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The Great Mr. Madison

James Madison: The last of the Founding Fathers.

On June 28, 1836 James Madison died in the company of his trusted enslaved manservant, Paul Jennings while Dolley seemingly made herself scarce. It was only 14 months earlier, on April 15th, that he executed his will.

I imagine him to look like this even as a child.

Madison had always lived in a constant state of physical frailty; but, after leaving the presidency, intense anxiety and finances added to that concern.

The pressures of running the United States were all consuming for Madison. There was the little matter of that pesky 1812 War: the war which ended in a stalemate and no clear winner. With all the focus on the business at hand, Madison’s plantation based business was summarily neglected. By the time he returned to his personal business eight years later, it was in a sad state of affairs.

Later, he acted as a representative to the Virginia Convention of 1829 where the state constitution was being revised. During the time he was there he worked on trying to resolve voting rights and slavery. In the end, he was chiefly ignored by his fellow legislators. This, along with the condition of his finances, broke his spirit.

In the end, his will provided for his wife’s son, who squandered his money as well as that of Dolley, his enabling mother. As a result of indulging her son, Dolley herself lived in relative poverty in Washington, DC.

Having had no children of his own, Madison also willed money to his 30 nieces and nephews. He willed his library to Dolley and anything she didn’t want he titled to the University of Virginia.

A graduate of the forerunner of Princeton, he included that college as well as the University of Virginia and, a rather odd choice, the Washington and Jefferson College in Uniontown, PA. My guess is that it was a nod to his great friends and fellow Founding Fathers. The college was founded 30 miles south of Pittsburgh in 1781.

Upon the death of Jefferson, James Madison became the president of the University of Virginia. This position lasted ten years, until his death. On April 15, 1835 Madison wrote and signed his last will and testament. A mere 14 months later he died on June 28, 1836.

Several years ago I was privileged to study at the Center for the Constitution which is held on the ground of Montpelier. Attendees are housed in cottages built by the DuPonts when they owned the home. We were free to walk the property and explore in addition to the incredible guided tours which were held specifically for our group.

One evening while I was there, I walked to the front of James and Dolley’s home with my omni-present cup of coffee, sat on their steps and watched the sun set behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was astounding to me that I was enjoying the same view they had during their lifetimes. It was humbling and exhilarating at the same time.

James Madison deserved better during his lifetime after creating such a legacy for our country. To read his last will and testament, please refer to this link:


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