“I was thoroughly informed and thoroughly entertained—a sharp, knowledgeable speaker with a good sense of humor.” -- Class participant, Chautauqua Institution, New York
Suzanne Munson is a popular speaker and college-level lecturer. Topics include:
“America’s First Leadership Crisis: Enduring Lessons”
Laced with political humor, the program begins with America’s severe “deficit of adequate statesmen,” in the words of James Madison in 1780, and concludes by asking what our Founding Fathers would say today about the government that they organized for us. Contrary to popular belief, the new nation did not abound with leaders of their caliber. Few Americans were college-educated, and no one was trained to govern in a new national democratic republic. Into the void stepped Founding Father George Wythe as America’s first professor of law. He quickly turned his law school at the College of William and Mary into the country’s first leadership training program for future statesmen, guiding his students to become ethical public servants. At his death in 1806, Wythe’s former pupils were virtually running the country. If consulted today, our Founding Fathers would advise us to become more involved in our nation’s future and stop sitting on the sidelines: Democracy is not a spectator sport.
Other Topics of Interest:
“The Epic Battle for Religious Freedom”
America’s first law granting religious freedom, co-authored by Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe, faced fierce opposition in 1786. Powerful leaders like Patrick Henry railed against the idea, arguing that citizens would surely slide into perdition without an official tax-supported church. At the time, Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Jews, and other religious groups endured rank discrimination under Virginia state law and custom. Passed in 1786, the Virginia law was embedded five years later in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“Slavery and One Judge’s Audacious Attempt to End It”
Chancery Court Judge George Wythe stunned the establishment in 1806 by ruling slavery illegal, based on Virginia’s Bill of Rights. This is a fascinating account of race, money, and the history of slavery. His ruling was overturned, but Wythe assailed the institution in court and in his college classrooms.
“Saving the Constitution: The Cliffhanger Vote"
“Pro-rats” and “Anti-rats” convened in Richmond in 1788 for a marathon debate on ratifying the Constitution. Without the support of Virginia--the largest, richest, and most powerful state at the time--the Constitution would have died on the vine. George Wythe’s address to the convention secured the narrow vote for approval.
“The Declaration of Independence: Untold Story”
Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. called George Wythe the “Godfather of the Declaration of Independence.” While Thomas Jefferson usually receives sole credit for the Declaration of Independence, other key players were involved in its development. The critical role of George Wythe, signer and organizer of the Declaration and Jefferson’s mentor, is examined