Author & Speaker

Madison's Montpelier

Taking advantage of a glorious October weekend, we visited “James Madison’s Montpelier” (that’s what the road signs call it; I suppose there’s another Montpelier around somewhere). The restoration of his mansion, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge near Orange, Virginia, has been a major project for five years, and has involved several stages:
— Removing expansions by several rounds of post-Madison owners, particularly a clumsy doubling of the size of the mansion by duPonts, including one who married movie actor Randolph Scott.
— Stripping out all the updates and taking the building back to its Madisonian basics.
— Rebuilding the interiors to resemble what James and Dolley Madison knew.
montpelier.jpg
Montpelier Mansion Today
The process is far from finished, with much interior decoration to come. The restoration effort is getting to the question of where and how the more than 100 slaves lived, and the rudimentary exhibits paid a commendable amount of attention to those lives that made Madison’s so comfortable.
JamesMadisonBio1.jpg
The Older Madison
The late restoration of Montpelier is one more symptom of how the small, slight Madison has remained “under the radar” (almost literally) of history. Though he is a cult figure for political theory types, he never makes it into the first rank despite spending forty years at the center of the founding of America, including (i) a critical role in the writing of the Constitution, (ii) the leading role in drafting and winning approval of the Bill of Rights, (iii) joining with Jefferson to found the first national political party, (iv) serving as Secretary of State for eight years, including the Louisiana Purchase, (v) two terms as president, including the War of 1812, and (vi) having the most charming, accomplished, and hottest First Lady, by general consensus.
440px-Dolley-madison.jpg
Dolley Madison
Yet many historical puzzles surround Madison.
— Was he really an epileptic, at least as a youth, or simply a lifelong hypochondriac? Or did he suffer from a moderate anxiety disorder that he managed to overcome in middle age?
— How could this most intellectual of the Founding Fathers have supported the centralization of power achieved by the Constitution, yet ten years later joined with Jefferson to write the Kentucky and Virgnia Resolutions, which laid the groundwork for the nullification doctrine that sovereign states could overrule federal laws?
— How could this subtle moral thinker have spent his entire life as a slaveowner? And not just a few household slaves, but a huge workforce of them?
An interesting guy. If you get a chance, get down to Montpelier.