James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836) was an American statesman and Founding Father who served as the fourth President of the United States from 1809 to 1817. He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for his pivotal role in drafting and promoting the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Madison was also the shortest President to date. He was only 5’4”. That’s an entire foot shorter than the tallest President, Abraham Lincoln, who was a whopping 6’ 4”. Some believe it was his physical stature that made him more soft-spoken than many of his political counterparts; others believe it was a strategy to hide his own brilliance.
He was the first child of 12 children.
Madison was married for the first time at the age of 43; on September 15, 1794, James Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, a 26-year-old widow, at Harewood, in what is now Jefferson County, West Virginia. Madison had no children but adopted and raised his wife’s only son, John Payne Todd, after marriage. Dolley, who would become one of the most loved First Ladies of all time, redefined what it meant to be a First Lady, by taking on public service projects and welcoming the Washington social scene. Her lively spirit was infectious, and she held weekly “squeezes” where she entertained Washington’s political elite.
His two vice presidents died in office.
He was the last surviving signer of the Constitution.
He was the first President to wear pants instead of breeches.
He never held any job outside politics.
His voice was so weak that people often had difficulty hearing his speeches.
Madison was terrified by the idea that someone might intercept one of his private letters that he employed a number of secret codes. He used complicated encryption when relaying delicate information.
When the $5,000 bill was authorized by Congress in 1861, Madison’s face was chosen to grace these high-denomination bills. But the $5,000 bill was doomed to the same fate as the one currency worth more—the $10,000 bill. The currency just wasn’t used, and the last printing of these bills was in 1945. Both were discontinued in 1969, and there are believed to be less than 400 bills with Madison’s face existing today.
Madison wrote George Washington’s first inaugural address, which took Washington roughly ten minutes to deliver on April 30, 1789. He did not, however, write Washington’s second inaugural speech nor his farewell address. Unfortunately, the two men disagreed over policy during Washington’s presidency and their relationship began to weaken.
Madison went to Congress to ask for a declaration of war against England that started the War of 1812. This was because the British would not stop harassing American ships and impressing soldiers. The Americans struggled at the beginning, losing Detroit without a fight. The Navy fared better, with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry leading the defeat of the British on Lake Erie. However, the British were still able to march on Washington. The White House was burned down by the British after they had ate the president’s dinner. The war ended in a stalemate in 1814.
During the War of 1812, First Lady Dolley Madison managed to rescue silver plates, state papers and a famous portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart while fleeing the White House from advancing British troops.
He once thought America should rent Portugal’s navy to guard its oceanic interests for anti-pirate protection instead of constructing one of her own.
“A certain degree of preparation for war…affords also the best security for the continuance of peace.”- James Madison (1751 – 1836), 4th President of the United States (1809-1817).
Madison is the only sitting commander-in-chief to be directly involved in a military engagement when British forces marched on Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812. The President borrowed a pair of dueling pistols from his treasury secretary and set off for the American lines to help rally his troops.
As President, Congress passed the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809.
When Madison left office in 1817 at age 65, he retired to Montpelier, his tobacco plantation in Orange County, Virginia, not far from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. As with both Washington and Jefferson, Madison left the presidency a poorer man than when elected.
He was a sickly man who battled with hypochondria and epilepsy (though they were never diagnosed), but he lived till 85.
Madison died at Montpelier on the morning of June 28, 1836. He is buried in the family cemetery at Montpelier. He was one of the last prominent members of the Revolutionary War generation to die.
On his deathbed in the summer of 1836, Madison’s doctor suggested that he took stimulants to keep him alive until July 4 (the same historic date that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Monroe had all died) but he turned down the offer and instead died on June 28—six days before the 60th anniversary of America’s Independence.
His last words were, “I talk better when I lie down“.
Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.