1809-1817Democratic-RepublicanMarch 16, 1751, in Port Conway, VirginiaJune 28, 1836, in Montpelier, Virginia
Vice PresidentsFirst LadyPrevious OccupationStates in Union
George Clinton
Elbridge Gerry
Dolley Payne Todd Madison (Wife)Lawyer19


Madison’s parents were James and Nellie Conway Madison. Madison married the widowed Dolley Payne Todd in 1794. They had no children together, but Mrs. Madison had one child from her first marriage, Payne Todd.


During his lifetime, Madison was known as the “Sage of His Time” and the “Father of the Constitution.” Madison is credited with the exhaustive research on government that contributed to the Constitution’s central ideas, particularly that of a government separated into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Daniel Webster stated that Madison “had as much to do as any man in framing the Constitution, and as much to do as any man in administering it.” Despite this success, Madison’s term as president was overwhelmed with the ongoing problem of the war between France and Britain. Shipping rights continued to be denied and trade thwarted as America’s ships were constantly attacked. The U.S. declared war on Britain, and continued to lose many more ships.

In 1814 the British launched an oppressive assault against the U.S.: fifty ships carrying 4,000 troops landed 35 miles from Washington. The Americans were not prepared, and the British aggressively attacked and burned Washington, D.C., including the White House. An observer noted that “not an inch, but its crack’d and blacken’d wall remained” of the White House the day after it was burned. Victory for the U.S. at Baltimore was then followed by the decisive victory in New Orleans, at which time the peace treaty had already been signed to end America’s second war of independence and ensure Madison’s term ended with the nation at peace.


Regarding the men working at the Constitutional Convention in 1781, Madison wrote, “There never was an assembly of men who were more pure in their motives, or more . . . devoted to the object committed to them.”

About his decision to go to war with Britain, Madison wrote in later years, “To have shrunk [from war], would have acknowledged . . . [that] the American people were not an independent people, but colonists and vassals.”

“Justice is the end of government. It ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.”

“Our country abounds in the necessaries, the arts, and the comforts of life.” (March 4, 1813)

At This Time

1811: William Henry Harrison defeats the Native Americans under Tecumseh at Tippecanoe, Indiana • 1812: The U.S. declares war on Britain • 1814: Napoleon abdicates and is banished to Elba • The Treaty of Ghent ends the British-American War, but news of its signing takes time to reach America • Francis Scott Key writes the poem that later becomes the U.S. national anthem • 1815: General Andrew Jackson defeats the British at New Orleans January 8 • The first steam warship is built (U.S.S. Fulton)

Did You Know?

Following the burning of the capital city, many proposed moving its location farther west to a more secure location, such as Cincinnati. However, the ultimate success of the U.S. over the British prompted Congress to approve money to rebuild. Madison was intent on rebuilding the White House in its original design as soon as possible, so the original architect James Hoban was hired to manage the job. He and his building crews worked tirelessly to complete construction quickly so that the next president would have no reason to abandon the White House. Madison’s successor, James Monroe, viewed the rebuilt White House as a symbol of a reborn nation and moved in during October 1817, even though it was not finished. Only a few rooms on the second floor were livable, and much of the work on the main floor had not been completed. Yet, Monroe was determined to host the traditional open house on New Year’s Day 1818. Three thousand guests greeted the new president that day, and the National Intelligencer reported, “It was gratifying to be able once more to salute the President of the United States with the compliments of the season in his appropriate residence.”

Madison was the first president to show his own hair to the public. All previous presidents had worn wigs, which were fashionable for the wealthy at that time. He was also the first president to wear trousers instead of knee breeches.

Learn More

  • Montpelier.org
    Information about Madison’s home, as well as information about the Center for the Constitution.
  • Virginia.edu/pjm
    Annotated volumes of Madison’s correspondence and writings.
  • MillerCenter.org/president/madison
    In-depth essays created by the University of Virginia on Madison’s life and administration.

Field Trips for James Madison

James Madison’s Montpelier
Montpelier Station, Virginia

Madison’s lifelong home, the house was built by Madison’s father and significantly enlarged by later owners. Madison is buried on the grounds of the estate.

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