Our 4th President: 1809-1817
Just the Facts:
- James Madison was our shortest president – 5 feet, 4 inches and under 100 pounds!
- Madison is known as the “Father of the Constitution.”
- Dolley Madison brought a new and delicious dessert into the White House – ice cream!
- Madison used a pseudonym for his writing, “Publius.”
- He was president when Francis Scott Key wrote our national anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner.”
James Madison grew up in Virginia. He was the oldest of 12 children, and spent much of his childhood inside reading because he was frequently sick. He went to Princeton College and graduated in record time. He planned to pursue a career in law, but the Revolutionary War got in the way. James was a particularly gifted linguist – he could read about 6 different languages.
James Madison was one of our greatest minds – he helped to write both the Constitution and Bill of Rights (the first amendments that described our rights as citizens). Madison served as Secretary of State, then as President for two terms.
He led the country through the War of 1812. For a few years before the War, both the French and English harassed American trading ships at sea – they would take sailors captive and seize the goods aboard. Finally, Madison gave into the pressure and declared war.
President Madison ordered a lot of expensive items from France for the “President’s Mansion” – 93 crates filled with silverware, china, chandeliers, clocks, mirrors, vases, rugs, drapes and furniture. He had to evacuate the Mansion when British soldiers stormed into Washington DC and set it on fire. Luckily, Dolley managed to save the famous portrait of George Washington and the Declaration of Independence. After America won the War of 1812, Madison ordered the mansion to be painted white as part of the repairs. It has been called the White House ever since!
James Madison married Dolley when he was 43 years old – she was 17 years younger than he. Dolley had a son from her first marriage (her husband died) – John. James and Dolley never had any children of their own, but James raised John as his own. Dolley was a beloved first lady and was known for her charm and intelligence. She hosted lavish parties and helped to define the role of “First Lady.”
James and Dolley lived on the family estate in Virginia, which was called Montpelier, after his presidency was over. He was the last of the founding fathers, passing away at age 85 (in 1836, 20 years after his presidency was over). His famous last words were, “I always talk better laying down.”
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
“We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties.”
“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
“The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.”
“Philosophy is common sense with big words.”
Want to learn more?
Take a virtual tour of his home, Montpelier, at http://www.montpelier.org
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