KC Johnson

History 743.3: The American Presidency

This course will explore the history of the American presidency from George Washington until the present day. Readings in the first half of the course will be primarily presidential biographies; the second half of the course will focus more on placing Presidents in the context of their eras.


  • Research Paper: 50%
  • Participation: 30%
  • Study Questions/Supplementary Reading: 20% [books & dates will be assigned the first week in class]

Books: (all available through amazon.com, at the course website)

My Contact Information:

  • office hours: Tuesday, 6.30-7.30, Thursday, 1.30-2.30, Whitehead 501


January 28: Introduction

February 4: Overview: Interpreting the Presidency (study questions: Vinnie)

Stephen Skowronek, Presidential Leadership in Political Time

February 11: Washington (study questions: Lois, Hilary, John)

Joseph Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington

supplementary readings:

  • Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father (James)
  • Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (Nicole)
  • Gordon Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (John)

February 18: NO CLASSES—conversion day

February 25: Jefferson

Peter Onuf, The Mind of Thomas Jefferson (study questions Karen, Alex, Gary)

  • Joseph Ellis, American Sphinx (Bradley)
  • Drew McCoy, The Last of the Fathers (Robert)
  • Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, chapters 8-17 (Jackey)
  • James Young, The Washington System (Gary)

March 4: Lincoln (study questions Brian, Caitlin, Kate)

David Herbert Donald, Lincoln

supplementary readings:

  • Mark Neely, The Fate of Liberty (Esther)
  • James McPherson, Abraham Lincoln (Lois)
  • Daniel Farber, Lincoln’s Constitution (Caitlin)

March 11: Wilson (study questions JJ, Michael, Joshua)

John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography

supplementary readings:

  • Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (Vinnie)
  • Thomas Knock, To End All Wars (Adam)

March 18: No class

March 25: FDR (study questions Jackey, Joy, Samantha)

Jean Edward Smith, FDR

supplementary readings:

  • Alan Brinkley, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Alex)
  • Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezvous with Destiny (Hilary)
  • Conrad Black, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (Karen)

April 1: NO CLASS—spring break

April 8:

Kennedy (study questions Robert, Samantha J., Esther)

Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life

supplementary readings:

  • David Talbot, The Brothers (Samantha S.)
  • Evan Thomas, Robert Kennedy (Chandra)
  • May & Zelikow, The Kennedy Tapes (Kerry)

April 15: LBJ

No reading (tapes presentation)

Nixon (study questions Nicole, Chandra, Kerry)

April 22: Rick Perlstein, Nixonland

supplementary readings:

  • Richard Nixon, RN (JJ)
  • Stanley Kutler, The Wars of Watergate (Joshua)
  • Conrad Black, Richard M Nixon (Nandiri)

April 29: Reagan (study questions Bradley, Alexis)

Steven Hayward, The Age of Reagan

supplementary readings:

  • Lou Cannon, President Reagan: Role of a Lifetime (Joy)
  • Reagan, The Reagan Diaries (Kate)
  • Peggy Noonan, When Character Was King (Steve)

May 6: Clinton (study questions Adam, Nandiri, Steve)

Taylor Branch, The Clinton Tapes

supplementary readings:

  • Ken Gormley, Death of American Virtue (Michael)
  • Richard Sale, Clinton’s Secret Wars (Alexis)
  • John Harris, The Survivor (Samantha J.)

May 13: Obama

David Plouffe, The Audacity to Win

Heilemann and Halperin, Game Change

27 Responses

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  1. KC Johnson said, on January 13, 2010 at 12.16am

    […] The American Presidency (M.A.) […]

    • Samantha Jones said, on April 8, 2010 at 5.15pm

      An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy

      Was the author successful in illustrating the contradictory strands of Kennedy’s personality as well as life circumstances made him such a crucial person in history?

      What was the driving force behind JFK decision to enter politics?

      Why did JFK feel that it was imperative to keep his illnesses a secret from the public?

      What impact did JFK’s experiences while serving in the House and the Senate have on his presidency.

      What role did JFK’s family (particularly his father play) in his political career?

      Did JFK live up to the promises he made during his inaugural address?

      What was JFK hesitant about leading the fight toward civil rights?

      On the assassination of Kennedy, Dallek is dismisses conspiracy theories, what is his explanation?

      Is it fair to say that Kennedy was actually much more conservative than contemporary?

      In the book the Cuban Missile crisis is illustrated as one of the greatest leadership tests that JFK faced during his presidency, why is that?

  2. Vinnie Zarrillo said, on February 3, 2010 at 5.47pm

    Since I have not been able to acquire the book on time to develop some questions from the text directly, I have read a few reviews of the work and with the assistance of the reviews developed the following:

    Mel Laracey:

    In the chapters on George W. Bush, Kowronek describes how a “…late regime orthodox innovator/articulator” presidency, “…characteristically leave behind a political regime overburdened with responsibilities, ideologically distended, and tumbling into disarray.” “…they take robust governing parties, parties that dominate the national agenda and stand ripe with solutions to the problems of the day, and unwittingly spark their sectarian disintegration.” (Skowronek, 141).

    Did George W. Bush spark the sectarian disintegration?
    Did Bush characteristically leave behind a political regime “overburdened” and “tumbling into disarray?”

    Laracey, Mel. “A Review of “Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and Reappraisal”.” Congress & the Presidency 36, no. 2 (Summer2009 2009): 214-216. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed February 3, 2010).

    Richard Holtzman:

    “Reading Skowronek during this moment in secular time provokes the question of what moment in political time Obama will occupy. Is he a preemptive leader, opposed to a regime that has temporarily lost its way? Or a reconstructive leader, following an incumbent for whom the politics of articulation during his first term degenerated into the politics of disjunction in his second?”

    Holtzman wrote these questions in his review during the summer of 2009, what direction has the Obama presidency been moving towards?

    HOLTZMAN, RICHARD. “Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and Reappraisal.” Political Science Quarterly 124, no. 2 (Summer2009 2009): 341-342. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed February 3, 2010).

    Graham Dodds:

    “Skowronek situates his analysis as an alternative to other views of the presidency, particularly the progressive model of a strong president at the centre of an activist government (Woodrow Wilson, Constitutional Government in the United States , New York : Columbia University Press, 1908) and the post-Watergate view of an overly powerful “imperial” president (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency , New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1973). Skowronek also distances himself from the notion that presidents before FDR were premodern clerks while those who followed him were modern leaders (Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership , New York: John Wiley, 1960). For Skowronek, those views tend to focus too much on the actions of individual presidents and to neglect more systematic aspects of the presidency and its relation to the broader political order. Skowronek says that what really matters is a president’s place in “political time,” by which he means the political context, or the president’s relationship to established commitments of ideology, interest, and authority.”

    Have other works that you have read on presidents focused too much on actions of the man? Has there been works by historians that Skowronek might approve of?

    Graham Dodds:

    “If the book has any shortcoming, it is perhaps that Skowronek has again resisted the temptation to make a clear prediction, though he strongly indicates that the conservative regime which has dominated presidential politics for the past several decades is in decline.”

    Do you believe that the conservative regime is in decline and is the election of Barack Obama and the strong showing in the Senate a swing in the direction of a liberal regime? Or is this simply a blip in the radar?

    DODDS, GRAHAM G. “Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and Reappraisal.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 41, no. 4 (December 2008): 1033-1034. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed February 3, 2010).

  3. Hilary Fitzpatrick said, on February 10, 2010 at 4.06pm

    Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington

    1. Washington was personally effected by the Stamp Act like most colonists. He was relieved when the British government first repealed it. Where did most of this relief come from that was personal to Washington?

    2. When Washington thought about British Parliament and the King in his career before the revolution he did not feel negative towards either of them. What did make him feel negative towards Britain? What does this say about Washington’s views before the revolution?

    3. Washington renovated part of the estate at Mount Vernon to face towards Ohio country. Ohio country was where he made his mark as a young soldier, but what else does this act of renovation mean? Was it an act for the colonists land, or and act of defiance against Britain?

    4. On the subject of slavery Washington did not see himself as a hypocrite for keeping slaves while leading the War of Independence. Was Washington haunted by his own morality and the harsh reality of slavery?

    5. When thinking of his own slaves that were loyal to him throughout the years, did Washington also think of the colonists relationship with the British, if they were to lose the war? Was there an analogy of relationship between the two?

    6. Washington was not college educated and relied on this own experience to succeed. He also felt that soldiers who were truly fighting for their land were better than hired soldiers. How do these two beliefs coincide and does this show a distrust for authority on Washington’s behalf?

    7. Why didn’t Washington listen to the Quakers when they lectured him on freeing his slaves at Mount Vernon?

    8. The Jay Treaty proved to be beneficial in hindsight. When the treaty was being negotiated it had positive and negative values. The treaty was most looked at in a negative fashion but it was clear that it would pass because Washington was behind it. Did the Jay Treaty effect Jefferson and Madison’s views on Washington even after it was passed? Did either of them see Washington as a neo-colonist?

    9. Throughout the book Ellis indirectly asks the question of who we want our founding fathers to be. This can also be applied to our present day American leaders. Washington is a symbolic hero, he is fabricated as an adult and as a leader. Fabricated and false stories make him out to be honest, wholesome and eloquent. Washington is depicted in a religious scene as he passes away. He knew he was not going to heaven. He knew he was going to be in a hole in the ground. “He died as a Roman Stoic, rather than a Christian saint.” (p269) What does this say about who we want our founding fathers to be, and have our values completely changed?

    • Jason Brylski said, on February 10, 2010 at 9.45pm

      I am not sure if these questions are intended as post class discussion or pre-discussion but certainly I would like to start by engaging #1.

      Ellis fits Washington into my own interpretation (in accordance with Marxist and in a more modern framework, Zinn ideology) of the American Revolution as based mostly on economic, anti-mercantilistic motivations. For Washington it was personal (page 51). and the personal consumption was economic. Ellis numerously points to Washington as avaricious in land consumption (which also relates to Question number 3 in an early manifestation of manifest destiny–Washington certainly looked West for the future of America). So for Washington Britain’s mercantile policies were personal because they affected his fortunes.

      Certainly Michael Corleone would disagree, that it was nothing personal and strictly business. For Washington the two were inseparable.

      Since business is most important for Washington, his also explains his pragmatic approach to the moral question of slavery. There is enough evidence to show Washington certainly evolved his moral conundrums over the issue eventually realizing that gradual emancipation was the only pragmatic approach to the slaves. I don;t think he was haunted by this. Because for a time he was a man of his time. And there is little evidence to suggest he abused his slaves most of which he inherited anyway.

  4. Phil Lienert said, on February 11, 2010 at 1.02am

    Stalin’s Wars, by Geoffrey Roberts

    Main Arguments of the Book:
    • The perception of Stalin’s leadership at the time of the Second World War was more accurate than the many revisionist perspectives that have appeared since his death
    o Even Hitler held Stalin, his archenemy, in the highest esteem. At one point, he confided to Goebbles that the Soviet leader was a “gigantic figure”
    o Hitler also believed Stalin’s efforts to reconfigure a “state of 170 million people and (prepare) it for a massive armed conflict” were extraordinary feats, far beyond anything accomplished by either Roosevelt or Churchill

    • Stalin was an outstanding wartime leader
    o Despite his frequent mistakes and brutal humanitarian policies, Stalin’s victory in 1945 was “the greatest military victory in history” and “a triumph beyond compare”
    o Unlike the other iconic statesmen of the Second World War era, Stalin was irreplaceable as a “warlord”
    o Unfortunately, the dictator’s cult of personality “masked . . . the real depth of Stalin’s ability to cope with an unprecedented emergency in 1941-1942.”
    o The cold war also “obscured the paradoxical truth that Stalin was the dictator who defeated Hitler and helped save the world for democracy”
    o It’s likely that the war against Hitler “would have been lost” were it not for Stalin

    • Stalin appreciated and sought to continue his wartime alliance with Great Britain and the United States, also known as the “Grand Alliance”
    o The beginning of the cold war and the repression of the Soviet people and Eastern Europe had as much to do with the American and British leaders as it did with Stalin
    o Roberts claims that Churchill’s and Truman’s “inability to see that beyond the communist challenge was an opportunity to arrive at a postwar settlement that could have averted the cold war”

    • There were key differences between Stalin’s leadership and governing policies in the pre- and post-war Soviet Union
    o Roberts refers to the immediate post-war government as a “system in transition,” claiming that the “process of destalinisation,” which is considered a hallmark of Khrushchev’s domestic policy, began “while Stalin was still alive”
    o Despite a number of smaller-scale purges, there was nothing to compare to the widespread arrest, torture and execution of military and civilian personnel during the 1930s
    o A strong degree of nationalism, particularly Russian nationalism (despite Stalin’s Georgian roots) was injected into Soviet wartime and post-war politics

    • Beginning with Khrushchev and his “secret speech” to the 20th communist party congress in February of 1956, Stalin’s contributions to allied victory in the Second World War and overall legacy were downplayed and denigrated
    o Khrushchev attributed the victory more to the Soviet armed forces, its generals and the Russian people, who succeeded “in spite of Stalin”
    o Following Khrushchev’s address, other criticism of Stalin emerged, culminating in full-blown condemnations of his leadership in the 1980s and 1990s, which were often tied to criticism of the overall Soviet system

    • Stalin was respected and even beloved by many people despite his “reputation for brutality and criminality . . . rivaled only by Adolf Hitler.”
    o Despite the anticipation that new condemnations of Stalin would appear after the fall of the Soviet Union, “many Russians” in the 1990s found “Stalin and his era . . . more attractive, not less.”
    o Initial obituary coverage of Stalin was “respectful” and “balanced,” given that “at this time Stalin was still seen as a relatively benign dictator”

    Other Notable Topics
    Stalin’s Personality/Political Philosophy:
    • Stalin’s leadership philosophies aided him greatly in the recovery of the Soviet war effort leading up to and following Stalingrad
    o Roberts refers to an interview from 1931 in which Stalin “argued that great individuals were those who correctly understood new conditions and how to change them.”
    o This belief in being able to readjust to new circumstances possibly foreshadowed Stalin’s and the Soviet Union’s recovery of the strategic initiative after fall/winter of 1942

    • One of Stalin’s most admirable qualities as a leader was his steadfastness and stoic calm in the face of adversity
    o Contrarily, in Stalin’s view, capitalist politicians were “very touchy and vindictive,” unlike communists, who were “led not by emotion but by reason, analysis and calculation.”

    • Stalin was also possessed of considerable personal charm in addition to political and organizational skill, “personally (dominating) everyone who came into close contact with him”
    o Regardless of his intense political paranoia and constant snuffing out of his rivals, Stalin’s personality was defined in many ways by its moderation
    o “Unlike Hitler, Stalin was not an egomaniac and he was prepared to share the historical limelight with two other men of destiny—Churchill and Roosevelt—as long as it continued to suit his purposes and interests”
    o Despite the cult of personality, “Stalin’s ambitions were limited; he was a realist and a pragmatist . . . a leader prepared to compromised, adapt and change, as long as it did not threaten the Soviet system or his own power”
    o Joseph E. Davis, the American ambassador in Moscow prior to the war, noted that “his demeanor is kindly, his manner almost deprecatingly simple . . . he gave me the impression of being sincerely modest”
    o Churchill claimed “Premier Stalin left upon me an impression of deep, cool wisdom and the absence of illusions . . . a man direct, even blunt, in speech . . . with that saving sense of humor which is of high import”

    Stalin and His Generals:
    • Stalin’s leadership was essential, not detrimental to Soviet victory in the Second World War, although his generals also played a crucial role in the victory
    o Both parties recovered from the disasters of 1941-42 and readjusted their tactics in order to succeed.
    o Stalin personally coordinated the complex Vistula-Oder offensive of early 1945 on his own from Moscow, given that his top deputies, Zhukov and Vasilevskii, were both commanding from the front

    • The most damaging quality of Stavka’s (the Soviet equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) war policy was its belief in the supremacy of offensive war
    o The Soviet army was geared towards attack and paid little attention to defense, which led to disaster in the early stages of the war—ironically, one of its greatest victories came at Kursk—one of the few battles in which the Red Army was deeply entrenched and well-prepared for the German assault

    • Responsibility for the Soviet Union’s early catastrophes in the war should be shared equally between Stalin and his generals.
    o Despite the claims of some historians, Stalin worked in close consort with his generals from the beginning of the conflict. Victory deepened Stalin’s trust in his ablest lieutenants, such as Vasilevskii, Zhukov, Konev, et al
    o Zhukov admitted in his memoirs that, “we did not foresee the large-scale offensive launched at once by all available forces which had been deployed in advance in all major strategic directions. In short, we did not envisage the nature of the blow in its entirety.”
    o According to Roberts, “What happened from Stalingrad onwards was that he listened more, the advice got better and he got better at taking it. The Soviet generals as well as Stalin were on a steep learning curve from day one of the war and it was only through the bitter experience of defeat that they became better commanders and he became a better Supreme Commander.”
    o Stalin always retained final veto power on major strategic decisions, although, “he had learned to trust his High Command when it came to many operational matters and to concentrate his own energies on troop morale and battle readiness, supplies issues and the work of political officers in the Red Army”

    • Contrary to the depiction that Stalin went into a state of denial and withdrawal at the opening of hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), Stalin was still in control
    o This was a myth propagated by Khrushchev during his “secret speech”—Khrushchev, himself, was in Kiev, rather than Moscow at the outbreak of war, with no direct vantage point of Stalin’s reaction
    o According to Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister, Stalin was not “portrayed as he really was . . . as usual, he worked day and night and never lost his head or his gift of speech. How did he comport himself? As Stalin was supposed to, firmly.”
    o Zhukov, the legendary Soviet General admitted that while Stalin was “somewhat depressed” on June 22, 1941, starting the following day “and throughout the war Stalin firmly governed the country”
    o Stalin’s appointment diary backs up the claims that, rather than being passive, he held a number of meetings with both generals and civilian administrators the day of the invasion

    • Stalin and his generals were on a steep learning curve from 1941 onwards. What saved the Soviet Union is that they were able to learn from their mistakes and adjust their tactics
    o Roberts observes that “by 1944 Stalin and Stavka had finally learned the lesson that the war would not be won in one fell swoop and that they had to concentrate on the achievement of one strategic goal at a time.”
    o Roberts notes that “by 1944 Stalin was much more realistic about what could be achieved by his armies and had learned the lesson that setting initially modest goals in offensive operations paid dividends in the long run.”

    Relations within the Grand Alliance
    • Remarkably, towards the end of the war, Stalin placed even more emphasis on the continuation of the Grand Alliance, mostly due to the “USSR’s need for a prolonged period of peace for reconstruction”
    o It was only as VE day approached that the “tensions and contradictions within the Soviet-Western coalition began to multiply and to challenge Stalin’s commitment to a peacetime Grand Alliance”
    o According to Roberts, Stalin was under the impression that the USSR could both help to spur a transition in Europe to socialism and communism and maintain its ties to the Grand Alliance with Britain and the United States

    • Roberts regards the rise of a Soviet-Communist bloc in Eastern Europe as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” for the Western powers
    o Their “overly defensive actions and reactions” triggered the counter-reaction of the Eastern bloc

    Post-War (Eastern & Central Europe):
    • According to Roberts, Stalin’s two main “strategic-political aims” after the war were:
    o “To continue the Grand Alliance with Britain and the United States in order to maintain the great power co-operation necessary to contain the long-term threat of a resurgent Germany”
    o “To pursue his long-term ideological goals in Europe through transitional regimes of people’s democracy, a political device which guaranteed that the USSR’s western borders would be buffered by friendly regimes.”

    • Roberts believes that Stalin originally intended more liberal political policies towards the liberated nations in Eastern Europe and that he imposed harsh control over these states only in response to American and British antagonism
    o If anything, it was intended as gradual reform rather than revolution along the lines of 1917
    o Prior to the end of the war, Stalin professed that “in friendship with the Slavic countries we want genuine democratic governments”

    • Roberts considers “the problem of how to contain or tame German power and aggression in Europe” as the key Soviet postwar security issue
    o Through the Berlin blockade, Stalin sought to prevent the rearmament of Germany and its membership in NATO
    o Initially, Stalin also sought to band the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe together to act as a bulwark against Germany
    o Stalin was recorded by a party official as seeking “the unification of the Slavic peoples as equals for the common defense of their existence and future.”

    • Following the Marshall Plan, though, Stalin abandoned his reformist strategy and through the creation of the Cominform, made a “rhetorical if not real return to the revolutionary perspective of the communist movement’s early days”
    o The notion that Europe had been divided into “two camps,” with the Eastern Bloc countries falling into an “anti-imperialist and democratic camp,” was proposed by Stalin’s ideology chief A.A. Zhdanov at the first Cominform conference in November 1946
    o This was the primary catalyst of the “sovietisation” of Eastern Europe, complete with “state-owned and controlled economies; centralized state planning; collectivized agriculture; and communist totalitarian intrusion into civil society”
    o This sovietization was not an immediate process—it proceeded at different rates in different countries, with Romania and Bulgaria being the first to succumb to powerful Soviet influence

    • Stalin claimed repeatedly that it was not his intention to impose communism on Eastern Europe
    o In a telegram from Stalin and Molotov to Tito and his Yugoslav communists: “And we deem it necessary to explain that we do not plan the sovietisation of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, but instead, prefer to maintain contacts with democratic Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, which will be allies of the USSR.”
    o Stalin asserted that “irrespective of political and social differences, all Slavs must ally with one another against the common enemy—the Germans. The history of Slavs teaches that an alliance between them is necessary to defend Slavdom.” (this does not explain why he went on to oppress non-Slavic groups such as the Latvians, Estonians, Romainians and Hungarians)

    Post-War (Domestic Perspective)
    • Stalin mostly concentrated on foreign policy after the war, stepping away from economic decision-making, to the benefit of the Soviet economy
    o Despite the collaboration with generals and politicians during the war and the efforts to cultivate national, particularly Russian pride, Stalin quickly moved to consolidate his power after the war through a series of brutal repressions
    o Despite this, the conditions in the Soviet Union did not nearly return to the level of the pre-war “purges”

    • The primary focus of the Soviet Union after the war was reconstruction
    o Roberts uses Mark Harrison’s calculations of the Soviet Union losing “25 percent of its physical assets and about 14 percent of its prewar population”
    o Further complicating matters was a tremendous famine in 1946-1947, which lead to the death of 1-1.5 million Soviet citizens of starvation and diseases

    • Despite the expectation that a social thaw would take place following the war, Stalin reinstituted oppressive policies towards the Soviet citizens
    o These oppressive policies were known collectively as “Zhdanovshschina,” which increased as the cold war grew
    o Transit camps were established in order to “probe the loyalty of citizens returning from foreign lands,” mostly POWs, many of which were sent to camps run by the NKVD
    o A general return of isolationism and restriction of citizen’s rights and movement were instituted
    o Groups such as the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were persecuted for purported contact with foreign entities and nations such as Israel
    o A domestic campaign was launched against “rootless cosmopolitanism,” which had an undercurrent of anti-semitism

    • Despite the increase of censorship and repression after the war, the number of political arrests and executions gradually tapered off between 1946 and 1952, a year before Stalin’s death
    o As soon as Stalin died, the Gulags were closed and quickly dismantled, although Roberts argues that “the preliminary steps had been taken while he was still alive”

    • Stalin’s relations with the Politburo were antagonistic and marked by a “disrespectful tone” on Stalin’s behalf
    o Even Molotov, the foreign minister, was forced by Stalin to divorce his Jewish wife for purported connections to state enemies during the “Doctors affair,” in which physicians were arrested for connections to purported capitalist plots
    o In Khrushchev’s memoirs, Stalin was quoted attacking the Politburo as being “blind like kittens, without me the imperialists will throttle you”

    Post-War (Global Perspective)
    • The US and Britain had as much to do with provoking the cold war as the Soviets did
    o The notion of the “cold war” was framed by George Kennan’s analysis of the situation in the USSR in his “long telegram of February 1946, while the situation was given its name by American journalist Walter Lippman
    o Following the former British prime minister’s “Iron Curtain” speech, Stalin claimed that “Churchill and his friends” were the primary cause for war fears in late 1946

    • There was great disappointment in the Soviet Union after the country was vilified in the West
    o Czechoslovak communist Zdenek Mlynar noted that the Soviet People felt they were “entitled to the special respect of all nations” for their sacrifices during the war, and that “any criticism (was) an insult to the memory of the dead”
    o AA Zhdanov also reflected on how “when our blood streamed in the battlefields they admired our courage, bravery, high morale and boundless patriotism. And now that we wish, in co-operation with other nations, to make use of our equal rights to participation in international affairs, they begin to shower us with abuse and slander, to vilify and abuse us, saying at the same time that we possess an unbearable and suspicious character.”

    • The Truman Doctrine was considered “even more provocative to the Soviets than Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ lecture”

    • Stalin abandoned the notion of detente with the West following the Marshall Plan aid package to Europe— Roberts claims that this “was the breaking point in postwar relations with the United States”
    o Stalin perceived that “in this American proposal are the clear contours of a West European bloc directed against us . . . this plan is an attempt to split Europe into two camps”
    o Part of the Soviets’ displeasure with the Marshall Plan came from their hope that they would be receiving a “large scale loan” of their own from the US in order to “help Soviet postwar reconstruction”

    • Stalin’s position on atomic weapons was more complex than is commonly believed
    o According to Roberts, Stalin never had a strong belief in the supremacy of atomic weapons
    o Gomulka, the communist leader of post-war Poland, claimed that Stalin asserted “not atomic bombs, but armies decide about the war”
    o Curiously, the Soviet news agency Tass claimed that the first Soviet atomic detonation was a “large-scale blasting” project tied to infrastructure development
    o Stalin was prepared, even after the USSR acquired nuclear weapons, to enter into discussions to control and limit atomic devices with the West

    • Despite the tense atmosphere, Stalin was convinced that the Western allies would not attack him, telling Gomulka that, “I am completely assured that there will be no war, it is rubbish”
    o The Soviet citizens were apprehensive of the notion of fighting a war with the West. Journalist Alexander Werth, “found people badly rattled by the talk about ‘the next war’ while in Moscow in 1946
    o Stalin’s primary intentions in “waging the cold war was not only to protect Soviet interests but to inflict a political and ideological defeat on warmongers in the west.”

    • Stalin pushed hard for strategic gains after the war in Iran in Turkey
    o Respectively, through the backing of a communist movement in Azerbaijan and by insisting on specific rights in the Dardanelles
    o He eventually backed off in order to not cause a “break in relations with Britain and the United States”

    • Roberts regards Stalin’s greatest error after the war the miscalculation in Korea
    o This is viewed as the one time he violated his policy of “peaceful coexistence with capitalism”
    o The war led to a final breakdown in East-West relations
    o Stalin gave his blessing to Kim Il Sung to attack South Korea and then persuaded Mao and the Chinese to endorse and support the invasion

  5. John Gordon said, on February 11, 2010 at 6.23am

    Study Questions
    Submitted by J. Gordon

    Ellis presents the myth of George Washington from Elis’s own vantage point as a youth. He details the American myth that has grown up around Washington and the phrase the “Father of our Country.” Does Ellis present a portrait of the man or does he present the “Foundingest Father of them all” and thus simply another portrait of the myth?

    Ellis presents Washington as acutely aware of status and class as it relates in both British society (and the officers of the British military) and in the Colonial society.
    Does Ellis present any evidence that this colors Washington attitudes towards the British in the Revolutionary War?

    Ellis presents an interpretation of Washington’s thinking on slavery (pp 160-167). According to Ellis, Washington tends to have serious moral qualms about slavery. Ellis seems to present slavery as an issue that Washington grappled with. According to Ellis, Washington came to an unsatisfactory and reluctant acceptance of both slavery as an institution and his own relationship with “this species of property.” Using the information presented by Ellis, and given his status in the new republic, could Washington have done more to end slavery?

    Ellis and other historians seem to agree that Washington was the only person with the status to be the first president. To what degree does Washington’s actions figure in the present make up of the federal government?

  6. Lois DiGianni said, on February 11, 2010 at 10.20am

    What is Ellis’s aim in writing “His Excellecy” ?
    What imethod does he use?
    What is the Big Question that Ellis seeks to answer in writing “His Excellency”?
    What is his overall thesis?
    What does he argue FOR and what does he argue AGAINST
    What are the points he raises to support his argument?
    What evidence does he use to demonstrate the points he makes to support his argument?
    Does Elllis come across as being credible and does he succeed in answering the Big Question that he raises in “His Excellency”?

  7. Gary Maerz said, on February 16, 2010 at 4.30pm

    Reviewed work:
    Onuf, Peter S. The Mind of Thomas Jefferson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007.

    1) Does Thomas Jefferson belong in the American pantheon of great politicians and intellectuals? The Declaration of Independence not withstanding, what is Thomas Jefferson’s political/intellectual legacy?

    2) How can historians make sense of Jefferson’s Republican idealism with the realities of his private life as a member of the slaveholding, planter elite? What can we make of his personal legacy?

    3) How was Jefferson able to effectively frame specific local grievances in universal terms?

    4) Does our current government fulfill the Republican vision Jefferson strove to achieve and defend?

    5) How do we explain the simultaneous development of Jeffersonian Anglophobia and Anglophiliac Federalism?

    6) Was Jefferson able to claim that “We are all Federalists” without betraying his Republicanism?

    7) Given that expanding the federal union naturally led to increasing power (in part to expand said union), how do we explain Jefferson’s willingness to indulge in expansionist sentiment? How was he able to maintain the integrity of individual liberties against growing national power?

    8) How should we characterize Jefferson’s version of Christianity? How did it lead to his virulent belief in separation of church and state?

    9) Given Jefferson’s belief of intellectual freedom (an ideal he applied to religion) leading to the triumph of truth, should we characterize his belief that public education should be used to serve republican causes as hypocritical?

  8. Karen Vera said, on February 25, 2010 at 5.36pm

    Can we (or should we) consider Thomas Jefferson a President with morality/ethics/virtue, even though he “loathed slavery”, according to Onuf, but yet he felt that African American needed to “remain as slaves”?

    Did Jefferon’s inability to separate church and state help and/or hinder his reputation as a political figure in his society and in how we study him today?

    There are several issues that were present during Jefferson’s presidency, that still continue today, for example, separation of church and state and the tireless fight for social justice. What can we apply from Jefferson’s beliefs (Enlightenment) to improve on these issues? And, was it perhaps that because he never uprooted, and perhaps disregarded these issues, that they have continued to linger in our society and our Government?

    How did the “friendships” that Jefferson made over his political career affect the political decisions he made?

    Specifically, were these “friendships” one of the encouragements to keep blacks enslaved for the supposed benefit of the new Republic?

    Was Jefferson’s idea of all men being capable of “reasoning”, a means of allowing society to deal with slavery and the church?

    Jefferson felt that African Americans did not have the ability to reason and that, furthermore, slaves were defined as “aliens” in America and, therefore, these “self evident truths” did not apply to them. How has Jefferson’s perception toward African American and his lack of consideration of them in his Declaration of Independence impacted American society today?

  9. Kate Jones said, on March 4, 2010 at 11.13am

    1) Abraham Lincoln, a staunch Whig, found himself and several other politicians creating the Republican Party. What were the driving forces behind this major political change?

    2) In our latest presidential campaign, many critics of Barack Obama said that he lacked the experience to be President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln also had very little experience in being an elected official. How did Lincoln go from always being the losing candidate to being one of the highest regarded U.S. presidents?

    3) A) Lincoln was never opposed to slavery, and believed that under the Constitution, the government had no right to interfere with it in different states. However, he also believed that slavery could not be permitted to go into free territory. As he got older, and after his election and the start of the war, his views started to change. How and why did Lincoln’s ideas change?

    3) B) At one time, Lincoln believed that the most rational way to deal with the problem of slavery was colonization, or sending the African-Americans back to Africa. How did Lincoln come to see the impracticality of that option or did he ever realize it?

    4) Lincoln’s main goal during the entirety of his presidency was to preserve the Union. What personal concessions, if any, did Lincoln have to make during his presidency in order to ensure that this would happen?

    5) Due in large part to the chaos on the home front, Lincoln did not acknowledge the fact that his Union was very close to war with the United Kingdom in 1861. How did Lincoln’s administration properly diffuse the Trent affair? If it was not dealt with properly, could this have had a disastrous effect on the “preserving of the Union?”

  10. Caitlin Withers said, on March 4, 2010 at 2.38pm

    Study Questions for 3/4/2010: Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
    Note: I have formulated the majority of my questions on the parts of the book pertaining to Lincoln’s presidency, as opposed to his childhood and early political life. I have done this with the title of the course in mind and I feel that these questions directly relate to the nature of the American Presidency, rather than Lincoln’s life in general.

    1. Explain and analyze Lincoln’s strategy during the 1958 election for the United States Senate. Begin your analysis with Lincoln’s attack on the Democratic Party and be sure to consider the debates with adversary Stephen A. Douglas. What role did the debates ultimately play and what was the end result? According to David Herbert Donald, how did Lincoln deal with the outcome?

    2. Explain, according to Donald, Lincoln’s reasoning and motivation in terms of selecting his cabinet members. The selection process was subject to geographic considerations. In addition, Lincoln was forced to consider the opinions and demands of some fellow Republicans, without whom his election would have been impossible. How did this ultimately affect the composition of his cabinet and future relations amongst and between cabinet members and Lincoln?

    3. In 1860-1861 Lincoln was forced to defend himself against an assertion he had made earlier in his political life. Lincoln had once stated that revolution was the “most sacred right” of a people. He went on to explain that all people had the right to rise up against their government and create one that better fit their needs. Donald suggests Lincoln had to “eat his own words.” How did he attempt to defend his position in the midst of the secession crisis?

    4. Explain and analyze the affect of the 1857 Dred Scott decision in terms of Lincoln’s faith, or lack thereof, in the “stability” of the law and the Constitution.

    5. When contemplating resupplying Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, Lincoln was forced to make a decisive, yet controversial decision. Discus the process by which Lincoln made his decision to resupply Fort Sumter, a decision that proved to be a catalyst for the Civil War. To whom in his cabinet did he turn to for advice? Furthermore, whose advice appeared to be most influential? Finally, according to the author, what did the lack of unity among Lincoln’s cabinet members do to his reputation as an individual, as well as the reputation of his administration? What did all this imply about the nature of the Republican Party in its infancy?

    6. Analyze Lincoln’s decision to call out the militia and ask for an additional 75,000 men. Was his decision ultimately endorsed or opposed? In addition, what was Lincoln’s reasoning, both symbolic and strategic, for declaring July 4 as the day on which Congress would convene?

    7. Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, “from Washington to Philadelphia,” did not, according to Donald, attract great attention until the arrest of Merryman. Describe the resulting conflict between Chief Justice Robert Taney and President Lincoln over the issue and consider the implications of their turbulent relationship. In addition to the suspension of habeas corpus, Lincoln expanded the regular army and navy, issued a blockade on Southern ports, and authorized the appropriation of funds from the Treasury in the interest of the war effort. All of this, however, he did without prior consent of Congress. How did Lincoln defend his dramatic wartime initiatives to Congress when it convened on July 4, 1861? Does Donald appear to find Lincoln’s defense valid with regard to the constitutionality of the issues?

    8. President Lincoln was criticized throughout the war for not attacking slavery and making it the focal issue of the war itself. Lincoln had been known to favor preservation of the union at all costs, and undoubtedly thought of preservation as the primary reason for fighting the war. His position on slavery, however, did transform as the war continued. Track this transformation from his early support for a colonization scheme, through his consideration of general emancipation, culminating in the Emancipation Proclamation, issued January 1, 1863. In short, explain how Lincoln arrived at the “conclusion that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued”(Donald, 362). Who or what proved to be most influential in Lincoln’s shift in policy with regard to slavery? Why? In addition, according to the author, what and/or whom did Lincoln employ to help ensure his emancipation proposal would not be met with too formidable a resistance?

    9. Explain any hesitation and/or reluctance, according to the author, on behalf of Lincoln to issue such a sweeping and unprecedented proclamation. In addition, if he had intentions of issuing general emancipation, why did he initially struggle with the Confiscation Acts developed by Congress? According to the author’s interpretation of Lincoln, did Lincoln believe Congress had the authority to free slaves belonging to rebels while justifying their actions in terms of the Confiscation Acts? If Congress did not possess such power, then who, according to Lincoln, did?

    10. Throughout the period of time during which Lincoln contemplated emancipation, he developed a sort of strategy in order to prepare the public, and hopefully pave a smooth road for his historic initiative. What was this strategy? And, according to the author, what was Lincoln’s reasoning behind his course of action? Why was it so essential to achieve a Union victory before issuing the proclamation?

    11. Why did some come to view Lincoln as a “dictator?” What was the reasoning, and according to the author, were these claims justified? What effect did Lincoln’s preliminary emancipation proclamation have on elections in the fall of 1862? What were these effects attributed to?

    12. Describe Lincoln’s involvement, or lack thereof, in Indian affairs. How did his inexperience and lack of knowledge on the subject contribute to his reputation as a leader, particularly after the massacre of 350 Americans by the Sioux, in Minnesota?

    13. Discuss Lincoln’s State of the Union address. To what issues did he assign importance and/or priority? Did Lincoln, according to the author, take advantage of the “opportunity to reformulate the basic goals of his administration,” in front of a rather critical audience? (Donald, 395.)

    14. How did the lack of unity among Lincoln’s cabinet affect public opinion? To what degree did the lack of harmony contribute to a negative view of not only Lincoln’s administration, but of Lincoln himself? Some critics, though dissatisfied with Lincoln, acknowledged his good intentions, “even though they doubted his will” (Donald, 399). How did Lincoln deal with the “creative friction” in his cabinet? (Donald, 400). How did Lincoln resolve the brief “cabinet crisis” toward the end of 1862? What, in the author’s opinion, did the experience help Lincoln learn about himself, as well as his previous relations and dealings with members of his cabinet?

    15. Donald explained that Lincoln did not spend much time on foreign affairs. Donald also emphasized, “British willingness to go to the brink of war over the Trent affair had offered further evidence that the American Civil War could be easily transformed into an international conflict” (Donald, 413). How did Lincoln deal with foreign affairs? Analyze his attempts at negotiating peace abroad, particularly with Great Britain and France, while struggling to suppress domestic rebellion simultaneously. In addition, explain why and how Lincoln came to realize the importance of “influencing public opinion abroad in favor of the Union cause” (Donald, 415). How did Lincoln attempt to accomplish this formidable task and whose services did he employ?

    16. Throughout the war Lincoln was frequently dissatisfied with the Army of the Potomac, specifically with regard to those generals to whom he had awarded command of the army. Frequent conflict coupled with dispute over the correct course of action plagued Lincoln and his relationship with more than one general. In an attempt to establish control over the Army of the Potomac, in addition to his effort to “give a new direction to public opinion,” Lincoln, according to Donald, began to stray from his idea of the “traditional” president. Donald also notes Lincoln’s resistance to break with tradition. What did Lincoln do to reassert control and re-establish himself as a firm and capable leader?

    17. Analyze the Gettysburg Address. Note Lincoln’s intentions and evaluate his success. According to Donald, Lincoln did not confide in anyone with regard to the address he was scheduled to give at Gettysburg. However, Donald insists, “his text suggested his purpose” (Donald, 461). What, according to Donald, was this purpose? Was it accomplished? Also consider the praise as well as the criticism that ensued following his delivery of the address.

    18. Donald explained that “decisive Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga,” contributed greatly to the idea that the defeat of the Confederacy was imminent. This development undoubtedly required Lincoln to consider “the terms of reconstruction” (Donald, 469). Explain the difficulty in establishing a unified plan for reconstruction, citing the numerous differences over the issue. What was Lincoln’s position on the issue of reconstruction and what was his plan for the future of the South? To what extent, according to Donald, did the issue of reconstruction play a role in the 1864 presidential election?

    19. What opposition did Lincoln face when he sought re-nomination and subsequent re-election to the presidency? What was the nature of the opposition, and how, according to Donald, was Lincoln able to secure victory?

    20. According to Donald, “Lincoln’s renomination put him in a better position to assert his leadership both in his administration and his party” (Donald, 507). Cite examples to support Donald’s assertion, “that he Baltimore convention had changed the political landscape” (Donald, 508).

    21. Overall, how would you characterize the author’s portrait of Lincoln? Did it satisfy you as a reader? As a historian?

  11. Michael Bukowski said, on March 10, 2010 at 9.31am

    Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
    John Milton Cooper, Jr.

    -Did the fact that Woodrow Wilson grew up in a time of war affect his ideas on war and war policies in his presidency?

    -Cooper writes that Alexander Hamilton was Wilson’s favorite of the “founders of the republic”. How are his ideas aligned with Hamilton’s?

    -What contradictions does Cooper give us on Wilson’s thoughts at times and actions regarding woman’s suffrage?

    -What contradictions does Cooper give us on Wilson’s thoughts at times and actions regarding matters of race?

    -In what ways did Wilson’s presidency at Princeton parallel his presidency of the United States?

    -In what ways was it ironic that Wilson became a governor?

    -Would Roosevelt have beaten Wilson in a two-man presidential race in 1912?

    -What were some of Wilson’s goals in entering his first term of presidency of the United States?

    -Was Wilson experienced enough in foreign matters and diplomacy when he first entered his U.S. presidency? What mistakes came from possible inexperience?

    -When and why did Wilson’s policy on the war overseas change from neutrality to preparedness?

    -How is Cooper’s statement, “He cared more about what people would think of him in ten years than what they thought now,”(308) a theme we have seen among many presidents, especially Washington?

    -Did Wilson fail to make a difference in civil rights and other issues due to the fact that he could not put his heart and mind in the cause because of the war? Would he have made great strides otherwise?

    -Is Wilson a hero for his leadership of America through the war? Is this his legacy?

    -Did Wilson’s post-war policy establish a soft-peace with Germany that lead to World War II? What other mistakes did Wilson make in peace conventions?

    -Does Cooper make excuses for Wilson too often throughout the book?

    -What are some of Cooper’s strengths as a writer, biographer, and historian? Weaknesses?

  12. JJ Herman said, on March 11, 2010 at 4.11pm

    Woodrow Wilson by John Milton Cooper Jr.

    1. What effect does the author illustrate the Civil War (slavery and the freeing of slaves) having on Wilson?
    2. How does growing up in the South affect Wilson policies on race relations?
    3. The author writes that Taft took votes away from Roosevelt. Did Wilson get elected the first time because of his own merit or because the republican vote was split between Taft and Roosevelt?
    4. How did the election affect how Wilson went about in his rhetoric on the War?
    5. Based on how the author describes the politics and personal feelings of Wilson’s staff, Was siding with the British a given? or was there a possibility of the Americans siding with the Germans or staying completely neutral?
    6. According to the author did Wilson envision his 14 points turning into an abstract idea as opposed to a pragmatic approach to solving a problem?
    7. How did Wilson’s advisors affect his own decision on issues both domestic and foreign?
    8. The author states that Wilson was worried that if the German’s were victorious then civilization would change completely…how so?
    9. Had Wilson not been so hands off with his staff would he not have been as affective as he was?

  13. JJ Herman said, on March 11, 2010 at 4.15pm

    Edited Questions from my previous post:

    1. What effect does the author illustrate the Civil War having on Wilson?
    2. How does growing up in the South affect Wilson policies on race relations?
    3. Was Wilson “progressive” as can be seen in his appointments or were his critics correct in stating that he really did not want to deal with it?
    4. The author writes that Taft took votes away from Roosevelt. Did Wilson get elected the first time because of his own merit or because the republican vote was split between Taft and Roosevelt?
    5. How did the election affect how Wilson went about in his rhetoric on the War?
    6. Based on how the author describes the politics and personal feelings of Wilson’s staff, Was siding with the British a given? or was there a possibility of the Americans siding with the Germans or staying completely neutral?
    7. According to the author did Wilson envision his 14 points turning into an abstract idea as opposed to a pragmatic approach to solving a problem?
    8. How did Wilson’s advisors affect his own decision on issues both domestic and foreign?
    9. The author states that Wilson was worried that if the German’s were victorious then civilization would change completely…how so?
    10. Had Wilson not been so hands off with his staff would he not have been as affective as he was?

  14. Joshua Gold said, on March 11, 2010 at 6.30pm

    1. In what ways did Wilson living through the Civil War impact his political policies?

    2. To what degree did the rising tide of progressivism impact Wilson’s legislative success?

    3. What were the factors that contributed to Wilson turning into such a strong anti-trust advocate?

    4. What internal and external factors shaped Wilson’s legislative program as president?

    5. How much, if at all, did Wilson’s leaning toward the allies impact his dealings with Germany during the submarine crisis?

    6. How were Wilson’s attitudes toward his second terms different from his attitudes toward his first?

    7. Was Bryan justified in retiring due to Wilson’s stance on war?

    8. How influential was Tumulty in the decision to enter the war?

  15. Jackey Wu said, on March 24, 2010 at 3.22pm

    FDR by Jean Edward Smith

    1. FDR growing up was seen as someone who was of self-interest. However, under his administration, his agenda included government intervention and the implementation of social programs. When did FDR develop this liberal idea for his administration?

    2. How much of an impact did FDR’s time spent at Warm Springs, Georgia have on shaping his political ideology?

    3. According to Smith, how much of FDR’s New Deal did he consider ineffective?

    4. If FDR was not seeking support from Southern conservative Democrats, what kind of influence would he have on civil rights?

    5. Smith argued against the notion that FDR was well aware of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. Would you agree with his supporting statements?

    6. How much of an influence was Eleanor Roosevelt in shaping FDR’s presidential agenda?

    7. What kind of impact did FDR’s decision to intern Japanese-American citizens have on his legacy?

  16. Samantha Scanlon said, on March 24, 2010 at 9.09pm

    Roosevelt has often been accused of pretending to be an isolationist while secretly leading the country to war. How do his foreign policy decisions leading up to the war support or refute this statement?

    How did Roosevelt’s relationship to big business change between the first and second Hundred Days, and how is this change reflected in the legislation passed during these periods?

    How do you think FDR re-shaped America post stock market crash?

    What is one of the major foreign policy lessons that Roosevelt learned from watching Woodrow Wilson in office? How did this effect the way that he handled America’s entry into World War II?

    Why do you think FDR’s fourth term deteriorated democracy?

    Why do you think so many people trusted FDR?

    Do you believe that Roosevelt’s motivation for the New Deal stemmed from political expediency or humanitarianism? Does his poor record of protection of civil rights support or dispute your answer?

    Why another biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the subject of more than any modern president? What do you think the goal of Jean Edward Smith in writing this book and was it accomplished?

  17. Robert Markuske said, on March 24, 2010 at 9.21pm

    An Unfinished Life John f. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek

    1. If we follow the guidance of Jacob Bronowski as did Dallek; What would be the “impertinent” question to find the “pertinent answer” surmising JFK’s public and private lives?

    2. Can we disentangle JFK’s Presidency from his years prior? What could be the description for the other? What caused what in a biographical description?

    3. Can we make concrete fantasies of what the world could have been if JFK wouldn’t been assassinated? Particularity using his role in the oval office as a baseline.

    4. Can we use his privileged youth to describe his public and private life? In addition, which did it conquer the most or did it do it equally? And how did that play in the oval office?

    5. Can we see a bleeding heart liberal evolve over the years through his political career? And even more so in his presidency?

    6. Was Jack a rational liberal or a emotional liberal? How would his presidency answer this question?

    7. Was JFK built for the presidential power he so portrayed in his image? What built it; his public or private life?

    8. Did Jack Kennedy live a double life?

    9. Did the role of the presidency change after JFK was in office? While and after his assassination? Could we consider this along the lines of strengthening the role of the position as the progressives wanted?

  18. Brian Cross said, on March 24, 2010 at 10.39pm

    1. How does FDR make decisions based on the Southern Democracy?

    2. Can Roosevelt be given credit for the decision in the Brown v. Board of Ed. Case?

    3. What forces tore down the Plessy v. Ferguson and constructed Brown?

    4. What was FDR’s constitutional vision?

    5. Was FDR a strong advocate of civil rights?

    6. Was FDR’s Constitutional vision easily accomplished because of him being a progressive president?

  19. Kerry Trainor said, on April 12, 2010 at 5.16pm

    1. To what extent does the title “Nixonland” reflect Perlstein’s thesis?
    2. Why, in writing a book about Nixon, does Perlstein begin with the Watts riots?
    3. In terms of character, what does the author mean when he describes Nixon as an “old mans view of a young man”?
    4. To what extent did Nixon’s temperament as a “serial collector of resentments” shape both his cabinet selections, and his policy?
    5. Is Perlstein correct in his analysis of the Nixon presidency as a watershed period for cultural change in America?
    6. To what extent can we detect bias on the part of the author?
    7. How does this bias (calling George Romney a ‘glamor boy’, or Dean Rusk ‘maniacal’) shape the overall narrative that Perlstein is trying to present?
    8. How much credit should we give monographs that attempt to portray any presidency as if it were a psychodrama?
    9. Perlstein says Nixon’s legacy is the “notion that there are two kinds of Americans.” On one side are “values voters” and other conservatives. On the other side are liberals who feel threatened by these conservatives who have been made paranoid by their status anxieties. Does he prove this argument?
    10. Are we, as Perlstein seems to suggest, still living in Nixonland?

  20. Nicole Lamanna said, on April 12, 2010 at 7.10pm

    NIXONLAND: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
    By Rick Perlstein

    1. How does Nixonland stand out amongst other 1960s narratives? Does Perlstein’s depiction of such an obsessed-over era do justice to the political time?

    2. Perlstein writes that Nixon was “struggling to forge a public language that promised mastery of the strange new angers, anxieties, and resentments wracking the nation” (Perlstein, p. xii). How does he depict the relationship between Nixon and the 1960s political climate? How was Nixon’s reaction to the 1960s counterculture critical to his rise to the American presidency?

    3. How did anti-communism help shape Nixon’s career from his early campaigns to HUAC to Vietnam? Despite his fervent anti-communist stance, Nixon made history by opening the door to China and Russia. How do we explain this apparent contradiction?

    4. Nixon once said: “I’m fundamentally relatively shy. It doesn’t come naturally to me to be a buddy-buddy boy… I can’t really let my hair down with anyone.” Did Nixon have an accurate view of himself? How did his personality help him achieve success?

    5. Perlstein asserts that Nixon was a troubled man who came to view his political adversaries as enemies of both himself and the nation. Was Perlstein’s depiction of Nixon overly empathetic? How does Perlstein believe Nixon’s personality contributed to his downfall?

    6. To revisit last week’s in-class discussion of the question of value, how do we view Nixon’s presidency? What is Nixon’s legacy? As historians, is it possible to separate the Watergate affair from his legacy? How would Americans view Nixon today if the Watergate affair had never occurred?

  21. Chandra Singh said, on April 22, 2010 at 4.05am

    1. Richard Nixon was the first President since Zachary Taylor to be elected without a majority for his party in either the House or the Senate. To what extent did this affect his presidency?

    2. Nixon was a self described “chance-taker.” In many ways, he pushed aggressively to expand presidential power and pushed the boundaries during his first 4 years in office. How did his involvement in Vietnam bring about change in Congress?

    3. In regards to sources, Perlstein relies heavily on second hand sources. Does this, in any way, makes his argument less credible?

    4. To what extent does the Watergate Scandal play into Nixon’s legacy? Had it not been for the scandal, how would he be viewed on domestic and international policy?

    5. Perlstein claims that as Americans, we are still living in “Nixonland,” since we still “hate each other enough to fantasize about killing one another in cold blood, over political and cultural disagreements.” Is he correct in stating that Nixonland has not ended?

  22. Joy Rotstein said, on April 22, 2010 at 3.31pm

    Study questions: Nixonland
    1. How in the 8 years between LBJ to Richard Nixon did the US political landscape take such a dramatic change in party lines?
    2. How did Nixon create such a polarizing sentiment for the American people, simultaneously evoking both hatred and love?
    3. How did Nixon risefrom the poltical grave to seize and hold the presidency?
    4. Why would the platform which was left after LBJ’s presidency tantamount to the begininnings of a second civil war?
    5. How did Nixon’s childhood lay the foundation for a brash and aggressive individual to emerge?
    6. How have “dirty jobs” framed Nixon’s political career?
    7. How did the youth of America’s relationship with other cultures serve to enhance Nixon’s political agendas?
    8. How did Nixon’s resignation from office define the terms for the ideological divide that characterizes America today?
    9. How did Richard Nixon serve to reshape the national self image for all time?

  23. Bradley Alter said, on April 29, 2010 at 2.29pm

    1. How do we see Hayward as a historian given the polemic tone of his text? How do his professional affiliations shade his interpretation of Reagan’s presidency?

    2. Does Hayward’s [loose] use of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” serve his polemic ends while weakening his argument as a historian? If so how?

    3. What is Hayward’s understanding about the office of the president compared to that of Skowronek – especially in regard to the ending of the cold war [Reagan as the “Great Liberator”] and setting the international agenda [“tear down this wall”].

    4. To what extent is the narrative constructed by Hayward limited by the nature of his sources [personal papers and friendly secondary sources]. Can we say Hayward confronts criticisms of the Reagan presidency head-on or does he simply craft a polemic having had put the wagon in front of his horse?

    5. Is Hayward’s argument that that Reagan’s foreign and domestic policies were ideologically congruent supported by the evidence he presents? The notion that unlimited government is a threat to liberty [shrink domestic government and opposes foreign totalitarianism].

    6. Hayward’s use of Reagan’s personal writings and reference to his engagement in the drafting speeches serves to counter the [“liberal”] assertion that Reagan did not posses the intellectual skills required of the office of president. Taking this argument at face value does it have any bearing on our assessment of Reagan’s presidency or is it a Red Herring?

    7. Hayward asserts that the Reagan that emerges from his text neither satisfies today’s conservatives nor confirms liberal critiques. In many ways Reagan is painted as a pragmatist. Still Hayward insists on deriving an ideology. Does Hayward confuse ideology with worldview; or is he simply speaking in the language of contemporary conservatism and explaining-away aspects of Reagan that do not adhere. See Churchill quotation from “Consistency in Politics” pp. 211.

  24. Adam Lasky said, on May 5, 2010 at 7.46pm

    Study Questions for The Clinton Tapes (5-6-10)

    1. Taylor begins his assessment of Clinton stating “President Clinton spoke matter-of-factly about political warfare.” Throughout the book, Taylor writes of the public and political criticism of Clinton that he either stood for too much or nothing at all. How did Clinton approach the presidency? Did he stand for anything? Or was everything a political calculation?

    2. The issuing of taping is in the forefront of the entire book. Taylor asserts that Clinton was “preparing for history even before taking office.” How did Clinton view his presidency in reference to the tapes? What dangers (both legal and political) did Clinton face by recording an oral history while in office?

    3. Did Clinton have a coherent domestic agenda similar to a New Deal or Great Society or New Frontier? As Taylor suggests, to what extent did Clinton take “criticism for trying to have it both ways” and “flip-flopping” on domestic issues?

    4. Whitewater, Travelgate, the Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky scandals all played major roles during the Clinton years. How did they impact his administration and his ability to push his agenda through Congress and to the American people? To what extent did scandal become an underlying theme in Clinton’s legacy?

    5. When Taylor talked to the president about his relationship with the press, Clinton “raised his hands, stood up, and walked away to compose himself.” What was his relationship with the press like? How did it impact his popularity?

    6. In referencing intervention with Haiti, Clinton reacts that nobody in leadership wants intervention. “His enemies were gleeful, while his allies were furious or dismayed. He said friends called him three turns short of loopy, asking why he would focus on Haiti before the off-term elections.” Do we see a more principled approach to foreign policy in Clinton? In Bosnia, Haiti, the Middle East?

    7. How does Clinton respond to the 1994 GOP Revolution and Newt Gingrich in particular? What was the fallout of the government shutdown in 1995?

    8. Clinton states during the impeachment process “I am convinced that history will vindicate me and will record that my opponents have damaged the country.” Is he right? Was the impeachment more political than constitutional?

  25. Alexis Schild said, on May 13, 2010 at 8.38am

    The Audacity to Win: Discussion Questions

    1) In what ways have the changes in our values as a society changed the way politicians run for office? Did the Obama campaign set a new standard in the political arena and the way we expect candidates and their organizations conduct themselves in the race?

    2) How did technology help a new wave candidate like Barack Obama?

    3) Why did so many people “in the establishment” deny that the campaign strategies would work even after they were tested and proven to work? Will there decisions and opinions be different in the future since he captured the nomination and won the presidency?

    4) The health care debate started long before Obama reached the white house. Did his ideaa/policy recommendations change from the primary discussion to the proposed bill? Why, when he had support at first from both sides of the aisle, did that change so drastically when he got into office and seriously went about reforming health care?

    5) What will be the lasting effects of a campaign like Obama’s? Do you think the outpouring of the youth, the technology utilization, and the community/grassroots organizaation will filter into every political campaign?

    6) Is this book meant to be a blueprint to a successful campaign, outining a new strategy and successes and failures, or a way for Plouffe to close thsi chapter of his life and move on to the next?

    7) In the acknolegements of the book Plouffe states that President Obama encouraged the writing and the book and wanted the story of the campaign to be told. Why, as president, would Obama feel it necessary that the story of his “road to the white house” be told by Plouffe?

    8) Does this book make you think seriously about wanting to join a campaign? (It was something i thought about as I read through the book)

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