Montpelier President Lauds Madison At JMU

Speaker Says Today’s Leaders Could Take Lesson From Fourth President

Posted: March 19, 2014

Kat Imhoff, president and CEO of the Montpelier Foundation, speaks at James Madison University on Tuesday. Imhoff says Madison’s legacy as one of the most influential politicians in U.S. history can provide valuable lessons for today’s leaders. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Kat Imhoff, Montpelier Foundation leader, speaks at the Grafton-Stovall Theatre at James Madison University on Tuesday. University President Jonathan Alger also spoke at the event held during Madison Week.

HARRISONBURG — Two hundred years after James Madison led the United States as commander in chief, he’s still making headlines.

Kat Imhoff, president and CEO of the Montpelier Foundation, spoke at James Madison University on Tuesday about how today’s leaders could take a page or two from the fourth president’s book. Recently, historians and political institutes have compared President Barack Obama’s decisions with what they believe Madison would have done instead, Imhoff said.

But everyone can learn from him, not just today’s gridlocked Congress, Imhoff said. She spoke about how Madison’s legacy as one of the United States’ most influential politicians can provide valuable lessons today.

Madison expertly dealt with gray areas in politics, she said. His two terms as president from 1809 to 1817 also were marked by the War of 1812 with Great Britain, by far the greatest test he faced in office.

Similar crises in U.S. history have led to the unconstitutional denial of basic civil rights, such as habeas corpus, which President Abraham Lincoln suspended during the Civil War when people were imprisoned without being brought before a judge.

Other wartime presidents have taken liberties with the Constitution, too, including President Franklin Roosevelt, who established internment camps for American citizens and residents of Japanese descent during World War II.

Madison, whose family plantation, Montpelier, is in nearby Orange, was not perfect. Like many of his Southern contemporaries, he was a slave owner, and while by many accounts he was conflicted over the issue, he never freed his own slaves.

He did, however, fight for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights he helped to create, and defended religious freedom to the point where his own religious views were ambiguous.

Students and others in the JMU community should follow his path of determination to make their own waves in society, Imhoff said.

“Madison’s life shares a lesson for each of us,” she said. “When we find passion and are driven by an opportunity to create real, substantive change, we must indeed seize that day. Madison had a passion, a passion for establishing the government that would enable its citizens to participate actively, not passively, a citizenry where we could think like men and women of passion and act like men and women of thought.”

If Madison were around today, he would likely implore today’s politicians to work together to find common ground, she said, to keep the country progressing forward instead of dividing into distinct factions with rigid party lines.

“There are trade-offs,” Imhoff said. “Compromise is not a bad word. [Madison] had to really do a lot of compromise.”

Imhoff’s speech was just one of many events during Madison Week, which celebrates the man the university has to thank for its name.

University President Jonathan Alger said Madison’s work presents important lessons for students to learn. It took a lot of compromise and thoughtful work for Madison to do what he did and help lay the framework for today’s society.

“For me, it’s important for our students to understand not to take our Constitution and our system of government for granted,” Alger said.

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or

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