Photo courtesy of Drake Communications
BY KATHRYN GAITO
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said few presidents in American history have been great enough to leave a lasting impression as he delivered the 39th annual Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture on the evening of Nov. 14.
Brinkley is an American author and a professor of history at Rice University in Houston, Texas, who is also the history commentator for CNN and contributing editor for Vanity Fair and American Heritage.
“Since Washington, the presidents have defined our eras,” Brinkley said. “We talk in terms of the Clinton years, the Reagan years, the Kennedy years, the Johnson years.”
Brinkley started the night off with a man not many people know: Charles Thompson.
Brinkley said Thompson was in the shadows during the beginning of the country and served as the scribe for the discussions which occurred, and instead of publishing his notes, Thompson burned the documents knowing that the ugliness of the country’s birth would tear the new country apart.
Thompson pushed Washington to run for president, knowing he could pull the country together, which Brinkley said is a defining factor of a presidency.
Washington was the first president and will always live on in history through monuments and the naming of the Capital after him.
Brinkley explained Thomas Jefferson is considered the top-ranked president in the first presidential era after Washington. Jefferson was a man of the people and knew the value of the United States.
Brinkley said Jefferson advocated for the expansion of the country and welcomed every person who became an American citizen.
“Abraham Lincoln has been picked by every president as a person of guidance,” Brinkley said.
He believes that Lincoln had it the worst out of all the presidents.
When Lincoln was killed, his body was returned to his hometown, and at the same time the troops were returning home from the Civil War. This was the end of one era but the beginning of something new, Brinkley said.
Lincoln was the start of the Republican domination of the presidency, Brinkley said.
Theodore Roosevelt was the next president to leave a lasting impression.
“Roosevelt said that nature is our gift to our children,” Brinkley said.
Roosevelt advocated for national parks and the protection of animals and believed that nature would be around long after any person and therefore needs to be protected.
The first major challenge of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency was overcoming the Great Depression.
Brinkley said that FDR tried to restore the country’s faith in the federal government by showing that they cared and were here to help while also making improvements to the country.
John F. Kennedy’s political views started the next era, according to Brinkley. Kennedy made the shift to technological advancements with the focus of getting men to the moon, and the space program was what put him on the map, but it also brought the country together and gave them something to look forward to.
After FDR and Kennedy, the country moved back to a focus on nature.
Ronald Reagan was the first to notice the government needed to change and did this by rolling back everything that was done after FDR left office, Brinkley said.
In recent presidential history, Barack Obama was used as a “firewall” to make sure recent laws are not removed. Brinkley said that because Obama was a “firewall,” his presidency was not the most productive.
Historians have yet to fully understand if Donald Trump will follow one of the previous presidential eras or will start a new one with his beliefs. Trump is showing the actions of someone who wants to get rid of and restart the government process, and Brinkley said it will be interesting to see where it goes.
Throughout Brinkley’s speech, the audience of all ages and demographics was engaged and laughing at his jokes.
At the end of his speech, there was a Q&A session which lasted about 30 minutes. People asked questions regarding Brinkley’s thoughts on different political figures and current issues in the country.
For Grace Mikelsons, a first-year at Drake, this was her first Bucksbaum lecture.
“I learned a lot,” Mikelsons said, explaining it was a great way to understand the history of the United States presidents.
Mikelsons said she is looking forward to future Bucksbaum lectures.
Noah Manderfeld, a sophomore, had positive words to say about Brinkley along with the Bucksbaum lectures in general.
“Brinkley is a really smart guy and has written a ton of books with one being about Walter Cronkite,” Manderfeld said.