MONTPELIER STATION—Patriotic pomp and circumstance paid a visit to the Madison Family Cemetery on a sunny Saturday for a commemoration of the 268th anniversary of the birth of President James Madison.
The fourth U.S. President was born March 16, 1751 at the home of his mother, Nelly Conway, in a place named for her family, Port Conway, on the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, when Virginia was a British colony.
A naturally curious and studious child, Madison likely began his education at home under his mother, according to researchers at James Madison’s Montpelier.
During his young childhood, the Madisons lived in a relatively small plantation house, Mount Pleasant, in Orange County until the early 1760s when the plantation’s slaves constructed a brick Georgian structure a half-mile away, later named Montpelier.
In recent years, the vast rolling estate, owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed by the Montpelier Foundation, has transformed to include careful recreations of the living quarters and stories of the families living in bondage on the plantation of the Father of the Constitution.
Madison’s lifelong home at Montpelier was in its glory for Saturday’s birthday celebration with hundreds attending a formal ceremony on a breezy afternoon at the brick walled-cemetery. Situated a moderate walk from the mansion, it contains the president’s grave, marked with a prominent obelisk, and the grave of his wife, Dolley, directly behind, along with other family members.
A diverse crowd of all ages sat in chairs on the lawn as various media representatives moved about with cameras outside the cemetery, overlooking mountains and fields where thoroughbreds pranced and galloped as the ceremony happened. Madison was the oldest of 12 children born to Nelly and James Madison Sr., though only seven lived to adulthood.
A strong floral aroma filled the antique burial yard where nearly three dozen wreaths were displayed in honor of Mr. Madison, including one presented by U.S. Marine Corps Col. William C. Bentley III on behalf of the current U.S. President.
“Yes, we get to enjoy this view every day,” said Doug Trout, executive vice president with the Montpelier Foundation. In on a second story library on a plantation spanning some 2,600 acres, Madison sketched out the framework for our democracy, he said.
Chaplain Stephen Barstow, commander, U.S. Navy, blessed the service with a prayer, saying the assemblage was gathered to honor the way in which Madison lived.
Col. Bentley, in remarks, said we all look at history as if it was supposed to work out. The founding fathers argued and discussed everything to set the basis of a government for future generations, he said, noting Madison was among them.
Bentley called Madison “a visionary” who imagined what our country could be. The Bill of Rights establishes rights no man or government can take away, he said. “We defend the rights Madison believed in every day here and abroad.”
Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, warned against letting the government get too much power, saying those who represent are not made of a finer clay. As birds chirped around the scenic setting, the delegate commented that the vast majority of human history is brutal, dark and full of oppression.
Freitas added the Constitution retains authority today because of the principles that informed it. The quest to create a more perfect union was not a foregone conclusion, the delegate said, lauding the fourth President for taking on a monumental task and serving his country well.
All citizens are tasked with protecting a free society, Freitas concluded, saying handing over too much power to the government only results in oppression.
The ceremony ended with the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard retiring the colors, three shots, a bugler playing TAPS, members of the Armed Forces saluting the flag and members in the audience with hands over their hearts.
Madison made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution by writing, with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the Federalist essays. In later years, when he was called the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison protested that the document was not “the offspring of a single brain,” but “the work of many heads and many hands,” according to the Montpelier Foundation.
In retirement at Montpelier, Madison spoke out against the disruptive states’ rights influences that by the 1830’s threatened to shatter the Union. In a note opened after his death in 1836, he stated, “The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.”