The American Presidency: Decisions for War and Peace: Elizabeth Varon

Public | Jan, 19 2023 4:00PM - 5:15PM

The American Presidency: Decisions for War and Peace: Elizabeth Varon

The United States has waged wars, large and small, almost continually across two and a half centuries. No figure looms as large in that history as the American president, the embodiment of national will, the nation’s preeminent diplomat, and the commander in chief of its armed forces. How have presidents made decisions about war and peace? How have they balanced American ideals with defense of the nation’s interests? Why have they succeeded in achieving their goals in some cases but not in others?

This six-part virtual series explores these and other questions through lively conversations with eminent historians of American politics, diplomacy, and military affairs. Each session will begin with a moderated discussion led by LBJ Library Director Mark Lawrence but will allow ample time for questions from the audience. Over six weeks leading up to Presidents’ Day, we will sweep across American history from the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. We will examine presidents from Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, delving into their choices about war and peace as well as the implications of those decisions for the nation’s present and future.


Full schedule:

January 12     Charlie Laderman, King’s College London, on Woodrow Wilson and peacemaking after World War I

January 19     Elizabeth Varon, University of Virginia, on Abraham Lincoln and the end of the Civil War

January 26     Marc Selverstone, Miller Center for Public Affairs, University of Virginia, on John F. Kennedy and the escalation of the Vietnam War

February 2     William Inboden, University of Texas at Austin, on Ronald Reagan and the end of the Cold War

February 9     Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, Columbia University, on Richard Nixon and the end of America’s war in Vietnam

February 16   Melvyn Leffler, University of Virginia, on George W. Bush and the road to war in Iraq



We will be using a Zoom webinar. Each session will begin with a moderated discussion led by LBJ Library Director Mark Lawrence but will allow ample time for questions from the audience.



Advance registration is required. You only need to register once for the series; you do not need to register for each week’s session. Once you register, you can expect to receive an email with a link to join the event. Questions about registration? Email

Register now to join us.

About the speaker:

On January 19, 2023, Elizabeth Varon will join us to talk about Abraham Lincoln and the end of the Civil War

Elizabeth R. Varon is Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia and a member of the executive council of UVA's John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History. Varon grew up in northern Virginia. She received her PhD from Yale, and has held teaching positions at Wellesley College and Temple University. A specialist in the Civil War era and 19th-century South, Varon is the author of We Mean to be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (1998); Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy (2003), Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 (2008) and Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War (2013). Southern Lady, Yankee Spy won three book awards and was named one of the “Five Best” books on the “Civil War away from the battlefield” in the Wall Street Journal. Appomattox won the 2014 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Nonfiction and was named one of National Public Radio’s “Six Civil War Books to Read Now.” Varon’s public presentations include book talks at the Lincoln Bicentennial in Springfield; and at Gettysburg’s Civil War Institute; and on C-Span’s Book TV. Her most recent book, Armies of Deliverance:  A New History of the Civil War, won the 2020 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize and was named one of the Wall Street Journal's best books of 2019. She is currently working on a biography of James Longstreet, forthcoming with Simon & Schuster in 2023.

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