From the very beginning, Kennedy is clear that the purpose of his book is to present examples of political courage. He draws from the history of the U.S. Senate and the men of integrity who served there in the past. The first line of chapter one is, ‘‘This is a book about the most admirable of human virtues—courage.’’ He adds toward the end of the chapter that the stories he relates in Profiles in Courage are worth remembering, as are:
The stories of other senators of courage—men whose abiding loyalty to their nation triumphed over all personal and political considerations, men who showed the real meaning of courage and a real faith in democracy, men who made the Senate of the United States something more than a mere collection of robots dutifully recording the views of the constituents, or a gathering of time-servers skilled only in predicting and following the tides of public sentiment.
Kennedy follows through on his promise to the reader that he will demonstrate, through historical examples, what the meaning of political courage is. He shows how John Quincy Adams, a man plagued by a sense of inadequacy, found it in himself to stand up against his party and his people to support an embargo that would hurt his home state of Massachusetts. He did this, Kennedy writes, because his vision was for a stronger America, not just a stronger Massachusetts. In the example of Sam Houston, Kennedy provides a portrait of a man who favors the Union above all, despite the fact that he comes from a slave-holding state whose citizens push for secession. In the story of Edmund G. Ross, the reader learns about a low-profile man who, in the face of extreme political pressure, cast the deciding vote against President Johnson’s conviction. In each case, the senator sacrificed his political ambitions in a single act of courage that represented his values.
Pressures on Political Figures
In the first chapter, Kennedy describes three types of pressures endured by public figures. The first is the pressure to be liked, which Kennedy states is a human desire shared by most people. He adds that for a senator, being liked often requires the ability to compromise. Compromise, he argues, is not a sign of weak morals or lack of fortitude, but rather the wise realization that in order to get anything done, it is often necessary to make compromises. The second pressure is for re-election. Senators want to develop long careers in which they have many opportunities to enact change, defend what they believe is right, and fight what they believe is wrong. In order to do so, they must always be aware of their next elections. Kennedy explains that in politics, people are expected to make great personal sacrifices for the public good, and by demonstrating their commitment to doing so, they increase their chances of re-election. The third...
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