Chief Justice John Roberts (left) was the keynote speaker on Constitution Day at James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange, Virginia. Under a beautiful late summer sky, several thousand people came together this morning on the front lawn to hear of Madison – the Father of the Constitution and one of the most under-appreciated Founding Fathers – and to celebrate the completion of the restoration of his home, Montpelier. It was a wonderful day that, as National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe said, doesn’t get any better if you’re in this business.
All the speakers rose to the occasion, but I found the remarks of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine especially thoughtful as he highlighted a Madison accomplishment, thought, and character trait. The accomplishment was his role as Father of the Constitution. To appreciate that accomplishment, Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph at St. Paul’s Cathedral was recalled, “If you seek his monument, look around you.”
Governor Kaine then referenced Federalist #10, which he described as one of the most influential political thoughts in American history. This emphasis on the pluralism of America meant that
“Republics could thrive…where many diverse factions continually vied with each other. Occasionally factions would unite in favor of specific policies, but these coalitions would be short‐lived. Through the persistent struggles of these factions, the liberty of both majorities and minorities would be maintained. “
Finally, Governor Kaine spoke of a character trait…the ability to change his mind. The Governor talked of how Madison originally opposed adding a Bill of Rights, but he changed his mind – or “flip flopped” – when he saw that the Constitution would not be ratified without it. Kaine celebrated the fact that any of us can wake up each morning a little smarter than the day before!
Perhaps the most moving moment of the celebration came when two young people came together to read the preamble to the Constitution. One was a descendant of James Madison’s sister (Madison himself did not have any children). The other was a descendant of a slave born at Montpelier, who later helped Dolley remove the Washington portrait from the White House during the British attack, received his freedom after James Madison’s death, became a leader of the abolitionist movement, and then gave Dolley food and money from his own pocket as she was living in Washington after being forced to sell Montpelier to pay for debts. To see and hear these two young people reading these famous words reminded us of what we have to be thankful for as citizens of the United States – and how much work we still have to do to reach that “more perfect Union.”
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
More to come…