2023 George Washington Symposium
The Great Experiment: Democracy from the Founding to the Future
In celebration of the George Washington Presidential Library’s tenth anniversary, Mount Vernon is hosting its largest symposium yet, featuring an outstanding lineup of remarkable and thoughtful historians, authors, journalists, and leaders. While discussing our nation’s outstanding example of constitutional democracy, we will also look to the future challenges of safeguarding democratic government for the next generation. We anticipate lively and impactful conversations surrounding our nation’s most precious inheritance.
Conversations will examine 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? Join us and hear as these engaging speakers provide wisdom and context regarding our great democratic experiment.
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.
Please note that this lineup is subject to change.
Thursday, November 2
Cocktail Reception, Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State
Formal Dinner, Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State
The United States' Influence on Democracy Around the World
The Hon. Richard N. Haass and The Hon. Richard R. Verma, in conversation moderated by Natasha Bertrand
Friday, November 3
Welcome and Introductions
The Great Experiment: Democracy from the Founding to the Present
Historians H. W. Brands, Douglas Brinkley, Joanne Freeman, and Edna Greene Medford, in conversation moderated by Brian Lamb
Historians Denver Brunsman, Lindsay Chervinsky, and Annette Gordon-Reed, in conversation moderated by Patrick Spero
||Lunch, Mount Vernon Inn
Conversation with Douglas Bradburn and Rick Atkinson
The Role of the Military in a Democracy
Generals Joseph F. Dunford, John Kelly, and Jim Mattis, in conversation moderated by Rick Atkinson
Cocktail Reception & Mansion Open House
Mansion East Lawn
The Business of America: Democracy and Capitalism
David M. Rubenstein in conversation with Kenneth C. Griffin
Dinner, Ford Orientation Center
Saturday, November 4
A More Perfect Union: The Constitution
Principles and Ideas
Mary Sarah Bilder, Michael J. Klarman, and Jeffrey Rosen, in conversation moderated by Douglas Bradburn
The Art of Interpretation
Judge David S. Tatel and Neal Katyal, in conversation moderated by Jeffrey Rosen
The Importance of Free and Fair Elections in a Democracy
Margaret Hoover in conversation with Trevor Potter
First Amendment: The Role of Journalism in a Democracy
Journalists Robert Costa, Jacqueline Alemany, and Heidi Przybyla, in conversation moderated by John Harwood
Lunch, Mount Vernon Inn
The Role of Education in a Democracy
Ron Daniels, Valerie Strauss, and John White, in conversation moderated by Johann Neem
The Future of Democracy and George Washington’s Warnings in his Farewell Address
John Avlon and Larry J. Sabato in conversation moderated by Patrick Spero
George Washington Presidential Library Open House
cocktail reception with special viewing of original maps, manuscripts, and books
Jacqueline Alemany is a Congressional Investigations reporter for The Washington Post. She was a member of the team that received the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for coverage of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Alemany is also an on-air contributor to NBC News and MSNBC. She joined The Washington Post in 2018 after six years at CBS News, where she covered the Trump White House. She studied government at Harvard College where she was the captain of the women's basketball team.
Rick Atkinson is a historian and the author of eight books. His most recent work is The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, the first volume in his Revolution Trilogy, which received the 2021 George Washington Prize. He has also written the Liberation Trilogy, about the role of the U.S. military during World War II in the Mediterranean and Western European theaters. His many awards include Pulitzer Prizes in history and journalism.
John Avlon is a senior political analyst and anchor at CNN. He is an award-winning columnist and the author of Independent Nation, Wingnuts, Washington’s Farewell, and Lincoln and the Fight for Peace. Previously, he was the editor-in-chief and managing director of The Daily Beast and served as chief speechwriter for the Mayor of New York during the attacks of 9/11. He lives with his wife Margaret Hoover and their two children in New York.
Natasha Bertrand is a National Security Reporter for CNN based in Washington, D.C., now covering the Pentagon. She has reported on national security and politics for POLITICO, The Atlantic and Business Insider. She is part of the CNN team that won an Emmy this year for coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mary Sarah Bilder, Ph.D.
Mary Sarah Bilder is the Founders Professor of Law at Boston College Law School where she teaches in the areas of property, trusts and estates, and American legal and constitutional history.
She is the author of the Bancroft Prize–winning Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention, which was a finalist for the 2017 George Washington Prize. Her new book, Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution, was a finalist for the 2023 George Washington Prize.
H. W. Brands, Ph.D.
H. W. Brands is the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin. He writes on American history and politics, with books including The Last Campaign, Our First Civil War and The Zealot and the Emancipator. Several of his books have been bestsellers; two, Traitor to His Class and The First American, were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. He lectures frequently on historical and current events and can be seen and heard on national and international television and radio. He publishes history-themed poetry on Twitter and “A User’s Guide to History” on Substack.
Douglas Bradburn, Ph.D.
Douglas Bradburn, President and CEO of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, is an award-winning author and well-known scholar of early American history. He is the author of The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774-1804, and three anthologies, including Early Modern Virginia: Reconsidering the Old Dominion. He is the co-founder and editor of the award-winning book series, Early American Histories, at the University of Virginia Press. He is the recipient of five Telly awards for his work on animated documentaries for use in the classroom and a “Thea” award for the popular Be Washington interactive educational game. Dr. Bradburn has appeared on CSPAN, Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, and was most recently featured in The HISTORY Channel's docudrama, WASHINGTON.
Douglas Brinkley, Ph.D.
Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University, CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. The Chicago Tribune dubbed him “America’s New Past Master”. The New-York Historical Society has chosen Brinkley as their official U.S. Presidential Historian. His recent book Cronkite won the Sperber Prize while The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. His two-volume annotated The Nixon Tapes recently won the Arthur S. Link – Warren F. Kuehl Prize. He is a member of the Century Association, Council of Foreign Relations and the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress.
Richard Brookhiser is the author of numerous biographies, including Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington; Alexander Hamilton, American; and Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln. He has hosted two films by Michael Pack for PBS. He received an honorary degree from George Washington College and a National Humanities Medal. He is a senior editor of National Review and a columnist for American History. (photo copyright Laura Heimert)
Robert Costa is the Chief Election & Campaign correspondent for CBS News, where he covers national politics and American democracy. Before joining CBS News, Costa and Bob Woodward co-wrote "Peril." Previously, Costa was also a national political reporter at The Washington Post and served as the moderator and managing editor of "Washington Week" on PBS.
Ron Daniels is the 14th president of Johns Hopkins University, a role he has held since 2009. At Hopkins, he has strengthened interdisciplinary collaboration in research and education; enhanced student access; deepened engagement with the city of Baltimore; and supported economic and social innovation. A law and economics scholar, his most recent book, What Universities Owe Democracy, argues for the indispensable role that universities play in sustaining democratic societies at this critical moment in history.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford
Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. served as the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. In this role, he was the principal military advisor to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council from 2015 to 2019. General Dunford was commissioned in 1977 and served as an infantry officer at all levels, to include commanding the 5th Marine Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He served as the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and Commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board for the Semper Fi Fund & America’s Fund which supports our wounded, ill, and injured active duty personnel and veterans from all services.
Joanne B. Freeman, Ph.D.
Joanne B. Freeman is the Class of 1954 Professor of American History and American Studies at Yale University. She is the author of the prize-winning Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic; editor of Alexander Hamilton: Writings and The Essential Hamilton; and co-editor (with Johann Neem) of Jeffersonian Republicans in Power, 1800-1824. Her most recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War – a New York Times Notable Book for 2018 and a finalist for the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize -- explores the impact and legacies of physical violence, polarization, and the press in the U.S. Congress before the Civil War. She was president of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic from 2021-2022, and is a fellow of the Society of American Historians.
Annette Gordon-Reed, Ph.D.
Annette Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University. She has won 16 book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008). Gordon-Reed was the Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at the University of Oxford (Queen’s College) 2014-2015, and was appointed an Honorary Fellow at Queen’s in 2021. She served as the 2018-2019 President of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, and is currently president of the Ames Foundation. Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, and the National Humanities Medal. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the British Academy.
Kenneth C. Griffin
Kenneth C. Griffin is the founder and CEO of Citadel, one of the world’s leading alternative investment firms, and the founder of Citadel Securities, a leading global market maker. A passionate philanthropist, Griffin believes that a high-quality education is the on-ramp to the American Dream. Griffin funds transformative scholarships to empower students of all backgrounds to succeed, and he is committed to strengthening humanity’s future by supporting initiatives that advance breakthroughs in science and medicine.
Richard Haass, Ph.D.
Dr. Richard Haass, a veteran diplomat and respected scholar of international relations, is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also senior counselor with Centerview Partners, an international investment banking advisory firm. He previously served as CFR’s president for twenty years, in the State Department under Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, at the White House under George H.W. Bush, and at the Pentagon under Jimmy Carter. He was US envoy to the Cyprus negotiations and the Northern Ireland peace process, and after 9/11 was US coordinator for the future of Afghanistan. Dr. Haass is the author or editor of fourteen books on American foreign policy, one book on management, and one on American democracy. His latest book, The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens, was published by Penguin Press in January 2023 and became a New York Times best seller. He also authors a weekly newsletter, Home & Away, available on Substack. A Rhodes Scholar, Dr. Haass holds a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, the masters and doctorate of philosophy degrees from Oxford University, and numerous honorary degrees. He is the recipient of the State Department's Superior Honor Award, the Presidential Citizens Medal, and the Tipperary International Peace Award. Dr. Haass, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island, lives with his wife in New York City.
For more than three decades, John Harwood has covered the White House, Congress, national politics and the economy for America’s most prestigious news organizations. He has interviewed every president from George H.W. Bush to Joe Biden, and received an Emmy nomination for his hour-long live CNBC town hall with President Barack Obama. For the Wall Street Journal, he covered the first Bush White House, President Bill Clinton’s agenda in Congress and four presidential campaigns. For the New York Times and CNBC, he chronicled the financial crisis and Great Recession while moderating Republican presidential debates during the 2012 and 2016 campaigns. For CNN, Harwood covered the tumultuous final year of Donald Trump’s presidency, Trump's 2020 election battle with Biden, and the opening chapters of Biden's presidency.
Margaret Hoover is the host of PBS’s Firing Line with Margaret Hoover, a public affairs, multi-platform program that engages in long-form interviews and a rigorous exchange of ideas with the guiding principle that civil discourse is a civic responsibility. A CNN contributor, she has served in The White House under President George W. Bush, in the Department of Homeland Security, on Capitol Hill and on two presidential campaigns. A bestselling author, her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, The Daily Beast, CNN.com and FoxNews.com. She lives in New York City with her husband John Avlon and their two children.
Neal Katyal has orally argued 50 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. In the most recent 2022-23 Term, he argued 5 separate cases (nearly 10% of the entire docket), including winning the landmark voting case Moore v. Harper, which Judge Michael Luttig described as “the most important case for American democracy in the almost two and a half centuries since America’s founding.” His cases include successfully striking down the Guantanamo military tribunals, successfully defending the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, successfully defending the Peace Cross in Maryland, and a landmark personal jurisdiction win for Bristol Meyers Squibb.
Gen. John Kelly
General John Kelly enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1970, and was discharged in 1972 as a sergeant at Camp Lejeune, NC. Following graduation from the University of Massachusetts in 1976, he was commissioned as an officer of Marines. He is also a proud “Sea Going” Marine having served aboard the aircraft carriers USS Forrestal and USS Independence.
He has served as a special assistant to the Supreme Allied Command – Europe, instructing at The Basic School and Infantry Officer Course, and as the Senior Military Assistant to two Secretaries of Defense. His most recent—and final—assignment was as the Combatant Commander, United States Southern Command. He retired after 45+ years of service in 2016.
After confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Gen. Kelly assumed the role as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and then nearly two years as White House Chief-of-Staff.
Michael J. Klarman, Ph.D.
Michael J. Klarman is the Charles Warren Professor of Legal History at Harvard Law School. His first book, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality, received the 2005 Bancroft Prize in History. He published two books in 2007, Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Movement and Unfinished Business: Racial Equality in American History, which is part of Oxford’s Inalienable Rights series. In 2016, Oxford University Press published his comprehensive history of the Founding, The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the US Constitution, which was a finalist for both the George Washington Book Prize and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award. In 2020, he authored the Harvard Law Review Foreword on “The Degradation of American Democracy—and the Court.”
Brian Lamb is the Founding Director of the C-SPAN Networks. He has been an integral part of C-SPAN since he helped the cable industry launch it in 1979, serving as the nonprofit public service network’s CEO until March of 2012. Brian continues to contribute to C-SPAN as a hands-on strategic advisor and podcast host. Brian has been a regular on-air presence since the network’s earliest days, hosting television's first live viewer call in programs with members of Congress, journalists, and other newsmakers as guests. Over 15 years beginning in 1989, he interviewed 801 nonfiction authors for his weekly program, Booknotes.
Gen. Jim Mattis
Jim Mattis served over 40 years in the Marine Corps as an infantry officer, plus duty in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, and as Commander of U.S. Central Command comprised of 250,000 U.S. and allied troops in combat across the Middle East and South Asia. Retiring in 2013, he was a Davies Family Scholar at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Subsequently he served as the 26th Secretary of Defense from January 2017 through December 2018.
Edna Greene Medford, Ph.D.
Edna Greene Medford is the former Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Professor of History Emerita at Howard University. She retired from the university in December 2021, after serving there for nearly 35 years. She is currently the president of the Abraham Lincoln Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting scholarship on President Lincoln’s life, times, and legacy. Her most recent book, Lincoln and Emancipation, is in its second printing.
Johann Neem, Ph.D.
Johann Neem is a historian of the American Revolution and the early American republic, and professor of history at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He is the author of two books about education: Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America, which examines the origins and purposes of American public education between the Revolution and the Civil War, and What’s the Point of College? Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform. His first book, Creating a Nation of Joiners, published by Harvard University Press, traces the development of America’s tradition of volunteering after American independence. His writing has appeared the Washington Post, USA Today, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other venues.
Trevor Potter is the president of Campaign Legal Center (CLC), an organization dedicated to advancing democracy through law. A Republican former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Trevor was general counsel to John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns and an adviser to the drafters of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The American Bar Association Journal has described Trevor as “hands-down one of the top lawyers in the country on the delicate intersection of politics, law and money.”
Heidi Przybyla is POLITICO’s award-wining national investigative correspondent and a veteran Washington journalist who regularly breaks exclusive reporting on the White House, Congress, presidential and congressional elections and, most recently, the Supreme Court and state of democracy at home. Her reporting has spanned leading newspaper, digital, radio and television outlets. This year, she was part of a team that won a Polk Award, Toner Prize and was a Pulitzer finalist for her reporting on dark money interests behind the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jeffrey Rosen is the President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit whose mission is to increase awareness and understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Rosen hosts the Center’s weekly We the People podcast, which brings together liberal and conservative voices for constitutional debate and teaches Constitution 101 classes for learners of all ages. Rosen is also professor at The George Washington University Law School and a contributing editor of The Atlantic. He is the author of six books including, most recently, Conversations with RBG: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law. His other books include biographies of William Howard Taft and Louis Brandeis.
David M. Rubenstein
David M. Rubenstein is Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of The Carlyle Group. He served as Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments before becoming the Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy during the Carter Administration. He is Chairman of the Boards of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Gallery of Art, the Economic Club of Washington, and the University of Chicago; a Fellow of the Harvard Corporation; a Trustee of the World Economic Forum; and a Director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Mr. Rubenstein is an original signer of The Giving Pledge; the host of The David Rubenstein Show and Bloomberg Wealth with David Rubenstein; and the author of The American Story, How to Lead, The American Experiment, and How to Invest.
Larry J. Sabato, Ph.D.
Larry J. Sabato is a New York Times best-selling author, has won four Emmys, and is recognized as one of the nation’s most respected political analysts. He appears multiple times a week on national and international TV, including CNN, BBC, and CNN International. A Rhodes Scholar, Sabato is the founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, and has had visiting appointments at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England. He is the author or editor of two dozen books on American politics. He has taught over 20,000 students in his career, and the University of Virginia has given him its highest honor, The Thomas Jefferson Award. In 2021, Sabato celebrated his 50th year of association with the University of Virginia.
Patrick Spero, Ph.D.
Patrick Spero is the Executive Director of the George Washington Presidential Library. He recently arrived at Mount Vernon after serving as Librarian and Director of the Library & Museum of the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia. He is the author of Frontier Country: The Politics of War in Early Pennsylvania (2016), Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West (2018), and Botany and Betrayal: Andre Michaux, Thomas Jefferson, and the Kentucky Conspiracy of 1793, which will be released in 2024.
Valerie Strauss is an education writer at The Washington Post, where she has worked for more than 30 years. She has been immersed in education issues for much of that time, covering local and national education -- and has for more than a decade authored The Answer Sheet blog, which chronicles the most vital issues in the world of education. She is now working on a book about America’s public schools and the future of public education.
Judge David S. Tatel
Judge David S. Tatel was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in October 1994. Judge Tatel is a member of the American Philosophical Society and former co-chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Science, Technology, and Law.
Deputy Secretary Richard R. Verma
Richard R. Verma is the Deputy Secretary of State for Management & Resources. In this role, he acts as the Chief Operating Officer of the Department, and leads the Department’s efforts on modernization, foreign assistance, and a wide range of workforce and strategic issues. He previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to India, as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, and as National Security Advisor to the Senate Majority Leader. He has also had a distinguished private-sector career, including serving as the Chief Legal Officer and Head of Global Public Policy for Mastercard. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal and the State Department’s Distinguished Service Award. Deputy Secretary Verma was a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism Commission, and the Secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. He has served on a number of non-profit boards, including the Ford Foundation, Lehigh University, and the National Endowment for Democracy.
John White is Chief Success Officer at Great Minds. For 9 years, he served as State Superintendent of Education for Louisiana, leading nationally recognized efforts to unify the state’s early childhood system, modernize curriculum, professionalize educator preparation, provide pathways to prosperity for high school graduates, and rebuild New Orleans public schools following Hurricane Katrina. He previously served as deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and as executive director for Teach For America. He began his career as a teacher in Jersey City, New Jersey.