|Author||John F. Kennedy|
Ted Sorensen (ghostwriter)
|Subject||United States Senators|
|Publisher||Harper & Brothers|
|January 1, 1956|
|Preceded by||Why England Slept|
|Followed by||A Nation of Immigrants|
Profiles in Courage is a 1956 volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight United States Senators, credited to then-Senator John F. Kennedy, but ghostwritten by Ted Sorensen. Kennedy is widely listed as the sole author and won the Pulitzer Prize for the work. The book profiles senators who defied the opinions of their party and constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions. It begins with a quote from Edmund Burke on the courage of the English statesman Charles James Fox, in his 1783 attack upon the tyranny of the East India Company in the House of Commons.
The book focuses on mid-19th-century antebellum America and the efforts of senators to delay the American Civil War. Profiles was widely celebrated and became a bestseller. It includes a foreword by Allan Nevins.
In 1990, Kennedy's family created the Profile in Courage Award to honor individuals who have acted with courage in the same vein as those profiled in the book.
Kennedy was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, 1948, and 1950 from the state of Massachusetts. In 1952 and 1958, he was elected a senator from Massachusetts, and served in the Senate until resigning after he was elected president in 1960. It was a passage from Herbert Agar's book The Price of Union about an act of courage by an earlier senator from Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams, that gave Kennedy the idea of writing about senatorial courage. He showed the passage to Ted Sorensen and asked him to see if he could find some more examples. This Sorensen did, and eventually they had enough not just for an article, as Kennedy had originally envisaged, but a book. With help from research assistants and the Library of Congress, Kennedy wrote the book while bedridden during 1954 and 1955, recovering from back surgery.
After its release on January 1, 1956, Profiles in Courage became a bestseller. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957, even though it was not one of the finalists forwarded to the prize board from the selection committee. Kennedy's father Joseph asked columnist Arthur Krock, his political adviser and a longtime member of the prize board, to persuade others to vote for it.
The book returned to the bestseller lists in 1961 after Kennedy became president and again in 1963 after he was assassinated.
In 1956, Kennedy gave a copy of the book to Richard Nixon, who responded that he was looking forward to reading it. After being defeated by Kennedy in the 1960 United States presidential election, Nixon was advised by Mamie Eisenhower to write a book himself. Nixon visited the White House in April 1961 and got the same advice from Kennedy: writing a book would raise the public image of any public man. Nixon wrote his book Six Crises (1962) in response to Profiles in Courage.
On December 7, 1957, journalist Drew Pearson appeared as a guest on The Mike Wallace Interview and made the claim that "John F. Kennedy is the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him." Wallace replied: "You know for a fact, Drew, that the book Profiles in Courage was written for Senator Kennedy ... by someone else?" Pearson responded that he did and that Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen wrote the book. Wallace responded: "And Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for it? And he never acknowledged the fact?" Pearson replied: "No, he has not. You know, there's a little wisecrack around the Senate about Jack ... some of his colleagues say, 'Jack, I wish you had a little less profile and more courage.'"
Joseph P. Kennedy saw the broadcast, then called his lawyer, Clark Clifford, yelling: "Sue the bastards for fifty million dollars!" Soon Clifford and Robert F. Kennedy showed up at ABC and told executives that the Kennedys would sue unless the network issued a full retraction and apology. Wallace and Pearson insisted that the story was true and refused to back off. Nevertheless, ABC made the retraction and apology, which made Wallace furious.
According to "The Straight Dope," Herbert Parmet later analyzed the text of Profiles in Courage and wrote in his book Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980) that although Kennedy did oversee the production and provided for the direction and message of the book, it was clearly Sorensen who provided most of the work that went into the end product. The thematic essays that comprise the first and last chapters "may be viewed largely as [Kennedy's] own work," however.:401
In addition to Kennedy's speechwriter Sorensen, Jacqueline Kennedy recruited her history instructor from Georgetown University, Jules Davids, to work on the project. Davids told a Kennedy biographer that he and Sorensen had researched and written drafts of most of the book. Kennedy's handwritten notes, which Senator Kennedy showed to reporters to prove his authorship, are now in the Kennedy Library, but are mostly preliminary notes about John Quincy Adams, a particular interest of Kennedy's, and are not a readable draft of the chapter on Adams. During the six-month period when the book was being written, Sorensen worked full-time on the project, sometimes twelve-hour days; Kennedy spent most of the same period travelling, campaigning, or hospitalized. Kennedy's preserved notes show that he kept up with the book's progress, but historian Garry Wills remarked that Kennedy's notes contain no draft of any stage of the manuscript, or of any substantial part of it.
In Sorensen's autobiography, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, he said he wrote "a first draft of most of the chapters" of Profiles in Courage and "helped choose the words of many of its sentences". Sorensen also wrote: "While in Washington, I received from Florida almost daily instructions and requests by letter and telephone - books to send, memoranda to draft, sources to check, materials to assemble, and Dictaphone drafts or revisions of early chapters" (Sorensen, p. 146). Sorensen wrote that Kennedy "worked particularly hard and long on the first and last chapters, setting the tone and philosophy of the book". Kennedy "publicly acknowledged in his introduction to the book my extensive role in its composition" (p. 147). Sorensen claimed that in May 1957, Kennedy "unexpectedly and generously offered, and I happily accepted, a sum to be spread over several years, that I regarded as more than fair" for his work on the book. Indeed, this supported a long-standing recognition of the collaborative effort that Kennedy and Sorensen had developed since 1953.
Craig Fehrman, author of Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote, wrote in 2020 that "The book's structure, research, first draft and most of its second came from [Sorensen]". According to Fehrman, "Even the book's idea came from him"; after Kennedy suggested that Sorensen write a magazine article on Adams's courage as senator for publication with Kennedy's name, Sorensen suggested to Kennedy in a letter accompanying the draft article that he ask Harper & Brothers--where Michael Temple Canfield, Jacqueline Kennedy's brother-in-law, worked--if the publisher were interested in a book on the topic. They shared in profits from all work Sorensen ghostwrote for Kennedy, as agreed when the former joined the latter's staff. Kennedy wrote the preface but did not mention Sorensen. After Sorensen returned an edited draft of the preface with a request for a mention, Kennedy added a line thanking him "for his invaluable assistance". Sorensen received a $6,000 bonus, about one third of his annual salary.
The senator worked much harder on promoting Profiles, signing autographs and making many public appearances for "my book". Kennedy tried to have it published before the end of 1955 to qualify for the Pulitzer Prizes in 1956; Profiles appeared on its original date of 2 January 1956, eligible for the 1957 prizes. Although friends and family said that the Pulitzer made Kennedy happier than his World War II Purple Heart or any other award, and Kennedy told Margaret Coit in 1953 "I would rather win a Pulitzer Prize than be president", the award caused the press to investigate Profiless authorship. In May 1957, two weeks after the award, Gilbert Seldes discussed the rumor that Kennedy had not written the book in The Village Voice. That month the Kennedys agreed to pay Sorensen more than $100,000, an amount Fehrman said was "frankly astonishing".
After the Wallace-Pearson television appearance, Kennedy and Sorensen agreed that the rumor could ruin Kennedy's presidential plans. Sorensen swore an affidavit stating that his only role in was "to assist [Kennedy] in the assembly and preparation of research and other materials upon which much of the book is based". The document said that Sorensen's work was "very generously acknowledged by the Senator in the preface", despite the credit only appearing after Sorense asked Kennedy for it. Kennedy claimed that he had kept all of the earnings from Profiles despite the two payments to Sorensen, and that the Pulitzer was proof of his authorship. "The lies became cover for the lies", Fehrman concluded.
Author David O. Stewart has questioned the accuracy of the book's chapter on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Of Johnson's defenders in the Senate, Profiles in Courage stated that "Not a single one of them escaped the terrible torture of vicious criticism engendered by their vote to acquit." However, Stewart described the supposed persecution as a "myth" and continued, "None was a victim of postimpeachment retribution. Indeed, their careers were not wildly different from those of the thirty-five senators who voted to convict Andrew Johnson." However, Ross lost his bid for re-election two years after casting a vote acquitting Johnson. There is also evidence that Edmund Ross was bribed to vote for Johnson's acquittal, which is not mentioned in Profiles in Courage.
Kennedy also praised Lucius Lamar, who, while working in the public eye towards reconciliation, privately was an instigator, according to the claim of author Nicholas Lemann, of growing racial agitation. In the profile of Lamar, Kennedy had also included a single paragraph condemning Adelbert Ames, the Maine-born governor of Mississippi from 1873 to 1876, as an opportunistic carpetbagger whose administration was "sustained and nourished by Federal bayonets." Ames' daughter, Blanche Ames Ames, was outraged, and regularly wrote to Kennedy for years afterward in protest, demanding a retraction of the "defamatory insinuations" and accused him of pandering to Southern readers. The letter-writing continued even after Kennedy had been elected to the presidency. This prompted Kennedy to turn to George Plimpton, Ames' grandson and a classmate of Robert F. Kennedy at Harvard, asking him if he could get his grandmother to cease, claiming her letters were interfering with government business. Blanche Ames Ames would eventually publish her own biography of her father in 1964.