What is the author's purpose in writing Profiles in Courage?

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That really all depends on who actually wrote the book. The general consensus is that, though Senator John F. Kennedy (as he then was) provided the overarching theme for the book, it was his speechwriter Ted Sorensen who actually wrote it. Nevertheless, whatever the truth of the matter, Profiles in Courage can be seen as an attempt by an ambitious young senator to make himself into a nationally renowned figure.

In those days it was generally considered quite important for those who sought public office to show evidence of in-depth knowledge, especially in relation to American history. Kennedy's ten-year political career, first in the House, then in the Senate, had drawn criticism from many, including some within his own party, for a notable lack of substance or achievement. Even allowing for Kennedy's frequent debilitating illnesses during this period, the charge undoubtedly rankled with him, and so writing a political history book—or at least giving the appearance of having written one—was a way for him to answer the critics.

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President Kennedy wrote this book in 1954 when he was a Senator from Massachusetts. His purpose in writing the book was to examine the biographies of legislators who were able to resist the pressure of constituents' desires to advocate for what the legislators felt was personally right. Kennedy, as the source from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library below states, was interested in politicians who were able to show courage while exercising leadership. In his book, he profiled politicians such as John Quincy Adams who defied the wishes of their political parties or constituents to support what they individually thought was correct and just. He believed that in a democracy, people must elect representatives who not only simply will represent their views in office but who will also exercise what Kennedy referred to as "their conscientious judgment," meaning their sense of what is right.

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I sense two fundamental purposes in the writing of the book.  The first is to present a narrative of American History that is able to highlight the individuals who were able to seize leadership at critical moments in the nation's history.  Kennedy is clear about the idea of documenting individuals who sought a transcendent or greater notion of the good in the face of challenging specifics and contexts that posed challenge.  The notion of "courage" is thus defined as being able to stand for something in the face of challenge and opposition.  Kennedy seeks to bring this idea out in showing that government can be a source of courageous leadership to the people, inspiring them to reach for a transcendent notion of the good that transforms the present into what can be as opposed to what is.  There is a certain risk involved in upholding principled leadership and it is here where Kennedy seeks to highlight political courage.  On a more individualistic level though, Kennedy's purpose is to establish himself in this tradition.  In writing the book, Kennedy is able to align himself with part of an American political tradition whereby opposition can be seen as standing in the way of principled political leadership.  It is a very shrewd move on his part.  In being able to write about political courage, it allows him the credibility to argue that he, himself, is descendant of a tradition of political leadership that allows him to articulate a vision that might receive public critique. No doubt that his own vision of America during the Cold War would be one whereby criticism was inevitable.  In writing about courageous leadership, Kennedy is able to offset some of this criticism.  In doing so, Kennedy was able to insert his own name into a pantheon of courageous leadership even before he assumed its mantle.

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