President Obama heralded the "incredible bonds and the incredible gifts that France gave to the United States" during a visit Monday afternoon with French President Francois Hollande to Monticello, the estate of former President Thomas Jefferson.
"I thought this was an appropriate way to start a state visit, because what it signifies is the incredible history between the United States and France," Obama said.
The pair toured the mansion, examining some of the technologies Jefferson imported to help him read and write more effectively. The pair examined the former president's basement — where meals were prepared to French standards — and admired the view of Charlottesville from the house's portico.
During the tour, Obama joked that he was excited to "break the protocol" as he walked onto a nearby terrace to admire the view.
"That's the good thing as a president, I can do whatever I want," he joked.
Hollande, for his part, thanked Obama for the invitation to visit, and said the site was evidence of the longstanding connection between the nations. Jefferson, also a former secretary of state, had served as minister to France
"The bonds that unite us are are a sustained over time," he said. "Allies we were at the time of Jefferson and Lafayette, allies we are today. Jefferson and Lafayette were friends, and we remain friends forever".
He also noted that Jefferson oversaw the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1803.
"It was a good bargain," Obama joked.
The American president also acknowledged that Monticello represented the "complex relations" that Jefferson had with slavery. The third president owned hundreds of slaves through his lifetime, and historians widely agree that he had a sexual relationship with slave Sally Hemmings during their time at Monticello.
"It's a reminder for both of us that we're going to continue to fight," the president said.
The visit came ahead of a joint press conference and state dinner scheduled at the White House on Tuesday. Administration officials heralded the visit as a celebration of renewed bonds between the U.S. and its "oldest ally."
"We've come a long way from “freedom fries” and are now working together on multiple continents to promote peace and security and economic growth and development," one senior administration official said.