How Tall Does This Man Look to You?

Published:April 2, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

… this man being, of course, James Madison, our fourth, but also our shortest, president. I ask because the staff of Encyclopedia Virginia was in lovely Harrisonburg this past weekend attending the annual Virginia Forum.

[Quick Digression: Thanks to Chris Arndt and the other organizers for another great conference this year. And congratulation to EV alumna and Columbia University senior Veronica Hylton on the presentation of her excellent paper, “Geography of Religion: A Case Study of Religious Affiliations in Albemarle County, Virginia, 1850–1860.” We also were happy to see a number of EV contributors, including Henry Wiencek (George Washington), David Rawson (Printing in Colonial Virginia), Ron Heinemann (Harry F. Byrd Sr.), James Sweeney (Harry F. Byrd Jr.), James Hershman (Massive Resistance), Brian Daugherity (Desegregation in Public Schools), Peter Wallenstein (Desegregation in Higher Education), and Ervin Jordan (Charlottesville during the Civil War). We even saw a few future contributors!]

Anyway … We managed to tear ourselves away long enough to take a quick tour of the James Madison University campus, and there we found a life-sized statue of Mr. Madison himself (above), a man so small that one of his contemporaries swore that he must have been carved from soap. We overheard a tour guide give the president’s height as not a hair over four-foot-ten (or possibly -eleven), and for several days we have been regaling our friends with this vital statistic.

However, it seems that most sources (including this one) list his height as five-four or five-five. John Adams still towered over him, in other words, but still. If you can’t trust a JMU tour guide, then what has the world come to? Thomas Jefferson, by the way, was our third president and our third tallest president, at 6 feet two and a half.

In case you’re interested, this source gives Madison as a true success story in the world of height-impaired men, placing him alongside Attila the Hun (5 feet), Elijah Wood (5-5), Tom Cruise (5-7), and Napoleon (who is listed only as “diminutive” but was actually about 5-7).

UPDATE: In the comments below, our friends at Montpelier suggest that Madison was even taller than we had thought!

IMAGE: Life-sized James Madison statue on the JMU campus in Harrisonburg (Peter Hedlund)


2 Comments on “How Tall Does This Man Look to You?”

  1. Tiffany Cole


    Here at Montpelier we recently addressed this same, longstanding debate ( Much to our dismay, Madison’s small stature seems to take precedence over his many significant achievements – Father of the Constitution, architect of the Bill of Rights, etc.

    I’d like to second your congratulations to the Virginia Forum organizers. I attended Friday’s sessions and was thrilled with the lectures. I am certain that James Madison, who felt that “knowledge will forever govern ignorance,” would be proud of the scholarly work presented.

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