Our first opportunity to meet the presidents was at the Capitol on Saturday morning. We had heard that there is a brand new James Madison and he was brilliant! Without a doubt, I could easily imagine Madison was actually standing in front of us, explaining his role in 1776, as a Burgess in this very room of the Capitol. He stressed that it was imperative that the Burgesses draft a Bill of Rights, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, before they wrote the Virginia Constitution. With great eloquence, depth of meaning and full understanding, he quietly and calmly put forth his arguments. (This led to my question for him by Sunday night.)
Then we went upstairs to meet with George Washington, who used the maps to connect his early years as surveyor in the West, to government and visions for America's future in the West. Settlements were "now beginning on the Mississippi." (Photo from 2012 in a different room.)
Then we went downstairs to meet with Thomas Jefferson, who shared several bills he tried to put forth. He had a quiz. How many thought that his Bill for the Freedom for Religion was passed. I raised my hand because I've spoken with him about this before! I was right! Then he asked how many thought that his bill for slave owners to be able to emancipate their slaves as long as they had means to financially help them (I think that's how he put the financial part. Jefferson was firm on that final part because he wanted slaves to be freed but he knew they needed provisions for them to have roof, food, clothing, trade, etc to survive.) I raised my hand, certain this had to be the law that allowed Robert Carter III to become the Great Emancipator. (Read the book, The Great Emancipator.) He freed all of his slaves, over 500 of them! Yes! I was right! My son had raised his hand on that one too because he hears me tell this story all the time! The third one I couldn't hear, but I probably would have gotten it wrong. I wouldn't have been sure, because Jefferson's Bill for public education did not pass. Jefferson had no idea how freedom for religion and emancipation of slaves could succeed, if the people weren't educated. (Photo from 2012.)
Sunday afternoon we met with Jefferson and Washington again (and hopefull next year with Madison as well), this time focusing on their roles as presidents. My son and I studied their terms in office in great detail last autumn, so we listened to their words with renewed focus and learned some new things.
First we met with President Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately I don't remember the first point. However I was surprised to hear (or maybe not) about the Kentucky Resolves, which he wrote. The southern states used his arguments to justify seceding from the Union. In Jefferson's discourse, he said that although he fought for state's rights, he always strove for the preservation of the Union. He told us that the phrase about states' rights in the Kentucky Resolves is in the rough draft, not the final copy!
Our visit with Washington clarified a few things as well. Washington gave us a little quiz. He asked when the Articles of Confederation were written and my son and I called out 1776. He said we were close. It was 1777. When were they ratified? A few of us called out 1781. This is how Washington began his explanation on how the Articles of Confederation wouldn't work for our country. There were too many problems with it.
Someone asked about public education, because Washington advocates it. The questioner asked why the federal government should be actively involved in public education, when that should be a local matter. Washington looked at him in surprise, because he completely agreed. Neither he nor his peers ever thought that the federal government should become involved in public education. That is indeed a local matter.
Then my son asked a question I've been wondering myself, but always forget to ask. Knowing that Washington often mentions in his Farewell Address that America shouldn't be involved in foreign affairs, my son explained that we certainly understood that "as a young country we were not yet strong, but someday America would certainly be stronger. Wouldn't America then be able to stretch her wings?" Washington agreed. He explained that his advice was to avoid foreign entanglements. We should avoid becoming involved in those affairs that have no concern with us. Washington gave numerous examples of affairs to be involved in, as examplified in his time in office, and those which should be avoided, because they were "entangling," such as the hundreds of years of war between Britain and France.
I did a google search on this and found most posting in various venues that Washington never mentioned "foreign entanglements." Although true, that seems odd that everyone wants to focus on that detail, when it is indeed the meaning of portions of the Farewell Address. It's a lengthy heavy thinking document but it's a good stretch of the brain to figure it out. I did a bit of highlighting to help things along.
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it - It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?Every President's Day Weekend at Colonial Williamsburg, there is a Salute to the Presidents featuring the firing of cannons and Fife and Drum music.
In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils. Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard. -Portions from Washington's Farewell Address, 1796.
Special attendants to the event are President's Washington, Jefferson and Madison who get their turn at firing cannons. I think this is President Madison, who's nearest the front of the photo, waiting his turn to fire.
The speaker of ceremonies announces the states that are homes to US presidents, in alphabetical order. After announcing the state, the speaker names the presidents from that state. Then he names the song to honor that state of presidents that the Fife and Drum Corps will play.
After that a cannon is fired! That is repeated for each state that was home to presidents.
Look at that fire coming from the cannon!
I think President Jefferson is firing to the right.
President Washington is in the lighter bluish grey coat, firing. Look at that fire explode from the cannon!
While at Colonial Williamsburg's President Day Weekend programming last weeken, we attended the most festive of all the events, Evening with the Presidents. In this program, the presidents who were influenced by Williamsburg attend a question and answer session as guest panelists, with a moderator overseeing the program. In this case, Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Madison, received the grand invitation and graced us with their presence, in a most period accurate way. The moderator announced that the evening's theme would be about the president getting along with the legislature, which brought much laughter from the audience. As each president was introduced, he gave a brief synopsis of his term as president. After each had their turn, the moderator asked each of them a rather difficult question about how they managed certain agendas in their presidency, with or without the legislature. In other words, they were put on the spot! It was interesting hearing their side of the story...which is often a deeper look into the facts, since these actor/historian/interpreters study primary source documents to fully prepare for their parts. If there is anything you ever wanted to know, these are the men to ask! They are the Founding Fathers who forged our nation!
After the difficult questions were answered, the moderator allowed the audience to ask questions of whomever they liked. After a few questions were answered, things got really interesting! I've been to this program for the last few years and this year we had double the surprises and excitement! Alas I am not permitted to tell you what happened. I have been sworn to secrecy on my blog, by one of the CW higher-ups. She made me feel part of the CW family a few years ago when she asked me to join in the secret, even though I had incredible pictures to share of my kids with ____________!!! I highly recommend that you visit CW for President's Day Weekend and attend "Evening with the Presidents." It is fun, informative and hilarious! However I will share a few tips to get the most out of the program. Do study the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the events during the terms of the first 5 presidents. If you have a background in the history, you'll get more of the jokes! Also be sure to closely watch not only the president who is speaking, but also the other two presidents because they can have priceless facial expressions and gestures in reaction to the president who is speaking. Seeing them interact as real people with opinions brings to life the history they are teaching.
At the end of the program my son and I went forward to ask President Madison a question. As soon as Madison saw me, he smiled really big and reached out to shake my hand. (He did this to everyone.) I remembered meeting Dolly Madison at Montpelier a few summers ago and she shook everyone's hands. I think I remember reading somewhere that the Madisons shook everyone's hands.
I asked him a question that tied in his comments from his Saturday morning program at the Capitol with the comments he made that evening. The day before he talked about his work as a burgess in 1776 where he helped to draft the Virginia Declaration of Rights. He emphasized the importance of writing the state's bill of rights before the state's Constitution. At the time I knew that was opposite of his opinion of the federal Constitution, in fact he did not see a need for a Bill of Rights. Since he was set in 1776, I decided to save my question for Sunday night, when I knew I could more freely discuss it with him. He was so wonderfully happy to discuss the differences. He didn't think the federal Constitution needed a Bill of Rights because those were guaranteed at the state levels. Each state had written their own copy of the Bill of Rights and that was to protect the citizens. The federal government should never have any power over that. The federal government's job was not to become involved or even intrusive in peoples' lives, but to only oversee those areas that the states needed help negotiating, for instance in interstate issues and international.
Then my son asked him a question about the War of 1812 and that led to me asking another question about Madison's overall role throughout his political career. I've always enjoyed talking to Presidents Washington and Jefferson, yet I've always yearned to ask President Madison deep questions. This actor/interpreter was recently hired and has been studying Madison intently for the last few months. This weekend was his grand debut and he is a perfect fit for bringing history to life in Colonial Williamsburg! From all of my readings about Madison, I truely felt as though he had come to life!