Health and Medical History of President

James Madison

President #4
Lived: 1751-1836 Served: 1809-1817

Timeline from 1776: ← 2013

"James Madison... belonged in that category of medical paradoxes whose longevity belies their constitutional frailty." 3

Maladies and Conditions

"Physically Madison was always frail in appearance, short of stature, and slight." He never weighed more than 100 pounds. His height is a little uncertain: five feet, four to six inches. 3

functional disorders
During his teens and early twenties, Madison complained of a voice impairment. This was a functional handicap that prevented his public speaking until age 30. 3

He also had "a constitutional liability to sudden attacks of the nature of epilepsy." This, too, was doubtless hysteric. 3

Madison escaped the scourges of his day, i.e. malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis, and yellow fever, but he was neurotically convinced that his body harbored some insidious disease, an obsession he overcame only after tremendous determination. 3

While out campaining for the First Congress in 1788, Madison's nose became frost-bitten, leaving a scar. In later years, he would jokingly claim it as "his scar of a wound received in defense of his country." 1a

chronic cholecystitis
From his middle years on, Madison was plagued with "biliousness." This included attacks of "bilious fever." 3

Chronic arthritis afflicted Madison from middle age onwards. 3

In his late 70s Madison was still mentally sharp. In 1828, one visitor found his conversation "a stream of history... so rich in sentiments and facts, so enlivened by anecdotes and epigrammatic remarks, so frank and confidential as to opinions on men and measures, that it had an interest and charm, which the conversation of few men now living, could have." Physically, Madison's "little blue eyes sparkled like stars from under his bushy grey eyebrows and amidst the deep wrinkles of his poor thin face." 1a

faded away
By his early 80s, Madison started to fade away. His vision and his hearing deteriorated, and he grew thinner and weaker. 3 During his final illness in summer 1836, he refused the requests of friends' to take stimulants in order to prolong his life until July 4, the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. 1b (Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had died on the 50th anniversary, July 4, 1826). Finally, one morning, a few days before the 4th, Madison was found dead in his bedroom, sitting in front of his untouched breakfast tray. 3 Comment: Goes to show that even in the 1800s, breakfast trays were handed to patients without realizing they were dead!
Odds & Ends
40 reviews
34 reviews
42 reviews
49 reviews
8 reviews
2 reviews
Cited Resources
  1. Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Anecdotes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.0195029151 Libraries 80-27092. ap. 47 bp. 48
  2. Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh (ed). Burke's Presidential Families of the United States of America. 2nd ed. London: Burke's Peerage Limited, 1981.0850110335 Libraries. ap. 127 bp. 45
    Comment: Enumerates the ancestors and descendants of American presidents up through Ronald Reagan.
  3. [no author listed]. Mr. President -- your health: James Madison (1751-1836). Minnesota Medicine. 1967;50:1500. Pubmed 4861781.
Other Resources
George Washington · John Adams · Thomas Jefferson · James Madison · James Monroe · John Q. Adams · Andrew Jackson · Martin van Buren · William Harrison · John Tyler · James Polk · Zachary Taylor · Millard Fillmore · Franklin Pierce · James Buchanan · Abraham Lincoln · Andrew Johnson · Ulysses Grant · Rutherford Hayes · James Garfield · Chester Arthur · Grover Cleveland · Benjamin Harrison · William McKinley · Theodore Roosevelt · William Taft · Woodrow Wilson · Warren Harding · Calvin Coolidge · Herbert Hoover · Franklin Roosevelt · Harry Truman · Dwight Eisenhower · John Kennedy · Lyndon Johnson · Richard Nixon · Gerald Ford · James Carter · Ronald Reagan · George Bush · William Clinton · George W. Bush · Barack Obama