Friends of John Jay Homestead is proud to sponsor two lecture series.

The Scholars Lectures are held usually in the winter, usually in a series of three talks on a theme showcasing the history that can be told through the Jays and their house.

The Founders Lecture is an annual members-only talk, usually held in the fall.

For a list of all speakers, click here.

Our lectures are generously underwritten by the Lecture Committee. Click here to join.

Upcoming Lectures


2022 Virtual Lecture Series

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Jeff Shesol, Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy, and the New Battleground of the Cold War

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Deborah Willis, The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship

Thursday, April 28, 2022

David Gellman, Liberty’s Chain: Slavery, Abolition and the Jay Family of New York


Past Lectures


2021 Founders Lecture

Thursday, October 14, 2021

James Oakes, The Crooked Path to Abolition:  Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution

The Crooked Path meticulously traces the steps by which Lincoln activated the antislavery powers of the Constitution and neutralized its weaknesses, and the leaders of the many branches of antislavery activism from whom he borrowed and with whom he strategized and often disagreed.  Finally, Lincoln was able to achieve the “king’s cure for all the evils” of slavery – its abolition by both Federal and State powers, by statute and by Constitution – and even envision a post-slavery society of racial equality and voting rights for freed men.

James Oakes holds the Humanities Chair in the Department of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  Author also of multiple essays, articles, and op-eds, and twice winner of the Lincoln Prize (in 2008 and 2013), he is widely praised for writing that is scholarly, timely and accessible.  The Crooked Path has been called superb, brilliant, indispensable, and cogent.

Slavery and the Jay Family: A 7-Generation Story

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Founding Father John Jay was descended from three generations of slavers. Jay himself is something of an enigma: he argued for abolition in the new state of New York as early as 1777, but he did not abolish slavery in his own household for another four decades. Yet his legacy included three generations of descendants who were abolitionists and civil rights activists. This illustrated program, presented via Zoom, examines the arc of slavery through seven generations of the Jay family.  It is a story that goes back almost to the introduction of slaves into the Dutch colony that became New York, and ends just months before the 13th Amendment abolished slavery everywhere in the nation.

Watch the lecture below.


2021 Lecture Series: SEATS OF POWER

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Brenda Wineapple, The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation

Pro-Union Democrat and the only senator from a Confederate state not to resign at his state’s secession, Lincoln’s running mate on the National Union ticket and an “accidental President” after Lincoln’s assassination, impeached but not convicted, Andrew Johnson became a vivid example of a defiant, erratic and highly unpopular President deeply at odds with his Congress through a period of disruptive social and political change.

Wineapple is an award-winning author, currently teaching at Columbia University and the New School in New York City. Her books include Ecstatic Nation, about the tumultuous period before the Civil War, as well biographies of Hawthorne and Gertrude and Leo Stein and an exploration of the friendship between Emily Dickinson and the abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, which was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.  She was previously Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at The Graduate School, CUNY, and its Writer-in-Residence.

Listen to the lecture below.


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

James S. Shapiro, Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future

Shapiro chooses eight moments in American history when Americans claimed (or conscripted) Shakespeare as an authority in the political and culture struggles of the time, ranging from race, to immigration, to international politics, to class warfare, to assassination and sex.  Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, member of the board of directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Scholar-in-Residence at the Public Theater in New York, he was consultant to the controversial 2017 Public Theater production of Julius Caesar in Central Park, and the 2020 Free Shakespeare on the Radio BLM-inflected podcast of Richard IIShakespeare in a Divided America was just named one of the New York Times Ten Best Fiction and Non-fiction Titles of 2020.

Listen to the lecture below.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Joan Biskupic, The Chief:  The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts

Joan Biskupic has written a wide-ranging and insightful biography of Chief Justice John Roberts, drawing on her coverage of him over several years and more than 20 hours of in-person interviews. She discusses his family background, legal career, and his views on the roles of judges and approach to the Constitution.  She is currently a full-time CNN legal analyst; before CNN she was an editor-in-charge for Legal Affairs at Reuters and, previously, the Supreme Court correspondent for the Washington Post and for USA Today. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in explanatory journalism in 2015. In addition to her Roberts biography, Biskupic is the author of books on Justices O’Connor, Scalia, and Sotomayor.  She holds a law degree from Georgetown University and lives in Washington, D.C.

Listen to the lecture below.


2020 Founders Lecture

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Eric Foner, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution
The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments abolished slavery, defined birthright citizenship, and prohibited denial of the right to vote based on race. Foner explores the circumstances under which these Amendments were passed, and the ways in which they’re being interpreted still, as recently as 2013, when the Supreme Court declined to use the 15th Amendment to strike down laws which make it more difficult for non-whites to vote. Foner is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, and winner of the Pulitzer, Bancroft and Lincoln Prizes, as well as multiple other awards and honors.


2020 Scholars Lecture Series: DISSENT IN OUR DEMOCRACY

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Steve Luxenberg, Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation
Separate traces the careful building in 1896 of a test case to establish freedom from race-based segregation in public accommodations. The strategy backfired badly in Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” did not violate the Constitution. Justice John Marshall Harlan was the sole dissenter, declaring that “the Constitution is color-blind” and it would take 60 years to reverse the precedent, in Brown v. Board of Education. Luxenberg is an associate editor at The Washington Post, and oversaw reporting that won two Pulitzers.

Listen to the lecture below.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Joanne Freeman, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War
In 1856 Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was caned nearly to death on the Senate floor by Preston Brooks of South Carolina. Now Joanne Freeman has found 70 more examples beginning in the 1830s of increasing physical violence, sectional intensity, and paralyzing effect on Congress. Field of Blood was named a finalist for the Lincoln Prize, and has been included on many notables lists, including the New York Times and Smithsonian. Freeman teaches History and American Studies at Yale, where she won a DeVane Award for distinction in teaching.

Listen to the lecture below.


2019 Founders Lecture: An Evening with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Scholar, author, filmmaker, journalist, cultural critic, mentor and institution builder, Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He has authored or co-authored twenty-four books, created twenty documentary films, and received fifty-five honorary degrees. He was a member of the first class of Fellows of the MacArthur Foundation, and the first African American scholar to be awarded the National Humanities Medal. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

His most recent projects are the PBS documentary Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, released in April, and the related book Stony The Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow.


2019 Scholars Lecture Series: MAKING CHANGE IN A DEMOCRACY

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Sean Wilentz, No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding

Rather than presenting the Constitution as a cynical political bargain enshrining slavery in the new nation, Wilentz argues that it actually restricted slavery’s legitimacy, and kept alive the eventual possibility of antislavery politics at the national level. Wilentz is the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton, author of seven other books and co-author or editor of many more, and the winner of multiple prizes and awards, including the Bancroft and Pulitzer (finalist). He is also historian-in-residence at Bob Dylan’s official website.

Listen to the lecture below.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Elaine Weiss, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote

Weiss tells the gripping story of the climax of the fight to ratify the 19th Amendment, replete with heroism, skullduggery, and suspense, coordination and conflict with other reform movements, and leadership by individuals famous and less than famous.  The book has been optioned by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, to become a movie or limited series.  Weiss is also the author of Fruits of Victory:  The Woman’s Land Army of America in the Great War.

Listen to the lecture below.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

David Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

This is the long-awaited definitive biography of Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became one of the leading intellects and political leaders of his era, often called the “greatest American of the nineteenth Century.”  Blight is the Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, at Yale; author or editor of fourteen other books; and winner of multiple awards, including the Bancroft, Lincoln and Frederick Douglass Prizes.

Listen to the lecture below.


2018 Founders Lecture: Darren Walker and David Rubenstein in Conversation – Why History is Important

Friday, October 26, 2018

Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, an international social justice philanthropy with a $13 billion endowment and $600 million in annual grant making. For two decades, he has been a leader in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.

David Rubenstein is a financier and philanthropist, co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group. He is also an eminent historian and public communicator of history, leading History with David M. Rubenstein at the New-York Historical Society and The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations on PBS.

View the lecture below.


2018 Scholars Lecture Series: WAYS OF BEING A HERO

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Nathaniel Philbrick, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution

Philbrick gives a challenging and sympathetic interpretation of the relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold, who was a hero, brilliant general and close Washington confidant before he became a traitor. Valiant Ambition has won the George Washington Book Prize.

Listen to the lecture below.




Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Hugh B. Price, This African-American Life: A Memoir

Price traces his descent from soldiers at Valley Forge, enslaved people,  songwriters and inventors; and his own dramatic story, from boyhood in segregated Washington, D.C., to positions as an editorial writer for The New York Times, head of production at WNET/Thirteen, Vice President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and President and CEO of the National Urban League.

Listen to the lecture below.


Thursday, January 11, 2018
Russell Shorto, Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom

Shorto tells a story of the American Revolution through six very different lives: British, African, Seneca, colonial; men and women; prominent and obscure.  A master in the field of “narrative history,” he is also the author of six other award-winning books, including The Island at the Center of the World; and a contributing writer at The New York Times  Magazine.

Listen to the lecture below.


2017 Founders Lecture: Albie Sachs in Conversation with Akhil Reed Amar – The Making of the South African Constitution

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Albie Sachs is a human rights activist from South Africa; leader of the African National Congress in exile;
co-author of the South African Constitution; and one of the original Judges on the Constitutional Court, appointed by President Mandela.
Akhil Reed Amar is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, where he teaches constitutional law in the College and the Law School and where he won the DeVane Medal, Yale’s highest award for teaching excellence.


Listen to the lecture below.





2017 Scholars Lecture Series: GUIDANCE FOR A NEW PRESIDENT

Tuesday, January 24, 2017
James Traub, John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit

Traub is author of six books and a writer for, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Atlantic Magazine,   National Review and Foreign Affairs. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Listen to the lecture below.



Thursday, March 9, 2017
Akhil Reed Amar, New York and the U.S. Constitution

Amar is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale, where he teaches constitutional law in the  College and the Law School and where he won the DeVane Medal, Yale’s highest award for teaching excellence.  After clerking for then Judge (now Justice) Stephen Breyer, Amar joined the Yale faculty at the age of 26.  His work has won awards from both the American Bar  Association and the Federalist Society, and he has been favorably cited by Supreme Court justices across the spectrum in more than 30 cases.  In February he received the American Bar Foundation’s Outstanding Scholar Award.

Listen to the lecture below.


Monday, May 1, 2017
Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf, Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination

Gordon-Reed and Onuf are two of the country’s leading Jefferson scholars, at Harvard and the University of Virginia.

Listen to the lecture below.



2016 Scholars Lecture Series: TELLING STORIES OF WAR

Thursday, January 21, 2016
Darden Smith and Mary Judd, SongwritingWith:Soldiers—the Civil War Diaries of Our Time
SongwritingWith:Soldiers pairs active duty and veteran service members with professional songwriters to produce songs about their experiences. The evening will include a performance as well as information about the program. Darden Smith, Creative Director, is a singer-songwriter based in Austin, Texas, who founded the program after performing in a military hospital in Germany in 2012; Mary Judd is an educator and the program’s Executive Director.

See the lecture on YouTube.


Thursday, February 18, 2016
Kevin M. Murphy, American Encounters: Anglo-American Portraiture in an Era of Revolution
When we look at the art in the Homestead collection –works by Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, Jean-Antoine Houdon, John Trumbull – we might not see the signs of growing Revolutionary fervor. American Encounters shows us how to look for them. Kevin Murphy’s book grew out of a series of exhibit collaborations among The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, The High Museum, Musee du Louvre, and Terra Foundation for American Art. Mr. Murphy was the exhibit curator at Crystal Bridges, and is now the Eugenie Pendergast Curator of American Art at the Williams College Museum of Art.

Listen to the lecture below.




Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Nicholas A. Robinson, The Forest Charter and Magna Carta: Evolving Human Rights in Nature
The Forest Charter was the vehicle through which the 800-year-old Magna Carta was kept effective, restraining the power of kings to collect from their subjects the funds needed to pay for wars. It also created the first lasting principles for negotiating competing claims on the natural world – a “rule of law for nature.” Nicholas Robinson has been a leader in the field of Environmental Law since its birth, and is currently University Professor for the Environment at Pace Law School and Co-Director of its Global Center for Environmental Legal Studies, and an Adjunct Professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Listen to the lecture below.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Rand Scholet, Alexander Hamilton: Washington’s Indispensable Partner
Rand Scholet, President of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, will describe each period of George Washington’s public service, and discuss how seven key Founding Fathers contributed to his success:  in addition to Jay and Hamilton, the seven include Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Knox, and Madison.