There’s nothing like celebrating the birth of the U.S. Constitution at the home of the man who, more than any other, gave the world that remarkable founding document.
James Madison’s Montpelier invites everyone—family and friends—to enjoy Constitution Day this Saturday with a bevy of special events, including live music, all day long. And it’s all free.
The beautiful Orange County plantation of Madison, who became the fourth U.S. president and helped his friend Thomas Jefferson found the University of Virginia, is the perfect place to appreciate how “Little Jimmy” cooked up the concepts that still anchor the Constitution. It happened in a second-floor library overlooking the mansion’s front porch and the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance.
There, Madison spent the winter of 1786 with two trunk-loads of books Jefferson had sent him, and studied historical examples of the republican form of government as he prepared for 1787’s Constitutional Convention in the old Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia (today’s Independence Hall)
Visitors can learn more about those epic events Saturday during open-house tours of James and Dolley Madison’s stately home, or just kick back and enjoy a stroll through the historic grounds of the 2,650-acre estate, a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Mr. Madison will be at home and receiving guests all day long.
The great house is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the grounds will host hands-on history activities and Colonial games from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Don’t miss the historic house’s award-winning permanent exhibition “The Mere Distinction of Colour.”
You can start your day with an interpreter-led “We the People” walk on the 3.5-mile Montpelier Loop Trail at 9 a.m., learning about James Madison’s role as a conservationist, managing Montpelier’s land today, tree identification, and more. There will be a second walk at 1 p.m.
Can’t make either guided walk? Montpelier’s eight-plus miles of trails are open to the public every day.
Constitution Day offers a variety of other walking tours: Montpelier’s Enslaved Community (10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m.); Archaeology (11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.), and Garden and Grounds (11 a.m. and 2 p.m.). The estate’s Archaeology Lab and archaeological dig sites will be open; learn about researchers’ newest discoveries.
On the other side of U.S. 20, interpreters will staff the Gilmore Cabin—a rare gem of a freedman’s farm whose descendant family remains active in Montpelier life today. Nearby at Montpelier Station, don’t miss the restored 1910 Train Depot that houses a self-guided Jim Crow exhibition, “In the Time of Segregation.”
Near the manor house, in the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center’s Exchange Cafe, people can enjoy a buffet of hamburgers, hot dogs, sides and desserts for $10/adults, $5/kids. Adults can sip a cold Virginia craft beer for $5/glass.
Or you can pack a lunch and picnic anywhere on Montpelier’s grounds. Listen to live music while you eat. The Visitor Center will offer some local favorites:
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Calvin Earl is a performing artist, musician, storyteller and documentary filmmaker who specialized in the history of African-American spirituals.
1 p.m.-2:30 p.m.: Alex Caton and Nightbird will play traditional Appalachian, gospel, and early country music.
3 p.m.-4:30 p.m.: The Jason Burke Band will close the afternoon with 1960s and 1970s American and British rock and roll..
Madison entrusted to George Washington his outline for a new government, in a paper he titled “Vices of the Political System of the U. States.” When Virginia’s delegates arrived in Philadelphia, they drafted a document from that outline that became known as the “Virginia Plan of Government.” And that profoundly shaped the Constitution that the convention later delivered.
Montpelier’s website invites visitors to learn more about the Virginian’s impact.
“James Madison turned the status quo on its head,” the site reads. “He and his peers envisioned a new nation with a limited government that served the people equally, but it was Madison who created the framework for making it work. The social contract described by the Declaration of Independence, in which the people hold the government accountable and the law applies to all citizens equally, was a lofty goal until the Constitution prescribed a system of government that could be kept in check on all fronts.
“With the core ideas of the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the Bill of Rights, Madison set a standard for the entire world. This framework for the American Experiment would resonate across centuries, giving millions of other oppressed people across the globe the basis they needed to claim their own liberty.”
Constitution Day at Montpelier is co-sponsored by Reynolds GM–Subaru.
To learn more, visit montpelier.org.