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Creating Modern America: From George Washington to Donald Trump (NJ)

October 08, 2017 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM


2:00 PM - 3:20 PM
From Washington to Lincoln: The Presidency Emerges

Louis Masur / Rutgers University

After the Revolution, Americans mistrusted executive power. They had rejected monarchical authority and had no intention of replacing it; the Articles of Confederation made no provision for an executive branch. When George Washington became president, politicians debated what to call him. Thomas Jefferson best expressed the anxiety over a centralized executive when he declared, "that government is best which governs least."

But over time, the Presidency became more powerful, so much so that Abraham Lincoln employed executive authority in unprecedented ways to help win the Civil War. In this lecture we will trace the transformation of the Presidency from Washington to Lincoln and discuss how certain modern features of the office first emerged.

Louis Masur / Rutgers University
Louis Masur is a Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. He received outstanding teaching awards from Rutgers, Trinity College, and the City College of New York, and won the Clive Prize for Excellence in Teaching from Harvard University. He is the author of many books including "Lincoln's Last Speech," which was inspired by a talk he presented at One Day University. His essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, and Chicago Tribune. He is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and serves on the Historians' Council of the Gettysburg Foundation.

3:40 PM - 5:00 PM
American Foreign Policy: Where Are We Headed?

Stephen Kotkin / Princeton University

Think back to the 1970s: the end of the Vietnam War, inflation, America's rust-belt factories going bust, disco, a stagnant Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev, intense global poverty in populous places like Communist China. Now look around today, 40+ years later: the Soviet Union is long gone and Russia has a large middle class,led by strongman Vladimir Putin, a villain straight out of Hollywood central casting. Now China is the world's great economic dynamo. And here at home we have a new Commander-in-Chief  with very different attitudes towards the rest of the world than the Presidents who came before him. 

What happened? How should we understand these changes? How might things look another 40 years hence? Does this portend a decline in American power and influence? Is America's place in the world, in fact, changing? Should it change? Or, is this just a temporary phenomenon, overhyped, a marketing slogan? Might China instead crash? Is Russia set for further reversals, too? What are the real strengths and weaknesses of China, Russia and our own United States? More broadly, what lessons can we draw from these cases about global geopolitics and the world in which our children and grandchildren will inherit?

Stephen Kotkin / Princeton University
Stephen Kotkin is the John P. Birkelund Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton. Professor Kotkin established the department's Global History workshop. He serves on the core editorial committee of the journal, World Politics. He founded and edits a book series on Northeast Asia. From 2003 until 2007, he was a member and then chair of the editorial board at Princeton University Press, and is a regular book reviewer for the New York Times Sunday Business section.


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