spacer James Madison James Madison (1751-1836)
Fourth President (1809-1817)

As a central figure in framing the Constitution, James Madison had a good deal of influence over the shaping of the American presidency. But helping to conceive that office did not guarantee success in occupying it, and much of Madison's own presidency was marred by his inept handling of the War of 1812 and the bitter criticism that it engendered. Derisively labeled "Mr. Madison's War," the conflict, one commentator railed, had been "commenced in folly . . . carried on with madness, and . . . will end in ruin."

The advent of peace in late 1814, however, mellowed feelings toward Madison. Although many of the issues that had spawned hostilities remained unresolved, the war had produced enough military glory to satisfy national pride. In the process, Madison emerged as the American David who had dared to take on the British Goliath.

In 1829, Madison came out of retirement to attend a convention for revising Virginia's constitution. While there, he posed for this portrait by the Massachusetts painter Chester Harding. This last involvement in public affairs rejuvenated the now-frail Madison. According to one observer, his "stock of racy anecdotes was the delight of every social board."

Chester Harding (1792-1866)
Oil on canvas, 1829-1830
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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