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The Great Experiment: Democracy from the Founding to the Future

In celebration of the George Washington Presidential Library’s tenth anniversary, Mount Vernon hosted its largest symposium yet.

The 2023 George Washington Symposium featured an outstanding lineup of remarkable and thoughtful historians, authors, journalists, and leaders. While discussing our nation’s outstanding example of constitutional democracy, these esteemed panelists looked to the future challenges of safeguarding democratic government for the next generation.

Conversations examined the roles and responsibilities of various sectors in a functioning democracy, such as the military, media, and business communities. How has the United States Constitution evolved over more than two centuries as we strive towards a more perfect union? Is the United States living up to the Founders’ vision, including its first president, George Washington?

Below, listen in on the lively and impactful conversations surrounding our nation’s most precious inheritance—our great democratic experiment.

Presenting Sponsor




Lee & Toni Verstandig

The annual George Washington Symposium is supported by a generous endowment established by The Barra Foundation.

Watch the Full Panel Discussions

The Great Experiment: Democracy from the Founding to the Present

Join some of America's most preeminent historians, H. W. Brands, Douglas Brinkley, Joanne Freeman, and Edna Greene Medford, as they discuss the history of our nation's democracy. Moderated by C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb.

The Founders

Washington Library Director Patrick Spero moderates a conversation about democracy with Founding Era historians Denver Brunsman, Lindsay Chervinksy, and Annette Gordon-Reed.

The Role of the Military in a Democracy: Interview with Rick Atkinson

Mount Vernon President & CEO Douglas Bradburn talks with multiple Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson about his writing covering the American military.

The Role of the Military in a Democracy

Generals Joseph F. Dunford, John Kelly, and Jim Mattis, in conversation with Pulitzer Prize-Winner Rick Atkinson.

A More Perfect Union: The Constitution's Principles and Ideas

Boston College Law Professor Mary Sarah Bilder, Harvard Law Professor Michael J. Klarman, and President and CEO of the National Constitution Center Jeffrey Rosen join Mount Vernon President & CEO Douglas Bradburn to discuss the history of the US Constitution.

The Art of Constitution Interpretation

Judge David S. Tatel and attorney Neal Katyal in conversation with President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, Jeffrey Rosen.

The Importance of Free and Fair Elections in a Democracy

President of Campaign Legal Center, Trevor Potter, speaks about the electoral process in the United States with Margaret Hoover, host of PBS's "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover."

The Business of America: Democracy and Capitalism

David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of The Carlyle Group, talks with Citadel Founder and CEO Kenneth C. Griffin.

First Amendment: The Role of Journalism in a Democracy

Journalists Jacqueline Alemany, Robert Costa, and Heidi Przybyla discuss journalism's role in a democracy in a conversation moderated by John Harwood.

The Role of Education in a Democracy

Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels, Washington Post journalist Valerie Strauss, and education leader John White discuss the role of education in a democracy in conversation moderated by historian Johann Neem.

George Washington's Warnings and the Future of Democracy

CNN political analyst and anchor John Avlon and Larry Sabato, Founder and Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, discuss George Washington's prescient warnings in his Farewell Address and where our democracy may be heading. Moderated by George Washington Presidential Library Director Patrick Spero.

Polling Americans on Democracy from the Founding to the Future

To frame the conversations, a poll was commissioned on the public's views on the “Great Experiment” of American Democracy and its current health. Of particular interest was learning what Americans think are the critical values associated with a successfully functioning democracy, along with the importance placed on education in civics and history, particularly the Founding, to the survival of American democracy.


Washington & the Building of American Democracy

From securing American independence to serving as first president, Washington played an indispensable role in the formation of the American democracy as we know it.

Learn more