by Lowman S. Henry | August 16, 2022

If you know where you are going you will find the gravel path that leads across a field to a grove of trees with a plot of land surrounded by a brick wall secured by an iron gate. The plot is overgrown with weeds and at the far end there is an unkempt, grimy tombstone.

In large letters is the name “Madison,” and so in this lowly estate lies the remains of America’s fourth president, James Madison and his wife Dolly. Their final resting place is Montpelier, the Virginia estate on which the Madison’s lived. Sadly, the historic site treats the founding father’s legacy in the same shabby manner that surrounds his gravesite.

Over the past year my son and I along with a couple of friends have visited George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and Montpelier. The short video that orients visitors to Montpelier offered little insight into James Madison’s contributions to our nation’s history. Instead, it focused on what can only be described as critical race theory.

Madison, often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution,” was a major contributor to the Federalist Papers which aided in its ratification. He presented the Virginia Plan to the convention which laid the groundwork for the three branches of government we have today. Madison provided for a legislature divided into two Houses. His plan called for representatives of both to be determined by population. The later Connecticut Compromise resulted in the current system of each state having two U.S. Senators regardless of population, and the House of Representatives apportioned by population.

A trade dispute with Great Britain escalated into the War of 1812 during Madison’s presidency resulting in British troops invaded Washington setting fire to both the Capitol building and the White House, which was then known as the President’s Mansion. That the United States was able to fight to an effective standstill against the world’s greatest power heightened the nation’s prestige abroad and instilled national pride at home.

Brenda Hafera of the Heritage Foundation has written an excellent research paper entitled: A Tale of Three Presidential Houses: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Mt. Vernon wins praise for having the most balanced presentation of George Washington’s life and times. Monticello offers somewhat of a mixed bag, but it is Montpelier that veers into full-fledged revisionism.

If you want to learn anything about James Madison’s historical contributions during a visit to Montpelier you have to look hard. Hafera writes: “There is a palpable lack of education about Madison’s ideas and contributions to the American Republic.  Visitors could leave Montpelier knowing much about slavery and little about Madison and his great work as America’s political philosopher.”

“The exhibit on the Constitution, located in the cellars of the Father of the Constitution, focuses on slavery rather than on the meaning and significance of the Constitution or Madison’s role in shaping it. The exhibit is often misleading, as it does not contextualize certain facts or compromises, and does not recognize that the Founder’s purposefully avoided recognizing slaves as property in the Constitution.”

It gets worse. An 11-minute film on slavery is filled with “images of protestors carrying signs saying ‘stop police brutality’, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ and others waving Confederate flags.” All of this designed to provoke an emotional response to the issues of the day while laying blame on the Founding Fathers.

The so-called historical site has become a propaganda arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an ultra-Left wing organization devoted to rewriting American history to fit its ideological views of race and racism. Last year the board of the Montpelier Foundation (which operates the Madison homestead) was essentially taken over by critical race theorists.

This is not to say that a discussion of slavery, in its proper context is not important.  As Hafera explains “CRT posits that slavery and racism define America, elevating them as driving forces of our history rather than properly placing them as tragic elements that contradict our principles.”

What has happened at Montpelier is a national disgrace. Worse it supplants history with a radical ideology.

As Hafera concluded in her paper: “The origin story of any nation holds a special place in its history, but America’s Founding is perhaps even more essential to understanding the American ethos.  We are not a nation built on ethnicity or religion but one united by principles: those of our founding . . . our reciprocal duty is the watchful guarding of those principles and that character.”

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is [email protected].)

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