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James Madison in Philadelphia

Posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

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James Madison’s life in Philadelphia

The History

No matter who your favorite founding father may be, chances are, he spent a lot of time in Philadelphia.  Because Philadelphia was the first capital of the United States and was such an enormously important city in the foundational years of this country, important figures from all over the nation spent a lot of time in Philadelphia.  Take for example James Madison, one of America’s most important early leaders, Madison came from Virginia and by the time he became President in 1809, the United States capital had already left Philadelphia for Washington D.C.  The connection between and Philadelphia and Madison may not be readily apparent, but upon closer inspection one can discover that James Madison spent many of his years here in the City of Brotherly Love.
Madison’s introduction to Philadelphia came when he joined the Continental Congress in 1780 and lived in Philadelphia off and on from then until 1783.  Still in the midst of the Revolutionary War, James Madison met with other members of the Second Continental Congress inside Independence Hall to discuss the important matters of the newly formed nation.  When Madison became a member of the Continental Congress, he was the assembly’s youngest member at only 29 years old.  While young and inexperienced, Madison none the less impressed his more seasoned peers.  
When Madison returned to Philadelphia in 1787 it was in a much different role.  Now a member of the Constitutional Convention, Madison was not only older and more experienced, he had developed into one of the true leaders of this young nation.  Madison’s role in writing the United States Constitution during the Constitutional Convention was of great importance.  Madison spoke more than 200 times over the course of the Constitutional Convention and his ability to facilitate compromise and convince his fellow delegates of the importance of a stronger national government has led to him being known today as the “Father of the Constitution.” 
Independence Hall - Where James Madison helped to write the United States Constitution
Madison would return to Philadelphia to in 1793 as a member of the United States House of Representatives.  Meeting in Congress Hall, Madison would become an important an influential member of congress.  As an opponent of Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist policies, it was while in Philadelphia that Madison founded the Democratic Party with Thomas Jefferson.

What to See

Today in Philadelphia, numerous buildings still stand where James Madison both lived and worked.  The most important building that Madison worked in is Independence Hall. Independence Hall was built in 1732 as the Pennsylvania State House and it was within the assembly room of this historic hall that James Madison did some of the most important work in the writing of the United States Constitution. Free tours of Independence Hall are given by National Park Rangers who will tell you about the hard work that Madison and others put into the writing of the Constitution.  
Right next door to Independence Hall is another building in which James Madison worked. Known today as Congress Hall, the building was originally built in 1787 as the Philadelphia County Courthouse  Madison worked within this building while he was a member of congress in the 1790s.  As a member of the House of Representatives, Madison worked on the first floor of the building. National Park Rangers also give gree tours of Congress Hall.
James Madison's residence in Philadelphia from 1794-1797 (center with black shutters)
The Philadelphia residence that Madison resided in for the longest amount of time,was a rowhome on Spruce Street that still stands today.  The home is located at 429 Spruce Street in Society Hill, just a few blocks away from Independence and Congress Halls.  Madison lived in this house for nearly 4 years from 1794 until 1797, including the first years of his marriage to Dolley Madison.  Madison lived at this residence while he was a member of House of Representatives.  While the home is a private residence today, the building does have a plaque for the public to see that honors its former resident, James Madison.


Insider Info

There is another historic building in Philadelphia that is somewhat related to James Madison, although truthfully it has much more to do with his wife, Dolley Madison.  In a home on the corner of 4th and Walnut Streets, Dolley Madison once lived when she was married to her first husband, John Todd.  John Todd and Dolley were married for only three years when John died in the horrible Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.  The Todd House is actually a stop on The Constitutional Walking Tour’s Yellow Fever Tour where guests can learn more about the horrible disease that took John Todd and thousands of other Philadelphians.  
Todd House - Where Dolley Madison once lived
It is said that following John Todd’s, death it was Aaron Burr who set up Dolley with James Madison.  Today tours of the Dolley Todd house can be arranged through the National Park Service and tour guides can even show you the parlor where it said that James and Dolley first got to know one another.  Dolley would go on to become a very important First Lady who viewed herself as a public figure and helped to shape “First Lady” into the role we know it as today.  It is also said that when the British burned the White House during the War of 1812, it was Dolley who saved the famous Gilbert Stuart painted portrait of George Washington from the burning building.

How to Get There

All of Madison’s places of work and residences in Philadelphia are easily accessed by guests of The Constitutional Walking Tour.  Independence Hall and Congress Hall are both located just two blocks south of the National Constitution Center where all of our tours both begin and end.  To reach the Dolley Todd House just travel further south to Walnut Street and make a left.  The Dolley Todd house will be on your left hand side in just a block.  Continue South on 4th Street and then make a right on Spruce Street to reach Madison’s residence in Philadelphia while he was a congressman.
Those who wish to reach these historic sites by public transit will find the 5th Street Station of the Market Frankford Line to be most convenient and numerous nearby parking garages make driving easy as well.


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Additional Information

520 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
6th and Chestnut Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19106
339 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19006
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