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President James Madison

Fourth president of the United States (1751-1836) — Webster, 1882

Next came Madison, the war of 1812, the invasion, the defeat, the burning of the Capitol and the White House in Washington, the brave sea-battles fought by American sailors on America’s few ships, and at last the victory that finally won independence. – Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 24, “The School Exhibition.”

When Laura Ingalls recited half of “the whole of American history, from memory,” at the school exhibition in De Smet, she touched on the presidency of James Madison.

The following sketch of President Madison was printed in Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine in 1884. It gives a brief account of Madison at the time Laura was in school in De Smet. Her history book, Edward Taylor’s The Model History: A Brief Account of the American People; for Schools (1878), was obviously consulted when writing Little Town on the Prairie, as one can easily find and follow the sequence of points mentioned in the text.

JAMES MADISON. The Fourth President of the United States.

The subject of our sketch this month was born at King George, Virginia, on the 16th of March, 1751, of English parentage, but was early imbued with the principles of American independence instilled by his father. he was graduated at Princeton, N.J. in 1771, and adopted the profession of law. As an orator he could not excel on account of an overwhelming modesty that curbef what natural eloquence he had. In politics, however, he was destined to shine.

As early as 1776 he was a member of the Virginia convention, and was subsequently known as one of the most accomplished statesmen of the day. In 1779, he was elected to the Federal Congres, where his conduct won him great respect and admiration. He was a member of the Legislature of Virginia in 1784, and became an ardent supporter of Mr. Jefferson’s measure to revise the laws and “place all religious denominations on an equality of freedom without state support.” Mr. Madison was also the colleague and collaborator of Jay and Hamilton, and with them wrote the Federalist, urging the necessity of the new constitution, though he was opposed to Hamilton’s financial policy, and afterwards became the leader of the Jeffersonian party. The mission to France was offered him, but he declined it; also the office of Secretary of State.

In 1792, he was the head of the republican party in Congress, and the advocate of the states-rights doctrine incorporated in the Kentucky resolutions of 1798, of which he was the author. Mr. Jefferson showed his appreciation of Mr. Madison’s services to his party by appointing him Secretary of State in 1801, which post he held during the entire eight years of Mr. Jefferson’s administration.

Mr. Madison’s own election to the Presidency occurred in 1809. In the complications with England which arose at that juncture, he bore himself with the greatest dignity, exercising temperance and reasonableness to the last, and vainly striving to avert the war which was carried on at so great an expense for two years.

On his election to a second term, he was much admired for his support of the national banking system, which he had once opposed and vetoed. He was a man ever ready to abandon his own ideas the moment he found himself in the wrong.

In the latter years of his life, he lived in retirement at his seat in Montpelier, Va., but was still the servant of the public. He was made rector of the University of Virginia, and was a promoter of agriculture and public improvements. he died on January 28, 1836, aged 85 years, and was greatly admired for the purity of his character. His abilities were not of a brilliant stamp, yet were pronounced enough to win him lasting fame as a statesman. — Mrs. S.A. Shields, editor, Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, Volume V, December 1884, 654.


James Madison (LTP 24)