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Profiles in Courage

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To settle an issue in Congress as a Senator, sometimes one must sacrifice everything he holds dear—his popularity, section, party, even his career—to find a solution that is beneficial to everyone.

When entering any career, one must realize the potential difficulties and obstacles they may come to face in the future. One of the most difficult tasks a Senator must often complete is to give their vote on an issue, oftentimes without any time to consider the situation, or to think of the possible consequences. Senator John F. Kennedy alludes to Edgar Allan Poe's poem, “The Raven,” when comparing a Senator's constituencies to the raven in the poem, who only utters the word “nevermore.” Ravens are often symbolized as birds of ill-omen, which adds to the suspense that a Senator must bear “as he casts the vote that stakes his political future.” Senator Albert Beveridge once stated, “A party can live only by growing, intolerance of ideas brings its death.” In any society, people find it easier to conform to accept values and ideas than to speak out for what they think can be corrected, for fear of being shunned from the rest of society. Senator Beveridge suggests that a party who is inflexible and closed-minded towards new ideas will ultimately fail to please the public because it takes cooperation and effective communication to make a difference in that society.

John Quincy Adams is one of the many “profiles in courage” observed in this selection. When Senator Adams helped pass the Embargo Bill into law, most of the people he once held so dear abandoned him and called him a traitor to his country. When confessing his grief to his father, John Adams, his father advised him to keep forging his own path at a steady pace, because “[he thought] it the path of justice.” John Quincy only did what he thought was best for his nation, yet it cost him his popularity and eventually his chances for re-election for the Presidency. Senator Thomas Hart Benton, another courageous figure in this selection, also sacrificed his popularity when he saved the Union from falling apart by preventing Missouri and other slave states from seceding from the Union. Though he was often vilified, his spirits were never dampened, and he continued to do what he thought was best for his people, an admirable quality in any leader.

Senator Sam Houston was another figure in American politics that was often ridiculed and blamed for his decisions in his career. When proclaiming, “I know neither North nor South; I know only the Union,” he was called a traitor by most of the country; however, he declared, “I can forget that I am called a traitor,” because the men who dubbed him that name had not suffered and made sacrifices for the greater good of all. Senator Edmund G. Ross lost his political career when he stood among the minority of the Senate's vote against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, for that minority knew the true meaning of justice as they were unable to provide evidence for convicting the President of any wrong-doing.

Senator Lamar, one of the greatest orators known to the Senate, performed his job to the best of his ability to please his constituents and his country. He disclosed, “I never made popularity the standard of my action” because he felt obligated to serve his people in every way possible, and contended that if he could no longer please the people he served, then he would gladly surrender his position to be replaced by a more suitable representative. Senator Lamar was one of the few, if not the only, Senator in this selection to have had a successful career in American politics. Senator George W. Norris failed in several situations during his career, including the prevention of the Armed Ship Bill from being passed, attempting to keep the nation out of World War II, and his campaign against Al Smith for re-election for Senator of Nebraska. In later years, he did not regret speaking out for these future failures because he eventually realized that he felt he did all he could for the nation, and a new face for Senator of Nebraska was probably the best that could have happened in his political career. Senator Robert A. Taft lost nearly all respect from his country when he protected German Nazi leaders in the Nuremberg trials. He felt it was right to honor foreign policy, to spare their lives and exile them instead; consequently, his actions brought him bitter hatred from nearly everyone in the nation, who saw the German Nazi leaders as inhuman for killing approximately ten million people during the Holocaust.

John F. Kennedy commends these senators for their acts of courage, for they risked and sacrificed the things that made their lives most livable—their respect, popularity, friends and colleagues, and even their careers as United States Senators. These men and other men, mentioned or not, have worked towards issues in different ways and fought for what they believed was best for their nation, and whether their attempts failed or achieved, these men have all performed to the best of their ability to insure the happiness and security of their country.





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