A Historic Visit

Presidents Obama and Hollande in the Cabinet

From Thomas Jefferson’s lifetime to the present day, people have journeyed to Jefferson‘s mountaintop seeking inspiration and knowledge of the man who penned, as he called it, an “expression of the American mind” and a creed for democracies around the globe. Monticello, Jefferson’s three-dimensional biography, has welcomed United States presidents, foreign heads of state, and key international figures throughout its history, including President James Madison, the Marquis de Lafayette, Queen Elizabeth II, President Ronald Reagan, President Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Dalai Lama.

On the Occasion of the State Visit of The President of the French Republic to the United States February 10, 2014, Thomas Jefferson Foundation President Leslie Greene Bowman welcomed the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and His Excellency François Hollande, President of the French Republic, on the East Walk. This was the first time either President Obama or President Hollande had visited Monticello and the first time in Monticello’s long history that a sitting U.S. President accompanied another head of state to Monticello.

During their tour of Monticello, the presidents viewed many examples of French influence including Jefferson’s Voltaire and Turgot busts, copies of original Houdon plasters that Jefferson brought back from France, the Dome Room, and several pieces of furniture and decorative arts. President Hollande was delighted to see books in the French language resting upon Jefferson’s infamous Revolving Bookstand in his Cabinet room. They also visited the Monticello kitchen where meals were said to have been prepared in “half-Virginian, half-French style” by servants trained in the French culinary arts.












Jefferson, inspired by French culture and Enlightenment ideas, was our most famous Francophile. He famously said of the French people to Abigail Adams, “I do love this people with all my heart” and he once wrote that if he could not live in the United States, he would live in France. In 1784, Jefferson went to Paris and served as the U.S. Minister to France. While there, he avidly studied European culture, sending back books, seeds, plants, statues, architectural drawings, scientific instruments and person notes home to Monticello. His enthusiasm for the culture and intellectual vibrancy of France is visible throughout his home in the surviving furniture and tableware.

After the tour, the presidents reflected upon the historic relationship between the United States and France. President Obama remarked:

“As one of our Founding Fathers, the person who drafted our Declaration of Independence, somebody who not only was an extraordinary political leader but also one of our great scientific and cultural leaders, Thomas Jefferson represents what’s best in America.  But as we see as we travel through his home, what he also represents is the incredible bond and the incredible gifts that France gave to the United States, because he was a Francophile through and through.”

President Hollande also recognized Monticello’s significance to the relationship between the United States and France:

“This is Thomas Jefferson’s house, which means that this was a man who understood — met the secretary of Enlightenment, and he wanted to represent this life throughout this house.  You can see life everywhere.  You can see it the objects, in the refinement of the objects, and its architecture.”

As a philosopher, president, food connoisseur, gardener, and scientist, Jefferson’s legacy has inspired and moved each generation since his lifetime. Today, Monticello remains a symbol of knowledge and illumination for visitors past, present, and future.

For photos of past visiting heads of state or more images of President Obama and President Hollande at Monticello, visit www.monticello.org. For our “Jefferson and France” Collection, visit www.monticelloshop.org.



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