Standing 5 feet, 3 inches and barely tipping the scale at 100 pounds, James Madison’s stature by no means matched his enormous contribution to the founding of the United States of America.
The Father of the Constitution, as he was later known, was irreplaceable to the construction of our government (but to this title, Madison humbly brushed off the compliment by saying “[the constitution] was not the off spring of a single brain, but the work of many heads and many hands”).
After studying numerous governments in world history, he proposed the Virginia Plan, a document listing three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial.
Born on this day in 1751 in Virginia as the oldest of 12 children, Madison studied law at College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton). Unable to decide his path in life, Madison continued his education under the college president and future Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon, making the young scholar the first graduate student in America.
Learned and experienced, Madison joined the Virginia State Legislature in 1776, just in time to witness the first tremors of rebellion. Sensing that a great political movement was underway, Madison wrote to a friend expressing his sentiments saying, “there is something at hand that shall greatly augment the history of the world.” Indeed, Madison predicted and then saw to fruition, in part due to his own doing.
While serving on the Virginia state legislature, he noticed that Baptist preachers in Virginia were arrested for preaching without a license from the Anglican Church- but they could not receive a license without joining the Anglican community. This absurdity affected Madison so deeply, that he was instrumental in ensuring the inclusion of religion liberty in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As an intermittent Presbyterian, Madison firmly believed in religious freedom and fiercely protected one’s right to practice any religion without fear of consequence.
The quiet, timid, diminutive man remained a confirmed bachelor until he met 26-year-old Dolley Payne Todd. The jovial, young woman, nearly 20 years his junior sharply contrasted with the future president. (The term “First Lady,” was first used to describe Dolley Madison, a testimony to her sharp hostessing and social skills). Dolley was instrumental in securing the presidency for her husband by actively advancing his career and socializing with influential leaders. In 1809 he was inaugurated as the 4th President of the United States, a country he helped form.
After leaving the White House, Madison served as the second president of the University of Virginia before retiring to his childhood home Montpelier. Though he was small in stature, he had a large impact on the future of America, by helping to pen the far-reaching parchment which even today point us towards a “more perfect union.”