James Madison: Builder: A New Estimate of a Memorable Career

James Madison: Builder: A New Estimate of a Memorable Career

James Madison: Builder: A New Estimate of a Memorable Career

James Madison: Builder: A New Estimate of a Memorable Career

Excerpt

In 1772 Virginia was a land of strong men. No others could expect to survive the perils of climate, Indians, strong drink, devastating fevers, and more devastating physicians. James Madison, aged twenty-one and just home from college, took stock of himself, of his small body, spindle shanks, poor health, and decided reasonably enough that he had not long to live. There was, he thought, little use in setting about any career which should require much effort and persistence. A few years, perhaps, and he would die.

But the years rolled along. Twenty of them passed, and he had managed not only to survive, but to fill his days with arduous labor. Forty passed; he was no healthier, still racked with bilious fevers, still weak, but just about to begin the most formidable task of all. Sixty were counted, and again he sat waiting to die, with crippling rheumatism added to his ills. His friends and associates were gone; he was the sole survivor of the Virginian Convention of 1776, of the Revolutionary Congress prior to the peace, of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The world had changed, new and strange doctrines were heard in the land, a railroad had been built, and his farm would no longer pay for itself. Young John Quincy Adams had become a relic of the past, and had been obliged to begin a new career. Yet Madison lived for three more years. "Having outlived so many of my contemporaries," he wrote, "I ought not to forget that I may be thought to have outlived myself." And then he quietly died.

Madison was a stubborn man, but it was not sheer will-power that kept him alive for eighty-five years. It was rather a sort of inherent capacity for imperviousness to disaster. Small, precise, courteous, affable, neatly clothed in black, with powdered hair . . .

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