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President Colin G. Campbell

President Colin G. Campbell

Message from the President

Our Legacy of Engaged Citizenship

America's future depends on the thoughtful participation of an informed citizenry in the nation's civic life. That requires us not only to keep up with current affairs but to comprehend our times in the context of our history, to understand the relationships of yesterday to today. Elsewhere in these pages, Professor Jack Lynch of Rutgers University examines the nation's first contested presidential election, the struggle between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to succeed George Washington in 1796. This electoral process was a welcome validation of the Founders' hopes and the Constitution's provisions for peaceful transfers of national executive power.

Earlier this autumn, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation offered schools across the country a chance to participate in a webcast of our electronic field trip The Will of the People, a video program that explores Adams and Jefferson's bitter return engagement in 1800. Almost 5,380 registrants—schools, home school families, parents, and education administrators—serving 1.2 million students, accepted this "gift to the nation." The Federalists and Antifederalists used strong language about each other leading up to the balloting; it was very similar to what's going on in this year's campaign. A tie vote nearly made Aaron Burr our third chief executive, but in a deadlocked House of Representatives, Alexander Hamilton, putting aside his antipathy toward Mr. Jefferson, brokered a compromise in favor of the nation's stability.

Last summer, when the National Governors Association Annual Meeting convened here in Williamsburg, the foundation used the opportunity to further its podcasts of occasional interviews with state chief executives, top federal officials, and leading businessmen. The series invites public servants and private citizens to share their ideas about the importance of the principles of the Founders to the way we govern ourselves today.

Colonial Williamsburg Connect, a recent addition to our websites, links discussions of history and citizenship on the Internet. You are invited to participate in the debate over the duties of citizenship and the promise of representative democracy. Topics have included the importance to our system of government of free and open elections, the not always easy relationship of law to ethical concerns, and tensions inherent in commitment of the Founders to freedom and equality—all in the context of our civic inheritance.

Year round in the Revolutionary City, interpreters portray for our guests the dilemmas of men and women working in common cause to fashion a scheme of ordered liberty from sometimes-contradictory ideas, values, and aspirations. These programs bring the beginning of the American experiment, and the ongoing challenges we face, to life for our guests.

From the magazine page to cyberspace to the streets individuals who helped to create the United States of America once walked, our aim is to show history's relevance to your life, to present diverse facts, opinions, and objectives, and to depend on you to consider and evaluate them for yourself. Just as the Founders did.

That, indeed, is the idea behind Colonial Williamsburg's emergence as a center for history and citizenship. It is important for our citizenship agenda to involve not only responsible citizens and helpful historians but leaders in positions of responsibility, people who have been active and effective citizens. That is why we ask public figures to reflect on our legacy of engaged citizenship and participatory democracy, and to do so in Colonial Williamsburg's nonpartisan setting.

I am convinced that this is an appropriate role for Colonial Williamsburg and that there is a strong and growing public interest in the connections between the ideals of the Founders and the issues we face today as a nation. I am aware that there can be controversy along the way, that there are risks involved in emphasizing the contemporary relevance of our offerings. It is always worth remembering that we are not taking positions on issues that are discussed in our programs, nor are we endorsing the views of participants. Our only agenda always has been, still is, and always will be: "That the future may learn from the past."

Colin G. Campbell
President and CEO