James Madison's Montpelier has gone woke in a very ugly way
As an adult, except when he was president, James Madison lived at Montpelier in Virginia. A visit there should take us room by room through the home he loved, with myriad exhibits about his contributions to America. Instead, the house tour is drastically abbreviated, and visitors are funneled into a series of hard-left displays about race and slavery in America.
In mid-July, the New York Post blared, "Founding father James Madison sidelined by woke history in his own home." The article noted that there are no American flags at Montpelier, and not a single display focuses on Madison himself:
Instead, blindsided tourists are hammered by high-tech exhibits about Madison's slaves and current racial conflicts, thanks to a $10 million grant from left-leaning philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.
It's true that no exhibit discusses Madison, although, to her credit, the guide gave an honest history about Madison's ancestors, his education and marriage, and his world-changing work on the Constitution. She exhibited the usual Tourette's-like obsession with "enslaved people" but still did well.
Eighty percent of her talk took place outside because Montpelier is clearly using COVID to limit the house tour. Masks in the house were mandatory "for your protection." We saw only three rooms — the drawing room, dining room, and office. I know from a 2015 visit that the house has many lovely rooms, some of which we could see, as we rushed by, still had rope lines for tourists.
Once outside, the aggressive, race-based wokism began. The displays, none of which addressed Madison's accomplishments, are self-guided, so we weren't a captive audience. However, once there, people will look at the displays, and they'll see pure "1619 Project." Some examples:
"The United States was founded on ideals of liberty and an economic system of slavery." The first half of the sentence is correct, but the American economy was not solely based on slavery. Yes, slavery formed a part of the economic system, but the U.S. was primarily a farming society, with tens of thousands of small farms uninvolved in the slave trade. When it came to seafaring trade, slave transport was only a small part of it.
"[N]early 12.5 million men, women, and children were forcibly transported from the African continent to North and South America[.]" The implication that millions of slaves were sold in America is dishonest. Only 388,000 (3%) came to North America. The rest went to the Caribbean or Latin America. That statement also gives a pass to both the Africans who sold their compatriots and the Muslim middlemen who sold these same captives to Western buyers.
"Americans confront slavery's legacy of racism every day." In 2022, discrimination is illegal. The vast majority of Americans are not racist. It is the left that decided to reopen this wound with its racial obsessions, including imaginary microaggressions and intangible "systemic racism."
There are actually a few displays mentioning Madison. This is what he has been reduced to: "President and enslaver."
This paragraph demonstrates how the lack of context infuses everything at Montpelier. It implies that there was a unique chasm between slave and master. In fact, before the Industrial Revolution raised people's standard of living, the chasm between the few who were very rich and everyone else was ginormous, and most people lived in squalor and labored unrelentingly until they died. That reality doesn't mean that slavery is not immoral. It's been immoral since the dawn of mankind, when it began to appear in every human society (White, Asian, Black, Hispanic, etc.) on every continent.
All the exhibits demonstrated the same problems: ignorance about the past, inaccurate facts, and a manifest desire to stir up racial hatred. Nor am I reading too much into things. The bookstore had a few books about Madison and the Founding Fathers. And then it had so much else.
A children's book display that gave four shelves to race and slavery and two shelves to Madison, the Founders, and our American system.
The blatantly false The 1619 Project and spin-off books.
Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility.
Ibram X. Kendi's deeply racist "antiracist" and "antiracist parenting" books.
A book castigating America not just for slavery, but also for denying illegal aliens their birthright as American citizens:
There was even a warning about "fascism" (a socialist concept that the left simultaneously implements and insists is a right-wing phenomenon) from the late Madeleine Albright:
If you're planning a trip to Virginia, my recommendation is that you cut Montpelier from your list. The tour is expensive — $35 — and both the house and James Madison are not given their due. The house is skimped upon, and Madison is demeaned. Worst of all, though, one of the historic properties on which the ideas of liberty and representative democracy came to fruition, even before people were fully ready for them, has become a shrine to race-hatred and anti-Americanism.
All photos by Andrea Widburg.