About Our Guest
Doug Smith is a non-profit executive with extensive experience in civic engagement and program growth and currently serves at the Vice President of The Montpelier Foundation overseeing its Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution working to build constitutional democracy here and abroad. He is the former CEO & President of a public interest public policy group where he led an eight-year effort to create one of the most well known state-based policy centers in the country, which included government relations, micro-enterprise development, and the incubation of several new organizations. Doug was formerly on staff with an international relief organization in Geneva, Switzerland and has served as Senior Web Strategist for a dot com. He is a graduate of James Madison University (B.S.), Lexington Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and in 2005 was named a Fellow of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. He is the former Chairman of the Board of Heifer International and received such awards as the “Top 40 under 40” in Central Virginia, the Richmond History Makers Award, and was named a “World Changer” by his alma mater. He serves on the board of James Madison University’s School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Mary Washington University’s Center for Honor, Leadership, & Service. He and his family live in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Jan Paynter: Hello. I’m Jan Paynter and I would like to welcome you once again to our program Politics Matters. Today we are pleased to welcome to the program C. Douglas Smith, Vice President of the Montpelier Foundation to discuss the work which he oversees at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution. Welcome, Mr. Smith.
C. Douglas Smith: Thanks so much, Jan. Thanks for having me.
Jan Paynter: Douglas Smith has extensive experience in civic engagement and public programming. He serves as the Vice President of the Montpelier Foundation overseeing its Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution striving to build constitutional democracy here and abroad. He is the former CEO and President of a public interest policy group where he led an eight year effort to create one of the most well-known, state-based policy centers in the country including government relations, micro enterprise development and the inception of several new organizations. He was formerly on staff with an international relief organization in Geneva, Switzerland. He holds a BS from James Madison University and a master’s in Divinity from Lexington Theological Seminary. In 2005 he was named a Fellow of the Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. He has received numerous awards including the Richmond History Makers Award and was named a World Changer by his Alma Mater. He serves on the Board of James Madison University’s School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and Mary Washington University’s Center for Honor, Leadership and Service. Douglas Smith and his family live in Charlottesville, Virginia. As we progress toward the 2016 election cycle, we hear frequent references among the candidates to our Constitution and its Amendments. At Politics Matters, it is our view that gaining a more thoroughgoing insight and understanding into our nation’s framers and founding documents has never been more essential. That civic engagement which focuses on the issues addressed by our Constitution will always lead us home. These remarkable documents which are the result of so much committed work and visionary thinking belong to our collective consciousness and as we read and study their words, we achieve a greater recognition of the spirit which infuses our laws. They lead us to a better understanding of who we are both as individuals and as a people. Instead of feeling divorced and disenfranchised from the political process, we can actively lay claim to our democratic heritage. Knowledge of our Constitution, its Amendments and the underpinnings of our history is vitally important if we are to make sensible decisions regarding our leadership and the increasingly complex issues at hand. One of the Seminole voices in shaping that history is our fourth president and successor to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison. We are privileged today to have Douglas Smith here with us to inform us about the excellent work of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution. We will also be speaking about one of the remarkable architects of our Constitution, as I mentioned, and its Amendments, James Madison. Welcome again, Mr. Smith.
C. Douglas Smith: Thank you, Jan. Nice to be here.
Jan Paynter: Doug, to begin our conversation today, tell us about the work of the Robert Smith Center for the Constitution at Madison’s Montpelier, what is it, why was it founded and when?
C. Douglas Smith: So about 12 years ago Montpelier Historic Home really was beginning to look at where it wanted to go. It had been almost tripled in size by the DuPont family. They were of course an early 20th century owner of the Madison Plantation. Madison originally, the Madison family in the 18th century, had as much as 5,000 acres. The DuPonts didn’t have the 5,000 acres but they had quite a large plot of land and they were amazingly strong stewards in many ways of the property. What they did was they added to the house and in adding to the house, Montpelier, they created an equestrian training center. Well, once Mary DuPont Scott, who many of your viewers will know because of the Montpelier Hunt Races that happen the first November of every week…every year rather. Once she had passed away, she transferred the land to the National Trust and when she did so, the National Trust and a group of local supporters who formed The Montpelier Foundation, got together and they had a vision. They knew Madison’s home was under those DuPont layers somewhere and so they went through a five year effort to restore the Madison mansion. During that exact same time, they not only had the vision to restore Madison’s home, the home to James and Dolly and of course the enslaved community that really ran and built large portions of that home, but they wanted it to be more than just a historic site. Of course we’re in Virginia, the mother of presidents. There’s no shortage of presidential homes. They wanted something that would be more of a training center, something with more of a strong intellectual, outward looking program and so they started the Center for the Constitution and it’s now the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution. In the last 12 years we’ve worked with more than 40,000 people from 85 countries and every state in the Union and what we do is we bring people either in residence because we have a residential program at Montpelier or online and we train them in the U.S. Constitution and in constitutionalism writ large. And that’s been a tremendously powerful and popular program for many, many people around the world.
Jan Paynter: Now who can participate in the program?
C. Douglas Smith: So that’s a great question. Most of our participants are adult professionals. So there are lots of great groups doing K-12 civic education, government education. In fact we have a robust program for students ourselves but that’s through our Interpretation Department. What we do at the Center for the Constitution is we work with adult professionals to train them in the idea and philosophies of constitutionalism and state craft and constitution making from a Madisonian perspective. That might be teachers, might be members of the law enforcement community, it might be judges and members of the media, quite a few elected officials. I’m happy to say that one of our most significant programs is with law enforcement agencies.
Jan Paynter: Oh, interesting.
C. Douglas Smith: And one of the people that helps us to spearhead that is our own Chief Longo for here in the Charlottesville area who of course is not only just a wonderful Chief of Police but also is a lawyer himself and so that’s really helpful.
Jan Paynter: Oh, now that’s very interesting for people to know. It really is. He’s a fantastic man in that position. Tell us a little more about the Montpelier seminars and some of—examples of some of the seminars that have taken place or are planned.
C. Douglas Smith: So a lot of people are surprised to understand that we have residential programs that happen at a presidential home. Sometimes just like we put our presidents kind of—we revere them and we put them on a pedestal, we imagine that their historic homes may be a place that you might go and visit but it’s a museum so don’t touch. Montpelier is unique. Everything that we do is really about outreach to the public, about the Madison family, the enslaved community and of course, most importantly, the Constitution. So people are surprised to hear that you can come and you can learn in residence at Montpelier. We have cottages available for overnight stays. And when people come, they learn about a variety of issues. They might be learning about the foundations of the Constitution, they might be learning about Federalism and the state/federal interplay of laws. They might learn about religion in the Constitution. Not just because the freedom of conscience was so important for Madison himself but because it’s so relevant even today. So we have a variety of topics. Always we start with kind of a past look, a historic look, but the key to those seminars is that they are relevant and they’re contemporary so that those teachers who are able to go back into the classroom and teach it are really able to do so in a way that captivates students.
Jan Paynter: I think it’s exciting and I know that you spend a lot of time with the students and the teachers do with original documents which is exciting I think for people because as we’ll get into a little later, the words of Madison are really very living today so it’s exciting. You also partner with an NPR program Your Weekly Constitutional with Stewart Harris. Talk a little bit about that and if you wish, some of the past programs.
C. Douglas Smith: Sure. Well, Stewart Harris is just an amazing voice and I have to say that I have a lot of respect for Stewart Harris. Professor Harris, he is a Princeton undergrad. He won the Moot Court at Penn Law School. He’s one of these guys who probably could have gone into practice anywhere he wanted in the country but he and his wife made this conscious decision to move where not a lot of people were moving and that is in Appalachia. And they for a long time have been stalwarts there at the Appalachian School of Law on the faculty. A couple of years ago Stewart decided that he really wanted to up the game a little and so he started a program called Your Weekly Constitutional. And we’ve had the great joy of being a strong partner with him in not only underwriting but being part of the program and the program development. And together what we’ve been able to do is tap into some of the most important constitution and historic voices throughout the United States and really bring that to populations who might not find their way into the lecture halls.
Jan Paynter: Oh, no. It’s a fantastic service.
C. Douglas Smith: It’s a—you heard me talk about Montpelier’s dedication to the public and this— We do public archaeology, we do public programming. Your Weekly Constitutional radio show is really meant to take the idea of constitutionalism and kind of pending cases before the Supreme Court out of the lecture hall and put them into the kitchen. How do we have kitchen table conversations about civics, our civic life and what’s happening in this country?
Jan Paynter: Now I wanted to go back just a minute to the seminars because one of the things I found so exciting is that you have simulated congressional hearings for the participants, both the students and the teachers who are teaching civics. That’s like a moot court. That’s very exciting for people.
C. Douglas Smith: It is very exciting. And it’s—people learn so well through role play.
Jan Paynter: Sure.
C. Douglas Smith: We are running the We the People program so it’s a national curriculum, a national program.
Jan Paynter: I was just going to ask you about that.
C. Douglas Smith: We run it in both Virginia and Washington DC and it is the one time the Center for the Constitution kind of pops into the K-12 area and what we do is we train kids and we train the teachers who are working with their classes or their clubs, often it’s a club. And then we bring them together for regional and state competitions where it’s like a mock congressional hearing. They have to have prepared statements. We have judges and many of those judges are lawyers and judges themselves, often elected officials. And they will really grill some of these students about things that they’ve said during their testimony and they have to defend it. It’s amazingly fun.
Jan Paynter: It’s very exciting because you’re training future leaders, getting people to think critically about the materials and it’s a very living history I think for people which I think as we’ll talk about later Madison would quite approve of.
C. Douglas Smith: Yeah. Well, I have to tell you, so these students that compete in the Virginia We the People competitions, we know based on national surveys that they are engaged. They’re voting at a more than 90 percent higher level than kids who don’t and if we think about how important our Constitution is with those very opening words, We the people, for each of them, the Constitution is theirs because they understand it and the reason they understand it is because we’ve helped to train the teachers that are going to go into the classroom and to teach it. And I have to tell you, it’s not easy being a judge. There is nothing like being a judge and having a middle schooler quote from a obscure Federalist 41 and you are really low to…
Jan Paynter: To be on your game.
C. Douglas Smith: You are—Yeah, you are unlikely to challenge that middle schooler because they have done their homework.
Jan Paynter: Ah, it’s wonderful just to have people become fearless about these issues. I love this. Okay, so Doug, now let’s turn to James Madison and discuss his role in the crafting and shaping of our Constitution and the Amendments. In broad strokes—and this is a big task—but just briefly encapsulate for us if you would some of his biography by way of background for people who are unfamiliar with his life.
C. Douglas Smith: Sure. Well, James Madison is like many of the founders. He comes from a privileged position and that’s the most important thing to note. It is a wonderful opportunity to be learned, to be scholarly, to be educated today but then, in the early 18th Century, it was really quite unique and he had unique experiences and we should be honest about that. The fact that he was raised here in Orange County, here locally. The fact that he had tutors early on. The fact that his family took such an interest in his intellectual pursuits is a key driver, as are some of the personalities that he came into contact with. Some of his early teachers and tutors really helped to gauge and create in him a sense of not only intellectual curiosity but challenge. And that’s important because by the time he goes to college—now he could have gone to William and Mary but at the time it was a bit of a party school and the realities of the tidewater environment was not great for James Madison because he had some health issues that he was always concerned about. Instead he went to what we know as Princeton and it was there at Princeton that he came into contact with John Witherspoon. He’s one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. And he studies under Witherspoon who himself is a Scotch Reformer. So think about that. He leaves Anglican Virginia, James, and he comes into contact with this Scottish Enlightenment Movement and that forever guides the way he challenges and intellectually challenges himself and really struggles with issues. As a result, by the time he gets back to Virginia, he begins to prepare for what becomes the Constitutional Convention. The man in his lifetime owns 4,000 books. So he has the ability and the time to read these and really prepare so that by the time he gets to that Constitutional Convention in 1787, he not only comes in with the intellectual heft required to help guide that process but he’s actually prepared something called the Virginia Plan and that Virginia Plan pretty much outlines what we know now as the U.S. Constitution. He didn’t get everything he wanted in the Virginia Plan. Good.
Jan Paynter: Yeah, let’s talk about the compromise between the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan and the Connecticut Plan as it finally ended up in the compromise.
C. Douglas Smith: Sure. Well, the compromise is the key and maybe that’s the most important takeaway from this is a contemporary example of what we want in the kinds of leaders that we have.
Jan Paynter: What was the reason for the compromise?
C. Douglas Smith: Well, because otherwise it would have all gone kaput and they would have really had to live under the Articles of Confederation. At the time, after the Revolution, the Articles of Confederation were really the guiding document for the country. It was the charter. But it really gave so much power to the States that what we found is that the Federal Government couldn’t pay its army, it couldn’t levy taxes. It really had to rely on the States’ benevolence even to exist and that was simply not going to work. We talk about the United States but at the time they were very much disunited. When the Constitutional Convention happened, there were several plans that were put on the table but it’s the Virginia Plan—mostly because Madison worked so hard to pull together the disparate people and voices to push this plan through and elements of the plan.
Jan Paynter: Yeah, it was interesting that I know, as I understand it, that one of the issues had to do with the two branches of government and do you have one or two representatives from the House, how long do they serve and that was I guess part of the reason for the compromise. You bring up the debate that happened and it’s really kind of fascinating. Define for us again a little bit the terms Federalists and Anti-Federalist. You mentioned this earlier. Who were they and what was the nature of the strenuous differences between them and also, and you eluded to this, where did Madison align himself in the debate and how did his thinking evolve and change?
C. Douglas Smith: Sure. Well, the Federalists of course—and maybe the most popular Federalists are John Jay, Hamilton himself and James Madison because they wrote the Federalist Papers. The Federalists really wanted to see a much more unified, much more centralized government in many ways where the Anti-Federalists were quite happy to have state interests leading what was a very nascent expression of government. And the Anti-Federalists really didn’t want to have power ceded to any kind of a central authority. They were quite happy in some ways to work as tribes. One of the things we do at the Center for the Constitution is we work with international groups from around the world. They’re talking about their own constitutions and they actually often will remark that the way that the Anti-Federalists were acting, it felt a little tribal sometimes. And so these tribes, these states really had a battle with those that wanted more centrality and in the end not only did Madison and his compatriots create the U.S. Constitution but they then had to defend it and they did so through a series of anonymous publications called the Federalist Papers. And of course the Anti-Federalists came out and they would argue this as well. It’s amazing at the time how much the newspapers were used to pit these intellectual arguments.
Jan Paynter: It’s really fascinating because the pamphleteers really did rule the day and there was that ongoing national conversation and what do we have today, we have Facebook, Twitter, we’re seeing what’s going on with the candidates. So it’s a different kind, as I said to Bob Gibson in an earlier program, of pamphleteering that we’ve evolved into but in a way it’s the same thing. There’s a lot of back and forth. One of the things I wanted to just mention because I was really fascinated were some of the pieces that Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers. You can speak about them or not or we can move along. There was one that I was particularly fascinated entitled Who Are the Best Keepers of People’s Liberties that was written in 1792 and here—and this goes to what we’re talking about—Madison writes in a way as devil’s advocate from both Federalist and Anti-Federalist points of view and I thought that that was really fascinating because he did have a synthetic and analytic mind and both of those things come into play which is something that’s quite unique, his ability to see things in the round was really his great skill. And I notice as he speaks to people in the Convention that he is very respectful and careful but also very canny in the way that he makes his point while giving everyone their due.
C. Douglas Smith: Absolutely. Well, there’s this –so as an example of that there’s this great story. Of course Thomas Jefferson and James Madison worked hard to create the University of Virginia. Madison was rector for quite a while. In fact they used to have board meetings out at Montpelier from time to time. So there’s this great story where Jefferson is writing back and forth to Madison about what books might be in the library and Jefferson suggests some titles and Madison says, ‘No, you can’t just have those that you agree with, Tom, because if we want our graduates to be able to argue and win the day, they need to understand both sides of the argument.’ And you see this with much of what Madison does. He’s not reading just those that he agrees with. He’s also reading those he disagrees with because knowing the arguments and anticipating the questions is really—that’s part of the task at hand. And so knowing what the Anti-Federalists were going to really pick apart and then putting that out there actually defuses that power and it allows Madison to enumerate answers to each of those as well as you say.
Jan Paynter: It’s fascinating. We ought to talk about Madison’s very specific focus on freedom of religious belief because it plays a huge role in his thinking. So talk a little if you would about the essay in pamphlet form entitled Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. What was it—what did it mean?
C. Douglas Smith: So this is something that happened in Central Virginia which was that the Danbury Baptists—in of course Anglican Virginia—they were really in many ways being persecuted both through taxation and they were also—their pastors were getting captured and beaten. It was really a horrible time. And Madison witnesses that and realizes, as a person of conscience himself, that that’s just really not right. You really can’t persecute someone because of their faith or lack of faith and he starts really a lifetime crusade to make sure that there is religious freedom. Many people will remember that Thomas Jefferson is the primary author of the Statute of Religious Freedom but what people don’t realize is that for that to pass the Virginia General Assembly it was actually Madison that had to shepherd that through the General Assembly itself. Very dedicated to religious freedom and in fact, if you come to Montpelier and you take the tour, one of the things that will often surprise people is that there’s so many images that are connected to faith that aren’t just Christof centric. You’ll see Confucius, you’ll see some of the classics and images of mythology. In one room we actually have a bust of John Carrell, the first Catholic Bishop in America. I can’t imagine what it’s like being an Anglican walking through Mr. Madison’s home and you see a papist in the corner. And the reality is that Madison has everyone on their toes thinking about what it is that is factions and differences of people because what he’s going to hit home again and again during the constitutional writing process and even afterwards is not how are we different but really how are we the same.
Jan Paynter: Yes. And freedom of conscience was very important to him and it did I think from what I understand really transcend focus on any particular religion and there were many people that wanted to actually have programs specifically educating people about Christianity and he backed off and said, ‘No, no, no. Let’s not do that.’ I think it might have been Patrick Henry who was talking about that.
C. Douglas Smith: Well, of course, Patrick Henry himself a rabid preacher.
Jan Paynter: Yes, yes.
C. Douglas Smith: So that should be no surprise. Henry and Madison have a bit of a lifelong conflict that goes on.
Jan Paynter: They do.
C. Douglas Smith: Of course, Patrick Henry speaks at the Virginia Constitutional Ratifying Convention and it’s really he and Madison that have to go toe to toe. And there are times when you’re not sure that Virginia will ratify this U.S. Constitution but in the end Madison wins the day probably—although historians might dispute this—but I might say probably because Patrick Henry simply spoke too many times just–
Jan Paynter: There’s a lesson there.
C. Douglas Smith: Too much and too long.
Jan Paynter: Yeah, yeah. I would like to thank our guest, Douglas Smith, for so generously giving of his time today to advance our understanding of the work of the Montpelier Foundation and the Robert Smith Center for the Constitution. Thank you at home for joining our conversation. If you would like more information concerning the topic under discussion today, we invite you to take a look at our website at politicsmatters.org. We will be posting a number of books, articles and relevant links on many of the issues under discussion today there for you. You will also find a complete archive of all prior Politics Matters programs which you may watch in their entirety anytime. We will be posting extended versions of the interviews on our site as well and will be continuing to add more content. You can also go to WVPT’s extensive video archive and watch the programs there as well. As always, we are very interested in hearing from you with any ideas, questions and concerns for future programs. We encourage you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are on PBS WVPT on the second and last Sunday of every month at 11:30 AM. Thank you again and until next we meet, I’m Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters.