Although he was known for being quiet-natured and short-statured, the fourth President of the United States was also a man of bravery and valor. He ran into battle as commander-in-chief when the enemy marched into Washington, and held his ground in the political arena of the Revolutionary period. The last of the Founding Fathers to die, he was the end of an era.
Here are ten things you might not know about James Madison.
- Madison is known as more than just a Founding FatherBecause of his hand in the Virginia Plan, which served as a blueprint to the Constitution, Madison has been coined “Father of the Constitution”He was also deemed “Father of the Constitution.” And rightfully so.Madison was the chief author of the Virginia Plan that Virginia governor Edmund Randolph presented at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Not a fan of the Articles of Confederation, Madison urged the need for a strong central government, set in place with a system of checks and balances. The plan proposed three branches of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial, with the legislative branch broken into two chambers. The plan became the blueprint from which the Constitution was built, and thus Madison became the “Father of the Constitution.”
- He was the shortest President everAt only 5’ 4”, Madison is the shortest President in historyThe man that served two terms as President, fathered a constitution, and led the country through the War of 1812, 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.
- Madison’s wife was one of the most loved First Ladies On September 15, 1794, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, who would become one of the most loved First Ladies of all timeIt was love at first sight. For Madison, at least, when he saw Dolley Payne Todd, a widow at the boarding house of friend Congressman Aaron Burr. Her mother owned the house, and Madison asked Burr to arrange a meeting with Dolley. Four months later, on September 15, 1794, the two were married.After Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, Madison was appointed secretary of state, and the couple moved to Washington. Jefferson’s wife had died in 1782, and his daughter rarely visited Washington, so Dolley often accompanied Jefferson when a hostess was needed. She was more in her element than ever when her husband became President in 1809. She 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.
But it was in 1814 that the country glimpsed their First Lady in a new light. When the British marched on Washington, Dolley stayed to pack away silver, state papers, and the famous George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart, before the President’s house was burned by British troops.
- Despite his other paternal titles, Madison had no children of his own James Madison, Founding Father and Father of the Constitution, never had any children of his ownWhile Madison and his wife had no children of their own, Madison raised Dolley’s son from a previous marriage as his own.John Payne Todd, known as Payne to his mother, was only one year old when his father and infant brother died of yellow fever. Two when his mother married Madison, he was raised with plenty of opportunity—none of which he did much with. He became a drinker and a gambler, and was often in trouble with the law over shooting incidents. Madison frequently paid off Payne’s debts, keeping the fact from Dolley. He sent his twenty-one-year-old stepson on a delegation to France in hopes that he would gain some responsibility on the trip, but it didn’t work out the way he planned. Upon Madison’s death, Dolley became heavily burdened with debt due to her son’s recklessness.
- Both of Madison’s Vice Presidents died in officeGeorge Clinton (pictured) was the first Vice President to die in office after suffering a heart attack in 1812. Madison’s second VP also died in 1814.When Madison took office in 1809, George Clinton joined him as Vice President. He had previously replaced Aaron Burr as Jefferson’s VP, and had hoped to be returning to Washington as President. Instead, he became the first Vice President to die during office. He died of a heart attack in 1812.In 1813, Elbridge Gerry was chosen to run with Madison in the 1812 election despite his older age, financial woes, and poor health. Gerry died in office the following year on November 23, 1814. Madison served the remainder of his term without a Vice President.
- Madison was best buds with Jefferson Madison helped Thomas Jefferson in forming the University of Virginia, taking over as Rector after his friend’s deathThe political pair met at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1776 in Williamsburg. Their friendship started later when Jefferson was governor of Virginia, with Madison on the council. The two encouraged and supported each other throughout their careers and had much in common on a personal level. Both men were collectors of books, Jefferson selling much of his collection to the government to restore the library that had been burned during the War of 1812. Both were also members of the American Philosophical Society.The two also lived roughly thirty miles from one another, Madison at Montpelier and Jefferson at Monticello, both in Charlottesville, Virginia. In Charlottesville, Madison also helped Jefferson with forming the University of Virginia. Madison served on the Board of Visitors, and upon Jefferson’s death, took over as Rector.
- Madison was on the $5,000 billMadison’s face appeared on the $5,000 bill that was in circulation until 1969When 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 was the first President to wear pants James Madison appears as the well-dressed man as represented by this statue at the James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VirginiaAlthough breeches had been the height of men’s fashion throughout the Revolutionary period, by the early to mid-1800’s fashion was changing. Longer pants were coming into style right around the time Madison took office. And Madison wore them well—daily.
- He wrote George Washington’s inaugural addressMadison authored Washington’s first inaugural address but later disagreed over his policy as PresidentIn the early years of American politics, Washington and Madison were friends and political allies. Washington trusted Madison and often sought his opinion on several issues, as well as asking for help when writing speeches. Madison wrote 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 or his farewell address. Unfortunately, the two men disagreed over policy during Washington’s presidency and their relationship began to weaken.
- Madison was the last surviving signer of the Constitution Madison, pictured here at 82, was the last Founding Father and signer of the Constitution at his death June 28, 1836James Madison died on the morning of June 28, 1836, in Orange, Virginia. For the previous six months he had suffered from problems with his liver and chronic rheumatism and was confined to his room. At eighty-five years old, James Madison was the final Founding Father and signer of the Constitution to pass away.
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