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As America endures one of the most contentious and expensive presidential campaigns in history, this year’s George Washington Symposium will focus on the nation’s first and best president, and the remarkable administration that laid the foundation for all who would follow in his footsteps. Join leading historians, curators, and academics for an enlightening look at major influences on the groundbreaking tenure of the nation’s first chief executive, from setting up a government the people could trust, to his experiences dealing with Native Americans and foreign powers. Explore how the first president projected his republican style of living, how he utilized the expertise of his cabinet, and interacted with the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.


Member Tickets

Date and Time


$175 for Mount Vernon Members
$200 for the General Public


Robert H. and Clarice Smith Auditorium
George Washington's Mount Vernon
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy.
Mount Vernon, VA, 22121

Untrodden Ground: The Presidency of George Washington

“All see, and most admire, the glare which hovers round the external trappings of elevated Office. To me, there is nothing in it, beyond the lustre which may be reflected from its connection with a power of promoting human felicity. In our progress towards political happiness my station is new; and, if I may use the expression, I walk on untrodden ground.”                                                                                                                                                                         -George Washington to Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay Graham, Jan. 19, 1790

Friday November 4, 2016

All lectures take place in Smith Auditorium.

2:00 pm

Symposium Registration, Vaughan Lobby

3:00 pm

Welcome and Opening Remarks

3:15 pm 

Washington's Rainbow: Reason and Happiness

Susan Dunn

In 1788, George Washington wrote that Americans had just presented “the novel & astonishing Spectacle of a whole People deliberating calmly on what form of government will be most conducive to their happiness.”  Reason and happiness - two of the key themes of the 18th-century Enlightenment – were guiding principles of Washington’s presidency.  Susan Dunn will discuss Washington’s wise and profound views on human reason and his prescriptions for personal, societal, and political happiness.

Susan Dunn is the Massachusetts Professor of Humanities at Williams College. She is the author of many books, including George Washington, co-authored with James MacGregor Burns; Jefferson's Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800; and Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison, and the Decline of Virginia.

4:15 pm

Refreshment Break, Vaughan Lobby

4:30 pm


The Man Who Would Not be King: George Washington's "republican stile of living"

Susan P. Schoelwer

One of the key challenges that George Washington faced during his first term as president was that of defining the role of head of state – a highly visible, largely ceremonial function that positioned the incumbent as the embodiment of the country, both internally and on the international scene. This role was deeply symbolic – but unmentioned in the Constitution, which focuses on defining the president’s specifically governmental powers and responsibilities. Fortunately for the new nation, by the time he took office, Washington had devoted more than a decade to considering – and then implementing – what he called “a republican stile of living.” 

As Mount Vernon’s Robert H. Smith Senior Curator, Susan P. Schoelwer directs the estate’s fine and decorative art and artifact collections, the furnishing of the Mansion and historic area, and exhibitions.  She has edited or authored numerous publications, including The General in the Garden: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon

5:30 pm

Cocktail Reception and Mansion Tours

6:30 pm

Dinner, Mount Vernon Inn

8:00 pm

Evening Entertainment, Smith Auditorium

David and Ginger Hildebrand

Music helped get Americans fired up during Washington's terms as president. National days of rejoicing, such as Independence Day and Washington's Birthday, offered up public occasions for patriotic American songs, marches, dance tunes and even theatrical presentations. New sets of lyrics to familiar tunes like "God Save the King" and "Yankee Doodle" were run off printing presses as broadsheets and also circulated widely in newspapers. Of especial importance were new American compositions like "The President's March" and "A Toast," helping draw Washington more fully into the national scene.

In 1999, David and Ginger Hildebrand released their CD recording "George Washington: Music for the First President," and since then they have taken that music around the country to museums, historic sites and universities. Ginger holds an MA from the Peabody Conservatory and David's MA and Ph.D. are from George Washington and Catholic Universities. David is also a member of the Washington Library’s current class of research fellows.

Saturday November 5, 2016

All lectures take place in Smith Auditorium.

8:00 am

Continental Breakfast with Historic Document and Object Viewing, Fred W. Smith National Library

9:15 am

Welcome and Opening Remarks

9:30 am

The Indian Diplomacy of George Washington

Colin Gordon Calloway

George Washington smoking a calumet pipe and exchanging wampum belts with Indian delegates does not feature prominently, if at all, in the popular imagery or even the historiography of the first president. Yet, Washington did these things and he knew it was important that he do so. As a young man out of his element and out of his depth in Indian country, he had received a crash course in Indian diplomacy. As president he made Indian diplomacy a crucial component of his policies in dealing with Native nations that still possessed the power to block the expansion and even threaten the survival of the young republic.

Colin Gordon Calloway is the John Kimball Jr. 1943 Professor of History and Professor of Native American Studies at Dartmouth College.  He has served as editor of the D’Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian and his most recent book is The Victory with No Name: The Native American Defeat of the First American Army.  

10:15 am

Putting Theory into Practice: Foreign Policy and the Implementation of George Washington's Presidential Leadership 

Todd Estes

This lecture examines George Washington's beliefs about the role of the President in sending and receiving messages to and from the American people regarding foreign policy issues. It explores how Washington implemented the unique Constitutional role the President has in foreign affairs while he simultaneously used the national stage to shape public reception of his role and to project his own leadership in this arena. 

Todd Estes is Professor of History and chair of the department at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He is the author of The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture and editor of Founding Visions: The Ideas, Individuals, and Intersections that Created America.

11:00 am

Refreshment Break, Vaughan Lobby

11:15 am

Jefferson as Washington's Secretary of State

Frank Cogliano

As president, George Washington assembled the first cabinet in the history of the United States. In doing so he paid particular attention to merit, as well as political considerations. Perhaps his most intriguing appointment was that of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. While fellow Virginians, Jefferson and Washington did not enjoy as close a relationship as, for example, Washington and Hamilton did. Frank Cogliano considers Jefferson's appointment as well as his tenure as Secretary of State, payin particular attention to what it tells us about Washington's leadership style as well as the relationship between the two Virginians. 

Frank Cogliano is Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh, where he also serves as Dean International for North America. His most recent book is Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson's Foreign Policy. Currently he is writing a book about the relationship between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

12:00 pm

Lunch, Mount Vernon Inn

1:30 pm

"An Aegis Very Essential to Me": Washington and Hamilton

Joanne Freeman 

Washington's relationship with Hamilton had a vital shaping influence on the new nation. The two men got along and often agreed politically.  But Hamilton sometimes practiced politics of extremes that proved challenging and to the nation's commander in chief.  Tracking the tides of their relationship between 1789 and 1795 reveals much about the nation's politics, offering insight into the debate over the nature of the presidency and the rise of political parties, as well as highlighting Washington's often overlooked political savvy.  When Hamilton called Washington "an aegis very essential to me," he revealed far more than he intended about their friendship and its political significance.

Joanne Freeman is Professor of History and American Studies at Yale. Her book, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, won the Best Book Award from the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic, and her edited volume, Alexander Hamilton: Writings was one of the Atlantic Monthly’s “best books” of 2001. 

2:15 pm

“May it be Stamped with Wisdom and Virtue”: George Washington and the Legend for Felicity

David and Jeanne Heidler 

Framing the United States government under the new Constitution was a daunting task. Procedure, process, and protocol for interactions between the three branches required invention and innovation.  How could Americans set up a government strong enough to perform its functions but constrained enough to allow liberty to thrive and flourish? And how could a free people stay grounded but preserve a soaring vision? The framers spoke of this ideal balance as the way to general felicity. Staying the course was imperative, and to America’s good fortune, citizens could turn to George Washington. They trusted him to read the chart and were confident he knew how to interpret its legend.

David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler are award winning historians who have written numerous articles and books, including Old Hickory’s War: Andrew Jackson and the Quest for Empire; Henry Clay: The Essential American; and most recently, Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President.

3:00 pm

Refreshment Break, Vaughan Lobby

3:15 pm

The First Precedents Set by the First President

Akhil Reed Amar

As Americans in the 1780's tried to envision a republican head of states who could protect them against old King George without becoming a new King George, they did have a particular George in mind. Once in office, Washington fleshed out the bare words of Article II by his very example - and by the critical fact that he had no son to whom to hand down a crown. As Americans ponder who should be our next president, we should pay close heed to Washington's example of supreme steadiness, sacrifice, and service. 

Akhil Reed Amar teaches constitutional law in both Yale College and Yale Law School. His work has been favorably cited by Supreme Court justices across the spectrum in more than thirty cases - tops in his generation. His newest book is The Constitution Today: Timeless Lessons for the Issues of Our Era. 

4:00 pm

Symposium Adjourns