ON THE TRAIL OF THE PRESIDENTS
Since this is the year of the 56th consecutive quadrennial presidential election, my wife and I decided to go on the Presidents’ trail. We headed to Charlottesville, Virginia to tour the homes of three of my favorite founding Presidents. Each stop made a significant impression on us.
We began with Monticello, the home of our third President, Thomas Jefferson. Each year about half a million people come to visit his “essay in architecture.” They see Jefferson’s innovative genius throughout the house in his space-saving alcove beds, light maximizing mirrors, polygraph (copying) machine and other appliances. But the most inspiring point of the tour for us was slightly down the mountain behind the house. It is Jefferson’s grave marked with a headstone that reads, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence; of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom; and father of the University of Virginia.” Jefferson didn’t care if he was remembered for being the governor of Virginia, secretary of state, vice president, and, even, president. Instead, he was more concerned with preserving our freedoms and providing education for future generations.
From Monticello we headed 2 miles south to Ashlawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe. He called it his “cabin-castle” with affection. The home is typical of farmhouses of the 1800s and is filled with beautiful furniture, paintings, clocks and wallpaper from Napolean’s France. But what caught my attention the most was the dropleaf table in the entrance hall. The table, made from Honduras mahogany, was sent to Monroe on behalf of the people of the Dominican Republic. They sent it in gratitude for Monroe’s foreign policy known as the “Monroe Doctrine.” In this policy Monroe made it clear that the American continent was no longer available for colonization and any attempt by a European country to do so would be considered a national threat. Monroe’s bold statement secured our nation’s boundaries until today.
For our final tour we headed twenty minutes north of Charlottesville to Montpelier, the home James Madison called his “squirrel’s jump from heaven.” The Montpelier Foundation has been restoring the mansion to its original state and is set to be unveiled on September 17th, Constitution Day. As we stood on the front porch the guide informed us that even the original Madison road was being restored. It reminded me of when Madison was running for a seat in the Constitutional Convention and he needed the support of the Virginia Baptists to win. Early one morning Madison rode off on that same road to meet John Leland, a preacher who was fighting for the liberty of his fellow Baptists. The two men discussed the issues until sunset. Finally Leland extended his hand of support to Madison, who replied, “Then, I’m elected.” True to his word Madison proposed the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
As we drove home we discussed what we were looking for in our next President. Like Jefferson he should not be naïve about economic progress but make education a high priority for our children and grandchildren. Like Monroe he should be bold about our nation’s defense and not forget our old allies. Like Madison he should remember that our nation is undergirded by Biblical values and protect our essential freedoms. As we head to the polls let’s remember Proverbs 29:2, “When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power they groan.”