Recipient of the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, Profiles in Courage outlines the service of eight United States senators who distinguished themselves through their integrity and sacrifices for the nation. Written by John F. Kennedy in collaboration with his research assistants and speechwriter Theodore Sorensen, the book focuses primarily on how the eight senators fell out of public popularity because of their upright actions. Highlighting these politicians who crossed party lines or openly defied the opinion of their constituents, Profiles in Courage explores a person’s will to make morally upstanding choices regardless of the consequences. The book remains one of the most widely read about American politics and helped earn Kennedy national recognition that propelled his political career and subsequent presidency.
Profiles in Courage first discusses John Quincy Adams who, as a senator, left the Federalist Party and later became President of the United States. Next, it addresses the actions of Daniel Webster, a prominent supporter of the Compromise of 1850. Another featured senator, Sam Houston, openly opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and was dismissed as Governor of Texas for speaking out against its secession from the Union. The book highlights Lucius Lamar for facing great criticism in his efforts to repair the relationship between the North and South during Reconstruction. He also gained a great deal of opposition for voting against the Bland-Allison Act. Other senators mentioned include Robert A. Taft, who vocally criticized the Nuremberg Trials, and George Norris, who supported democratic candidate Al Smith through his presidential campaign and objected to the U.S. arming commercial ships during the neutral period of World War I.
The book inspired the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which recognizes public servants displaying a high level of courage and commitment to ethics. Presented by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the private award honors public officials demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice their careers, and even their lives, for the moral betterment of their community, state, or the nation. Picked by the foundation, a neutral committee considers the nominations and selects winners. Recent award recipients include Karen Bass, Darrell Steinberg, Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia, and Edward M. Kennedy.