James Madison (1751-1836), the fourth president of the United States, was born 16 March 1751. He was raised in Orange County, Virginia and received his education from The College of New Jersey — better known today as Princeton University. Because of his poor health and frequent seizures, he was disqualified from military service during the Revolution. However, he did briefly serve with his father in the Orange County militia.
In 1787, James Madison was named one of Virginia's delegates to the Constitutional Convention. His major contributions to the writing of this vitally important document earned him the title “Father of the Constitution.” However, he often insisted that he didn’t deserve such an honor. He felt that the Constitution was “the work of many heads and many hands.” To assist with the effort to ratify the Constitution, Madison worked with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to prepare The Federalist Papers . Today, these essays are considered to be the most important interpretation of the citizen rights outlined in the Constitution.
James Madison married Dorothea Dandridge “Dolley” Payne Todd on 14 September 1794. While he was considered shy and introverted, Dolley was largely regarded as something of a social butterfly. In fact, historians credit her with bringing recognition to the role of the First Lady as a political ally of the president.
Madison was elected president of the United States in 1809. The nation’s trouble with the British and the War of 1812 consumed much of his energies during the presidency. At the time, the conflict was thought by many to be America’s second war for independence — even though there was actually no significant threat to the United States. Unfortunately, many of the country’s most prominent historians now consider his failure to avoid the war as one of the worst presidential mistakes ever made.
In 1817, James Madison retired from the presidency to spend more time at Montpelier, his Virginia estate. Although Madison had hoped to travel during his retirement, his financial troubles and rapidly declining health made this impossible. However, he did briefly serve as James Monroe’s foreign policy advisor and assisted Thomas Jefferson in founding the University of Virginia.
Madison passed away on 28 June 1836, after being bedridden for nearly one year. At the time of his death, he was the last living signatory of the Constitution. In recognition of his numerous contributions to U.S. history, many cities and schools have been named after this president. This list includes James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and Madison, Wisconsin, as well as a number of high schools and small towns scattered throughout the United States.