and the Wilmot Proviso which proposed banning slavery in any new state or territory acquired during that war. Secessionists convened at Nashville and began laying out a plan for the southern states to secede from the union.
The Great Compromiser Henry Clay once again took up legislative pen and hammered out a compromise he hoped would restore balance and preserve the union. He crafted the Compromise of 1850 which called for: 1) California was to be admitted as a free state; 2)New Mexico and Utah were to be organized as territories with no declaration as to whether they were free or slave holding territories; 3) Texas was to be compensated for territory which it ceded to New Mexico; 4) slavery was abolished in Washington, D.C.; 5) Strengthening the Fugitive Slave Act to assure that slaves fleeing to the north would not be given amnesty from their southern owners. Like most compromises, there was something for everyone to hate in the compromise.
Sectional tensions were at their highest. In this chapter, Kennedy profiles Daniel Webster of Massachusetts who sacrificed his political career to support the compromise and the union by delivering his famous Seventh of March speech, Thomas Hart Benton who, despite the pro-slavery sentiments of his state, fought to preserve the union, and Sam Houston, the Texas patriot who sacrificed the adoration of his fellow Texans in the name of American unity.
Kennedy notes that Daniel Webster was the greatest orator in the history of the Senate. With today’s lengthy quorum calls, floor maneuvers, speechless filibusters, and vacant chambers, it is hard to believe that one man could command the attention of 99 fellow senators. Daniel Webster was such a man.
While Webster is a vaunted historical figure today, he was not for many years. His name was held in scorn for betraying the cause of abolition for which he had fought his entire career. As was John Quincy Adams, Webster was a Massachusetts man and the state that led the way toward American independence did not value independence in its senators. It demanded that they represent their interests. As far as Massachusetts was concerned, their interests lied in the abolition of slavery.
Kennedy points out that Webster, while a great orator who moved audiences with his speeches, was a flawed man. While it might be a stretch to say he was on the take or corrupt, he did expect to be paid for favors delivered. Webster accepted cash and gifts from all comers and had no qualms about doing so, nor did he try to hide it.
When the time came for Clay to push for passage of his compromise he hoped would one more time maintain the union in the face of sectional tension, he knew he needed Daniel Webster to deliver. Clay called on Webster one cold evening and the two talked late into the night about how Webster could play his part in sustaining American unity.
On March 7, 1850, Daniel Webster prepared to deliver his speech. The Senate gallery was packed with people who had traveled from all parts of the country to hear the man from Massachusetts defend Clay’s compromise. Senators stood in the aisle, offering their seats to the women present.
Vice President Fillmore gaveled the chamber into order and opened the Senate for business. The senator who held the floor immediately yielded to Webster. He rose and began in his measured voice, “I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American and a member of the Senate of the United States. . .I speak today for the preservation of the Union. Hear me for my cause.”
For the next three hours, Webster spoke. The galleries were silent. Senators listened with rapt attention. The venerable and frail John Calhoun, champion of the southern cause, was assisted to his seat to listen. When Webster yielded the floor, the chamber was still silent, stunned by Webster's brilliant oratory as well as the position he’d taken in favor of compromise.
Like most Massachusetts men, Webster had dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery. Now, he’d foregone a lifetime of advocacy in the cause of American union. As they’d done to Adams when he defied his state in the cause of his country, the people of Massachusetts excoriated him with venomous attacks. He was a political pariah in his home state.
History bore out much of what Webster prophesized in his speech. He noted there could be no peaceful disunion. The dissolution of the states, he predicted, would be convulsive, difficult, and probably bloody. A prescient man was Daniel Webster.
But his support for the compromise disarmed southern critics. It won the day for Clay’s compromise and the union was preserved for another 11 years.
Webster had always aspired to the presidency. Following his speech, he sought the Whig nomination for the presidency. His rival was President Millard Fillmore who had become president upon the death of Zachary Taylor. Fillmore had no declared position on slavery other than compromise. Nor did the Whig party have a declared position. Nonetheless, northern abolitionists in the party deadlocked the convention. The party eventually settled on Mexican-American War hero, Winfield Scott. But, without a declared position on the greatest issue of the day, the Whig Party was doomed to disunion and death. Scott would lose to pro-southern Democrat, Franklin Pierce and the Whigs would never put forward another presidential nominee of consequence.
Webster sought the nomination of his party in 1852, he would not live to cast a vote in that election. He fell from his horse in October of that year and later succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage.
Kennedy notes that Webster sacrificed everything he held dear – the love of his fellow Massachusetts men, his political aspirations, and many friendships, in the cause of preserving the union. Such political courage is almost impossible to imagine today.
Thomas Hart Benton
The U.S. Senate – the Club of 100 – is known, and has always been known – as the most pompous assemblage of people anywhere in these United States. No man was more pompous or arrogant than Thomas Hart Benton.
Benton was a vituperative, sarcastic, vain man given to leveling cutting and biting insults at those with whom he did not agree. He used the word, “sir” two or three times in one sentence, never with respect and almost always with contempt.
But, to the people of Missouri, he was their champion. He was the Senate’s chief spokesman for westward expansion; the floor leader of Manifest Destiny. He would not allow sectional tensions or slavery detract from the pursuit of Manifest Destiny – the expansion of the American country from sea to sea.
Slavery and abolition were impediments to that expansion and he scorned both equally. It was the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that created the state he represented in the Senate and allowed Missouri to enter the union as a slave state. When the proposed Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 threatened to abrogate the Missouri Compromise, Benton, with all his bluster, arrogance, and passion, made his final stand in the cause of westward expansion.
He cared little about whether Missouri was a slave state or free state. He had no patience for the arguments of abolitionists. Indeed, the Kansas-Nebraska Act offended both sections, for it called for Popular Sovereignty – or letting the people decide whether or not their new states would be slave or free.
What so disgruntled Benton was the line drawn across the United States by the proposed law. It would hinder the creation of new western states by making the entry of each new state a battle over slavery. He took to the floor of the Senate and denounced the proposed law, its supporters, and its consequences in the harshest language ever heard in that august chamber. At one point, he so enraged a fellow senator that he pulled a gun on Benton on the floor. Benton thrust open his vest and defied his fellow senator shoot him. Colleagues defused the situation before blood was shed.
The Kansas Nebraska Act was popular with the Missouri state legislature and the people of Missouri which saw its potential to expand slavery in the west. Benton saw it as a threat to union.
The Missouri legislature, dominated by fellow Democrats, decided not to send Benton back to the Senate in 1854. His unwillingness to court votes, engage lobbyists on behalf of railroads, and his nasty, arrogant disposition made it impossible for him to effectively fight for reelection. His unwillingness to put his state’s popular opinion ahead of his own belief in the importance of union and the pursuit of Manifest Destiny effectively ended the career of one of the nation’s most colorful politicians.
Were Benton a senator today, the media would no doubt carefully analyze his melt down. Politicians today do not behave as Benton did, deriding his colleagues with harsh language, dismissing ideas with which he did not agree with ugly vehemence. Indeed, today’s silent filibuster precludes the need for senators to make such declarations.
When one reads about Benton, it is impossible to not feel admiration for him in standing for the cause of union. However, as one reads the text of his various speeches and statements, laced with biting sarcasm coupled with condescending arrogance, it is also impossible to feel that, in the end, Benton got what he deserved. Arrogance such as his would have no place in today’s political discourse.
Sam Houston stands as a larger than life figure in American history. The hero of Texas who defeated a much larger Mexican force at San Jacinto during the Mexican-American War, Houston was a genuine American hero of his day, much like Dwight Eisenhower would become 100 years later.
Houston was an eccentric man. He served as governor of Tennessee. But when he learned that his betrothed had only agreed to marry him out of her father’s desire to gain political clout, the heartbroken Houston left Tennessee and headed west to live with the Indians.
After living in Arkansas, he moved to the Mexico, settling in present day Texas and quickly became a high profile proponent of Texas independence. His victory at San Jacinto and his capture of Generalissimo Santa Anna made him the hero of Texas and he was elected the president of the Republic of Texas. As a strong advocate of admission of Texas to the union, he led the way on Texas’ long path to admission to the United States.
When sectional tensions of the 1850s led to Texas leaders contemplating secession, Houston spoke out forcefully against Texas leaving the union and the right of any state to secede. He had dedicated too much of his life and seen too much blood shed on Texas’ behalf to gain her admission to the union to see it scuttled by sectional tensions.
Like Benton, Houston recognized the Kansas-Nebraska Act as a dangerous law that would lead to violent separation. He opposed it vociferously, prophesying, “I see my beloved South go down in an unequal contest.”
Like others who fell on their sword in this tumultuous time, Houston fought for neither the cause of the slaveholders or the abolitionists. He was a union man. With tensions running as high as they were on the eve of secession, there was no room in the middle. Houston, unwilling to participate in the dissolution of the union, was branded a traitor by his state. He left the senate and was twice elected its governor. But when the Texas legislature ultimately voted for secession, he refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy and was removed from office.
Houston lived briefly in Galveston before ultimately leaving the state so embittered toward him for opposing its popular will and moved to Tennessee where he died in 1863.
Part Three Time and Place
Kennedy sets the scene of postwar America following the Confederacy’s surrender at Appomatox. Abraham Lincoln has been assassinated. The coarse, ill-mannered, and uneducated Andrew Johnson has assumed the presidency. In Lincoln’s last days, he’d been battling with Congress over the best way to reconcile the union and restore the Confederate states to the United States. That battle fell to the overmatched Johnson.
The Senate, controlled by radical Republicans wanted to punish the south for their disloyalty and make the path to statehood difficult. Johnson wanted to take an easier route – one that would restore the union with less rancor. The state was set for a battle over which branch would control policy.
Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act that required the president to seek the advice and counsel of the Senate in firing any member of the cabinet. Johnson immediately put the act to the test, discharging Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who was loyal to the Republicans. Republicans almost immediately brought impeachment charges against the president. The House voted to impeach the president and a trial was held in the Senate. There, President Johnson would need six Republicans to swing his way to keep his job.
It would be in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson that Edmund Ross of Kansas would, “. . .look into his open grave,” as he voted his conscience rather than how his constituents and party would have him vote.
Lucius Lamar would act as a healing agent in the days of Reconstruction. A Mississippi House member and later senator, he would eulogize a northern Republican with words of reconciliation – words that would inflame and anger his southern constituency. He would go on cast his vote in favor of hard currency rather than free silver in the depths of economic depression, further angering the people of Mississippi.
Edmund G. Ross
Edmund Ross came to office following the suicide of Kansas senator James Henry Lane. Lane had separated from his fellow Republicans on several votes regarding Reconstruction and was thoroughly beaten down by state and national Republicans. One of those Kansans that had a hand in Lane’s demise was Edmund Ross, a radical Republican, who had accused (falsely) Lane of financial improprieties.
In the Senate, as the trial of Andrew Johnson proceeded, Republicans caucused to ascertain how many votes they had to remove the president. Five Republicans had broken ranks and were leaning toward acquittal. Edmund Ross refused to tell his colleagues how he would vote, saying he wanted to hear all of the evidence before rendering judgment.
Ross was offered bribes, patronage, and other inducements to vote with his fellow Republicans. But he refused to allow his vote to be counted before the end of the trial.
At the end of the trial, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase sought a vote on guilt. The five Republicans who’d said they would vote against removal held out, the last vote counted was Ross’. All waited silently until Ross uttered, “not guilty.” President Johnson was spared the indignity of removal from office.
Ross’ fellow Republicans were furious with him. His Kansas constituency, so certain that he was a true Republican that would vote in their interests, were also infuriated. Newspapers excoriated him. His fellow senators shunned him. He finished out his senate term and returned to Kansas. There, he worked in the newspaper business as he had prior to entering politics. He was later appointed governor of the New Mexico territory by President Grover Cleveland.
Edmund Ross became a figure of interest in the late 1990s as the U.S. Senate proceeded with the trial of President Bill Clinton. Historians looked back on this man who had cast his vote, not with blind loyalty to his party or his constituents, but with an eye toward the future of the American government that might permanently been damaged by an overly powerful legislature and imbalance in its balance of powers.
Some journalists, mostly conservatives, derided Ross as a false hero lionized with glaring errors in Kennedy’s book. They revealed evidence that Ross had sought rather than been offered bribes and patronage. Liberal journalists held Ross up to contemporary Republicans as an example of courage they should follow.
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar
Lucius Lamar might have been the last person any in Congress would have looked to for a plea for sanity in the days of Reconstruction and bitter feelings between the North and South following the Civil War because Lamar had been a leading proponent of secession.
As a congressman from Mississippi from 1856 to 1860, Lamar had fought hard for the southern cause. In 1860, he left the House to draft the articles of secession for Mississippi who would secede the next year. He later served in the Confederate Army as an aide to General Longsreet.
But, on the floor of the House, as Congress memorialized the most radical of the radical Republicans, Charles Sumner, Lamar asked for peace, sanity and harmony between all the states. His address moved his audience, bringing even the hardened Speaker, James Blaine to tears.
His constituents in Mississippi didn’t share Lamar’s feelings of forgiveness. They’d not forgotten Sumner’s efforts to make their lives hell in the days following the Civil War as military and carpetbagging government officials held power in their state. Newspapers railed against him and he was called traitor in some circles.
His reputation recovered and he was sent to the Senate by the state legislature in 1877. The United States was enduring a harsh depression. Exacerbated in the South by a lack of capital and business resources, the depression created widespread misery.
Many saw currency expansion through the coinage of silver as the panacea that would get the economy moving again. Silver was abundant and had climbed in value. The citizens of Mississippi demanded inflation and expansion of the supply of capital and the Mississippi legislature passed a resolution demanding that Lamar vote in favor of bimetallism.
Once again, Lamar followed his intellect and his conscience and voted against the coinage of silver. He regarded a falsely inflated currency as immoral and bad business.
His constituents were furious with him for not alleviating their misery. Rather than hide in Washington, Lamar took the road across the state, delivering speeches defending his vote for sound currency. He managed to salvage his political career and would go on to serve in the cabinet of Grover Cleveland before eventually being appointed to the Supreme Court.
Part Four: Time and Place
The time and place for the fourth part of Kennedy’s examination of courage in the Senate starts at the beginning of the 20th century. Far from that body that was so powerful in postwar America as to throw the whole system of checks and balances out of whack, the senate was now a moribund body with no dynamic leaders and no dynamic statesmen.
Into this void would step Sen. George Norris of Nebraska, a renegade Republican who made a name for himself in the House fighting to curtail the power of Speaker “Uncle Joe” Cannon and who would fight America’s entry into World War I with every parliamentary tool at his disposal. Also filling the void of statesman in the U.S. Senate was Ohio’s own, “Mr. Republican” Bob Taft whose judgment OF Nuremberg and the trial’s there were statement of conscience that challenged the conventional wisdom and political zeitgeist of his time.
Like John Quincy Adams, it was more than one act of courage that places Sen. George Norris in Kennedy’s list of profiles in courage. Norris’ entire career in both the House and the Senate was spent bucking the system and fighting against the popular tide to defend principles in which he believed.
Norris was a loyal Republican in the House for many years. Soon, he, and other Republicans, became disaffected with the iron fist rule of Speaker “Uncle Joe” Cannon who made sure the House Rules Committee and other important committees were always stacked with loyal lieutenants, effectively controlling what legislation came before the House for votes.
He joined with progressive Republicans and Democrats in changing House rules. In parliamentary maneuvers that stunned the powerful speaker, Norris introduced legislation that assured that seniority rather than the whims of the speaker determined who sat on and chaired committees. Norris lead the charge that dethroned perhaps the most powerful Speaker of the House in U.S. history.
In the Senate, Norris fought the popular tide of war as President Woodrow Wilson led the nation toward declaring war on Germany and entering World War I. He feared that it was financial considerations and programs that benefited the wealthy that were the real reasons for entering the war. He was one of just six senators to oppose American entry into World War I.
However, he was not a mindless Republican renegade. He fought with the Republican faithful to defeat the Treaty of Versailles and American entry into the League of Nations, dealing President Wilson his greatest defeat.
Later, he would go on to support some of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs – particularly the Tennessee Valley Authority which meant nothing to his home state of Nebraska. But he would oppose Roosevelt’s attempt at packing the Supreme Court.
Norris did not pay a heavy price for his courage as did many of Kennedy’s heroes. The people of Nebraska did not always agree with him, but they trusted him. When he could no longer align himself with the Republican Party during the Great Depression, he left. However, he could never align himself with the Democrats. So, the people of Nebraska elected him as an independent over nominees of both parties.
Norris was a native of Bellevue, Ohio, having been born and raised just west of that northern Ohio city in York Township in Sandusky County.
Robert A. Taft
Taft was the son of an American president who aspired to the presidency himself. However, he would speak out against what he regarded a grave injustice and violation of the principles of American jurisprudence and earn the scorn of the entire country.
In remarks delivered at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH, Taft decried the Nuremberg trials where Nazi war criminals were tried, convicted, and executed. Taft claimed that it was un-American to prosecute anyone – even people as vile as the leadership of the Nazi party – without having specific laws in place under which to try them. While they had committed atrocities, Taft said, there was no law on the books that prohibited what they did. Therefore, to charge and try them was a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against Ex Post Facto trials.
Americans were outraged. Democrats running in 1948 made political hay out of Sen. Taft’s remarks. Republicans either denounced him or distanced themselves from him. Newspapers in Ohio and across the country heaped scorn on him for coddling Nazis. Taft was given several opportunities to back away from the remarks, but stood by his principles.
Taft’s views did not hurt him so badly that Ohioans would not send him back to the Senate. Republicans elected him Majority Leader in 1953. He worked closely with the Eisenhower Administration in trying to enact Eisenhower’s domestic policies. However, his leadership of the Senate was cut short when he developed bone cancer in his legs. One leg was amputated and he continued, struggling through the pain, to lead the Senate, but he would eventually succumb to cancer. Kennedy remarks on the man’s courage in fighting the pain of his debilitating disease to do his job in his final days.
Kennedy would not only memorialize his political adversary in his profiles in courage. Kennedy chaired the Senate committee which named the five greatest senators in America history to be memorialized in the Senate Reception Room. Among them is Bob Taft.
Additional Men of Courage
Kennedy goes on to describe briefly other men and other acts of political courage. He talks of Sen. Andrew Johnson’s loyalty to the union while representing Tennessee in the Senate. That loyalty led to a noose being placed around his neck in Virginia where he came within seconds of being hanged.
He also discusses George Washington’s valiant defense of the Jay Treaty that prevented the young country from fighting another war against Great Britain and Charles Evans Hughes, as an attorney with political aspirations, fighting to allow socialists to be seated in the New York Assembly even though Hughes was an ardent Republican. He also discusses patriot John Adam’s valiant defense of the British soldiers in the case of the Boston Massacre.
The Meaning of Courage
This essay on courage is actually a defense of representative democracy as opposed to popular democracy. Each person elected to public office has the duty to do what he believes is right, regardless of party sentiment or voter affection. Truly great leaders listen to their constituents, weigh their opinions, and make the best decisions they are able based on their knowledge and principles. As current Ohio senator Sherrod Brown once told me in an interview, “Do the right thing and elections will take care of themselves.”
It is clearly understood that the prose of Kennedy’s book was penned by his aide and speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen – a speechwriter without peer in the history of our nation. But that should not discount Kennedy’s contribution and leadership in the project that became this book.
Senators and elected officials rely on others to forge speeches, letters, legislation, and opinions. No elected official has time to do it all himself. While we can enjoy Sorenson’s worthy prose in this well written book, we can be sure that the sentiments are those of John F. Kennedy.
Some historians have attacked parts of the book. Indeed, the punishment borne by those Republicans who opposed the impeachment of Andrew Johnson is overly dramatized in Kennedy's book. Historians have also criticized the inclusion of Lucius Lamar, saying he was an agitator for racial disharmony rather than the spokesman for reunification.
I agree with their assessment of the high drama Kennedy portrays in the Johnson trial. Judgment of Lucius Lamar I'll leave to those more learned in Reconstruction politics than I.