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Our Power of Place

History is Now at The Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution

Your contribution will directly support Montpelier’s ongoing efforts to preserve the legacy and ideals of liberty that founded our nation. Together, we can ensure the American story is told in its entirety–one that resonates with all Americans and reminds us of our shared journey towards a more perfect union.

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

The Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution

As far back as the 1780s, James Madison knew that the United States of America’s revolutionary commitment to a government by the people and for the people depended on a well-constructed written foundation. As Madison states in Federalist 51, “neither the governors nor the governed can be trusted to live by an un-written code.”

"Neither the governors nor the governed can be trusted to live by an un-written code"

Without some kind of document to reference, everyone’s idea of this code would be different, constantly changing, and eventually self-serving. The United States Constitution is that foundational document. While the Constitution did not end debate on core governance issues, having a written document outlining the basic rules and tenants of our society provides a solid foundation that we can return to as the starting point for all of our debates.

Historian Jon Meacham at James Madison's Montpelier

Fast forward 230 years and the Constitution still profoundly affects our day-to-day lives, but trying to decipher and apply it can be an intimidating task. 

Pocket Constitution. Kendall Madigan. Courtesy of the Montpelier Foundation

That’s why the Center exists. We strive to help people from all walks of life gain a better understanding of the document that still serves as the foundation of our nation. We believe that everyone is capable of reading and engaging with the Constitution, especially with a little help. We give people the tools to more fully appreciate and understand the Constitution and encourage informed debate, deeper involvement in democracy, and continuous improvement to our nation.

The Center offers world-class educational programming in the idyllic setting of James Madison’s home, Montpelier, while also offering online courses with some of the world’s most important constitutional scholars. Whether you work in the law or simply want to strengthen your understanding of our founding principles, Montpelier is your starting point. 

This Is Where It Happened

And where it’s still happening everyday

Montpelier is a beautiful, historic setting for retreats, with 2,650 acres rife with history. Unlike many cultural institutions, Montpelier can accommodate up to 34 overnight guests in the residential cottages in Constitutional Village, allowing for a unique immersive experience.

Montpelier Aerial. Aaron Watson. Courtesy of the Montpelier Foundation

You can literally stand in the room where Madison studied world Constitutions, planning to lay the framework for our nation, then breathe the air and look out upon the same breathtaking vista of the Blue Ridge that framed the Madison landscape. 

The Center is also home to a world-class conference room and recording studio in Claude Moore Hall.

Since 2002, the Center for the Constitution has trained more than 57,000 people from over 100 countries, including teachers, law enforcement officers, young politicos, and international groups.

For the People, By the People

Who We Serve

The Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution provides world-class educational programming, both on-site and online. Participants come from all over the world to engage in civic dialogue, improve their understanding of the founding principles of the United States, and deepen their potential involvement in democracy.

The Center for the Constitution welcomes all thinkers to partake in understanding our Constitution. We also offer specific programs for particular professional groups. 


The Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier offers intensive, content-rich programs for educators taught by nationally recognized scholars. Montpelier Seminars for Educators involve concentrated immersion in the Constitution, fostering the impassioned exchange of ideas among scholars and peers. Seminar topics vary, but may include the ins and outs of American institutions, suffrage in America, religious freedom, and slavery and the Constitution, among others.

Teacher Brian Rainville details his experience at a recent Montpelier seminar for teachers

These multi-day, residential, professional development opportunities are supported by scholarships, and most are provided at significantly reduced or no cost. Seminar materials, tours of the Montpelier property, meals, and on-site accommodations are included. 

Studying constitutionalism at Montpelier—the very place where James Madison thought more profoundly and creatively about our American form of government than any other person—is a rich and powerful experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Law Enforcement

The most visible Constitutional actors in our society, it’s vital that our LEOs have a deep understanding of the document they are sworn to protect and abide by. 

Constitutional Policing

Montpelier’s constitutional trainings for law enforcement draw on the perspectives of practitioners, lawyers, and scholars to strengthen participants’ foundational understanding of the Constitution as it relates to police work, as well as translate philosophy into practice and policy.

Through multi-day residential seminars, participants tackle complex constitutional topics from sources of power in a democracy, to minority vs. majority rights, Supreme Court decisions involving the 4th Amendment, and advancements in 21st-century policing. Every program ends with scenario-based training.

Young Politicos

America’s future political leaders face a challenging road ahead, fraught with polarization and partisanship leading to a sharp decline in public confidence in the federal government. But the life and work of James Madison can serve as a source of motivation for those young leaders working on and around Capitol Hill today. Montpelier’s programs for those in government, politics, media, and public affairs facilitate an enhanced understanding of the formation and purpose of government, while also providing the space and opportunity to network and build bridges across party lines.

James Madison was in his mid-20s when he began to influence the world with his political thinking. In his 30s, his ideas and political skill shaped and solidified the U.S. Constitution. At the age of 38, Madison drafted the Bill of Rights.

The Montpelier Summit for young political leaders is a series of weekend discussions held at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution on the grounds of James Madison’s Montpelier. The objective is to rekindle and reinvigorate nonpartisan, principled discussion and debate about the process of formulating and enacting policy—through the lens of current pressing issues—and create lasting bonds among emerging leaders that can be called upon for years to come.

Millennial engagement summit at James Madison's Montpelier

International Groups

The Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution has cast a wide net, hosting a variety of international audiences, including teachers, museum curators, non-profit leaders, elected and appointed officials, and human rights lawyers. One of the ways the Center hosts international groups is through the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). IVLP is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields experience this country firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts. Professional meetings reflect the participants’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States.

Montpelier hosts international visitors through the Presidential Precinct, a non-profit that unites two of America’s premier universities, William & Mary and the University of Virginia, William Short’s Morven, James Madison’s Montpelier, and James Monroe’s Highland. Presidential Precinct programs empower leaders to learn from world history, find expert advice, exchange ideas, access professional development resources, and solve the most pressing challenges in their communities.

Where Do We Go From Here?

How does the Constitution affect us today?

We believe that because our society is constantly evolving, the constitutional interpretation changes from one generation to the next. It defines how we interact with each other and establishes the balance between the government and the people. The core ideas and legacies of the American Experiment are all around us, and the Center provides people with an opportunity to retreat, take a step back from the world, and focus on what is and is not working 230 years later. We explore revolutionary ideas with interactive dialogue and philosophy, while providing important historical and legal context.
Every generation faces circumstances the Founding Fathers could not have possibly predicted, and we have to turn to the Constitution again and again for guidance. It has become clear over the course of American history that a deep, nuanced knowledge of Madison’s most important work is crucial to improving our nation and addressing the needs of each new generation.

Mr. Madison with the next generation. Ethan Hickerson, Mobelux. Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation

The revolutionary ideas embodied in the Constitution are still just as important today as they were over 200 years ago. At Montpelier, we call on the past to inform our future, and we hope you’ll join us on that journey.