On May 6, 1957 – the Pulitzer Prize for Biography was awarded to the United Sates Senator from Massachusetts John F. Kennedy for “Profiles in Courage.” The work was widely acclaimed and helped Kennedy earn national recognition. While not without controversy as to the actual writing of the book (some have claimed that Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen actually wrote the book) and the validity of some of the characterizations (Blanche Ames*, the daughter of Governor Adelbert Ames tried unsuccessfully to get a retraction on the negative description of her father), the work remains one of the definitive books written on both political courage and the U.S. Senate.
In 1954-1955, Senator Kennedy was bedridden as a result of back surgery. It was during this time that the research and preparation was done for what became this award-winning book. Here is a list of those eight men – members of the United States Senate – deemed by John F. Kennedy as Profiles in Courage:
- John Quincy Adams, a Senator (1803–1808) (later President and Representative) from Massachusetts, for breaking away from the Federalist Party.
- Daniel Webster, also from Massachusetts, for speaking in favor of the Compromise of 1850.
- Thomas Hart Benton, from Missouri, for staying in the Democratic Party despite his opposition to the extension of slavery in the territories.
- Sam Houston, from Texas, for speaking against the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Sam Houston was also profiled for opposing Texas’ secession from the Union, for which he was deposed from the office of Governor.
- Edmund G. Ross, from Kansas, for voting for acquittal in the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial. As a result of Ross’s vote, along with those of six other Republicans, Democrat Johnson’s presidency was saved, and the stature of the office was preserved.
- Lucius Lamar, from Mississippi, for eulogizing Charles Sumner on the Senate Floor and other efforts to mend ties between the North and South during Reconstruction, and for his principled opposition to the Bland-Allison Act to permit free coinage of silver.
- George Norris, from Nebraska, for opposing Joseph Gurney Cannon‘s autocratic power as Speaker of the House, for speaking out against arming U.S. merchant ships during the United States’ neutral period in World War I, and for supporting the Presidential Campaign of Democrat Al Smith.
- Robert A. Taft, from Ohio, for criticizing the Nuremberg Trials for trying Nazi war criminals under what Taft considered ex post facto laws.
*Note – there is always a Lowell connection:
Blanche Ames was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1878. Her father was General Adelbert Ames, a union officer during the American Civil War, and later, Governor of Mississippi. Her mother, Blanche Butler, was the daughter of Benjamin Butler – a lawyer and politician who represented Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives, served as Governor of Massachusetts the Governor of Massachusetts and as a Union Major General during the Civil War.