Profiles in Courage
An Analysis of John Quincy Adams in Profiles in Courage from an Ethical Dimension
Profiles in Courage is a collection of short biographies of eight senators of the United States who were considered to have demonstrated extraordinary bravery in very extraordinary circumstances. The volume was produced in 1956 and it is attributed to John F. Kennedy, who was a senator at that time. However, it is believed that these biographies were authored by Ted Sorensen. In the Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy gives the public a picture of the power plays and posturing that usually characterized senate proceedings and decisions. From the beginning, Kennedy provides a picture of a house that has always been divided deeply along party lines where many members took decisions that were convenient and not necessarily because they were for the good of the public. However, the biography indicates that there were senators who were led not by euphoria, party lines and petty politics but by the love of their country. One such senator was John Quincy Adams, a man who went and became the 6th President of the United States. Profiles in Courage has made a glowing tribute to John Quincy Adams as a man who always made sure that he was standing above cheap party politics that was and still is, characterized by publicity rather than the public interest. Although people like John Adams were always in the minority, they were never afraid to do what was right. It requires a very strong moral character for one to stand against such tides to do what is right. The primary purpose to evaluate the character of John Quincy Adams in the context of Profiles in Courage with the application of a moral principle. This analysis affirms that John Quincy Adams had the moral courage to do whatever he thought was right, even when he was in the minority since that was what gave his peace to his moral conscience.
What is moral courage?
In ethics, the term moral courage refers to the ability of an individual to act in a way that is in line with their moral reasoning regardless of the adverse outcomes that they may encounter (Strom, 2020). In many instances, morally correct decisions may not be popular and may attract rebuke, isolation and losses, especially in a political environment where personal interests usually determine the behaviour of individuals. In the United States, and indeed in many other countries all over the world, political players usually concentrate on how they will gain from decisions rather than what will benefit the country. For example, many politicians have been accused of holding brief for huge corporations that want to benefit from government contracts. This has always been said to the reason for the country’s huge spending on the military while there are other useful aspects of the economy where the monies may be injected to benefit the citizens directly. Thus, when Congress passes the budget with the huge allocations for military spending, it is always likely that the major companies that manufacture military hardware influenced the decisions. In such circumstances, the leaders would not be making decisions out of public interest but out of their personal interests. If one believes that these decisions are improper and undesirable, moral courage will be required.
Moral courage is required when an individual believes in a course of action but fears that the effects of the decision on him may be catastrophic. Moral courage will enable him to overcome his fears. When politicians seek political office, they always promise that they will make decisions that will improve the welfare of the people. However, that is rarely the case. The challenge is that most of the politicians do not make decisions that are in the interest of the public but their individual interests. Had all the elected leaders at any level possessed moral courage, the country would be at a different level. However, the country is currently witnessing a lot of challenges because the elected leaders have neglected or refused to do what is right and this may be attributable to their lack of moral courage. One of the most important attributes of moral courage is that it involves deep reflection and consideration. Moral courage requires that an individual carefully scrutinizes issues so that they can make informed decisions. Thus, after carefully considering the most suitable course of action, it is the moral courage that an individual possesses that will allow them to make the most suitable decisions.
John Quincy Adams: A man who possessed an unrivalled moral courage
An excerpt from Kennedy’s introduction of the biography sums up the moral character of John Quincy Adams. In the passage, Kennedy indicates that “It was a time of change – in the Senate, in the concept of our government, in the growth of the two-party system, in the spread of democracy to the farm and the frontier and in the United States of America. Men who were flexible, men who could move with or ride over the changing currents of public opinion, men who sought their glory in the dignity of the Senate rather than its legislative accomplishments – these were the men for such times. But young John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts was not such a man” (Kennedy, 2015). In this passage, Kennedy not only tells his readers about the nature and character of Quincy Adams but he also tells about his preferred types of leaders. It appears that Kennedy preferred political leaders who are strong enough to say and do what is right and that which is in the best interest of the nation rather than being populist and acting to please other people.
John Quincy Adams did not always go along with the rest of the house on every decision that was made unless he considered the decision to be in the interest of the public. In some instances, the options available were very enticing and looking great, but since they were not aligned to the interest of the public, John Quincy Adams did not support them. John Adams had an unwavering commitment to the interest of the public, a trait that is desired among public servants but which many of them lack. As Kennedy succinctly puts it, John Adams’ “singular ambition for the right” was undoubtable. Doing that which was right was always his desire. This desire to do what is right at all time does not mean John Adams was a flawless man and politician. Just like any other human, John Adams at times made mistakes. However, it is notable that even when he made the mistakes, he did while he was attempting to do what is right.
Courage and determination are two key aspects of moral courage, and John Adams possessed both of them. Courage is essential in moral decision-making because it helps one to make a decision that appears difficult. Determination, on the other side, is required for one to push on with the decision amidst opposition and unpopularity of the decision. Concerning the courage and determination of John Adams, Kennedy recorded that “we would admire the courage and determination of John Quincy Adams if he served in the Senate today. We would respect his non-partisan, non-sectional approach. But I am not so certain that we would like him as a person; and it is apparent that many of his colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, did not” (Kennedy, 2015).
From this statement, it is difficult to fail to admire the character of John Adams. One thing that must be realized with the politics of the United States is the attempt to box people into the duality of red versus blue. Democrat senators make decisions based on party position and the Republican senators do the same. One of the most recent events that demonstrate the effect of this duality is the failed attempt to impeach President Trump. While the Congress that is controlled by Democrats found that the president had committed an impeachable offence, the President was cleared in the Republican-controlled Senate. John Adams refused to be classified as a senator belonging to and controlled by a party but he considered himself a United States senator and he always acted in the best interests of the country, rather than his party.
There are several instances in Profiles of Courage when John Adams demonstrated his moral courage. Although he belonged to the Federalist Party, Adams believed that he was not always bound to do things or support the agenda of the party with which he disagreed, however. For instance, John Adams was still fresh in Congress after his successful selection by the Massachusetts legislature, when he opposed the proposition by his party to acquire Louisiana Territory (Kennedy, 2015). In this issue, Adams thought that the issue did not go in line with the interests of the nation. It was surprising that Adams was the only Federalist senator who rejected this proposition. His position was not a demonstration that he could defy his party but that he could stand his ground and support what is right. It is essential to note that during this period, America’s democracy was still fragile and party loyalty and unity were at the center of it. As a result, it was a big deal that he agreed to take a position contrary to his party’s. Today, America’s democracy has advanced so much that it may not seem like a big deal that a senator takes a different position to that of the party, although there is still an expectation that all legislators adhere to and respect the position of their parties. The decision of Adam to reject the position of his party to acquire Louisiana Territory was a demonstration of both courage and determination. The decision was difficult, unpopular but Adams had to make it.
This analysis has affirmed that John Quincy Adams had the moral courage to do whatever he thought was right, even when he was in the minority since that was what gave his peace to his moral conscience. In ethics, the term moral courage refers to the ability of an individual to act in a way that is in line with their moral reasoning regardless of the adverse outcomes that they may encounter. Moral courage is required when an individual believes in a course of action but fears that the effects of the decision on him may be catastrophic. Moral courage will enable him to overcome his fears. This study, based on Profiles of Courage, has affirmed that John Quincy Adams had the moral courage to do things that he believed in although they may be very unpopular. John Quincy Adams did not always go along with the rest of the house on every decision that was made unless he considered the decision to be in the interest of the public. John Adams had an unwavering commitment to the interest of the public, a trait that is desired among public servants but which many of them lack.
Kennedy, P. J. F. (2015). Profiles in courage. Pickle Partners Publishing.
Strom, K. (2020). 22 Moral Courage. Management and Leadership Skills for Medical Faculty and Healthcare Executives: A Practical Handbook, 209.
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