The humor behind those sparkling eyes
In this episode, Jess and I go on a hunt for the often-mentioned but little-documented wicked sense of humor of James Madison, which is said to have made people roar with laughter.
Before we started recording, I showed these four portraits to Jess and asked her to come up with a few words to describe the subject.
She came up with words like “striking,” “sometimes kind,” “suspicious,” and “awoken by a ghost.”
Those terms track fairly well with how most outsiders viewed Madison. The writer Washington Irving described him as “but a withered little apple john” and one acquaintance said he was “the most unsociable creature in existence.”
It makes sense then than in 2017, historian and author Alexis Coe called James Madison “America’s least fun founding father.”
But maybe they didn’t know the real Madison…which was no easy feat. His friend writer Margaret Bayard Smith said he was “very droll” and made his company “laugh heartily,” but she admitted that this “entertaining, interesting and communicative” man, “had a single stranger or indifferent person been present; would have been mute, cold, and repulsive.”
So we went on a hunt for his well-hidden and weird sense of humor.
One of the best collections of Madison’s humor is an article called “The Mischievous Mr. Madison” by Hilarie M. Hicks which explores some of his more subtle humor and 19th century dad jokes.
We come away with a better understanding of the personality of James Madison (and myself) and we agree that he is definitely not America’s least fun founding father.
Join our Patreon family at https://www.patreon.com/ploddingthroughthepresidents for exclusive bonus content!