James Madison, Lizzo and The Coolest Librarian in the World

James Madison, the fourth president of the United States was born in 1751. 

The oldest letter preserved from James Madison was in 1769 to a slave named Sawney that had known James since he was a baby. The letter was discussing how Sawney would accompany James Madison to Princeton University in New Jersey, relocating from Madison’s home state of Virginia.

Opinion Writing Creative Challenge

Some people think it’s cool that Lizzo played James Madison’s flute. Other people think that James Madison’s flute should be kept under lock and key as a historical artifact. What’s your opinion?

James Madison, the fourth president of the United States was born in 1751. 

The oldest letter preserved from James Madison was in 1769 to a slave named Sawney that had known James since he was a baby. The letter was discussing how Sawney would accompany James Madison to Princeton University in New Jersey, relocating from Madison’s home state of Virginia.

He went to Princeton University and graduated in 1771 at age 20. Weirdly, in his graduation portrait, Madison looks old, with wrinkles and white hair.

The average person would only live to be about 30 years old the 1770s.

Out of the nation’s first five presidents, George Washington was the only one that did not wear a wig, but instead powdered his hair white. 

What is a Bigwig?

Hair, particularly white hair, was a symbol of wealth and knowledge. The bigger the wig, the bigger the brain. That’s where the term “bigwig” came from.

powdered white wigs

James Madison expressed that slavery is morally wrong, yet he still owned slaves.

Madison argued that slavery was not in alignment with the American ideals, and it went against the American constitution that men could be property. He even married a woman, Dolley Todd, whose family emancipated their slaves.

Did James Madison Ever Emancipate His Slaves?

We can’t really know what James Madison was thinking other than examining old documents. In 1801 when James’ father died, James inherited hundreds of slaves. He did not emancipate the slaves, but instead kept them until his death, then left them to his wife, Dolley.

dolley todd madison figurine

James Madison requested that Dolley only sell the slaves with the slaves’ consent. Unfortunately, Dolley ended up selling the slaves to pay off debts. 

Where Did James Madison Get His Crystal Flute From?

A french instrument-maker named Claude Laurent gifted the flute to James Madison in 1813. Laurent was the inventor of a new type of glass flute, while other flutes before were only made of wood or ivory.

Who is Lizzo?

Lizzo is an black musician who studied classical flute starting in 5th grade. She incorporates flute into her performances and songs along with unique and energizing dance moves.

One 2nd grade teacher at Los Medanos Elementary School inspired her students by remixing the lyrics to “Truth Hurts” as her class morning song. “I just took an ELA test, turns out I’m 100% that smart”

How Did James Madison’s Crystal Flute End Up in the Library of Congress?

John Todd, the “bad boy” son of First Lady Dolley and James Madison, inherited the flute and then gifted it to the doctor who treated him at the time of his death.

The doctor’s heirs donated the crystal flute in 1903 to the United States National Museum. Later the flute was sold to a man named Dayton C. Miller. Dayton C. Miller collected over 1,700 instruments. Finally, Dayton C. Miller donated the crystal flute to the Library of Congress in 1941. 

Dr. Carla Hayden was sworn in as the Librarian of Congress in 2016.

library of congress
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.

She was the first African American to lead the national library. Before Dr. Hayden worked in the Library, she won an award for her homework help after-school center at Pratt Library in Baltimore, Maryland.

screenshot of lizzo tweeting back at Dr. Carla Hayden "IM COMING CARLA! AND IM PLAYIN THAT CRYSTAL FLUTE"

Lizzo was invited by Dr. Carla Hayden via tweet to play the crystal flute, to which, Lizzo enthusiastically accepted.

Classroom Resources

Free Active Listening Guide