Building the Future of the Constitution

In 1961, a 33-year-old real-estate developer surveyed an expanse of land adjacent to Washington, DC that was languishing in neglect and thriving only in its junkyards and cheap motels. I imagine this place being where criminologists came up with broken windows theory.  But Robert H. Smith looked at this area and he did not see failure—he saw opportunity. In just a couple short years, against the advisement of his successful developer father, Robert H. Smith began the transformation of this broken-down wasteland into one of the most thriving communities in the DC Metro area. You know it now as Crystal City.

One cannot help but draw a comparison to James Madison, who looked at a country failing under the Articles of Confederation and sought to fix it with a new Constitution. Madison was a visionary builder, too. He built a nation. And it was to this nation, to an America governed by its own people, that Robert H. Smith’s father immigrated from Russia in 1908. It was in this nation that Charles E. Smith was able to rise, fall, and rise again from setbacks like the Great Depression.

In 2009, Robert H. Smith told a gallery publication, “Life is a two-way street. Those of us fortunate enough to generate more funds than we need have a responsibility to give back. I feel my responsibility is to America." His commitment to both philanthropy and the U.S. Constitution led him to Montpelier’s Center for the Constitution with the goal of increasing constitutional literacy throughout the country. His generous support has ensured that thousands of educators and other professionals are more knowledgeable about the Constitution and through that understanding, are better citizens. And in this way, Robert H. Smith is helping to build a nation, too.

In honor of his passion for the Constitution and support of civics education, The Montpelier Foundation is proud to announce the renaming of the Center to the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution. The Robert H. Smith Center looks forward to the next decades of growth and development in the memory of one who so inspires us to look forward, have vision, and build a better, more constitutional, place to live.


Jen Howell