November 7, 2005
Did you know the Fourth of July is a day that stands out in American history not only because of the Declaration of Independence, but because of death? Venton Blandin has a look at this presidential story.
Born in Port Conway, Virginia in 1751, the fourth president, James Madison is perhaps best known as the 'Father of the Constitution.'
"Going into the Constitutional Convention, he had ideas of how best to frame the U.S. Constitution, [and] how best to put together the checks and balances," said Rick Britton, a Virginia Historian.
In 1817, at the end of his two-term presidency, Madison and his wife Dolley retired to Montpelier in Orange County. This is a mere 28 miles north of Thomas Jefferson's home of Monticello.
During the president's retirement several of the earlier presidents started to pass away.
"The second and third Presidents of the United States, Johns Adams and Thomas Jefferson respectively, both died on July 4th, 1826. This was the 50th anniversary to the day of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence," added Britton.
Both men had been signers. Both men had been Presidents of the United States.
"There had been a rift between the two of them, but later on in their lives they were reconciled. There's a whole series of great letters between the two in their latter years," explained Britton.
Five years later, the fifth president James Monroe, died on Independence Day. The nation lost three of its first five presidents on the 4th of July.
"Americans in those days, thought they saw in this, the hand of God," said Britton.
Five more years later, in late June of 1836, the fourth president's health was beginning to fail. James Madison, now 85 years old, was withered and frail, but his famous wit was still sharp. When his doctor Robley Dunglison, also President Jefferson's doctor, suggested injecting stimulants so Madison might linger long enough to also pass away on the fourth, the ex-president declined.
"Wisely I think, he would have made four out of the first five Presidents of the United States. I think that would have been just too much for the nation all dead on the Fourth of July."
Dr. Dunglison was the direct link between Presidents Jefferson and Madison after Madison taught at the University of Virginia for one year under Jefferson. Dunglison later became known as the "Father of American physiology.
President Madison died June 28, just six days before the 4th of July.