Profiles in Courage

By John F. Kennedy


Welcome to a journey through the pages of Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy πŸ“š! This remarkable book, written by one of America’s most beloved Presidents before he took office, dives deep into the lives and decisions of eight U.S. Senators who demonstrated immense bravery and integrity in the face of overwhelming opposition. 🌟

Published in 1956, Profiles in Courage serves not only as a historical account but also as an exploration of the essence of moral courage in politics. Kennedy, drawing from his own experiences and a deep understanding of American history, crafts a narrative that celebrates the principles of democracy and the power of individual conviction. πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

This Pulitzer Prize-winning work falls under the genre of biography and historical non-fiction, offering readers a unique glimpse into the complexities of political decision-making and the personal qualities required to make tough, often unpopular, choices for the greater good. Let’s dive into the world of courage, politics, and integrity as envisioned by JFK! πŸ…

Plot Summary

Profiles in Courage isn’t a traditional narrative with a single plotline; rather, it’s a collection of eight in-depth essays, each illuminating the life and career of a U.S. Senator who demonstrated exceptional courage under pressure. Here’s a brief look at the main events covered in each essay:

John Quincy Adams β€” Serving as a senator from Massachusetts, Adams faced immense backlash for breaking party lines and supporting President Jefferson’s Embargo Act, a stance that cost him his political career but proved his commitment to national over party interests.

Daniel Webster β€” Known for his remarkable oratory skills, Webster, a senator from Massachusetts, risked his reputation and the support of his constituents when he supported the Compromise of 1850, believing it was essential for preserving the Union.

Thomas Hart Benton β€” A staunch advocate for the Union, Benton, a senator from Missouri, took a stand against the spread of slavery to the Western territories despite the popularity of pro-slavery sentiments among his constituents.

Sam Houston β€” The senator from Texas faced severe criticism and was eventually ousted from the Senate for opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have allowed the expansion of slavery into new territories.

Edmund G. Ross β€” Ross, a senator from Kansas, cast the decisive vote against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, believing the move was politically motivated and would weaken the presidency, a decision that ended his political career.

Lucius Lamar β€” Lamar, from Mississippi, worked to ease the bitter divisions between the North and South post-Civil War and played a key role in the compromise that led to the election of President Rutherford B. Hayes.

George Norris β€” The senator from Nebraska was a leading progressive who fought against the corrupting influence of party politics and pushed for reforms, including the establishment of the Unicameral legislature in Nebraska.

Robert A. Taft β€” Despite his isolationist beliefs, Taft, a senator from Ohio, criticized the Nuremberg Trials for legal inconsistencies, showcasing his unwavering commitment to the rule of law.

Through these stories, Kennedy explores the climax of political careers, the often devastating fallout from taking a stand, and, ultimately, the resolution found in the lasting impact these men had on American democracy and the principles of courage and integrity.

Each senator’s story underscores the exposition of their political careers, rising action through the confrontation of significant crises, climax at the moment of their courageous decisions, falling action in the aftermath of their choices, and resolution in the legacy they left behind.

Character Analysis

In “Profiles in Courage,” John F. Kennedy presents detailed portrayals of eight senators, each characterized by their moral courage and unwavering commitment to what they believed was right for the country, often at the expense of their personal and political fortunes. Here’s a closer look at some of these remarkable individuals:

  • John Quincy Adams β€” Known for his principled stand on various issues, Adams showcased an unwavering commitment to national interests over party or personal gain. His moral compass and dedication to the greater good defined his political career.
  • Daniel Webster β€” A gifted orator and a leading figure in the Senate, Webster demonstrated courage by supporting the Compromise of 1850, prioritizing the Union’s preservation over regional and personal interests.
  • Thomas Hart Benton β€” Benton’s steadfast support for the Union and opposition to the expansion of slavery, despite the popularity of pro-slavery sentiments among his constituents, marked his tenure. His commitment to principle over popularity showcased his integrity.
  • Sam Houston β€” Houston’s opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, despite it leading to his political downfall, exemplified his dedication to the Union and his foresight regarding the divisive issue of slavery.
  • Edmund G. Ross β€” Ross’s vote against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, despite intense pressure, underscored his belief in fairness and the importance of a stable presidency, highlighting his moral bravery.
  • Lucius Lamar β€” Lamar worked towards reconciliation between the North and South post-Civil War, demonstrating a forward-thinking approach to healing the nation’s wounds.
  • George Norris β€” Norris’s advocacy for legislative reform and his fight against the corrupting influence of party politics underscored his progressive vision and commitment to democratic principles.
  • Robert A. Taft β€” Taft’s criticism of the Nuremberg Trials, despite his isolationist views, illustrated his staunch belief in justice and the rule of law, even when it was unpopular.
John Quincy AdamsPrincipled, steadfastNational interest over personal gainMaintained integrity despite political cost
Daniel WebsterEloquent, influentialPreservation of the UnionSacrificed personal popularity for national unity
Thomas Hart BentonUnyielding, patrioticUnionist, anti-expansion of slaveryRemained committed despite personal risk
Sam HoustonVisionary, loyalDefense of the Union over expansion of slaverySuffered politically for his beliefs
Edmund G. RossFair-minded, braveBelief in justice and stable presidencyCareer sacrificed for principle
Lucius LamarConciliatory, forward-thinkingReconciliation post-Civil WarPlayed a key role in healing national divisions
George NorrisReformist, independentDemocratic principles and legislative reformFought for change against party politics
Robert A. TaftPrincipled, legalisticRule of law and justiceUpheld beliefs in the face of controversy

These character analyses reveal the depth of courage and conviction these senators possessed, making significant sacrifices for the ideals they held dear. Their stories not only highlight their individual characters but also serve as enduring lessons in the values of integrity, bravery, and commitment to the greater good.

Themes and Symbols

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to its profound impact on readers. Here’s a closer look at the major themes and symbols present in the book:

  • Moral Courage β€” The central theme of the book, moral courage, is exemplified through the actions of the eight senators who chose to do what they believed was right, despite the potential personal and political repercussions. Their decisions to stand firm in their convictions, even in the face of intense opposition, serve as a testament to the strength and importance of moral courage in governance.
  • Integrity in Politics β€” Kennedy explores the rare yet pivotal instances where political figures prioritize integrity over popularity, power, or party allegiance. The book illustrates how integrity can shape history, urging readers to value and demand this quality in their leaders.
  • The Cost of Principle β€” Each senator’s story sheds light on the heavy costs associated with sticking to one’s principles. Whether it’s losing elections, facing public backlash, or enduring personal hardship, the book doesn’t shy away from the sacrifices made in the name of doing what’s right.
  • Legacy and Memory β€” The lasting impact of the senators’ decisions, both on their lives and on the nation’s history, is a recurring theme. Kennedy prompts readers to consider how acts of courage and integrity are remembered and honored, suggesting that true greatness lies in the moral choices made by individuals.
  • Patriotism and National Unity β€” Through the actions and decisions of these senators, Kennedy paints a picture of patriotism that goes beyond mere loyalty to a party or individual success. The book champions a vision of national unity and collective good, emphasizing the importance of working toward the betterment of the entire country.


  • The Senate Chamber β€” Symbolizes the arena of American democracy, where debates, decisions, and acts of courage take place. It represents both the potential for greatness and the challenges of political life.
  • The Lone Figure Against the Crowd β€” Often depicted through the senators’ solitary stands against popular opinion or party pressure, this symbolizes the isolation and difficulty of choosing a principled path over a popular one.
  • The Torch of Leadership β€” Implicit in Kennedy’s narrative is the symbol of leadership as a torch that can be carried with honor, integrity, and courage, illuminating the way for future generations.

These themes and symbols intertwine throughout “Profiles in Courage,” making it not just a historical account but a timeless reflection on the values that define great leadership and the enduring impact of moral courage.

Style and Tone

John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage is notable for its distinctive writing style and tone, which play crucial roles in conveying the book’s themes and the profound stories of the senators it profiles. Here’s how Kennedy’s style and tone contribute to the mood and atmosphere of the book:

  • Eloquent and Persuasive β€” Kennedy’s prose is polished and compelling, drawing readers into the complex world of political decision-making. His ability to articulate the essence of each senator’s story in a clear, persuasive manner highlights his own skills as an orator and writer.
  • Reflective and Inspirational β€” The tone of the book often shifts between reflective, considering the weight of history and the nature of courage, and inspirational, aiming to motivate readers to appreciate and emulate the courage displayed by the senators profiled.
  • Respectful and Admiring β€” Kennedy’s respect for the subjects of his book is evident in the reverent way he describes their lives and decisions. This admiration establishes a tone of reverence for the principles of integrity and courage in public service.
  • Analytical and Insightful β€” Kennedy doesn’t just recount events; he delves into the psychological and moral dilemmas faced by the senators, offering insightful analysis into what their choices reveal about character and leadership. This analytical approach encourages readers to think deeply about the nature of courage and conviction.
  • Historical and Timeless β€” While the book is rooted in historical events, Kennedy’s writing imbues the stories with a timeless quality, suggesting that the lessons drawn from these figures are as relevant today as they were in the past. The historical style serves not only to educate but also to link past and present in a continuous conversation about democracy and morality.

Bullet Points on Writing Style and Tone Contributions:

  • Enhances the reader’s engagement and understanding through eloquent language and persuasive storytelling.
  • Inspires reflection on personal and societal values of courage and integrity.
  • Cultivates a deep respect for the principles of democracy and the sacrifices made for its preservation.
  • Encourages analytical thinking about the complexities of moral and political dilemmas.
  • Bridges historical events with contemporary issues, underscoring the enduring relevance of the book’s themes.

Kennedy’s writing style and tone are integral to the impact of Profiles in Courage, allowing the book to resonate with readers across generations as a profound exploration of the best of American political tradition.

Literary Devices used in Profiles in Courage

John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage employs a variety of literary devices to enhance the narrative, engage the reader, and deepen the exploration of its themes. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the book, each highlighting Kennedy’s skillful storytelling and insightful analysis:

  1. Metaphor β€” Kennedy frequently uses metaphors to draw comparisons between the senators’ actions and broader concepts of bravery and morality. For example, he likens their courageous decisions to a “beacon of hope” in the political landscape, illuminating the path for future leaders.
  2. Allusion β€” The book is rich with allusions to historical events, figures, and texts, connecting the senators’ stories to a larger historical and cultural context. This not only enriches the narrative but also situates their acts of courage within the broader American tradition.
  3. Anaphora β€” Kennedy employs anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, to emphasize key points and add rhythm to his prose. This device is particularly effective in highlighting the universal qualities of courage and integrity that thread through the individual stories.
  4. Personification β€” The author personifies concepts such as democracy, courage, and fear, giving them qualities that can be understood on a personal level. This brings abstract ideas to life and makes the moral stakes of the senators’ decisions more tangible.
  5. Imagery β€” Vivid imagery is used to paint a picture of the historical settings, the emotional landscapes of the senators, and the dramatic moments of decision-making. Kennedy’s descriptive language helps readers visualize and emotionally connect with the events and characters.
  6. Irony β€” There’s a notable use of irony in how some senators’ acts of courage led to personal downfall or unpopularity, juxtaposed with their eventual recognition and vindication by history. This irony underscores the complex nature of political courage and the unpredictable ways it can manifest and be rewarded.
  7. Symbolism β€” Symbols, such as the Senate Chamber itself, serve as powerful tools in Kennedy’s narrative, representing larger ideas about democracy, governance, and moral leadership. Through symbolism, Kennedy conveys complex themes in a more accessible and impactful way.
  8. Paradox β€” The book presents several paradoxes, such as the idea that true political success may come from actions that initially seem to lead to failure or defeat. These paradoxes challenge conventional wisdom and provoke deeper reflection on the nature of courage and success.
  9. Juxtaposition β€” Kennedy juxtaposes the stories of the eight senators with one another and with their contemporaries who took easier, more popular paths. This contrast highlights the exceptional nature of their courage and the difficult choices they made.
  10. Pathos β€” Employing pathos, Kennedy appeals to the readers’ emotions, encouraging empathy for the senators and a deeper understanding of the personal and political stakes involved in their decisions. This emotional engagement makes the book not just a historical account but a moving tribute to bravery.

These literary devices collectively enhance the narrative, offering readers not just a series of biographical sketches but a profound exploration of courage, integrity, and the complexities of political life.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s delve into examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in “Profiles in Courage” by John F. Kennedy, providing a clearer understanding of how these devices contribute to the book’s depth and resonance.


Comparing senators’ decisions to “beacons of hope”This metaphor illuminates how their courageous acts serve as guiding lights, inspiring future generations to also act with integrity and bravery.


References to historical figures and eventsThese allusions enrich the narrative by linking the senators’ stories to a broader historical and cultural context, emphasizing the enduring relevance of their courage.


Repetition of “The courage to” at the beginning of sentences describing the senators’ actionsThis emphasizes the variety and universality of courage displayed across different contexts, reinforcing the book’s central theme.


Giving democracy, courage, and fear human qualitiesThis makes abstract concepts more relatable and the moral stakes of political decisions more palpable to readers.


Vivid descriptions of the Senate Chamber or pivotal moments of decisionSuch imagery allows readers to visualize key scenes, enhancing emotional engagement with the senators’ stories.


Senators facing backlash for their acts of courage, only to be celebrated laterThis highlights the unpredictable nature of political courage and the eventual recognition of true integrity and bravery.


The Senate Chamber as a symbol of democracy and governanceIt represents the arena where moral and political battles are fought, underscoring themes of leadership and integrity.


Actions leading to personal defeat yet political successThis challenges readers to reconsider the nature of success and the value of sticking to one’s principles despite apparent failure.


Contrasting the featured senators with their less courageous contemporariesThis highlights the rarity and significance of true courage in the political arena, setting the subjects apart from others.


Emotional appeal to readers to empathize with the senatorsBy engaging readers’ emotions, Kennedy fosters a deeper connection to the stories and the values they embody.

These examples showcase Kennedy’s masterful use of literary devices to craft a compelling narrative that not only recounts historical events but also explores the deeper meanings of courage, integrity, and leadership. Through his strategic use of language, Kennedy engages readers on an intellectual and emotional level, making “Profiles in Courage” a timeless tribute to the power of moral bravery in public life.

Profiles in Courage – FAQs

Q: What inspired John F. Kennedy to write Profiles in Courage?
A: Kennedy was inspired by the concept of political courage and integrity, wanting to highlight U.S. Senators who took unpopular stands because of their deep convictions, often at great personal and political cost.

Q: How did John F. Kennedy select the senators featured in Profiles in Courage?
A: Kennedy chose senators who demonstrated significant moral courage throughout American history, focusing on those whose decisions were guided by principle rather than by party loyalty or personal gain.

Q: Did John F. Kennedy write Profiles in Courage by himself?
A: While there has been some debate over the years, Kennedy is credited as the author. However, it is widely acknowledged that his aide, Ted Sorensen, played a significant role in the research and writing process.

Q: Why did John F. Kennedy focus only on U.S. Senators in Profiles in Courage?
A: Kennedy, himself a senator at the time of writing, aimed to explore the unique pressures and challenges faced by senators, emphasizing the Senate as a pivotal arena for acts of political courage.

Q: How was Profiles in Courage received by the public and critics?
A: The book was both a commercial success and critically acclaimed, earning Kennedy the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957. It has been praised for its exploration of the complexities of political courage and integrity.

Q: What impact did Profiles in Courage have on John F. Kennedy’s political career?
A: The book significantly enhanced Kennedy’s public image, portraying him as a thoughtful and principled leader. This contributed to his rising political profile and eventually his election as President of the United States.

Q: Are the stories in Profiles in Courage still relevant today?
A: Absolutely. The themes of courage, integrity, and the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs in the face of adversity are timeless and continue to resonate in the current political climate.

Q: How does Profiles in Courage define courage?
A: In the book, courage is defined not as the absence of fear, but as the ability to persevere in doing what one believes is right, despite potential risks and sacrifices.

Q: Has Profiles in Courage influenced other political leaders?
A: Yes, many political leaders and public figures have cited Profiles in Courage as an inspiration, highlighting its influence in encouraging a more principled approach to governance and leadership.

Q: Can Profiles in Courage be considered a historical document?
A: While it is primarily a work of non-fiction and biography, Profiles in Courage offers valuable insights into American political history and the personal qualities that define effective leadership, making it a significant historical document in its own right.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
Who is the author of Profiles in Courage?Theodore RooseveltJohn F. KennedyFranklin D. RooseveltLyndon B. JohnsonB
What is the main theme of Profiles in Courage?The importance of political alliancesThe impact of war on politicsMoral courage and integrityThe role of media in politicsC
Which senator’s story is featured for his stance against the Kansas-Nebraska Act?Daniel WebsterSam HoustonEdmund G. RossJohn Quincy AdamsB
How did John F. Kennedy select the individuals to feature in Profiles in Courage?Random selectionPersonal acquaintancesHistorical impact and moral couragePolitical affiliationC
What significant award did Profiles in Courage win?National Book AwardNobel Prize in LiteraturePulitzer Prize for BiographyBooker PrizeC
Which senator was known for his opposition to the expansion of slavery into new territories?Thomas Hart BentonLucius LamarGeorge NorrisRobert A. TaftA
What role did Ted Sorensen play in the creation of Profiles in Courage?PublisherCo-authorResearch assistantEditorB
Why does Profiles in Courage focus specifically on U.S. Senators?Kennedy was a former senatorOnly senators show true courageIt was a random choiceTo highlight the unique challenges and pressures of the SenateD
Which of the following is a literary device frequently used in Profiles in Courage?OnomatopoeiaMetaphorHyperboleAlliterationB
What does Profiles in Courage argue is essential for effective leadership?Political savvyWealthMoral courage and integrityA strong military backgroundC

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension of “Profiles in Courage” and its themes, characters, and the author’s intentions.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from “Profiles in Courage”:

“In the somber halls of history, where the echoes of political battles long settled still resonate, there stands a figure, solitary and steadfast. This figure, emblematic of the courage and integrity required to lead a nation through times of turmoil, casts a long shadow over those who would follow in their footsteps. It is a reminder that true greatness in leadership is measured not by victories won or adversaries vanquished, but by the unwavering commitment to principle, even in the face of overwhelming opposition.”


  1. Metaphor: The “somber halls of history” and the “figure, solitary and steadfast” serve as metaphors for the enduring nature of political courage and the legacy of leaders who embody it.
  2. Personification: History is personified through its “echoes” and “halls,” suggesting that the past actively communicates with the present, reminding us of the courage shown by great leaders.
  3. Symbolism: The “long shadow” symbolizes the lasting impact and influence that courageous leaders have on future generations, emphasizing the importance of integrity and principle.
  4. Imagery: Descriptions of the “somber halls of history” and the “solitary and steadfast” figure create vivid images in the reader’s mind, enhancing engagement with the text.
  5. Allusion: Implicit references to specific leaders or political battles serve as allusions, connecting the reader’s understanding of history with the broader themes of courage and leadership.

This exercise helps highlight how Kennedy uses literary devices to enrich the narrative of “Profiles in Courage,” making complex concepts of leadership and courage more accessible and impactful to readers.