This popular educational series includes four lectures and four receptions and is designed to provide a deeper understanding of, and expertise in, a particular subject related to George Washington. This year’s theme is American Empire: Washington and the West. Lectures will take place from September 24 through November 19, 2015.

Dates and Time


$150 for members of the Friends of Mount Vernon and Neighborhood Friends

$175 general public


All programs take place in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Auditorium located at the Mount Vernon Inn Complex. Receptions and book-signings take place in the same facility immediately following the lecture.

American Empire: Washington and the West
Joseph J. Ellis, Ph.D.

When the American colonies decided to declare their independence from Great Britain in 1776, no one said or thought that American independence would entail acquisition of a western empire stretching from the Appalachian mountains to the Mississippi. By both disposition and experience George Washington was prepared to understand the opportunities and challenges of what was called "the domain" more than any prominent American leader. Two questions demanded answers: How could a republic oversee an empire? And could Native Americans be folded into the revolutionary legacy?



About Joseph J. Ellis
Ellis is one of the nation's leading scholars of American history. The author of eight books, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers: the Revolutionary Generation and won the National Book Award for American Sphinx, a biography of Thomas Jefferson. His in-depth chronicle of the life of our first President, His Excellency: George Washington, was a New York Times bestseller.

Ellis' essays and book reviews appear regularly in major national publications. His commentaries have been featured on CBS, CSPAN, CNN, and PBS, and he has appeared in several documentaries on early America, including “John and Abigail” for The American Experience, and a History Channel documentary on George Washington

Ellis currently teaches in the Leadership Studies program at Williams College. He previously taught at the University of Massachusetts, Mount Holyoke College, and the United States Military Academy at West Point.

September 24, 2015, 7:00 pm Interiors

The core features of Washington’s character congealed as a young man between 1748 and 1758 on the western frontier during the French and Indian War. While his later experiences as master of Mount Vernon and commander of the Continental Army certainly influenced his development, those subsequent changes rested atop the psychological and emotional foundation established by war and survival in the American interior. Without ever reading Hobbes, he knew that life was nasty, brutish and short; he also knew that all utopian schemes were illusions, that he was actually better than his British betters, and that one could never trust what one could not control. The three "Rs” of Washington’s early education were resilience, realism, and responsibility. His first victory, as Gouverneur Morris said at his funeral, was over himself.

October 29, 2015, 7:00 pm Accidental Empire

While the great principle won by the Treaty of Paris (1783) was American independence, the great prize was the vast expanse between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi. Washington was one of the few Americans to understand the American Revolution as a continuation of the French and Indian War, meaning a struggle for control of the eastern third of the North American continent. And he did not believe that the Revolution could be complete until it produced a national government capable of managing development of what was called “the domain.” But how could that happen when, almost by definition, a republic could not be an empire? Throughout his first retirement, Washington grappled with that question, and the answer he reached eventually forced him, against his will, to come out of retirement and chair the Constitutional Convention.

November 19, 2015, 7:00 pm Washington and McGillivray

Although only a few of his biographers have noticed it, Washington’s chief domestic priority during his first term as president was to find a way to avoid Indian removal east of the Mississippi.  Dispossessing the roughly 80,000 Native Americans living there violated the core values of the revolution he had fought and wrought, or so he believed, and, working with Secretary of War Henry Knox, his old artillery commander, he fashioned an “enclave” strategy in conjunction with the Creek chief, Alexander McGillivray, designed to fold Indians into the revolutionary legacy. For one month in the summer of 1790 Washington hosted McGillivray and twenty-six Creek chiefs in New York to draft a model treaty that created a secure homeland that was off limits to white settlements and under the protection of the federal government. It was the kind of desperate gamble that Washington was accustomed to winning, but turned out to be the most painful defeat of his presidency.

Bonus Lecture By Flora Fraser

November 4, 2015, 7:00 pm

A major work of American history: a full-scale portrait of the marriage of the father and mother of our country–and of the struggle for independence that he led.

Here are the socially awkward young soldier and the charming and very rich young widow he wooed and won; the early years of their marriage at Mount Vernon; his inflexible determination and iron will throughout the long war; she, joining him every year in Valley Forge and the army’s other winter quarters, essential to his personal well-being but also a commanding and admired figure in her own right; and, finally, the eight years of America’s first presidency: he, the reluctant president, and she, the faultless first lady, both longing to return to their beloved Mount Vernon. Here, too, are the domestic Washingtons–Martha presiding over dinners for foreign dignitaries, keeping careful control of her children and her inheritance; George, even while commanding the revolutionary army, always concerned about her welfare and safety, worrying about his stepchildren, and when the rare occasion arose, dancing the night away with any pretty woman he could find. A major, and vastly appealing, contribution to the literature of our founding fathers … and founding mother.

About the Author

Flora Fraser grew up in London and Scotland, and studied classics at Oxford University before becoming a professional writer. She is the daughter of bestselling biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, is the author of Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III, Beloved Emma: The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton, and Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire. She lives in London.

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