Crisis is the focal point for all the stories in John F. Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage. This is interesting to me because William S. Beck's book Modern Science and the Nature of Life, the subject of my last post, began with a definition of crisis.
For William S. Beck, the definition of crisis is a bad situation in the midst of potential for something much better. Beck's definition of crisis seems, to me, unique. I'm not sure whether I agree with it. But it puts a different spin on the idea of crisis.
From what I understand about things I've read, "crisis" in Greek tragedy was the original conflict of the play, the inciting action, following the exposition (or the background story), that would lead up to the ultimate conflict, or climax.
I'm sure that the idea of "crisis" underwent a number of changes over the following millennia. But Karl Marx basically build the philosophy of his Capital on the idea of crisis. For Karl Marx, "crisis" was the ultimate breakdown of an existing system.
From what I understand of Marx, the Capitalist system functions by taking profit and either skimming the profits or re-investing them. But all profit is surplus value. And in the Marxist scheme of product-creation (money to commodity to labor to product to money), if there is more money at the end of the chain than at the beginning of the chain, then that is because the product has more value than the commodity. But if the product has more value than the commodity, it can only because labor put it there.
Therefore, according to Marx, if labor is not replenished fully, i.e. if all the value labor puts out is not put back into it, labor will collapse, value will collapse, and the whole chain of product-creation will collapse. And this collapse, in Marxist terms, is "crisis."
This is how I understand it. I could be wrong. I'm as innocent as a premature baby. A premature adult baby.
Now, following Marx, there was another author -- I think -- who used the term "crisis," though in a slightly different sense from Karl Marx. This was William James.
William James was an American psychologist active around the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. He wrote a treatise on the Principles of Psychology, which was, up until Freud's work, probably the most looked-to text on psychology. Freud was, though not by much, a greater genius than William James. But James' book is a more comprehensive text, regarding all the various topics of psychology.
But William James was also a very active philosopher. For a little while he promoted the philosophy of Pragmatism. After that, he promoted the philosophy of Radical Empiricism. I won't try to untangle the two philosophies right now.
In addition to his works on those two forms of philosophy, William James also wrote a book called The Varieties of Religious Experience. In this book, James discusses how people's various temperaments affect their experiences of the mystical side of the world. James, as I understand him, divides people, basically into optimists and pessimists. Optimists have a cheerful, kind of strong-willed view of life. Pessimists are more withdrawn and given to depression.
James himself was prone to depression. In fact, he may have been one of the first people to say that he did not feel comfortable having kids, because he didn't want to pass on the trait of depressiveness to them. And this proneness may be the reason James found more interest, in his book, in the mystical experiences of the pessimists.
The main pessimist I now remember James mentioning (other than Suso, the monk who'd spend all day whipping himself) is John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim's Progress, who didn't just suffer from depression but was also imprisoned for a number of years because of his religious beliefs.
James, in following the emotional and spiritual development of these people, comes to the conclusion that they experience a moment of spiritual "crisis," kind of like the hottest point in a fever, or the worst point in an illness, which, if the crisis doesn't actually kill the person, leads to a moment of spiritual "conversion," or the point where something about the mystical experience becomes a part of the person's life, something that gives the person strength.
So for James, crisis is much like what it is for Marx -- a kind of breaking down of a system. However, for Marx, this system is broken down because it is basically being starved to death. For James, it's broken down because it's receiving an influx of energy which the organism receiving it has not yet been adapted to handle. And, again, in Marx, the breakdown of the system doesn't necessarily lead to anything new. Whereas, in James, it does lead to something new, i.e. the process of "conversion."
I think William James' idea of crisis and conversion is echoed in the psychological writings of Carl Jung. But I don't think Carl Jung ever comes right out and calls this process a process of crisis and conversion.
Now, William S. Beck's idea of crisis is a bit unclear. I think he's conflating the crisis process with the conversion process, though without having actually to accept any of the steps implied in the conversion process.
But John F. Kennedy, in his book Profiles in Courage, seems to shy away, as far as I can tell, from giving a definition of crisis. He doesn't even give a full definition of courage, other than to offer us Hemingway's definition of it as "grace under pressure." This is a pretty decent definition of courage, given the stories Kennedy presents to us in his book.
Kennedy, I should say, doesn't begin his book by mentioning crisis, or even by following his paragraph on crisis with a paragraph on courage. However, the first part of Kennedy's book is a kind of presentation of the philosophy which seems to underlie the stories he tells us. The stories themselves, then, are prefaced with the statement that great crises produce great men. So crisis is an important factor of this book.
How would Kennedy have defined crisis for this book? I think he would have defined it in much the same way that James defined it. However, Kennedy was dealing with political moments of crisis and persona moments of crisis. The political moments of crisis are easy enough to see -- Kennedy lays them out well enough.
But what's not as obvious, though it's not hidden by any means, is that each of the men in his book go through a personal moment of crisis. Kennedy gives us the stories of eight different Senators, basically in three different pivotal moments in this history of the United States. Kennedy shows us how the Senators stood up for what they believed in, and how they fought in the face of sometimes almost unanimous disapproval to defend what they believed in.
However, what is often surprising about these stories is that the Senators seem to take a stand, quite often, even against themselves! The Senators seem to be involved in a moment of personal crisis, where they realize that they themselves need to change in order to be aligned with a larger moral purpose.
These Senators previously thought they were aligned with the larger moral purpose. But now they find one part of their own moral scheme, a major part, has not been aligned. The Senators must not just be renegades against society, but against their very selves, in order to be what they believe is of the greatest benefits to their society and their selves.
So, for Kennedy, there are two kinds of crisis. One is the political one. But the other is the personal one. And Kennedy's personal crisis differs both from Marx' and James' conceptions of crisis. In Kennedy, as far as I can tell, a crisis doesn't lead to a situation, but to a decision. Following the decision, there are results, or situations. But a person can still act within that situation, and face any number of outcomes, positive, negative, or neutral.
In other words, for Kennedy, a crisis is something like a turning point in the types of decision that can be made. Before a crisis, a person may see that acting in a certain way would mean a certain thing. But in the midst of a crisis, a person may see that acting in that same way would mean a completely different thing. What the crisis has done is change the meaning of a decision. So the person, to stay flexible relative to the change in meanings, must change his decision-making process.
This requires courage, I suppose. And courage would be the ability to change one's decision-making process gracefully. Hence, "grace under pressure."
Now this idea of decision-making in the midst of crisis, which permeates all of Kennedy's stories, is something that ties politics in with science. Not that politics needs me in order for it to be tied in with science. For years now, people have been speaking, correctly, of politics as a science.
But I guess it's interesting to see how Kennedy talks about it. He does, in fact, say in his introductory chapter to the book that one of the hardest decisions a politician makes is at what point, and on what issue, the politician will make a stand, take a great risk, possibly even risk his whole career.
This sounds very similar to what William S. Beck mentions in the introductory chapter to Modern Science, when he says that every scientist asks, most often at the beginning of their careers, what question he will ask of nature. This question is one of the biggest risk a scientist takes -- it usually informs the rest of his career.
Finally, compare it to what James D. Watson says at the beginning of his book on The Double Helix, where it almost seems like Watson is comparing scientists with gamblers or stock-pickers, when he says that some of the scientists in the laboratories he's worked in just absolutely had terrible records with choosing experiments, and, in Watson's words, constantly "backed the wrong horses."
So Kennedy ties in with the world of science pretty well by making this statement. And -- as if to counteract the rather sanguine appearance of courage throughout his book -- he gives us an introduction to it which shows the world of politics as a world of opposing forces.
For Kennedy, a politician has the good in mind. But the good is different for the nation, the state, the political party, and the constituents. And within the group of constituents, there are different, smaller, groups, for whom the good is also different. A politician has to see the best way to balance out all of these different goods, in order to make decisions that will be for the greatest good.
Kennedy is rather level-headed about this, and he doesn't present any real solutions to the problem on how to find this good. But he does give the idea that as society develops, as population increases, and as technology develops -- in Kennedy's terminology, as the economy becomes more complex -- politicians also take on a bit more mechanistic thought process.
The work of a politician becomes more analytic. A politician must analyze benefits of a wide variety of decisions. And, often, to the politician, the factors determining these decisions, coming, apparently, from very concerned people and groups, look like forces -- pressures. A politician must be able to find a balance for all these pressures.
Hence, again, "grace under pressure."
So this is, in my opinion, the really interesting point of the philosophy of Kennedy's book. But there are a few more interesting points to the book, and I'd like to discuss them pretty quick.
First of all, I should say that Kennedy did the research and, I think, a lot of the writing for this book in 1954. By that time he was already a Senator, representing the state of Massachusetts. But he had to take time off following spinal surgery. The surgery was, I believe, finally to take care of troubles he'd had from wounds he'd received during his service in World War II.
So while Kennedy was laid up following his spinal surgery, he did research into the lives of United States politicians whose courage he admired. He found eight Senators whose courage he admired for specific reasons. Basically, the Senators stood up for a belief, even though it put their careers at great risk and alienated them, at least for a time, not only from their parties, but from almost their entire constituencies, and even sometimes from their friends! These men were really risking it all.
The eight men Kennedy chose to write about were John Quincy Adams (Federalist, Massachusetts), Daniel Webster (Whig, Massachusetts), Thomas Hart Benton (Democrat, Missouri), Sam Houston (Democrat, Texas), Edmund G. Ross (Republican, Kansas), Lucius Lamar (Republican, Mississippi), George Norris (Republican, Nebraska), and Robert Taft (Republican, Ohio).
What these men stood for is pretty varied. But Kennedy doesn't stand on any side of the issue while praising their courage, which is pretty admirable.
Adams stood for the trade Embargo against England. Webster stood for the seemingly pro-slavery Great Compromise of 1850. Benton stood against the Great Compromise and for the Union, while his state, Missouri, was all for secession from the Union. Houston also stood against secession, even after his state seceeded from the Union. And Ross stood against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.
But while these examples are interesting enough, the fact that Kennedy would even write about the last three Senators seems to be a test of Kennedy's own courage. Lucius Lamar stood against the "free-silver" movement of his day. Norris stood against Woodrow Wilson's Armed Ship Bill. And Taft, most audacious of all the eight men in the main part of Kennedy's story, stood against the Nuremberg trials, the trials that ended in the hanging-deaths of eleven high-ranking Nazis.
While Kennedy did take a stand on the views of Lamar and Taft -- he said that Lamar could possibly have been wrong about his views on "free-silver," and he made it clear that he thought the Nazi's activities were atrocious -- he didn't back down from calling Lamar's and Taft's decisions courageous, as they stood for what they believed in despite facing almost complete opposition.
But, if it weren't enough to praise the courage of people opposing "free-silver" and condemning the Nazi trials, Kennedy goes even further. The second to last chapter of his book praises the courage of Chicago Governor John Peter Altgeld, who condemned as unconstitutional the trial of three people convicted in the Haymarket Square Bombing of 1886, and was later labelled himself an "anarchist" and a "socialist."
Kennedy also praises Charles Evan Hughes, who stood up for a group of Socialists who in 1920 had been elected to the New York State Assembly, but were denied seats. Kennedy pointed out the courage of Al Smith, then Governor of New York, who vetoed legislation that would have outlawed radical viewpoints being taught in New York classrooms.
Kennedy even remembers that in 1770, before the United States had yet come into existence, future President John Adams, then a distinguished lawyer, represented the defense for the British soldiers who fired shots during the Boston Massacre, arguing that they were provoked into firing their shots!
Keep in mind that Kennedy wrote in praise of the courage of these men in 1954, when he was still a Senator, aiming for the Presidency, and when McCarthyism was running rampant across the United States, viciously searching out any person whose career it could destroy. Kennedy had courage! He was taking a big risk, just by mentioning these people!
Kennedy's stories are very personal. They aren't just personal. They are all written with a sense of imagery. You can see and feel things as they happen. You feel like you're in the environments of 1807, 1850, 1874, 1917, and 1946. Kennedy writes well enough to locate you in the places. And his characters do have personalities. But I think the personalities do take a backseat, in my opinion, anyway, to the actual political stakes at play in the stories, and even to the mechanisms of politics at work.
One other thing that's interesting, though, about Kennedy's writing style, is that each story has a very similar form. The stories are grouped into four sections: 1807, which is the setting for John Quincy Adam's story; Pre-Civil War, where Webster's, Benton's, and Houston's stories are set; Reconstruction, which is the seting for Ross' and Lamar's stories; and the twentieth century, where Norris' and Taft's stories are told.
For each of these time periods, Kennedy opens with a "time and place," section, which kind of places the reader in the time period and gets the reader comfortable with the atmosphere.
But, for each individual story, Kennedy has a technique of kind of bringing the reader right into one of the pivotal moments of the character's story. A little bit of the conflict is played out. Then the narrative flashes back onto either a short sketch of the character's personality or a short biographical sketch of the person. The story is then brought up just about to the moment where the reader had left him -- that pivotal moment. The story then plays forward from there.
The only story where this isn't the case is the story of Edmund G. Ross. Ross' story is basically all about how Ross, along with six other brave Republican Senators, stood up for the Democrat President Andrew Johnson when almost all the Republican Senators were trying to impeach him. Ross' story, really, begins, not with a "pivotal moment," but with an exposition of Andrew Johnson. After the exposition on Andrew Johnson, we get a brief picture of Ross' situation. We are then moved directly into the struggle of Ross against his fellow Republicans.
One other technique I like a lot in Kennedy's book -- the Great Speech. Almost every character in Kennedy's book, it appears, is a magnificent orator. And almost every really climactic moment in the character's story is a Great Speech. In the stories, either nobody knows or nobody expects what is going to happen at this speech. The crowds are packed, the suspense is high, the speech is always magnificent -- and usually, the audience in the stories are horribly disappointed by the performance!
But, despite the fact that Kennedy uses this technique, in almost the same exact way, in almost all his stories -- it works every time! Every time, you feel the suspense, the excitement, the uncertainty. You don't know -- is the politician really going to stand up for what he believes in? You feel the crowd, and you feel the hush of the crowd! You feel the release of the moment, the sense of doom, now that the party or the constituency has been disappointed. It's all there, fresh and new, each time!
Of course, I also love the Great Speech scene in all these stories, because they remind me of that showbiz-mentality that was so prevalent in the TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s. Every TV personality wasn't just glitzy -- they were also so self-aware, so aware of being self-aware. It's so horribly cheesy, but it's so much fun to watch. That same kind of attitude is translated into Kennedy's book.
I don't think Kennedy would be too upset by a comparison like that. One of the little anecdotes that he seems pleased to give about Senator Lamar is that, while the man was extremely learned, and a man of distinction, he also had a penchant for cheap novels. The cheap novel is the staple of the American. I eat them as often as I can. And TV is another American staple, although I don't do TV so much. But I do a lot of YouTube.
Which brings me again to a parallel with Star Trek. The theme of a "renegade in crisis" is a very common theme in Star Trek, and I know I've brought it up before -- it was in relation to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book Hound of the Baskervilles. In Star Trek, either Spock or Kirk will go against their own personalities, seemingly go against their own ideals, to achieve some end covertly. They don't tell anybody their plan until they've succeeded. Then they reveal -- they really didn't go against their personalities or ideals. It was all an act!
I'm now going to end this post with a very brief summary of Kennedy's book. I'm not going to get too deep into the plots. I'm just going to give an outline, so anybody who's interested can get a taste of what each of these stories is about.
Also, Kennedy has an interesting technique of kind of encapsulating the book in his philosophy. He puts a little of the philosophy at the beginning and a little at the end. However, I'm going to summarize all of his philosophy at the beginning of this summary, leaving the rest of the post for the stories of the eight Senators at the heart of Kennedy's book.
Because of this, I will also likely leave out a lot of the peripheral stories Kennedy puts in, which are worth reading, but which I just (I'm very sorry) don't have the energy to put in tonight.
Kennedy begins his book by defining "courage" using Hemingway's formula of "grace under pressure. Kennedy says that perhaps we in America have fogotten what courage is. He says that some people, many in the press, believe that the United States public doesn't give a damn about politics, and believe that 99% of what politicians say is "tripe."
But Kennedy also points out that cynicism has been present in public thought and the thought of the press, ever since the nation first came into existence. And Kennedy actually does believe that there are courageous Senators in the present time.
Kennedy lists the three pressures that the modern Senator faces. First is the simple animal pressure of wanting to be liked, to be approved of, and to be part of a club. This leads to a healthy desire to seek compromise and find possibilities for meeting all people's desires on some middle ground. Kennedy even says that conciliation with fanatics and extremists is necessary. Kennedy says that conciliation is a fine art. He also says that maintaining unity with one's political party, insofar as it is possible, is also preferable.
The second pressure is a desire to be re-elected. Kennedy says that politics is the only profession where a person has to stand up for his principles while he is also standing in the spotlight, like a celebrity. Politicians do wish, Kennedy says, to preserve their careers and stay in Washington. To do that, Kennedy says, politicians must "rise above" (though some might think of it as sinking below) their own personal principles.
The third pressure is maintaining the favor of the constituency -- the voters themselves. Kennedy implies that there are some members of his constituency that he thinks of as jackasses. But he has to keep his temper. He also has to balance the pressures and mixed messages that he gets from different members of his constituency. Kennedy argues that this kind of balancing process only gets more difficult as our economy gets more complex.
It's important, on this point, to think of economy, not as the money flow in a society or country, but to think of it more in the Classical Greek sense, like Xenophon, I believe would think of it -- as all of the elements pertaining to the orderly functioning of a system. In Xenophon, this would be a "household," or an "estate." In Kennedy's sense, it would be the United States.
Kennedy says that one of the toughest decisions a politician has is which point or issue to stand on, to take the ultimate risk on.
Kennedy also makes the point that doing the right thing isn't as easy as it sounds. For a Senator, who represents one single state, there is the added conflict of trying to do the best for the nation while also doing the best for the "relatively sovereign" state. A Senator also has a responsibility to his political Party. Because only a strong Party can help to maintain the strength of the two-Party system in the United States.
So, Kennedy says, a Senatory has to balance all of these responsibilities: the national interest, the party, the state, the constiuents -- and his own conscience.
Kennedy says that it is also important to recognize that trusting the people, trusting the constituents, as equals, does not mean blindly following all of their desires and voting exactly as they would seem to want a vote to be made. A Senator must also trust that the people have voted him because they trust him to make good decisions. A decision cannot always be made with the full approval of the constituents.
At the same time, Kennedy says, he personally doesn't always have a perfect idea of what the constiuents want, and what public opinion is. He can only meet so many people, read so many letters and consultant reports, and pull in so much information. He then has to act on this information as he best sees fit.
Kennedy says that modern politics is increasingly expensive, mechanized, professional, and PR-oriented. He says that "only the very courageous" can keep the individual spirit alive. Perhaps because of this, Kennedy believes that we need compromise -- and we also *need* idealists, reformers, and even eccentrics!
At the end of his book, Kennedy reviews his idea of courage. He says that courage is no mystery. In Kennedy's opinion, politics is the real mystery. What motivates people to make the decisions they do? It's a psychological question, perhaps, Kennedy says. This idea is very close to what Beck says in his book.
Kennedy says that the politicians in his book may seem to have put the greater good over their love for their own selves. But Kennedy argues that the Senators only did what they did because they did love themselves -- they trusted their own sense of what was right enough to act on it.
Kennedy says that the Senators may not be judged, ultimately, to have been right in what they did. But they didn't need to be right to be courageous. And their courage does not need to be praised only because it was accompanied by historical correctness. Kennedy says that there are a variety of ideals and personality types. And courage should be praised when a person stands for his ideals.
Kennedy mentions Churchill's epigram that Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms of government that have come before and with it. Kennedy reiterates that we must trust the electors to have intelligent opinions, and that we must trust our elected officials to make good decisions.
Kennedy also makes the point that in the United States, every citizen does, in a sense, hold office, and the responsibility of office. We all have a share in the government.
And all people, all over the world have to live with their choices. And, since we all live with our choices, we all eventually have opportunities to make courageous choices. Each man decides his own course, and what he'll risk. And each man can look nowhere else but into his own soul to find his own courage.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
Kennedy gives a picture of Washington, the United States Capitol, in 1803, as a "raw, country village."
Kennedy says that in these days, the Senate was like a House of Lords -- a place where upper-class citizens, not elected to office, but chosen, acted as personal consultants to the President -- often directly telling him what to do. Later the Senate became more of a forum, while the Cabinet took on more of a consulting role to the President. Finally, the Senate became more of a legislative than an executive body.
At this point in time, Kennedy says, the House of Representatives, the members of which were elected by the people, and the meetings of which were open to the people, was more popular than the Senate.
Kennedy then moves into the story of Adams. Kennedy describes Adams as the picture of a Puritan, cold emotionally, extremely intelligent, with a sense of justice that seemed to be chiseled into marble. As a boy and an adult, Adams was never satisfied with himself. But he became one of the greatest politicians of all time.
When the young Adams was elected to the Senate, he disdained the narrowness of partisanship. He stood for Thomas Jefferson, when Jefferson proposed the Louisiana Purchase. This went directly against Adams' Party's wishes. But, from there, Adams only became more contemptuous of his Party, the Federalists.
But Adams' assistance of Jefferson didn't go only against his party. It went against his own personal beliefs. Adams believed, all through his life, that, in a number of matters, Jefferson had betrayed Adams' father politically. So, by standing with Jefferson, Adams was standing for principle, against his own emotions. The elder Adams praised the young Adams for this action, despite his own feelings against Jefferson.
In 1806, when the British began attacking American vessels on the sea, Adams stood by Jefferson in his resolutions against the British attacks. In the summer of 1807, when the American Chesapeake was attacked by the British Leopard, Jefferson answered with the Embargo of 1807. Adams stood by Jefferson, not only to the disappointment of his Party, but also to the disgust of his constituency -- the voters of Massachusetts.
The Federalists and the constituency were so infuriated by Adams' actions that they voted for his replacement a full nine months before Adams' term was ended. But Adams was so shamed by the vote that he resigned his seat immediately. Nevertheless, Adams went on to a number of other brilliant political positions, eventually even becoming President of the United States. Toward the end of his life, Adams was even elected Representative of Massachusetts, a position he held until the end of his life.
Kennedy says that the crisis of the ten years preceding the Civil War brought out the best and worst in men.
Kennedy claims that many of the debates revolving around the new states, out west, forming the Union, revolved around whether these states should be incorporated into the United States as slave states, i.e. states that allowed slavery, or non-slave states. Meanwhile, the Southern states threatened to secede from the Union, as they felt their rights were being encroached upon, when they were told that their citizens could or could not bring slaves into the states they were expanding into.
There were three people who stood at the center of this controversy. Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster. Henry Clay, in order to preserve the Union, wrote up three Great Compromises, one in 1820, one in 1833, and one in 1850. These Compromises were, however, somewhat pro-slavery. John C. Calhoun seemed to be in favor of the Southern states seceding, although he couched his argument in terms of states having their rights encroached upon by Federal Congressional decisions.
Daniel Webster, despite being anti-slavery, stood with Henry Clay, to everybody's surprise, on his seemingly pro-slavery Great Compromise of 1850. Webster did this because he wished to prevent secession of the Southern States. But Webster's Party, the Whigs, and his constituents, the state of Massachusetts, believed that he was a traitor. Some of them even called him a new Benedict Arnold -- who, every schoolkid knows, is America's most notorious traitor.
Kennedy, without necessarily standing up for the principles of the Great Compromise, does seem to believe that the Great Compromise did prevent the secession of the Southern states for another ten years. But people still thought of Webster as a traitor. And, two years later, Webster died, basically completely shunned, not just politically, but shunned by most of his friends, as well.
THOMAS HART BENTON
From 1821 to 1844, Thomas Hart Benton was the kingpin of politics in the newly founded state of Missouri. In 1844, Missouri was beginning to sympathize with the Southern states' thoughts of seceeding from the Union. At this point in time, Benton was elected to the Senate as a Democrat for Missouri.
Not long after Benton got into office, he made decisions that upset his party and his constituency. In 1844, he voted against a Texas annexation treaty made by John C. Calhoun -- I think because it was pro-slavery. Benton wasn't necessarily anti-slavery. And Missouri was a slave-state. But Benton felt that further expansion in the United States could not be made by slave-states. The question of slavery was already causing too much division in the United States.
In 1844, Benton also opposed the "all or none" argument of the Oregon expansion -- another issue whose proponents seemed to be less concerned with the expansion of the Union and more concerned with finding issues to divide the Union.
Nevertheless, in spite of taking such strong stands on the Texas issue, Benton generally remained silent on the topic of slavery. However, in 1848, an issue directly affecting slavery came before the Senate. All Democrats were urged to vote for this bill. But Benton abstained from voting altogether. This was considered treason to the Democrats, and Benton was now considered "a man without a party."
Benton, while holding on to his office, was stripped of the responsibilities he'd had in various committees. But this didn't weaken his resolve. And in 1850, Benton stood against the Great Compromise proposed by Henry Clay -- on the grounds that it involved slavery, which, Benton believed, was an issue only brought up in the Senate as a means to create division among politicians -- to divide the Union.
Benton was, as Kennedy says, "ignominiously dismissed" from office for standing up for what he believed in. Nevertheless, he stood up for himself, took on a series of travelling lectures, and got himself re-elected. But before he even took office, he did a number of really controversial things that got him kicked out all over again.
Benton went on a number of travellin lectures again, defending himself. But he had unfortunately developed throat cancer. Eventually he could no longer speak. He stopped the lectures. And, in 1856, he finally succumbed to the disease. Nevertheless, Kennedy says, Benton's courage in standing up for the Union did take roots in the hearts of the Missourians -- Missouri did not secede from the Union with the rest of the Southern states in 1860.
In 1854, Sam Houston voted against the Democrats on the Kansas Nebraska Bill, which basically asked for even more compromise toward the pro-slavery states than had been given in Clay's Great Compromise of 1850. Houston gave a great speech in defense of maintaining the Compromise of 1850, and not going farther.
This speech was frowned upon by Houstons party, the Democrats, and his constituency, the Texans. Houston felt that he was sure not to get re-elected to Senate. So, in 1857, while still in Senate, he ran for Governor of Texas. He must have thought he could win that office -- he'd already served as President of Texas, when Texas was its own nation. But he didn't win the office.
Houston was then finally kicked out of the Senate in 1857. In 1859, he ran for Governor of Texas again. This time, in spite of having to face a lot of fights, and a lot of voters who didn't approve of him, Houston plead his case, and won. He was elected Governor.
Nevertheless, Texas was already preparing to secede from the Union. Houston argued against Texas seceding. Houston argued for keeping the Union together. For this, Houston faced renewed opposition, sometimes quite aggressive. In fact, Houston was even almost blown up by a powder-keg that was lit outside the hotel where he was sleeping during one of his speech tours.
Houston kept fighting for maintaining the Union. But Texas finally seceded with the other Southern states in 1860. Every political official was required to take a new oath, to reflect allegiance to the Confederacy rather than the Union. But Houston would not take the oath. He resigned from being Texas governor.
EDMUND G. ROSS
Kennedy says that after the Civil War, the Senate was at the height of its power, although, at the same time, the United States was becoming more commercialized, and there was plenty of easy money and sudden fortunes, in the development of industry, the growth of banking, and the Westward expansion.
President Andrew Johnson's administration saw the zenith of the Senate's power. Senators thought of themselves as sovereigns, with free reign. Others thought of them as hogs who could only be won over on political issues with healthy doses of money and champagne.
Johnson, having been elected to office, began to see to many articles of legislation being passed that didn't seem to have anything higher than the interests of hogs in mind. So Johnson began vetoing many of these pieces of legislation. A lot of the legislation that Johnson vetoed was returned to the Senate, only to be voted into law over Johnson's head. But some of Johnson's vetoes stuck -- and the Senate didn't like that.
The Republican Party in the Senate began looking for a way to get Johnson out of office and to keep the President subservient to the Senate. The Republicans felt they almost had enough power in the Senate to make this happen. A few more elections and they would be able to do this. They felt that with the election of Edmund G. Ross, Senator for Kansas, this would happen.
In 1867, Andrew Johnson, feeling that his Secretary of War, a Radical Republican, was trying to become a sort of dictator over the vanquished Southern states, attempted to kick him out of office. But the Tenure-of-Office bill, passed over Johnson's veto earlier in the year, said that Johnson couldn't do that.
Nevertheless, in 1868, Johnson, with the help of Ulysses S. Grant, determined that the Tenure-of-Office bill was unconstitutional. Johnson then formally kicked the Secretary of War out of office. Congress then impeached Johnson.
Johnson went to trial. The Republicans seemed to have an almost unanimous vote locked up against Johnson. Johnson would certainly be impeached. But six Republicans suddenly decided to stand on the side of the President. The vote would now need every remaining Republican in order to get Johnson impeached. Every Republican was secured -- except for Edmund G. Ross.
Ross was harrassed, stalked, bullied, and bribed into promising to vote against Johnson. Nevertheless, when the time came for Ross to vote, he voted for Johnson. Johnson was a Democrat, and his policy was friendly toward the South. Johnson wanted Union between the South and the North, and he wanted to help the South.
However, many Republicans, including Ross, saw Johnson as being too friendly toward the South. The Republicans liked Ross, because he seemed so strongly against Johnson. Nevertheless -- when the time had come to vote, Ross voted for Johnson.
Ross explained that he felt the actions of the Republicans were simply the actions of a group of people who wanted to take the power of the Executive office away from the President and allocate all of that power to the Senate. Ross couldn't stand for that. So, despite the fact that he didn't even like Johnson, he had to stand up for him.
Ross' career in the Senate was over. However, Ross did go on to become the Governor of the newly founded state of New Mexico. And, twenty or so years later, people did begin to praise Ross for having done the right thing.
Before the Civil War, Lucius Lamar had served in the Congress for Mississipi. He was violently pro-South. He fought in the war on the side of the South, and he saw many of his family members killed by soldiers from the North.
After the Civil War, many of the Southern politicians actually came from the North. They were known as carpet-baggers -- people who travelled down to the North to take up residence in the South just to take the political offices that were all available there.
But in 1872, Lamar was elected to Congress again for Mississippi. He believed in compromise with the North, which his constituents didn't really feel too interested in. In 1874 (I think), President-elect Rutherford B. Hayes was accused of having doctored the vote. The Senate wished to throw out the vote altogehter. But Lamar stood with the Senators who wanted to put the charges of doctoring to vote to a trial. The trial was held, and Hayes was found not to have doctored the vote.
This upset Mississippi. Hayes, it seems, was hardly friendly toward the South. But, now that he was elected President, the South would have to deal with him for four years. And Lamar, Mississippi's own Senator, had helped to make this happen! Lamar stood up for himself, and his people eventually saw his side of the argument.
But in 1877, Lamar stood up against an issue that Mississippi was strongly for: "free-silver." This was the idea that silver could be used as a form of currency, as well as gold. There were plenty of silver mines springing up. So the South could eventually have plenty of silver to present as money. In this way, silver could directly pay off the debts of the South to the North.
But Lamar felt that the use of silver being as currency instead of only gold would cause too much inflation. Lamar felt that it was better for the South to pay off its debts, as they were, than to pump a bunch of silver into the new system as new money and cripple the south under the additional burden of inflation. So he voted against the issue.
After Lamar gave his speech on the issue, many of his colleagues praised his courage. But they were sure he was doomed. And, to be certain, Mississippi was terribly angry at what Lamar had done. Nevertheless, Lamar went back to Mississippi and went on a tour, giving speeches explaining to his people why he had done what he had done. Lamar, it turns out, won the people over. He was re-elected, and he had a brilliant career in politics.
George Norris began his career of controversy as a Republican Representative for Nebraska, when in 1910, he proposed a bill requiring the members of the House investigating committee to be elected by all the members of the House, instead of just its speaker. This bill was quite a bombshell -- it took much of the House Speaker's dictatorial power away from him. Norris also proposed a bill whereby the Rules Committee was also appointed by all of the House, not only the Speaker.
Norris was later elected to the Senate. He was in the Senate in 1917, during World War I. Up until this time, the United States had stayed out of the War. But thn the Zimmerman Telegraph was intercepted by America. This Telegraph was apparently a message between Mexico and Germany. Mexico was apparently pledging its help to Germany against America in the war. Nowadays people doubt the validity of this message. But in 1917, people were totally certain it was true.
President Woodrow Wilson, believing the United States should now get into the War, but fearing that Congress would not vote for the United States to enter the War, put forward a bill called the Armed Ships Bill, which basically said that the President could arm ships and send them out. It was a veiled statement, saying the President could declare war without Congressional approval.
Almost all of the Senate was ready to approve this bill. But Norris disagreed with the bill. Seeing that he was likely to lose a vote against the bill, he decided to fight it the only way he could -- filibuster -- that is, arguing the bill until the session of Senate has completely run out, and the bill can no longer be voted on. And Norris did just this.
Of course, as a result, Norris was vilified. He was, again, given the title of "Benedict Arnold," the name of the traitor. But Norris went back to Lincoln, Nebraska and hired a hall to give a speech and explain to his constituents why he'd done what he'd done.
Norris said that he felt the efforts to get the United States into war were the efforts of rich people looking to get richer. The President seemed to be in their pocket. But the President shouldn't be allowed to use legislation to put the Congress into his pocket. And so Norris had to filibuster the bill -- he had to stop a bill from going through Congress that would basically give the President the power to enter the United States into war without the approval of Congress.
The people of Nebraska agreed with Norris' reasoning. Norris kept his seat in the Senate.
However, in 1928, Norris was again involved in a controversy. Remember, in these days, a person's religious creed was considered important when people voted for him. Also, in these days, Prohibition, the movement against the sale of alcohol, was in full swing in the United States. Norris was a Protestant, religiously, and a "dry," or Prohibitionist, when it came to alcohol.
Now Herbert Hoover was running for President in 1928. And he was also, like Norris, a Republican, a Protestant, and a "dry." But Norris could not stand for Hoover. Norris felt like Hoover was playing directly into the hands of the industrial power trust. Regardless of Hoover's religious or alcohol beliefs, a vote for him would mean a vote for more power being put into the hands of the people who, Norris believed, tried to get us into war just so they could get richer. So Norris supported Al Smith, the Democrat, Catholic, "wet" candidate.
But this time, Norris' constituents couldn't be reasoned with. Norris' constituents were just too attached to their religious beliefs and their beliefs regarding alcohol. And when Norris supported Smith, the constituents were, as many directly said, "through with" Norris. Nevertheless, Norris, though he knew his career was over with, was not discouraged. He believed that his own personal failures would plant the seeds of the future success of the nation.
ROBERT A. TAFT
Robert A. Taft stood up for a number of political issues. But the issue that got him in the most trouble was his standing up against the process of the Nuremberg trials.
In 1946, eleven high-ranking Nazis were put on trial at Nuremberg for their war crimes. All eleven men were convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death by hanging.
Robert Taft, a Republican Senator from Ohio, did not, however, feel that the United States had taken part in a trial that worked according to the dictates of its laws. In particular, though it was obvious that these men had committed atrocities, it was not until the men had been arrested, after all these atrocities had been committed, that rules regarding how to act with these men had been formulated.
Because the men had committed the acts before the rules regarding the acts had been formulated, the men could not, Taft said, according to the ex post facto rule, be punished in accordance with the new laws.
Taft had stated his disagreement with the process of the Nuremberg trials. But he gave a full speech regarding them on October 6, 1946, when he attended an Anglo-heritage conference at Kenyon College in Ohio.
As soon as Taft had given his speech, he faced a terrible backlash. It was obvious that nobody would stand up for him on an issue like this. The closest any got to defending him was by saying that Taft had made a declaration of his ideas and that he'd have to stand by them, but that the person wouldn't comment on them one way or the other. The only person, it seems, to have defended Taft was one of the Nazis who was to be hung.
But Taft's statements didn't stop the punishment sentenced to the eleven men from being carried out. And after the execution was over, the nation moved on to other business. So did Senator Taft. Taft maintained his career in the Senate up until his death from a terminal disease. In fact, Kennedy even worked with Taft from time to time, when Kennedy was a young Senator.