February 11, 2014
President Obama and President François Hollande's visit to Monticello on Monday marked exciting firsts for Monticello.
The visit was Obama's first trip to Thomas Jefferson's home and the first time an American president brought another leader to Monticello.
President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Leslie Bowman led the two presidents on their tour.
Bowman said it was an honor for the presidents to start their state visit at Monticello and thought that the visit celebrated the bonds of friendship between the United States and France.
"He was engaged. They were animated. President Obama was talking to him about some of our history. They spent a long time at the Declaration of Independence. It was a thrilling moment for Monticello," said Bowman.
Bowman said President Hollande was thrilled to see the busts of French figures Voltaire and Turgot and felt at home with the French influences throughout Monticello, including the French wines in the wine cellar. She said they put a French wine in the dumbwaiter for especially for his tour.
In the kitchen, the three discussed the influence of Jefferson's garden on the First Lady's garden at the White House.
"President Obama was telling President Hollande that some of our plants at Monticello have become the foundation of their garden at the White House," said Bowman.
Artifacts from the Louisiana Purchase, a land acquisition in which the US bought 827,000 square miles of land from France for $15 million, sparked another conversation.
"I pointed out the Lousiana Purchase and the fact that, without Congressional approval, President Jefferson had, with the stroke of a pen, doubled the size of the United States. And Obama said, 'that was quite a bargain.' And Hollande agreed. And then, in, their remarks, Hollande said, 'we're not here to ask for anything,'" Bowman recounted, laughing.
"Both presidents were clearly moved by the power of place here at Monticello and its combination with the power of Jefferson's ideas," said Bowman.
If you would like to learn more about Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia and Monticello are launching a free 6-week online course starting this Monday. Historian and UVa professor emeritus Peter Onuf is teaching the course. Over 6,000 people have signed up for it. You can sign up for it here.