James Madison's Montpelier We The People Fall 2014 - Page 4

We The People 4 A MORE c america T o tell a true story, one must tell the whole story. For James Madison’s Montpelier, this story includes the lives of its enslaved community, Madison’s struggle with the institution of slavery, and the means required to end slavery. Slavery is an uncomfortable subject which continues to trouble our national conscience and shape our cultural identity. During our founding era, slavery was one of the divisive political issues of the time. As such, slavery is an important part of history, not a mere footnote, and is a paradox of America—a slave-holding nation that declared to the world “all men are created equal.” “We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”  —James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 As one of the most enlightened men of his era, a man who spent a lifetime in pursuit of liberty, a man who realized at an early age the moral wrong of slavery, Madison’s life, too, is a paradox. Slavery haunted him throughout his life. He called slavery “a blot on our Republican character.” While he recognized slavery as an evil, Madison joined many leaders in the nation in placing priority on creating and preserving the republic, not on the abolition of slavery. A slave-owner himself, Madison understood that the institution of slavery involved real people and harsh realities. Slave labor built the plantation that generated the Madison family’s wealth and enabled Madison to pursue a life of learning and public service. Anthony, Caty Taylor, Billey, Paul Jennings, Sawney, George Gilmore, Moses, Sukey, Harriet…these are only some of the names from Montpelier’s enslaved community. As many as six generations of enslaved African Americans knew Montpelier as their home. In 1723 Madison’s grandfather, Ambrose, brought the first slaves to his newly acq եɕ