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As statesman, president, Madison had great stature

George Washington is portrayed as the towering vision of strength.

Thomas Jefferson the creative, scientific thinker.

John Adams is the arrogant, blustery leader, while Alexander Hamilton’s the angry, mercurial figure.

Toss the studious, thoughtful and conscientious James Madison into that mix and it’s easy to see why our fourth president isn’t portrayed with the same historical heat of his contemporaries.

That’s a shame, says Michael Signer, an author who yesterday told a chilly crowd gathered at Madison’s grave at Montpelier that he’s the sort of leader our country could surely use right now.

One who could elevate the level of debate, instead of lowering it.

Signer joined several dozen dignitaries, Madison fans and history lovers at the James and Dolley’s Orange County estate to witness the presentation of dozens of wreaths to commemorate the 263rd anniversary of the birth of the man known as the “Father of the U.S. Constitution.”

Col. David W. Maxwell, commander of the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, joined Sgt. Maj. Mark Byrd in posting the most celebrated one—a red, white and blue floral wreath from President Barack Obama—that the officers placed on Madison’s grave.

It was among more than two dozen other memorial wreaths presented at the Madison family cemetery, from groups ranging from Sons of the American Revolution to the Orange County African–American Historical Society.

Maxwell gave a short talk that underscored Madison’s engaged service to his country, from the Constitutional Convention to the Federalist Papers to the passionate advocacy for what became the Bill of Rights.

In a time when a rising sense of complacency and a constant din of news and debate makes it harder for citizens to be heard or engaged, Maxwell said Madison is an example of how one man can have an impact.

Kat Imhoff, the president and chief executive officer of The Montpelier Foundation, started the ceremony off with smiles, thanking folks for coming to the special commemoration “on such a warm, balmy day.”

A few minutes later, after Maxwell received a warm round of applause for his remarks, she thanked him and noted it would have been louder “if we weren’t all wearing gloves.”

It was in the mid-40s at the time, but it felt a good bit cooler with a wind whipping across an open field into the cemetery.

Signer, a Charlottesville author and attorney now at work on his second book, “Becoming Madison: The Making of an American Statesman,” said it’s no secret the “Father of the Constitution” has never been seen as, well, sexy.

Just look at the way the nation memorializes him, he pointed out, with a building that’s part of the Library of Congress, while Jefferson and Washington get monuments visited by millions.

He thanked the Montpelier Foundation and the many staffers who work at the historic attraction for helping over the past decade or so to “rescue Madison from the dustbins of history.”

Signer said one reason Madison doesn’t draw the historic attention some other figures do is his thoughtful and reasoned approach to politics.

The author ticked off rules the learned politician lived by to demonstrate why Madison’s way got things done but didn’t create waves of interest in him.

Approaches like “Find passion in conscience,” “focus on ideas, and not the man,” “establish an advantage through preparation” and “strive for the highest version of self.”

He noted that today’s political atmosphere, where there is no lack of ideas both good and bad, could use a politician like Madison who put ideas and issues above politics and personalities.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415