A Look Behind The Gates of James Madison’s Montpelier

James Madison is best known as the father of the U.S. Constitution. You can tour Madison’s beautiful estate known as Montpelier while traveling through Virginia. Of all the presidential sites in the state – this may be my favorite. It’s less of a well-oiled machine than Jefferson’s Monticello or Washington’s Mount Vernon – and full of more substance than James Madison’s Highlands. While I recommend seeing all of them – Montpelier offers a wonderful glimpse into the life of a man who was arguably the most influential of America’s founding fathers.

Madison shares credit with others but make no mistake – he was the author of the U.S. Constitution. He also constructed the Bill Of Rights, something he was hesitant to write. Madison initially feared that a list of rights would cause other rights not included to be diminished. He eventually changed his mind after deciding the list would be helpful in winning approval of the Constitution.

Statues of James and Dolly Madison outside of the Montpelier Visitors Center

The drive onto the property sets the stage for your visit – with the mansion and its large columns in an unobstructed view as you make your way from the highway to the Visitors Center where your tour will begin. You’ll want to make your reservations ahead of time and check-in once you arrive. Unlike some of the other presidential sites in Virginia – your tour group will be a bit more intimate. One thing I enjoyed was that I never felt too rushed as we explored the property.

You’ll enter through the original front door of the house and learn how the home evolved over the years from when Madison’s parents built it. You’ll note that there are additional entrance doors – one of which was added as James grew older and wanted his own living space apart from the rest of the family – much like an apartment. Though today all the doors go to the same place.

You’ll get to explore a handful of rooms inside the house including the Madison’s dining room, living room, and upstairs library. The library is important as Madison craved as many books as he could get his hands on. He asked his friend and one time boss – Thomas Jefferson – to get him as many books as possible as he was crafting ideas that would soon lead to creation of the U.S. Constitution.

FUN FACT: James Madison and George Washington were the only signers of the U.S. Constitution who went on to become President of the United States.

Madison was an extraordinary individual that sometimes doesn’t get the accolades or attention that some of the other founding fathers receive. He was the youngest delegate of the 1780 Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He served in Congress for eight years in the House, and was Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State. Of course, he was President of the United State for two terms.

The tour also shares some insight into the life of Dolly Madison – sometimes referred to as “America’s First Lady”. James and Dolly dated just four months before tying the knot in 1794. You’ll also learn about some of the slaves that were present at Montpelier and their stories.

The tour concludes in the backyard of the house where you’ll have the chance to ask questions of your tour guide. Afterward, you’re welcome to walk the grounds. You can take a short walk to the Madison family cemetery where the former president is buried. The Montpelier property is also an active dig site – meaning archeologists are constantly searching for relics and items from the days when the Madison family lived there.

To make a reservation or get additional information on tours of Montpelier, you can visit: https://www.montpelier.org/

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