2019 Class kicks off the summer at Montpelier
Hi everyone, Gina Rufo here! Today was my first official day with the National History Academy and we took a field-trip to James Madison’s home, Montpelier. The beautiful grounds are as accurate to Madison’s time as possible. Though the property was home to three generations of Madisons by the time the 4th president was born, it helped create the livelihood of over six generations of slave families. The slave quarters on the property have been placed exactly as archaeological digs say they are and many of the rooms have been designed based on small scraps of wallpaper found in the home. Unfortunately, the Madison’s son Payne sold many of their belongings to get out of debt and only about 10% remains. As for the exterior of the house, wings were added following the growth of a political career for Madison when he was told his home was not grand enough to entertain people.
Intelligent, thoughtful and petite, James Madison’s desire for all opinions to be heard inspired his greatest accomplishment: The Virginia Plan, which later developed into the Constitution. Though he was a slave owner and did not emancipate his slaves following his death, he said in his final will and testament that his wife Dolley was free to sell them, but only with “his or her consent.” Since tobacco dries out soil, the Madison plantation was only able to thrive for so many years before the family was put further into debt and Dolley ended up selling the property and many of the families’ slaves. Interestingly, Montpelier was under the care of the DuPont family for many years.
Often, Madison would invite people with conflicting opinions to his own (i.e Andrew Jackson) to his dining table for the sake of conversation. His greatest pride in what America would be was in its people’s abilities to talk openly with one another. It is this desire to hear people that led to Madison sitting at the middle seat during his iconic dinner parties while his wife took his place at the head of the table.
“The happy union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world.” -James Madison