Profiles In Courage
Throughout American history, many individuals stood up for their rights as human beings and the rights of the American people. In the book, Profiles in Courage, by John F. Kennedy, Kennedy highlights key individuals who were firm in their views in politics and the American Dream.
The right choices are not always the most popular decisions, yet Kennedy chose this to be the focus of the book; on the other hand, Kennedy shows how popular beliefs and decisions are not always what is best for the nation as a whole. Citizens believe representatives and senators need to speak up for the rights of American citizens. Most politicians chose to take the path of least resistance, while Daniel Webster, George Norris, and Robert A. Taft defied this way of politics, speaking against bills and other politicians in order to do what is just for the American people. There are three major pressures that Congressmen face every day.
The first problem they face is the problem of ‘fitting in’ and being popular, “Americans want to be liked-and senators are no exception-They are by nature-and of necessity-social animals” (Profiles in Courage 4). Politicians prefer approval of colleagues and popularity. They are anxious to get along with others, and are used to following certain patterns or rules. Most representatives or senators will take the path of least resistance, instead of taking a unique and different path, which embarrasses many of the popular choice Congressmen. Politicians want to make the right decision by going with the popular choice, but this is not the right decision.
This style of politics is about balancing the forces, which keeps the government running, but the only way to make the just decision is to do what is best for the new nation, not fit in. The second pressure is when political candidates set out to purse politics as a career. They ultimately hope to continue for as long as possible and being able to get re-elected. It is somewhat selfish in nature; they feel pressured to help their party, and if they do not get re-elected, they let down the party. While all humans want to succeed, “We expect the individual to advance his own enlightened self-interest- within the limitations of the law-in order to achieve over-all progress. But in public life we expect individuals to sacrifice their interests to permit the national good to progress” (7).
While the people give up their dreams and interests, the politicians “representing” all citizens, become selfish and greedy. The last pressure most Congressmen face is the pressure of constituency. He wishes to go with the party and majority of others, but not think about what is right for the people. Some people say do what is right, even if it is not the popular choice. The only people who can do this are those who are not responsible for the elected office. In order to keep balance between both ends of the political spectrum, there must be balances and sacrifices to and from every party.
Kennedy says, “Their intellects tell them that a fair or poor bill is better than no bill at all, and that only through the give-and-take of compromise will any bill receive the successive approval of the Senate, The House, The President and the nation” (5). With every compromise, there must be sacrifices from both sides. However, a fair or poor bill is better than no bill at all. If Congress passes a bill that does nothing for the country, or impacts the country very little, then there may as well not be a law at all. An example is the 21st Century Language Act of 2012; this bill is waiting to be signed by the President, in order to strike the word “lunatic” from Federal law.
This bill does not improve American lives, nor is it important to the American people. Bills like these are what is holding the United States back from passing better or more important bills. Daniel Webster was perhaps the best orator of his time. People traveled to hear him speak and were excited by every word that came out of his mouth. He spoke with such grace against slavery and the preservation of the Union. His most famous speech was made on the Seventh of March, 1850 and became known throughout the entire nation.
With the help of Henry Clay, he agreed with the Clay Compromise, which included admitting California as a free state. In addition, New Mexico and Utah were to be organized territories without legislation, Texas was to be compensated for some territory to be ceded to New Mexico, the slave trade would be abolished in the District of Columbia, and finally, a more enforceable Fugitive Slave Law was to be enacted to guarantee the return of runaway slaves. With many Southern states threatening to secede from the Union, Webster had to ensure he brought about peace. Webster brought about no bloodshed and no immediate secession. The stalling of the Civil War was one of the many deeds Webster had done for the preservation of the Union.
While Daniel Webster greatly opposed slavery, and encouraged the conservation of the Union, he spoke both from his heart and about what was best for America. To keep the Southern states from seceding, Daniel purposed the Clay Compromise and promised the Fugitive Slave Law, but to compromise for the North, said that California would also be a free state. This takes courage to stand up for what beliefs are right, but also to fulfill the wishes of the South, in order to preserve the Union. In leadership, it takes focus on a goal to offer a Compromise against something a person does not believe in, like slavery. The next Senator to have courageous actions was Senator George Norris from Nebraska.
George Norris is famously known for the filibuster against the Armed Ships Bill in 1917. Although the American public and the majority of Representatives fiercely agreed with this bill, George Norris did not. He believed that “big business” was providing the stimuli, paving the way into war, and was a useless struggle. The freshman Senator from Nebraska decided that the only way to prevent war and the Armed Ship Bill was to filibuster against it. Almost all of America was angry and upset with George Norris for opposing the bill; he led himself to his political death.
Later on, George Norris held a speech about his beliefs and values, which was approved by all that listened. The reason for America’s approval was one simple key; the truth. George Norris is both punished and praised for his filibuster because he was not afraid to go against the popular vote of The House of Representatives and Senate. Although the filibuster failed, as well as his speech for Al Smith, he chose a unique path even if it meant not being re-elected. The final Senator, who has made a significant impact on Congressional History, is Robert A.
Taft. During the Nuremburg Trials, eleven Nazi’s were found guilty for waging an aggressive war. They were subject to hanging, even though the Constitution says that there shall be no ex-post facto laws made, this was an ex post facto law. Taft spoke out against this, even though the Nazis were an enemy. Taft wanted equal justice under the law, but sadly did not achieve this goal; the Nazis were still hanged. Although a storm was raised during this time in Taft’s life, many were not concerned with whether he was wrong or right.
We remember Taft for his, “unhesitating courage in standing against the flow of public opinion for a cause he believed to be right” (205). Taft was not pressured to please his party; he was pressured to do what was right for the people, and that is exactly what he sought out to do. Many Congressmen take the path to fame, success, fortune, and popularity: while others take the path not followed to freedom, justice, and equality. The three non-conforming Senators showed outrageous amounts of courage in their lifetimes. Whether humans agree with their beliefs or not, they stood up for what they believed to be true, which is what matters most.
The right choices of these politicians are not always the most popular decisions. On the other hand, the more popular beliefs and decisions are not always what is best for the nation as a whole. Most politicians chose to take the path of least resistance, while these three politicians defied this way of politics, and spoke against bills or other politicians in order to do what is good and right for the American people. Every human being should aspire to be a person who lives a life standing firm for what I believe to be true. Kennedy has inspired me to become the kind of person who stays true to their beliefs.