The Last of the Founding Fathers

Jun. 28th 2012

I couldn’t let today go by without remembering James Madison. One hundred and seventy-four years ago, the last of the Founding Fathers passed away at the age of 84 years old. Days before he passed, friends had been encouraging him to take some stimulants to help him live until the 4th of July and the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. If he had died to the 4th, he would have had the same date of death as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. At his death, he was the last of the Founding Fathers.

Paul Jennings, a personal manservant and slave of James Madison, was with Mr. Madison at his death. Below is the account of his last moments:

“I  was always with Mr. Madison till he died, and shaved him every other day for  sixteen years. For six months before his death, he was unable to walk, and  spent most of his time reclined on a couch; but his mind was bright, and with  his numerous visitors he talked with as much animation and strength of voice as  I ever heard him in his best days. I was present when he died. That morning  Sukey brought him his breakfast, as usual. He could not swallow. His niece,  Mrs. Willis, said, “What is the matter, uncle Jeames?” “Nothing more than a  change of mind, my dear.” His head instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing  as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out. He was eighty-four years old, and  was followed to his grave by an immense precession of white and colored people.”

—From “A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison” by Paul Jennings

Here is an interesting side note: The niece that last spoke to Mr. Madison was Nellie Madison Willis. If you read our post about the Family Feud between Francis Fitzhugh Conway and William Thornton, you will recognize Nellie’s name as the object of both gentleman’s affection.

Below is the obituary from the Journal of Commerce:

“Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”    James Madison
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