Presidency Project >

"The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens."
                                                                                                                -- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

What does it mean to be president? Coinciding with the upcoming presidential inauguration and an increased interest in the American political process, we’re launching The Presidency Project, a Museum-wide educational initiative to explore the role, powers, and responsibilities of the presidency. Join us for a series of installations, programs, and educational opportunities through Presidents’ Day week and beyond to examine and contemplate the U.S. presidency.


Messages for the President-Elect
What’s your message for our incoming president? Stop by the Museum's front entrance on Central Park West to write your message on a sticky note and post it on our front glass wall. Inspired by Subway Therapy—the original sticky note installation created following the 2016 presidential election in the Union Square subway station—this special installation at New-York Historical encourages citizens to share their voice in the spirit of democracy. Learn more.

The First Inauguration: George Washington’s 1789 Ceremony at Federal Hall
On April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as president of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall in lower Manhattan. See an original section of the wrought-iron railing from Federal Hall. Visitors can also see on display the armchair used by George Washington in the Senate chamber of Federal Hall just after his swearing in. Learn more.

NARI WARD, We the People, 2011.Shoelaces, 96 x 324 inches, 243.8 x 823 cm. In collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. Certificate of Authenticity included. Photo: Will Brown Speed Art Museum, Gift of the Speed Contemporary, 2016. LM15178

We the People
The meaning of the first three words of the U.S. Constitution—“We the people…”—has changed over the course of our nation’s history, and who constitutes “the people” is a topic of fierce debate even today. Artist Nari Ward asks you—The People—to become a part of history and donate your shoelaces for a new, monumental work of art honoring these three words. Stop by the Museum until February 17 and receive a new pair of shoelaces and discounted Museum Admission in exchange for your laces. We the People will become a permanent installation at the New-York Historical Society. Learn more.

Acquisition of We the People generously underwritten by Diana and Joe DiMenna.


The Gilder Lehrman Institute will presents a selection of documents that explore important moments in the presidencies of Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. View a manuscript draft of Washington’s Sixth Annual Address to Congress in 1794, a printed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, and a letter from 1942 in which FDR affirms  that “questions of race, creed and color have no place in determining who are to man our ships.” Accompanying the documents is a portrait of Washington by Rembrandt Peale, a photograph of Lincoln taken by George B. Ayres in 1860, and a sketch of FDR by the Indian artist S. N. Swamy.

In the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, documents from New-York Historical’s collection focus on the creation of the presidency and executive branch of government. On view will be notes from the Rufus King Papers, one of the few extant collections of notes on the Constitutional Convention debate, in which delegates discussed the nature of the proposed executive branch in 1787; a letter written by John Adams in 1789 in which he voices concerns about the remaining presence of “a dangerous Aristocracy” in the new government; and a letter from Washington responding to Robert R. Livingston’s request for an appointment to the first cabinet in 1789.


Public Programs: Presidential Power Series
How will American democracy continue to evolve in the wake of a divisive presidential election? In a series of 12 programs illuminating the reaches and limitations of executive, judicial, and legislative power, renowned historians and thinkers reflect upon the strengths and weaknesses of leaders throughout the nation's history and explore contemporary issues that confront the new presidential administration.

Thurs, Jan 12: The Hidden History of American Politics
Mon, Feb 13: The American President
Tues, Feb 21: An Evening with Bob Woodward
Tues, Feb 28: Hamilton and Washington

The Presidential Power Series continues through May 2017. Visit our calendar for more programs.

Family Programs: Presidential Living History
Every weekend from January 28–February 26, young visitors can meet Living Historians portraying presidents, cabinet members, first ladies, and other historical figures. Ask George Washington about the Supreme Court on Sat, Jan 28, and talk to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on Sun, Jan 29, about the “Midnight Judges.” Take the ultimate trivia challenge at a special Big Quiz Thing Presidents' Day Family Trivia Spectacular on Mon, Feb 20. Also in February, meet the folks who founded our nation!

Sat, Feb 18: Meet President George Washington and First Lady Martha Washington
Sun, Feb 19: Meet President John Adams
Mon, Feb 20: Meet President Thomas Jefferson
Sat, Feb 25: Meet President James Madison and First Lady Dolly Madison
Sun Feb 26: Meet President James Monroe

Don't forget to snap a photo of you taking the Oath of Office at our special, interactive exhibit at DiMenna Children's History Museum!


Presidential Quizzes: Test your presidential knowledge!
Think you know the presidency? Take our quizzes to find out! Displayed on the Living Wall in our lobby, on an interactive iPad in our gallery, and on our website, our weekly presidential quizzes challenge you to discover what you know—and what you don’t know—about the American presidency and its history. Check back every Wednesday through Presidents’ Day for a new weekly quiz!

Behind-the-Scenes Blog: The Presidency Project
Founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society has seen almost every presidency. With more than 200 years of history, what can we glean from our Library and Museum? What questions arise when we dig into the past? What do our special installations, collection items, documents, and programs teach us about democracy and upholding our important, but interpretive, laws and policies? Each week through Presidents’ Day, our staff explores into topics related to the American presidency, asking questions, examining objects, and inciting discussions. Follow along on our Behind-the-Scenes blog.

Creative: Tronvig Group