President George Washington played a lead role in establishing the special relationship between France and the United States, and much of that history is preserved at Mount Vernon, his property on the Potomac River in Virginia.
To mark President Washington’s birthday, we asked Douglas Bradburn, President and CEO of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, to share his thoughts on what he treasures about the history and culture of our two countries.
Bradburn is an award winning author and well-known scholar of early American history. He is the author and editor of three books and numerous articles and book chapters with a specialty in the history of the American Founding, leadership, and the history of American Citizenship. Under his leadership, Mount Vernon has gone through a significant expansion of its programming, research, and educational products.
Favorite place to visit in France, and why?
I really enjoy Paris, of course, because it is one of the greatest cities of the world. However, on a recent trip, I had the opportunity to visit some villages and castles in Burgundy. The Burgundy foods and wines are much to my taste. The hospitality was extraordinary, so I will always have a fond place in my heart for Burgundy.
Favorite place to visit in America, and why?
Williamsburg, Virginia. I grew up there, and there is no place like home. I always enjoy going there.
What do you think the French can learn from Americans?
I think the French can learn to be more optimistic from Americans. Americans have a great ability to renew their society because of a faith in the future.
What do you think Americans can learn from the French?
Americans can learn to enjoy what they have, and not constantly worry about what they do not have. The French know how to live the good life, and Americans tend to be always wondering whether the grass is greener.
Favorite French film?
I like any French films about the French Revolution — they always do it in a very dramatic fashion, particularly studies of Bonaparte and others.
Favorite American film?
The Searchers with John Wayne; it’s the best western ever made. A classic John Ford film and powerfully shot and dramatic. A fundamental story of captivity and the American West. It goes back to the old captivity narratives of the Puritans in New England in the 17th century.
Favorite French actor or actress?
Gérard Depardieu. I liked him in Cyrano de Bergerac.
Favorite American actor or actress?
John Wayne and Cary Grant — classic American actors.
Most important French figure in history and why?
Napoléon Bonaparte. He transformed Europe in revolution with the civil law that he put in. He gave an incredible example of great military tactical leadership and bad political leadership, so he changed the whole trajectory of French culture and European culture.
Most influential American figure and why?
George Washington, obviously. He is the Father of the Country. He led Americans in their revolution. He established the office of the presidency, setting the precedence for character-based leadership and a model for the presidency that all other presidents have tried to live up to.
What is your favorite American luxury?
What is your favorite French extravagance?
Favorite American food?
Favorite French food?
Foie gras with good French bread.
The quality you most admire about the French and Americans?
Their devotion to liberty.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play the piano.
Name three people, dead or alive, who you would most like to have dinner with?
Winston Churchill, Katharine Hepburn, and Theodore Roosevelt
Relative to your field of study, what is the most important tradition to keep alive?
I think that we need to insist that students graduating from high school are really well versed in American history and civics. If we do not do that, we will lose our culture, and I think the French would feel the same way.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Spending time with my family when no one has anything to do the next day, and everyone agrees on the food that we want to eat.