Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Ever hear of Montpelier? It was the Virginia home of James Madison, the fourth president and the man known as the "Father of the Constitution." He wrote the first plan for unifying the newly established United States. Also, Madison was the one mainly responsible for the first ten amendments to the Constitution, called the Bill of Rights.
Now a campaign aims to give new life to Montpelier so more people will want to see the historic home. This week on our show, learn about James Madison and Montpelier.
|Top Image: View of Montpelier, summer 2002, which shows the house as it appeared after the 1901 duPont additions. Bottom image: Montpelier as it appears today during the restoration phase.|
Montpelier is about one hundred thirty kilometers south of Washington, D.C. It covers more than one thousand hectares in the middle of farm country in Virginia. Montpelier is a short drive from the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is only about forty-five kilometers from Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, America's third president.
In late two thousand four, a public campaign opened to establish Montpelier as a national monument to James Madison. The Montpelier Foundation is working to raise sixty million dollars for projects. These include restoration of the Madison home and property. The money will also be used to open a study center at Montpelier, the Center for the Constitution.
Work on the home is in progress. It is expected to be completed in two thousand seven. The home will be reduced from fifty-five rooms to the twenty-two rooms that existed in the eighteen twenties. It will look as it did when James Madison and his wife Dolley lived there. Madison was president from eighteen-oh-nine to eighteen seventeen.
Visitors can take a special "restoration tour" of the home while the work goes on. They can also take guided walks through the surrounding lands.
James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia, on March sixteenth, seventeen fifty-one. He grew up in Orange County, at his family home at Montpelier. James Madison’s grandfather, Ambrose Madison, first settled the land in seventeen twenty-three.
James spent the first nine years of his life in a house built by his grandfather. His father built the main house at Montpelier in about seventeen sixty. The family moved there a short time later.
James Madison was the oldest of twelve children. He was educated at home and at schools in Virginia until he was eighteen years old. Then he attended the College of New Jersey, now called Princeton University. He completed his college education in just two years. He stayed in New Jersey one more year for independent studies.
James Madison returned to Montpelier in seventeen seventy-two. He was not sure what he would do for his future. He thought about becoming a lawyer, a clergyman or a businessman. But he decided against all those jobs.
As Madison thought about his future, Britain and its American colonies were increasingly angry with each other. This period, the early seventeen seventies, was about the time James Madison began his political activism. He served in local government. Then he was elected to Virginia’s first House of Delegates. There he helped to write a new state constitution.
Madison represented Virginia at the Second Continental Congress during the War of Independence. After the war, he attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in seventeen eighty-seven.
Madison thought the United States should have a strong central government. He led efforts in Virginia and other states to approve the proposal. He helped write The Federalist, a series of reports that explained the proposed Constitution.
The Constitution was approved. Madison continued as a leading member of the new federal government. He was elected to the first Congress. He led the fight to approve the first ten amendments to the Constitution -- the Bill of Rights.
A few years later, he and Thomas Jefferson formed a political party. It is known today as the Democratic Party.
While in Congress, James Madison met a young woman, Dolley Payne Todd. Her husband had died of yellow fever the year before. Madison proposed marriage a short time after they met. They were married on September fifteenth, seventeen ninety-four.
James Madison was a small, quiet man. Dolley Madison liked to organize big parties. They were married forty-one years, until his death. They had no children together. But they raised her son by her first husband.
James Madison left Congress in seventeen ninety-seven. He and Dolley retired to Montpelier. But the retirement did not last long. Thomas Jefferson became president in eighteen-oh-one. Jefferson appointed his friend Madison as secretary of state. Madison served as America’s top diplomat for eight years.
The Jefferson presidency was a period of growth for the new nation. In eighteen-oh-three, the United States agreed to pay France about fifteen million dollars for a huge piece of land. This agreement was called the Louisiana Purchase. It increased the area of the United States by one hundred percent.
There were, however, some problems. Secretary of State Madison could not get France and Britain to honor the rights of Americans on the high seas.
James Madison became president in eighteen-oh-nine. Trade relations with the French and British became his government’s biggest problem.
President Madison served two terms, eight years in all. He led the United States through the War of Eighteen Twelve. British troops invaded the country and burned Washington. The United States won the war in eighteen fifteen.
Two years later, Madison left office at the end of his second term. He and Dolley returned to Montpelier. The former president remained active and interested in politics.
Madison had many slaves at Montpelier. Now, he founded a group that sought to free the slaves in the United States and return them to Africa. He also took part in Virginia’s constitutional convention in eighteen twenty-nine.
James Madison died at Montpelier on June twenty-eighth, eighteen thirty-six. He was eighty-five years old. Dolley Madison died thirteen years later. They are buried on the property.
The main building at Montpelier started with eight rooms. It had four rooms on the first floor and four on the second.
James Madison made two major additions to the building, which his father had built. He also made other changes. He built private areas for family use. He combined existing rooms to create larger, public spaces for dinners and parties.
Dolley Madison sold Montpelier to a friend in eighteen forty-four, eight years after her husband died. The property had five other owners before William and Annie duPont bought the land in nineteen-oh-one.
The duPonts enlarged the main building. Their daughter, Marion duPont Scott, added two large tracks for horse racing. The home remained in the duPont family until nineteen eighty-three. Then it was given to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Montpelier opened to the public in nineteen eighty-seven. The Montpelier Foundation accepted responsibility for the property.
Not everything will change at James Madison’s Montpelier. There will still be many buildings, a large flower garden and farmland.
Some trees on the grounds were there when Madison was alive. The James Madison Landmark Forest includes wooded land near the back of the property. It is recognized as the best example of an old-growth forest in central Virginia.
We leave you with music recorded in recent years at Montpelier. One of the instruments, the crystal flute, belonged to President Madison.
Our program was written by George Grow and Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Our programs are on the Web at voaspecialenglish.com. Please listen again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.