Hope in Montpelier’s Future
Continuing my professional journey at this historic place, the home of James Madison, is a tremendous honor. Madison restored himself on these lands before returning to the Herculean task of creating a new nation. I, too, feel restored in returning home to Virginia, to the rolling Piedmont hills, and to the red earth of Orange County.
I am enthused to lead the Montpelier team, building on the tremendous accomplishments of recent years. From the most ambitious historic house restoration ever undertaken, to the founding of the Center for the Constitution, Montpelier is a vigorous institution that is always ready to take on fresh challenges. Our obvious assets at Montpelier are physical ones, namely the home and lands of a former president and courageous First Lady. However, our greatest assets are our people, from those who dig in the earth to those who toil in libraries and archives to those who educate our visitors. Montpelier’s successes have resulted from hard and thoughtful work, good science and robust scholarship.
What are our hopes for James Madison’s Montpelier in the future? As the Madison biographer Dr. Ketcham said, “The excitement of exploration and an experience of incredible development and growth surrounded Madison throughout his life.” In that spirit, let’s consider several of the many possibilities:
First, the Madisons' home is part of a landscape we must restore and cherish. Where else in the United States is there a place like Montpelier? Montpelier’s Landmark Forest, the unfettered views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the fields of the Piedmont are to be preserved, protected, and promoted. The context of our surrounding area is crucial to the stories we tell and the experience we provide, and its success will ensure our success.
Second, we Americans have a fascination with who we are, where we came from—beginning with the founding of this country—and where we are going. James Madison once wrote: “...the advancement and diffusion of knowledge...is the only Guardian of true liberty.” We still have much to learn from Madison and his contemporaries, not only what it took to build this country, but what it will take to sustain our democracy. In our dedication to education, constitutionalism, and civic engagement, Montpelier is poised to lead the way in continued conversations about our Constitution with people across the country and around the world interested in democracy. We will do that by focusing on the power of place and the emerging power of online learning.
Third, among the many priorities and opportunities made possible over the past decade, I want to recognize the hope and promise made evident in interpretation of African-American history at Montpelier. The revitalized train station at our entrance stands as an invitation to visit and to explore what we are learning about that history. From our research experts who are dedicated to studying those who lived and worked at Montpelier, to the archaeologists who literally uncover the stories that would have otherwise been lost to the ages, we at Montpelier have an opportunity to expand and relate our work to the larger, national narratives of truly understanding African-American history.
Fourth, we will continue the fascinating process of refurnishing the Madisons’ home. The research of the Presidential Detective story is groundbreaking in its contribution to our understanding of who James and Dolley Madison were. Montpelier will continue this research to better enable us to tell the story of James Madison’s contribution to the development of modern government in America and the world.
We can work together to strengthen the ties between Ash Lawn-Highland, Monticello, and Montpelier, homes of three successive presidents nestled in the remarkably historic and beautiful land around Charlottesville. Madison, Jefferson, and Monroe embarked on a joint enterprise in unprecedented cooperation to secure sound government, double the size of the United States, firm up foreign policy, and enhance religious freedom. Today, we, too, can achieve great things from partnering with each other. Together we can elevate our principles, our political creativity, past cooperation, and the sheer grit that formed this country.
I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity. With a Board that is inspired to step forward with vigor and creativity, with so much passion and expertise resident here on our staff, and with friends and supporters like all of you—we can make Montpelier a national platform for questing minds and hearts.