Conscience is the innermost
sanctum where God informs everyone of their moral duty.
This makes conscience one of the most treasured gifts
given to humanity by God. In trying times it is even
more important to listen to our conscience. To do this
we need courage molded through fortitude; recklessness
must not be confused with courage. Fortitude perfects
courage by strengthening hearts to follow God’s will.
Therefore fortitude overcomes fear through a reliance on
In the political arena many ominous events have
recently arisen that will require a well formed, brave conscience. In our
country’s history many people have been forced to choose between being liked
by the populace and being true to conscience. In 1956, Senator John Kennedy
wrote a detailed and interesting account of eight U.S. senators holding true
to their consciences in spite of vicious personal attacks. The name of this
compelling title is "Profiles In Courage."
John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart
Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris and Robert A.
Taft are the senators analyzed in the book. Each man was placed at a
critical juncture in American history and had to make choices fraught with
peril for themselves. All eight men knew the way to succeed in the American
Senate was by going along with public opinion. But each knew in his
conscience that public opinion is a false barometer of the truth.
Edmund Ross in particular found the bitter path of
suffering for his conscience. In the trumped up impeachment trial of
President Andrew Johnson, Ross knew in his heart that Johnson was not guilty
of anything but imprudence and bad judgment. He realized that Radical
Republicans in the House and Senate were trying to corrupt the U.S.
Constitution. Public opinion in his home state of Kansas also wanted to see
the president broken and the former Confederacy further humiliated. During
the impeachment trial, Ross received repeated threats if he voted to acquit.
He knew a vote for acquittal would mean his personal and financial ruin. On
the fateful day of the verdict during the trial, the vengeful senatorial
leadership was ready to turn its poison on the first-time senator from
Kansas. The packed Senate gallery turned its eager eyes on the tortured
senator. Would he falsely convict and be handsomely rewarded, or acquit and
face the wrath of a nation?
What did Edmund Ross do? What would you have done
if faced with this grueling choice? All the senators described by Kennedy
faced equally daunting situations that demanded a fidelity to conscience.
Kennedy relates the salty language used by their enemies to condemn them,
but shows how their choice to be faithful to their conscience makes them
examples of the virtuous life.
There is much to be learned from reading about the
lives of these eight senators. This courage will be needed. In our own
times, the American bishops, and Bishop Bruskewitz in particular, have shown
the faithful how to be true to conscience during the appalling attack on
religious freedom made by the Obama Administration. The bravery of the eight
senators discussed in "Profiles In Courage" can guide us in the
proper response of a well formed conscience.
"Profiles In Courage" won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in
1957. Kennedy was later accused of having the book ghost written for him by
his speech writer, Ted Sorenson, a Nebraskan. However in the forward of the
book, Senator Kennedy publically thanks Mr. Sorenson for his assistance in
the "assembly and preparation of the material on which the book was based."
In Chapter 13 of his own autobiography, "Counselor," Mr. Sorenson, a
Lincoln native, discusses his role in the writing of "Profiles In Courage"
and ascribes authorship to Senator Kennedy. "Profiles In Courage" is
well written, interesting and continues to speak to our current times. I
hope you get a chance to read this outstanding book about the importance of
living courageously and being true to conscience.