“Let me recommend the best medicine in the world:
a long journey, at a mild season,
through a pleasant country,
in easy stages.” — James Madison
James Madison, Father of the Constitution
James Madison, the fourth United States president known as the “Father of the Constitution,” lived in a mansion in quiet, lush Montpelier, a tucked-away hamlet in central Virginia, well-worth a day’s visit.
To prepare for your time there, watch Our Visit to Montpelier and read https://www.montpelier.org as well as the Constitution at https://www.loc.gov/item/20013929. Also check out Madison’s digitized handwritten notes on a draft of the Articles of Confederation here: James Madison.
Madison is also known as the tiniest US president, weighing approximately 100 pounds and being of slight height, but his robust mind led him to Princeton and in the same social circles as his closest friend, Thomas Jefferson, as well as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. (Burr introduced Madison to Dolley, a charming woman 17 years younger, whom Madison married in his 40s.) During the tour, you will find out what attracted the Madisons to farm life far removed from the political scene.
To get to the estate, you will drive a long and winding road through gorgeous countryside and woods. (This path may be the root of the quote at the top of this page.) You will be rewarded with a pristine visitor center with ample parking, a cafe, a shop, and a short walk to the mansion and grounds. From there, you will hear a chorus of countless bird species, breathe fresh air, and soak up the knowledge of Montpelier’s archaeologists, historians, and curators. Visitors are encouraged to not only to see the house, but also to experience a contemporary exhibit about enslaved persons that is second to none.
Before going, we recommend reading biographies such as Madison’s Gift by David O. Stewart or, for kids, The Great Little Madison by Jean Fritz, and read about Dolley Madison at http://www.firstladies.org. Young children may like The White House is Burning: August 24, 1824 by Jane Sutcliffe, about Dolley Madison’s rescue of national treasures. Read about the saving of Washington’s portrait in the original record written by Paul Jennings here: gutenberg.org.
Montpelier also offers a top-notch shop, a sitting area featuring relaxing chairs in Madison’s favorite style, and a cafe with ample places to dine inside and out. While there, you can use the Virginia Wildlife Mapping to share which birds you spot.
Montpelier is the fourth stop on our Virginia Author Adventures Trail.