Friends of John Jay Homestead is proud to present an annual Lecture Series dating back to 2003 that has grown in scope and prominence each year with thanks to our Scholars Committee and past underwriters including Michaela and Skip Beitzel and Lyn and Randy Goodhue. With special thanks to Chair of our Scholars Committee, Melissa Vail.

For a list of all speakers, click here.

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

For a list of this season’s Scholars Committee members, click here.


Thank you for your support of the 2024 Lecture Series. Check back soon for information on our next exciting series.


Past Lectures


2024 Lecture Series: Fighting for Rights

The Hon. Stephen G. Breyer in Conversation with Emily Bazelon, Reading the Constitution: Why I Chose Pragmatism, Not Textualism
Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Nominated by President Clinton, Justice Breyer served on the Supreme Court from 1994 until his retirement in 2022. He was preceded by Justice Harry Blackmun and succeeded by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson; he wrote 551 opinions during that 28-year career. Before the Supreme Court, he served on the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (1980-1994) including four years as Chief Judge; before that he held many government positions, including assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. He is currently the Byrne Professor of Administrative Law and Process at Harvard Law School. Virtually all discussions of his career mention that he was an Eagle Scout. Emily Bazelon is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, and a Senior Research Fellow at Yale Law School.

Eliga Gould, Crucible of Peace: The Turbulent History of America’s Founding Treaty

Thursday, April 18, 2024

John Jay was the third member (along with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) of the Peace Commission which produced the treaty ending the Revolution and definitively established the independence of the “United States.” Eliga Gould, Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire, calls this Treaty of Paris “the third founding document, equal in importance to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.” He has won multiple prizes for his other books, and multiple fellowships for his work. Note: this book is still a work in progress!


Michael Waldman, The Fight to Vote

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Fight to Vote traces the expansion of voting rights in this country from the very limited allowances in the Founding period to the contested and contentious present. Michael Waldman is a constitutional lawyer and writer, and since 2005 the President and CEO of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving systems of democracy and justice. He has written many many other books and articles, including most recently Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America, which we expect he will discuss too.


The Hon. Albert Rosenblatt, The Eight: The Lemmon Slave Case and the Fight for Freedom

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

In 1852 a Virginia couple traveling to Texas bring their family, including eight enslaved, through New York. Slavery is legal in Virginia and Texas but has been abolished in New York. Abolitionists, including Louis Napoleon, John Jay II and Erastus Culver, were instrumental in the legal battle to win freedom for the eight enslaved. The case follows a slow path through New York courts, in the era of the Dred Scott case of 1857 and against the background of the Fugitive Slave clause of the Constitution. But the Eight are freed in 1860. Currently a Judicial Fellow at NYU Law School, Judge Rosenblatt was a long-serving New York state judge, ending his career on the highest court, the Court of Appeals. He brings fascinating original material about the people involved in this hugely important case.


Sara Cedar Miller, Before Central Park

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Authoritative, vivid and beautifully photographed, Before Central Park traces “the finest work of art ever executed in this country,” from prehistory, through Indigenous, early European, Colonial, Revolutionary, Civil War and modern eras, with multiple and diverse groups of creatures living alongside each other, sometimes harmoniously and often in conflict. Sara Cedar Miller is the historian emerita of the Central Park Conservancy; she has written three other books about the Park, which celebrates its sesquicentennial this year. Recording coming soon.


2023 Lecture Series: Revolutions

Linda Colley, The Gun, the Ship and the Pen:  Warfare, Constitutions and the Making of the Modern World

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Are Constitutions the safeguards of freedom? Tracing the global history of written Constitutions from the 1750s to now, Colley weaves in changes in warfare, communications and global expansion, and describes how governments – including ours – also use their Constitutions to signal their legitimacy and modern-ness to the world. Colley received the Order of the British Empire: DBE (Dame of the Order of the British Empire) in 2022; she is the Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton. Recording coming soon.


Linda Greenhouse, Justice on the Brink: A Requiem for the Supreme Court

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Begun as a Covid project to “chronicl[e] the life of the Supreme Court from July 2020 through June 2021,” Justice on the Brink has become an exploration of the landmark decisions of the term, and this Court’s far-reaching engagement with foundational issues, including the role of precedent, doctrines of interpretation, styles of leadership, and politics. Currently an Opinion contributor to The New York Times, Greenhouse covered the Court from 1978 – 2008. She is the author of 5 other books, winner of a 1998 Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting, and lecturer and researcher at Yale Law School. She has been called the dean of living Supreme Court journalists. Recording coming soon.


Stacy Schiff,The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Samuel Adams burned his letters and left no memoir, but was in his day proclaimed as the “chief incendiary” of the Revolution, the “prime mover,” the “patriarch of liberty,” and the target of the British troops – for arrest, or even assassination – whom Paul Revere was riding to warn on April 18, 1775. Schiff is renowned as a formidable researcher and biographer of extraordinary people, including Cleopatra, Benjamin Franklin, the Witches of Salem, Saint-Exupery, and Vera Nabokov (Pulitzer 2000).


Karen Joy Fowler and Philip B. Kunhardt III, In Conversation on Booth

Tuesday, October 11, 2022 at Bedford Playhouse

“The line between historical fiction and history can be a very thin one, history itself often becoming a fictional narrative in the service of some agenda.  This is never more clear than when we look at the competing narratives around the Civil War.”

So says novelist Karen Joy Fowler whose book Booth, just long-listed for the 2022 Booker Prize, gives us Lincoln’s assassin through his famous and chaotic family in our most tumultuous and violent era.  We are proud to present her in conversation with Philip Kunhardt, who has devoted his own career to the teaching of biography, and especially the study of Lincoln through documents and objects.  Come hear these two historians explore with each other the degrees of freedom and possibilities of insight that come from very different approaches.

Karen Joy Fowler is an American author of literary and science fiction, often about the nineteenth century and the lives of women.  Her We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves won the Pen/Faulkner Award for 2014, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize; her Jane Austen Book Club was made into a movie of the same name; and her short stories have won multiple prizes and citations.  Booth tells the story of John Wilkes Booth and his family, talented, chaotic, scandal-ridden, secretive, during the most divisive, violent and tumultuous era in our history.

Philip B. Kunhardt III is a teacher, historian, documentarian, biographer, and a highly respected Lincoln authority. Author or co-author of five acclaimed books about Lincoln and the American Presidency more broadly, writer and producer of documentaries on historical subjects, member of the board of directors of the Gordon Parks Foundation (formerly the Meserve Kunhardt Foundation), and former Director of the Center for the Study of Transformative Lives at NYU, he is most of all a storyteller.


2022 Lecture Series: History & Memory

Thursday, April 28, 2022

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

Liberty’s Chain explores the contradictions of the Jay family’s attitudes and actions toward slavery over multiple generations. Enslaved and formerly enslaved people living at Bedford experienced isolation, even as members of the Jay family took increasingly radical approaches to law, policy, politics, and advocacy. He is Professor of History at DePauw University, author or co-author of three other books, as well as essays on such disparate cultural icons as James Fenimore Cooper and Bruce Springsteen.


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

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

Though both Union and Confederate armies excluded African American men from their initial calls to arms, many of those who eventually served were Black. With rare images, handwritten captions, letters, and other personal materials, Willis depicts the lives of Black soldiers and other African Americans involved with the struggle. She is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University; a MacArthur Fellow; and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Watch the lecture below.


Thursday, February 3, 2022

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

Mercury Rising is a propulsive narrative of the early space race at the time of Sputnik and JFK’s young Presidency, embedded in Cold War politics domestic and international, and a very different American culture of heroes. Shesol is a Rhodes Scholar, creator of a nationally syndicated comic strip, former Fellow at Princeton and the University of California, frequent commentator in print and on TV and radio, Presidential speech writer, and founding partner of West Wing Writers.

Listen soon.


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.