Profile - Colonel James Madison
At 5’ 4”, James Madison (1751-1836) competed with John Adams as the shortest man ever to hold the presidency, and at about 100 pounds was undoubtedly the lightest, as Adams was a fat boy.
Like Washington and Jefferson, Madison came from a prosperous family long settled in Virginia. His father, James Madison, Sr., was the County Lieutenant, or chief militia officer, for Orange County, responsible for raising and organizing the men of the district for local defense. While a young man, the future President studied law and became active in the campaign protesting British misrule of the colonies. Meanwhile, his father became an active member of the local committee of safety, which helped coordinate resistance to the British. Late in 1774 the 23-year old Madison joined a militia unit, the Orange County Independent Company. Although not a physically sturdy man, Madison took part in regular training, including musketry drills. On October 2, 1775, he was commissioned colonel of the Orange County militia, under his father, who was still County Lieutenant. In this capacity Madison lightly supervised recruiting, training, and internal security activities. But Madison was much more occupied by his political activities, serving in the state assembly, on the governor’s council, and later in Congress. As a result, he saw no active service during the Revolution. Although in later years friends often called Madison “Colonel,” he spurned use of the title and never claimed to be a veteran.
Following the Revolution, Madison served in the Virginia legislature. In 1787 he became a member of the Constitution Convention. Madison made some of the most important contributions to the writing of the Constitution, and during the debate over ratification, was a major contributor to The Federalist Papers, and he later helped write the Bill of Rights. His work was of such valuable, that he is sometimes referred to as “The Father of the Constitution,” although he himself rejected the sobriquet.
Madison served as Secretary of State during the Jefferson Administration, and was elected to the first of two terms as president in 1808.
The War of 1812 was fought during Madison’s presidency. He proved a poor commander-in-chief. Although war had been brewing for years, he made no effort to promote mobilization or readiness, and during the war itself he failed to formulate a coherent national strategy or even appoint a single general-in-chief to coordinate operations. During the British campaign against Washington he meddled in the arrangements for the defense of the capitol, and bears some responsibility for the disastrous Battle of Bladensburg (August 24, 1814), which led to the capture and burning of the national capital.
Upon leaving the presidency, Madison lived quietly in retirement until his death.
The president’s brother Ambrose was a captain in the 3rd Virginia Militia Regiment during the Revolutionary War. Their youngest brother, William, just 15 at the outbreak of the Revolution, also joined the militia, and in later years rose to brigadier general.
In 1794 Madison had married Dolly Payne Todd – “Dolly Madison”; a widow, her son, the president’s step-son, John Payne Todd, did not serve. Todd’s grandson, Samuel L. Gouverneur, served as a lieutenant in the 4th Artillery during the Mexican War. A great-great-grandson, William Monroe Johnson, served in Word War I.