A remarkable amount of Presidential history has converged at Montpelier. President James Madison lived here. Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe – the Presidents before and after Madison – visited Montpelier many times. They were Madison’s good friends and political collaborators, and their homes – Monticello and Highland – were within a day’s ride of Montpelier. Andrew Jackson also paid a brief visit to Montpelier during his presidency, in July 1832. And while there is no documentation that Zachary Taylor visited Montpelier as an adult, it is possible that he came as an infant. Taylor was born in Orange County in 1784, a second cousin to James Madison. His family may have brought the new baby to Montpelier before they moved to Kentucky in 1785.
Although these figures never gathered at Montpelier at the same time, this installation in the Dining Room represented some of the Madisons’ best-known guests, including three Presidential visitors. From the left and going clockwise around the table: Revolutionary War General Lafayette, writer Margaret Bayard Smith, President James Madison, President James Monroe, Dolley Madison (partially obscured at the head of the table), President Thomas Jefferson, Dolley’s sister Anna Payne Cutts, and President Andrew Jackson.
The Surprising Three
Long after James Madison’s death, three other Presidents made visits to Montpelier, each for different reasons.
Rutherford B. Hayes
When President Hayes set out for Montpelier on October 9, 1878, he had just returned from a tour through the Midwest, where he gave speeches at fairs, at civic events, and at the Chicago Board of Trade.1Charles Richard Williams, The Life of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Nineteenth President of the United States (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914), accesssed January 14, 2019, MRD-S 25689, Montpelier Research Database. While most of the President’s speeches were aimed at promoting his financial policies as the November election approached, he planned a different theme for his visit to Montpelier. Hayes wrote in his diary: “My talk at Orange Court House, Va., Wednesday must be very brief, and confined to the services of Madison. His name is linked inseparably with the Constitution of the United States. … As long as free Constitutional Governments exist his work will be held in grateful remembrance.”2Rutherford Birchard Hayes and T. Harry Williams (editor), Hayes: The Diary of a President, 1875-1881, Covering the Disputed Election, The End of Reconstruction, and the Beginning of Civil Service (New York: D. McKay Company, 1964), pp. 164-66, accessed January 14, 2019, MRD-S 24549, Montpelier Research Database.
It was just 13 years after the end of the Civil War, and only a year after Hayes had pulled the last federal troops out of the southern states, effectively ending Reconstruction. By choosing Madison as the subject for a speech, Hayes offered a conciliatory tone, paying tribute to a statesman who was well-regarded in both the South and the country at large.
As a former Union general who won the Presidency in a contentious election, Hayes was not entirely popular in the South. The Gordonsville Gazette, published in Orange county, called out Hayes as “the greatest fraud of the age” who would make a pretense of weeping over Madison’s grave: “We fully expect to hear of Madison’s crumbling bones turning over in their grave when the weeping commences.”3Quoted in William H. B. Thomas, “President Hayes Visits Montpelier,” Orange Review (Orange VA), January 1971, accessed January 14, 2019, MRD-S 24599, Montpelier Research Database.
The visit proved to be a success for Hayes, however. Setting out from Washington with First Lady Lucy Hayes and several Cabinet members, the Presidential party traveled by train to Orange, where Hayes noted “a crowd of people met us … and there was speaking.” It took an hour for all the carriages carrying the visiting and local dignitaries to reach Montpelier. As he wrote in his diary, Hayes found Montpelier “admirable” but also commented that “the place is not well kept up and is for sale cheap.” He was impressed with the “great trees,” noting the circumference of several specimens: a white oak (21 feet), a chestnut (37 feet), a black walnut (15 feet), and a tulip poplar (18 feet).4Rutherford Birchard Hayes and T. Harry Williams (editor), Hayes: The Diary of a President, 1875-1881, Covering the Disputed Election, The End of Reconstruction, and the Beginning of Civil Service (New York: D. McKay Company, 1964), pp. 164-66, accessed January 14, 2019, MRD-S 24549, Montpelier Research Database.
President Hayes was met at the door with “hearty handshaking” from Frank Carson, who lived at Montpelier at the time. Col. John Willis, Madison’s great-nephew, gave “a carefully prepared speech.”5Rutherford Birchard Hayes and T. Harry Williams (editor), Hayes: The Diary of a President, 1875-1881, Covering the Disputed Election, The End of Reconstruction, and the Beginning of Civil Service (New York: D. McKay Company, 1964), pp. 164-66, accessed January 14, 2019, MRD-S 24549, Montpelier Research Database. Hayes then used his few moments on the Montpelier portico to connect Madison’s legacy to a hopeful vision for post-Civil War America:
“In view of this beautiful scene, the magnificent range of the Blue Ridge, this verdant lawn and hospitable mansion, here at the home of Madison. we may surely say that if the advice and patriotic purposes of this great man had been observed, we should have been saved from civic strife, and, as in the past, so in the future, there are no troubles that can arise in the administrative affairs of our country that cannot be settled by recurrence to the principles of Madison, which inculcate the submission of all sections, States, communities, and citizens to the Constitution and laws of the land. The bottom and foundation principles on which Madison built will always afford us means of adjusting all our difficulties. … let us all hope that, with a model Constitution to guide us, the worst that can ever befall us is over.”6“Madison’s Memory; President Hayes and Part of His Cabinet Visit the Estate of Ex-President James Madison,” Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), October 10, 1878, 4, accessed January 15, 2019, MRD-S 253, Montpelier Research Database.
By contrast, Montpelier’s next Presidential visitor traveled here not as a public speaker, but simply as a cultural tourist. Theodore Roosevelt had previously visited Washington’s Mount Vernon, Jefferson’s Monticello, and Jackson’s Hermitage.7“At Madison Home: Roosevelt to go to Montpelier Where the Fourth President Spent His Early Days,” November 23, , box Printed Material: Clippings, Pamphlets, folder Newsclippings, Dolley Madison Collection, MS 47, Greensboro Historical Museum, Greensboro, North Carolina, accessed January 15, 2019, MRD-S 32388, Montpelier Research Database. On November 28, 1907, Roosevelt added another Presidential home to his lifetime list with a Thanksgiving Day visit to Montpelier.
President Roosevelt traveled by train from Washington on Thanksgiving morning, along with First Lady Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt and two of their children: 10-year-old Quentin and 16-year-old Ethel. (Other Roosevelt sons were away at school.) Unlike Hayes, who arrived at the train station in Orange, Roosevelt had the convenience of arriving at Montpelier Station, on the outskirts of the Montpelier property.8“President’s Thanksgiving. Has Two Turkeys, One Wild, and a ‘Possum on the Dinner Table.,” The Sun (New York NY), November 29, 1907, accessed January 23, 2019, MRD-S 48162, Montpelier Research Database. (William duPont would later have a depot built there in 1910).
Hosted by William duPont and family, the Roosevelts “were escorted through all parts of the mansion, and listened to many stories concerning the historic spot. The President was particularly interested in visiting the tomb of President Madison and remained near it some time.”9“Roosevelts Visit Madison Homestead: See the Tomb of a President in Virginia,” New York Times (New York), November 29, 1907, 9, accessed January 18, 2019, MRD-S 41437, Montpelier Research Database.
Luncheon was served on the Roosevelts’ private train car on the return trip. They arrived back at the White House in the late afternoon, in plenty of time for their evening dinner of turkey (domesticated and wild) and possum. Joining the family for dinner were the Roosevelts’ daughter and son-in-law, Alice and Nicholas Longworth, who had opted out of the trip to Montpelier. The press, eager to report on the activities of the President’s high-spirited daughter, noted that “in the afternoon hours, the Princess Alice was seen steering her own automobile along the capital’s thoroughfares.”10“Thanksgiving at the White House,” Town and Country Life (December 7, 1907), accessed January 18, 2019, MRD-S 24535, Montpelier Research Database.
George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush is welcomed by Montpelier’s president Christopher Scott during his 1991 visit.
Montpelier’s most recent Presidential visitor was an invited guest for the bicentennial of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. George H. W. Bush was the featured speaker for the event held on December 16, 1991. Army musicians in Revolutionary War uniform performed at the ceremony, at which President Bush signed a proclamation entitled “Year of Thanksgiving for the Blessings of Liberty.”11Frank J. Murray, “Bush pledges money for Madison mansion,” The Washington Times (Washington DC), December 17, 1991, accessed January 18, 2019, MRD-S 42010, Montpelier Research Database.
Like Rutherford B. Hayes, Bush drew lessons from James Madison’s life to apply to the current moment, remarking: “The framers of our Constitution confronted problems not unlike those that the Central and Eastern European constitution writers face today. The framers had to grapple with ethnic and religious differences, regional interests, issues of where power should lie and of how to contain conflict.” Bush also urged Americans “to focus on our Madisonian legacies in need of renewal,” referring to limited government, protection of property rights, equal application of the laws, and protection against factions in the form of special interest groups.12George Bush, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, July 1 to December 31, 1991, p. 1615, accessed January 18, 2019.
George H. W. Bush was known for sending thank-you notes, even for a gift as modest as a T-shirt. This note is preserved in the Montpelier archives.
Not Only Presidents
Although there have been no Presidential visits since 1991, Montpelier has hosted one First Lady and two Second Couples in later years.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Montpelier on July 10, 1998, for the opening of the Discovering Madison exhibition. Clinton served as the Honorary Chair of the “Save America’s Treasures” program, which had just been established by the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This public-private partnership provides matching funds to preserve nationally significant properties and collections. Clinton’s visit to Montpelier was the kick-off to her “Save America’s Treasures” tour of historic sites in the Northeast.13White House Millennium Council, “Save America’s Treasures Tour” with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, accessed January 31, 2019.
Explaining the need for preserving American history, Clinton quoted Madison: “The origin and outset of the American Republic contain lessons of which posterity ought not to be deprived.”14James Madison to William Eustis, July 6, 1819, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, accessed January 31, 2019, MRD-S 16620, Montpelier Research Database. Flanking her in front of Montpelier’s rear portico are the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Richard Moe (left) and the chairman of the Montpelier Property Council, Glen Moreno. The entire ceremony was recorded by C-SPAN and may be viewed here.
Former Second Lady Lynne Cheney came to Montpelier on April 2, 2014, accompanied by her husband, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Dr. Lynne Cheney, a Madison biographer, presented a talk based on her recently-published book James Madison: A Life Reconsidered. The Cheneys enjoyed a private tour of Montpelier afterward.
More recently, former Second Couple Mike and Karen Pence made an impromptu visit to Montpelier on September 11, 2022. The Pences were on a tight schedule and had intended only to walk the grounds, but the Visitor Center staff made sure that they received a whirlwind tour of the house as well. Following the tour, Montpelier Foundation Chairman James French greeted the Pences at the Madison Cemetery. Mike Pence shared that he came to Montpelier because James Madison had been inspirational to him, in supporting the peaceful transition of power.
A Crossroads of Presidential History
Montpelier has an undeniable claim to Presidential history. For James Madison, it was home. For Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, it was a place to enjoy the company of their friend. Even after Madison’s death, Montpelier has continued to attract Presidents. When Rutherford B. Hayes called for post-Civil War unity here, when George H. W. Bush spoke to the post-Cold War reality, or when Theodore Roosevelt simply lingered at the Madison gravesite, each President acknowledged Montpelier’s symbolic importance – and added a new layer to its Presidential history.
This post was updated on January 16, 2023, with information about the visit of former Second Couple Mike and Karen Pence.
Hilarie M. Hicks, MA
Senior Research Historian
Hilarie came to Montpelier in 2010 and joined the Research Department in 2011, where she provides documentary research in support of the Montpelier Foundation’s many activities. A graduate of the College of William and Mary (B.A) and the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies (M.A.), Hilarie has a broad background of experience in research, interpretation, and administration of historic sites. She enjoys following a good paper trail and locating the perfect Madison quote for any occasion.