Friday, April 11, 2008

Exhuming James Madison around 1856. This was done so the ground around his grave was strong enough to support his gravestone

The grave marker of James Madison.
James Madison 1751-1836

James Madison died on June 28, 1836 while seated in bed with his breakfast tray. In fact he died in such a gentle way. His niece asked him him if he was doing well..In one of the gentlest of farewells he simply said "Nothing but a change of heart, my dear." and his head immediately hit his chest. He was dead so fast and so quietly.

His funeral on the 29th was a quiet affair, attended by family, officials, friends and all the slaves. Once the body was placed in the grave there was a great moaning and cry from all attending the funeral. The 4th President was no more.

He was indeed the last of the "Founding Fathers". He was eulogised by all of the leaders of the country. All the great orators of the day spoke of his greatness. John Quincy Adams read his eulogy and spoke of his greatness before a joint session of Congress. His wife Dolley was in bad financial shape as had been Mr. Madison. He had been over the last 10 years of his life selling land, slaves, and his last resort was a house he owned in Washington DC. Dolley hoped that would never happen, and indeed it never did. Madison was extremely depressed over money in his later years.
It was not till the 20th century that ex Presidents received a pension. So in his case and every other ex President till Harry S Truman, no one received a pension

Truman started it all when he said why don't we get pensions??? After Truman pushed it, all ex Presidents got one.

But back in the 1830's James Madison was in pretty rough shape financially. He sold most of his slaves together to a man names Taylor so he could keep all the husbands and wife's together. He was another of those Virginians who said slavery was bad, but was a part of it. But I am venturing off my topic here as I can write for hours on so much of this era and I will some day.

Madison was buried amazingly in an unmarked grave. Dolley when she died in 1849 was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC. She was buried in some one Else's crypt. It was not till around 1858 that she finally was laid to rest with her husband.

It was not till 1856, twenty years after his death that many people got upset that the "Father of the American Constitution" did not even have a grave marker.

Now there are two stories I have found so far on this and I am sure there are more. But for now here are the two of them. The first was a history of Orange County Virgina by W.W. Scott in 1907, the second one is from the Fredricksburg news on Oct. 6, 1857.

The first story states it was around 1856 and the second says it was 1857. None the less the stories are rather similar and are interesting to read. It is most amazing how many of our former Presidents have been exhumed, looked at, and reburied.


From its Formation in 1734 ( O. S.) to the end of Reconstruction in 1870 ; compiled mainly from Original Records. With a Brief Sketch of the Beginnings of Virginia, a Summary of Local Events to 1907, and a Map

.State Law Librarian, Member of the State Historical
.Society, and for ten years State Librarian
of Virginia

MADISON'S TOMB. This monolith was erected about 1856 by private subscriptions, mostly by admirers of Madison outside the County The date of birth is an error, as explained in the sketch of Madison, infra. The smaller tombstone in the illustration is that of Mrs. Madison, and curious to say, Maude Wilder Goodwin, in her "Life of Dolly Madison," complains of a wrong inscription on her tombstone also. She died July 12, not July 8, as the inscription reads, and she signed her name "Dolly," not "Dolley," to her will, which was dated on the 9th. She was buried first in Washington, D. C., in 1849, and her remains were not brought to Montpelier until about 1858. As her own nephew, not Madison's, erected the tombstone, the error must be imputed to him. The inscription on Madison's tomb is:

BORN MARCH 16, 1751.
DIED JUNE 28, 1836.
I have been told that when the stone was erected it was necessary to take up his remains in order to get a safe foundation. The coffin was opened, and, except that one cheek was a little sunken, his appearance was the same as in life; but disintegration began immediately, and the coffin had to be closed. He had been buried about twenty years.


"MADISON'S MONUMENT AND REMAINS. -- Since his death and burial in 1836, the mortal remains of Ex-President Madison have been quietly reposing at Montpelier, in Orange county – a locality distant some nine miles from Gordonsville, on the line of the Virginia Central Railroad. During all this time no mural record with high-sounding eulogy disclosed the place of his final rest; only neighborhood tradition and historic record serving to point the way to it. The neglect in attesting his worth by some suitable monument attracted attention, and some few years since a number of gentlemen of Orange county set about the task of procuring one. Having been procured, it was conveyed to Montpelier on the 15th inst., and placed in position... In digging for a suitable foundation, it became necessary to go below the coffin, which was consequently exposed to view. The boards placed above the coffin had decayed, but no earth had fallen in upon it, and everything appeared to be as when the coffin was deposited there, except that the coffin-lid was slightly out of place, allowing a partial view of the interior. As there were no fastenings to prevent, the part of the lid covering the superior portion of the body was raised, and the several gentlemen present looked in upon the remains of the great Virginian..."
– Fredericksburg News, 6 October 1857

So there you have it George Washington was exhumed and looked at in the 1830's, Madison and John Quincy Adams in the 1850's, Lincoln was observed several times from1870 till the last time he was looked at was in late 1901!! Of course the latest look at a dead President was of Zachary Taylor in 1991. It was said that he was indeed still recognizable, although badly decomposed.

I cannot recall any other Presidents being observed after being buried or in a crypt for a while. I think the days of doing such things are over. At least I think they are.