The American Assembly is a public policy institute founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower during his time as president of Columbia University. Deeply concerned about the social, economic, and political quandaries thrust upon the nation after World War II, Eisenhower sought to create a rigorous framework that could marshal intellectual power across a range of public and private sectors, bringing together the nation’s brightest minds to address difficult problems and identify effective solutions.
In the late 1940’s, only a handful of public policy institutions existed and structured conferences were a new and evolving form of exchange. Eisenhower envisioned The American Assembly as an experiment in democratic citizenship — one that would bring bright minds together in an objective and impartial process to address key challenges facing democracy and illuminate issues of national policy.
Eisenhower is widely regarded as a preeminent military strategist and political leader. Yet the passionate advocacy that led him to establish The American Assembly in 1950 reveals his broader commitment to strengthening democracy — and the important role he believed educational institutions played in cultivating an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.
Eisenhower proposed a plan for a major conference center that he called The American Assembly. He proposed bringing together citizens who represented a broad spectrum of views from business, labor, politics, finance, and higher education to cooperate for the greater good. “The basic values of democracy,” he stated, had been “won only through sacrifice,” and it was essential “to explore, thoroughly, all the facts and factors involved in the problems of democracy.”
In his famous Farewell Address as he left the White House, Eisenhower emphasized a theme he had long considered essential for a democratic society: the need for an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwanted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
These deeply held beliefs, and Eisenhower’s mandate to protect them, were central to the creation of The American Assembly, which continues to identify cross-cutting problems, focus attention from both sides of the aisle, and make a better nation for all Americans.
Arden House was given to Columbia University by W. Averell Harriman and his brother E. Roland Harriman. This established Arden House as America’s first Conference Center. On May 21, 1951, the first Assembly began deliberations.
At the dedication ceremony, W. Averell Harriman stated, "It is a matter of pride that at the very time when people in some other countries are being jailed or executed for deviating from proscribed ways of thinking, we, in in this country, have established this meeting place where differences of opinion can be explored in complete freedom.”
For over 60 years, The American Assembly has held over 100 convenings of historical significance on a variety of topics, fostering non-partisan, cross sector public-policy discussions.
Legacy cities are places that have changed dramatically since the mid-20th century. Older, formerly-industrial urban areas primarly in the Midwest and Northeasy, legacy cities have experienced significant population loss and must face the challenges associated with vacant properties and diminished resources.
The profound social and economic disruption of legacy cities, such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Syrcause, is the result of fundamental shifts of the global economy in recent decades, and as importantly, policy decisions made at the local, state, and federal level.
The American Assembly, through the Legacy Cities Partnership, seeks to advance public policy discussion around this unique set of 50 cities that struggle to find their footing in the new economy.
Despite very real challenges, legacy cities also have real assets—from strong cultural fabric to abundant historic architecture—that serve local communities and strengthen them as centers of their metropolitan regions. Many are now becoming hubs of innovation, as legacy city leaders find new and creative solutions to the challenges at hand.
The Legacy Cities Partnership aims to support and strengthen the growing community of people and organizations working on these issues by working to establish a framework for revitalization of legacy cities and help change the policies that govern practice in these cities.