See It Now: Our Fourth President

James Madison. Between 1836-1842. Prints and Photographs Division.

James Madison. Between 1836-1842. Prints and Photographs Division.

On June 28, 1836, President James Madison passed away at age 85 – the last of the nation’s Founding Fathers. His public service had a symmetry to it. He had served in several positions, each for eight years: first as a member of Congress, followed by the same span as Secretary of State, then finally eight years as President of the United States. Even after that, he served eight years as director of the University of Virginia after Thomas Jefferson’s death.

Madison was also a president of firsts – often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison wrote the first drafts of the important document, as well as the Bill of Rights. In 1792, he and Jefferson founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which has been called America’s first opposition political party.

According to Pulitzer-prize winning historian Jack N. Rakove, Madison was an intensely private man who sought only to be known by his public deeds. In fact, in his retirement after 1817, he edited a good bit of personal material out of his papers to reinforce that message.

Rakove spoke about Madison during a special event at the Library earlier this year, and the webcast is now available here.

Madison’s papers make up part of the Library’s collection of presidential papers. Included are materials documenting his activities as a member of the Continental Congress, his role in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, his tenure as secretary of state during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and his two terms as president. Noted correspondents include George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Noah Webster and James Monroe. Also included in this collection are a copy of Madison’s autobiography and his correspondence with his wife, Dolley.

Scattered throughout the institution’s various collections, online exhibitions and other resources are assets pertaining to Madison, all collected in this guide.

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