Kennedy mentions several names in the book, but pinpoints six above the rest in giving them their own chapters in the book. Kennedy first mentions former President John Quincy Adams who though he was President for one term in becoming America's sixth President and the first son of a President to serve (his father, John Adams, was our second President), may be more known for his actions as a Senator having served both before and after his one term presidency. Adams, much like his father, was a very independent thinking man and constantly voted his conscious and convictions over party lines many times. On at least three occasions, his own party disowned him publicly for not voting with them in block.
Kennedy moves from Adams and enters the Civil War era and mentions three Senatorial patriots by the names of Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, and Sam Houston. Webster would be publicly castigated by his constituents in New England after he surprisingly voted with Henry Clay in Clay's Great Compromise in dealing with the admission of new states in the Union and slavery. Webster who had always proclaimed that he would never even remotely vote in step for any bill or movement that even somewhat supported slavery, found himself standing with Clay and Southern Democrats on the Compromise because he believed that it would ultimately spare the Union and ward of secession.
Benton was yet another Senator who after serving 30 years from the state of Missouri was run out of politics after he refused to go along with South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun as Calhoun drummed up support for the secession movement. Benton was a character himself and was unsurprisingly a spade throughout his whole tenure. Having killed several foes in duels and supposedly with his bare hands on a few occasions, and having been willing to stand toe to toe with the highest dignitaries to accomplish what he felt was right, he boldly stood against secession talk and with the Union even though all of Missouri was drummed up in Confederate heat. It would ultimately cost Benton his seat in Congress and he would never be elected to serve again.
Sam Houston is a name recognizable to all Americans from the Mexican War and his charge up the San Jacinto Valley to help secure Texan victory of Mexico. Houston served as the Republic of Texas' first President and upon entering the Union, served as their first Senator. Houston was originally from Tennessee where he learned under former President Andrew Jackson. Houston was a fighter and was pretty rough around the edges, yet he was moral in the sense of commitment and honor, especially to the Union. When talk of secession reached Texas, Houston boldly proclaimed, "I shed my blood to get us into this great Union and I will be the last person to now remove us from it." Calhoun from South Carolina became amazingly good as strumming up secession support throughout the Southern states and before Houston realized it, Texas was engulfed in secession talk. When Houston continued to speak out against it and Texas turned on the man who had won her her original independence and who had given her access to the greatest nation in the world. Houston was run out of Congress by Texas voters and was replaced with a Calhoun endorsed Southern Democrat. Though Houston was a Democrat by label, his fiery speeches for the Union and against slavery and secession earned him several votes to become the Vice President of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. Upon being kicked out of Congress, Houston would eventually run for Governor of Texas and win with problems in the state spiraling out of control during the debates. However, his term as Governor would end when Texas would eventually to secede from the Union. A date was given for all government employees to come and give their allegiance to the new country of the Confederate States of America. Houston refused to show up becoming the only state leader that day to do so. Instead he sent a letter explaining his hurt and extreme sadness due to Texas' secession and the betrayal he felt by the Texan people. Houston would never again hold political office.
Stories continue about courageous senators like Edmund G. Ross who's single vote helped defeat the efforts to impeach President Andrew Johnson from Radical Republicans seeking to destroy the South and neglect Lincoln's plan of Reconstruction. Five other senators would vote with Ross though Ross turned against his own party to do so. Due to his act, he had property burned, family threatened and beaten, blackmail attempts, attempts at his life and the lives of his wife and children, and extortion. The freshman Senator would be heavily voted out of office when his term was up and was exiled from society in Kansas. One of the other Senators who voted against impeaching Johnson felt so strongly and knew the crookedness that had taken place to get to the proceedings, literally had people carry him from his bed after suffering a stroke so that he could vote. He would die weeks later. Later Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar would rise up from Mississippi and speak for healing between the North and the South and would ultimately help vote in the process by which Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was elected to the presidency despite not receiving the needed popular vote. He too was turned out by his own state, but history have proven these two patriots to be right in their stands.
Kennedy ends with the profiling of George Norris and Bob Taft who both stood up to their parties and the political machine bosses to thwart what they believed was corruption. Norris was successful as overthrowing the Speaker of the House who had worked inside deals for a few years while holding the position. Norris did this despite being in the same party as Speaker Cannon. Taft, who was the son of former President William Howard Taft, destroyed his ascension to the presidential nomination by speaking against the justice of the famous Nuremberg Trials which was the trying of Nazi leaders for the crimes against humanity. Taft argued for a Constitutional process to be shown in that America would be proven to be the better country. Of course, he was certainly in the minority as he was seen as supporting the rights to life for ten leaders who had killed millions of people.
Kennedy mentions several other men who stood against all odds to proclaim what they felt was Constitutional and right for the country despite pressures, threats, and known consequences. Kennedy of course would demonstrate these same courageous qualities and it would ultimately cost him his life in 1963. Today, the Kennedy family sponsors the giving of the Profiles in Courage award given to individuals who show great amounts of courage to do what they believe to be right against great angst and trials.
Kennedy is clear in his book that he isn't necessarily promoting the acts of these Senators to be right or wrong. He is instead chronicling their courageous stands on issues they felt were important for the good of the country. History has also cast some shadows on some of Kennedy's information about some of the stories even before his death, but he refused to listen and instead held to his own belief in his research and that of his fellow researchers and analyzers that helped gather the information for the book.
It was a very good book and certainly shed light on some of America's greatest leaders and their struggles to do what they felt was right. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for the book and its easy to see why.