Examining Profiles of Political Courage in American Government

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Examples of Political Courage: American Politicians and Their Actions

Political courage is an essential characteristic for any political leader to possess. It is the willingness to take a stand for what one believes is right, even when it is not popular or goes against the status quo.  In this political courage essay, we will examine the characteristics of political courage and explore the profiles of political courage in American government.

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Carl Elliot, Sr. was United States congressman from did not conform to the racist views of other Southern politicians of his time. He promoted the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which provided federal college loans to students despite economic and racial backgroundCarl Elliott was presented the Profile in Courage Award due to his commitment to passing the National Defense Education Act of 1958. This act helped provide higher education to students of all racial and socioeconomic statuses. Elliot was a student during the Great Depression and worked tirelessly to pay for his education by waiting tables, maintaining the campus furnace, and joining the grounds crew. At the University of Alabama, he was elected study body president and graduated with undergraduate and law degrees. From 1948 to 1965 Carl Elliott served as a member of the United States House of Representatives. Despite the racist climate of Alabama at the time, Elliot promoted equal rights for minorities and the poor. He collaborated with his colleague in the Senate, Lister Hill, to enact the National Defense Education Act in 1958. His opposition to the prevailing racism of the South cost him reelection, and he left Washington D.C. in crippling debt. By sacrificing his political career, Elliot helped educate more than 750,000 students. The selflessness and strength he exhibited in standing up against the racist Southern majority makes him an example of courage.

Charles Weltner was another Southern politician that stood for civil rights. Despite being descended directly from Georgian leaders of the Confederacy he found himself unable to support segregation. He graduated from Oglethorpe University with a bachelor's degree in 1948, and from Columbia University School of Law in 1950. In 1962 he was elected to Congress with the help of the vote of the growing number of black voters. Weltner spoke out against the violence directed towards African Americans, supported Brown vs. The Board of Education, and urged that public spaces were voluntarily desegregated. In September 1963, after the murder of four black children he condemned the other Southern politions for tolerating such violence. He was the only politician from the Deep South who voted for the Civil Rights Act in July 1964. Weltner eventually left office after choosing to withdraw from his own race for re-election rather than support politician Lester Maddox who was a supporter of segregation. After spending several years in his back private law practice he returned to politics and served on the Georgia Supreme Court.

Governor Lowell Weicker risked his career by implementing the first-ever income tax on Connecticut. By doing this he helped improve the crumbling financial status of Connecticut but also sacrificed his popularity. After the stock market crashed in 1987, Connecticut’s economy began to dramatically decline. By 1991 the state has almost a one billion dollar deficit. Although Weicker had originally campaigned on the platform of not raising the income tax, he soon felt it was the best option for the state of Connecticut. While advocating for the income tax he faced threats to his safety, large scale protests, and he was even compared to fascist leaders.This process was made more difficult because Weicker was a Republican at a time when Republican politicians were almost universally rallying for tax cuts. He eventually left the party in 1990 and founded his independent “Connecticut Party.” On August 23,1991, after six months of promoting the income tax and spending cuts, it was approved by the Connecticut legislature. By fulfilling his obligations to serve the people of Connecticut Weicker demonstrated political courage.

James Florio was born in Brooklyn Brooklyn, New York in 1937. He received a degree in Social Studies at Trenton State College and Rutgers-Camden Law School in 1967. Florio served in the U.S. Navy from 1955 to 1958, and eventually retired from the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He was elected to the New Jersey Assembly, served in the House of Representatives, and eventually became governor of New Jersey. While governor he embarked on a fight for stricter gun-control in response to the rising amount of gun violence in the state and on a national level. Under his administration New Jersey banned the sale and restricted possession of assault weapons within the state. Although most New Jersey citizens supported these gun control laws, Florio still struggled to pass his state reforms. He faced a great deal of opposition from various gun lobbyist groups, including the National Rifle Association. His opposition not on combated him for his gun policies, but on all possible grounds. They spent nearly one million dollars in their efforts to derail Florio’s efforts, but were unsuccessful. In March 1993, the senate voted unanimously to accept Florio’s gun-control laws. During his time as governor Florio also reformed the taxation and education systems of New Jersey. His Quality Education Act of 1990 provided one billion dollars towards public education, and helped over 400 school districts provide better education to students.

Henry Gonzalez was born in San Antonio in 1916, and graduated from St. Mary's University School of Law, as well as received a degree in civil engineering from San Antonio Junior College and the University of Texas at Austin. Gonzalez was first elected to public office in 1953 as a member of the San Antonio City Council. As a Mexican American himself, he had seen how humiliating and injust segregation could be, and he sponsored the ordinance that ended racial segregation in recreational areas. In 1956, he became the first Mexican-American to hold a legislative seat after being elected to the Texas Senate. He tirelessly worked to pass laws against segregation. In 1989, he began to call for an investigation of the savings and loan scandal and the U.S. sale of arms to Iraq. He helped to uncover that officials from the Bush and Reagan administrations had illegally gave billions of dollars to Iraq, though by pushing for these discoveries he risked his political career.

Michael Synar was a United States Congressman from Oklahoma. He was a member of a respected family in his community and he was repeatedly voted into office not because he always stood with the majority of his district, but because he was known to be transparent and straightforward. Synar acted based off of principal even when this forced him to be at odds with other leaders of his state. He dedicated himself to serving the public despite relentless opposition he faced from other politicians and powerful lobbyists. He promoted legislation that limited the advertising of tobacco, put warning labels on tobacco products, and required it to be monitored by the FDA. He also campaigned for land reforms that would require ranches, mining, and timber companies to pay market value for the federal lands they used. Synar eventually lost after running for his ninth term, because while he always voted his conscience, Synar failed to represent the views of the citizens of rural Oklahoma he represented.

Corkin Cherubini was the School Superintendent of Calhoun County and Georgia. He was honored with the Profile in Courage Award after removing systems of academic tracking that segregated students. The system of tracking in his district organized students into A, B, C, and D groups which were supposed to reflect the students’ levels of intelligence. The A and B classes were predominantly white students while the C and D classes were black students. This system established a lower set of expectations for black students, and discouraged them from seeking higher education. In response, Cherubini invited the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Southeastern Desegregation Assistance Center to assess the tracking system. The OCR found that Calhoun County’s tracking system violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although Cherubini was backed with the power of the law, his attempts to desegregate students enraged many white parents. His family received death threats, hate letters, and verbal harassment from the white community. Many white parents withdrew their students from school. However, Cherbubini persisted and integrated the classes and the sports leagues in Calhoun County.

Charles Price was born and raised in a small town near Montgomery, Alabama. After graduating high school he joined the United States military, where his dedication and promise landed him a position with an elite special forces group, called the Green Berets. In 1965 he was honorably discharged with the rank of sargent. He found it difficult to become re-accustomed to life outside the military, where as an Afican American man he had far fewer opportunities. Price had come of age during the time of Brown vs. The Board of Education, and recognized that through law he could combat racism in his society. In 1975 Price became deputy district attorney for Montgomery County where he served until April 4, 1983, when he became the first circuit court judge in Montgomery County. The most controversial case of his career was the trial of Roy Moore, who displayed the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and instructed the court to pray before each of his trials began. Moore was accused of violating the separation of church and state. Price ruled that Moore no longer hold courtroom prayer sessions but allowed his display of the Ten Commandments. Price, a Christian himself, found the practice unlawful as it imposed exclusively Christian principals onto individuals that may not believe in them. He was asked to reconsider his rulings, and travelled to Roy Moore’s courtroom, where he found the Ten Commandments were not presented in an educational manner. Price decided that they must be removed or displayed in an educational sense. Price showed courage through this ruling because he was able to stand with the law, despite threats to his safety and attacks against his religion. He also showed courage for daring to pursue his education and career goals despite the racist opposition he faced.

Nikolas Murnion was born and raised in Garfield County, an area of Montana where people were few and far between, and the dry soil, lack of infrastructure, and poor economy made life difficult for its citizens. After getting his law degree at the University of Montana, Murnion became the only lawyer in all of Garfield County and was elected to the position of Garfield County Attorney. Murnion is known for his opposition to the Freemen movement which was born in his hometown of Jordan, Montana. The Freemen were a movement of militiamen, many of them impoverished ranchers and farmers who were facing foreclosure. They saw the federal government’s incompetency as the source of their financial difficulties. They labeled the Farmers Home Administration (FmFA) as the group most responsible. The Freemen asked Murnion to sue the FmFA, which they claimed was an illegitimate agency responsible for stealing their money. Nick sympathized with his community members but could not sue the FmFA, as he had no legal reason to do so. The Freemen responded to this with increasing aggression until eventually posting $1 million bounty for the arrest and conviction of Murnion. For a year, Murion gathered information on the activities within the headquarters, filed indictments, and urged the federal forces to become involved. The FBI began its 81-day siege of the Freemen’s armed camp, which eventually ended in peaceful surrender. Murnion exhibited courage because he was able to stand with the law even though he was forced to sacrifice the bonds he had made with his community.

Peacemakers of Northern Ireland. In the late 1990s Northern Ireland had broken into a large amount of political parties that each had a different stance regarding Northern Irish Liberation from England. The prominent nationalist parties were aligned with either the moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party, or the more radical Sinn Fein. The unionists supported the Ulster Unionist Party, the UUP, or the Democratic Unionist Party, the DUP. The complexity of the issue led to thousands of casualties. The British agreed to have a forum with the Northern Irish where only ten Northern Irish parties would be represented. Individuals negotiated with other leaders who had killed their close family members and friends. The group eventually reached an agreement that would be presented in a referendum to all of Ireland. The individuals who received the Profile in Courage Award included eight of the political leaders from Northern Ireland and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who was chairman of the peace talks. These individuals showed courage in their commitment to ending the conflict and being willing to make difficult compromises.

John McCain and Russel Feingold that were two very different men, who when paired together became a formidable political force. John McCain was a war hero from Vietnam, descended from United States admirals, and had a wild youth. Feingold, on the other hand, was not a veteran, descended from Jewish immigrants,and had a youth focused on education. On top of this they stand on opposite sides of the political aisle; John McCain is conservative and Russel Feingold is liberal. These two senators were presented the Profile in Courage Award for their efforts to reform the influence money has on politics. Both the Democrat and Republican parties were responsible for accepting money from special interest groups and using it to influence the outcomes of elections, and the consciences of politicians. The two men collaborated to create the McCain-Feingold bill that would reduce the influence of money in elections and minimize the large advantages it provides. After years of the legislation being delayed the senate passed McCain-Feingold on April 2, 2001. These two men exhibited courage by reaching across party lines to stand against political corruption.

Hilda Solis was born in the San Gabriel Valley town of La Puente. At La Puente High School she met one of her mentors, her social studies teacher Robert Sanchez, who encouraged Solis pursue a higher education, and to use her voice to empower others like herself who had grown up in disadvantaged communities of color. Solis did just this. After years of pursuing various careers in public service, Hilda Solis was elected a state senator of California. As senator, she was able to successfully pass her environmental justice bill. Solis knew that polluting projects, such as landfills proposed to be built near her hometown, were disproportionately located near minority and low income neighborhoods. Throughout her career Solis also advocated for programs that would allow underprivileged kids to receive higher-level education. She demonstrated career by giving voice to individuals who are often ignored, and by risking her political career by standing up against wealthy special interest groups.

President Gerald Ford was presented with his Profile in Courage Award for his decision to pardon President Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Ford faced great scrutiny for this decision, the public immediately had an overwhelmingly negative response, and many speculated Ford had been part of a secret deal with the former president. Before announcing his decision to pardon Nixon, Ford had a private meeting with Haig, who apparently discussed options for moving forward with ford. However, Ford swore under oath that he accepted no deal to pardon Nixon. Years later, when interviewed, Ford stated that in retrospect he does believe he was being offered a deal by Haig, but he did not understand at the time. He did not accept any conditions, nor interpret Haig’s advice as a deal at all. The reason Ford made this choice was to allow the country to move beyond the Watergate scandal. He felt that the scandal was stirring distrust of the government within America, and sullying its international reputation. Ford was brave for making an unpopular choice that would allow the country to move forward.

John Lewis was raised on a small farm in Alabama. From a young age Lewis was eager to put himself in the “path of history.” Lewis, an advocate for civil-rights through nonviolent means, organized a student sit in while he was studying at Fisk University. He and his students allies held a demonstration, refusing to move from Nashville lunch counters, even when crowds of hecklers began to appear. Ths protest was so influential Nashville began to desegregate its lunch counters. Lewis was also one of the “freedom riders”, who was beaten by angry mobs after protesting the segregation of Southern bus terminals. He became the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which organized many significant civil rights protests across the nation. Lewis led a demonstration that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” after Alabama State Troopers became violent and attacked the marchers. As a result of the courage exhibited by Lewis and the many others who stood with the civil rights movement Alabama passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. John Lewis is now a member of the United States congress and represents Georgia. He uses his influence to continue to advocate for human rights. 

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In conclusion, political courage is a crucial characteristic for political leaders to possess, as it allows them to take a principled stand on important issues, even when it is difficult or unpopular. The profiles of political courage presented in this essay highlight the importance of this characteristic and serve as an inspiration for future generations of political leaders. By taking a stand for what is right and just, even when it is not easy, political leaders can create a better world for all.

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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Examining Profiles of Political Courage in American Government. (2023, April 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from
“Examining Profiles of Political Courage in American Government.” GradesFixer, 17 Apr. 2023,
Examining Profiles of Political Courage in American Government. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Oct. 2023].
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