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John F Kennedy as a writer

Celebrity 2022-06-19, 2:39pm


Jehangir Hussain

Jehangir Hussain

John F Kennedy (1917 – 1963), also known by his initials, JFK or by his  nickname Jack, was the 35th president of the United States from 1961 until his assassination close to the end of his third year in office in 1963.

He was the youngest president of the US. His lifespan was the shortest of any president.

He was US president at the height of the Cold War and most of his brief tenure in office was spent in dealing with the Soviet Union and Cuba,

John F. Kennedy. Cecil Stoughton, White House. Creative Commons.

A Democrat, JFK represented Massachusetts in both the House of Representatives and the Senate before getting elected as the president.

Born into the wealthy Kennedy family in Brookline, Massachusetts, JFK graduated from Harvard University in 1940.

In 1941, he joined the US Naval Reserve.

During the 2nd World War, he commanded a number of PT boats in the Pacific theatre.

His survival after sinking of a PT boat he commanded and rescue of his fellow sailors made him a war hero for which he was decorated.

It left him with serious injuries.

After working briefly as a journalism, JFK represented a working-class Boston district in the US House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953.

In 1953, he was elected as Senator from Massachusetts and served the Senate until 1960.

As a young Senator, JFK published his book, Profiles in Courage which won him a Pulitzer Prize.

In the 1960 presidential election, he narrowly defeated Republican opponent Richard Nixon, who was the incumbent vice president under president Dwight D Eisenhower.

JFK’s humour, charm, youth and his father's money and contacts were great assets in his campaign.

His campaign gained momentum after the first televised presidential debates in US history.

JFK was the first Catholic president of the US.

He increased the number of US military advisers in South Vietnam.

The Strategic Hamlet Programme began in Vietnam during his presidency.

In April 1961, JFK authorized an abortive attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro in the famous failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

In November 1961, he authorized the Operation Mongoose to remove  communists from power in Cuba.

There were several big achievements and controversies during his presidency, but this write up basically deals with JFK as a writer and the controversies surrounding it.

‘Profiles in Courage’  is a 1956 book of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity of eight  senators of the United States for which John F Kennedy won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

The book articulates and argues for the significance of the idea of political courage in the chequered American political history.

Eight senators, profiled in the book defied the opinions of their party and the voters to do what they thought was correct and faced severe criticism as well as popularity losses because of what they did.

The book begins with a quote from Edmund Burke on the courage of English statesman Charles James Fox in his famous 1783 attack upon the tyranny of the East India Company in the House of Commons.

Profiles in Courage deals with 19th century antebellum in America and the efforts of senators to delay the American Civil War.

The conventions of the antebellum South took place before the US Civil War.

Profiles in Courage became a best seller.

Its foreword is written by Joseph Allen Nevins, Joseph Allan Nevins, a celebrated American historian and journalist, known for his public service, extensive work on the history of the Civil War and writing biographies of a number of famous Americans.

In 1990, JFK’s family created a Profiles in Courage Award to honour individuals who acted with courage just like those profiled in the book.

But in his 2008 autobiography JFK’s famous speech Theodore Sorensen, who was presumed in 1957 to be the ghost writer of ‘Profiles in Courage’, acknowledged that indeed he had written most of the book.

JFK took the inspiration for writing ‘Profiles in Courage’ from a passage of a 1933 book by American journalist, historian and editor of The Louisville Courier  Herbert Aga, ‘The People’s Choice’ a critical look at the American presidency.

JFK showed the passage to  Ted Sorensen and asked him to see if he could find some more senators who had shown such courage,

Sorensen found out the senators as requested and eventually there was enough material for not an article as JFK had planned, but for a book.

With assistance from research assistants the US Library of Congress, Sorensen wrote a first draft of the book while  JFK was bedridden with Addison’s disease  during 1954 and 1955, while recovering from surgery.

John Quincy Adams from Massachusetts,  Daniel Webster from also from Massachusetts,   Thomas Herbert Benton from Missouri, Sam Houston from Texas, Edmund G Rose from Kansas, Lucius Lamar from Mississippi, George Norris from Nebraska and Robert A Taft from Ohio, were the eight senators profiled in the book for their extraordinary courage.  

John Quincy Adams was profiled for breaking away from the Federalist Party,

Webster for speaking in favour of the compromise of 1850, as part of it the Fugitive Slave Act was amended and the slave trade in Washington, D.C., was abolished. And  California entered the Union as a free state and a territorial government was created in Utah.  

Benton was profiled for staying in the Democratic Party, despite his opposition to the extension of slavery in the territories.

Houston was profiled for speaking against the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which would have allowed the two states to decide  on the slavery question. He wanted to uphold the Missouri Compromise. His and Brenton’s votes against Kansas-Nebraska did just that. This was Houston’s most unpopular vote, and he was defeated when he ran for re-election. Two years later he regained enough popularity to elected governor of Texas. But, when the state convened in special session and joined the Confederacy, Houston refused to be inaugurated as governor, upholding his ideal of preserving the Union.

Edmund G Ross, from Kansas, for voting for acquittal of in the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial. As a result of Ross’s vote, along with those of other Republicans, Democrat Johnson’s presidency was preserved.

Lucius Lamar from Mississippi, for praising Charles Summer on the Senate floor and other efforts to mend ties between the North and South during the Reconstruction and for his principled opposition to the Bland-Allison Act, referred to as the Grand Bland Plan of 1878, was an Act of the US Congress requiring the US Treasury to buy a certain amount of silver and put it into circulation as silver dollar.

The Reconstruction Era was a period of American history that lasted from 1865 to 1877 following the American Civil War (1861 to 1865). The Reconstruction Era marked a significant chapter in the history of American Civil Rights.

The Bill was, however, vetoed by president Rutherford Haves.

Lamar voted to permit free coinage of silver. He returned to Mississippi and gave rousing speeches that eventually led to public approval of his decisions and cemented a legacy of courageousness.

George Norris from Nebraska was profiled for opposing Joseph G Cannon’s autocratic power as speaker of the House of Representatives, for speaking out against arming US merchant ships during United States’ neutral period during the First World War and for supporting the presidential campaign of Democrat Al Smith, the first Catholic to be a major party nominee.

Senator Robert A Taft, from Ohio, was profiled for  criticising the Nuremberg Trials for trying Nazi war criminals under the ex post facto laws, counter criticism against Taft’s statements contributed to his failure to secure the Republican nomination for president in 1948.

In 1956, JFK gave a copy of Profiles in Courage to Richar4d Nixon, who said that he was looking forward to read it.

After being defeated by JFK in the 1960 US presidential election, Nixon was advised by Namie Eisenhower, the First Lady, as wife of president Dwight D Eisenhower, to write a book himself.

Nixon visited the White House in April 1961 and got the same advice from president John F Kennedy, ‘writing a book would raise the public image of any public figure. And in 1962, Nixon wrote his book ‘Six Crises’ 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, I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghost written.’

Wallace replied, ‘You know for a fact, Drew, that that the book Profiles in Courage was written not by senator Kennedy, but by someone else?’

Wallace replied, ‘And Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for it. And he never acknowledged the fact.’

Person replied, ‘No, he has not. You know , there’s a little wisecrack around the Senate about JFK.

A fellow Senator told him, ‘Jack, I wish you had a little less of profile and more of courage.’

JFK also wrote at least two more books, A Nation of Immigrants and Why England Slept.

JFK’s books were sold by book stores in Dhaka in the 1960s and he had many readers.

Despite the controversies surrounding JFK including his authorship of Profiles in Courage, for his charismatic leadership he still remains popular with the old generation.  

The unresolved mystery of his assassination made him a tragic figure.

He was popular for his youthful leadership.

Why England Slept (1940) is the published version of a thesis JFK had written as a student at Harvard University.

Its title is an allusion to Winston Churchill's 1938 book While England Slept, which examined the build-up of German power under Adolf Hitler.