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HOW DID MADISON GET ITS NAME?
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HOW DID MADISON GET ITS NAME?

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With Tuesday's presidential primary around the corner, the names Obama, Clinton, McCain and Huckabee might be the first to come to mind on this President's Day.

But today is set aside to honor George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and often other presidents as well - so perhaps it's a good time for Madisonians to ponder: Just why are we called Madisonians, anyway?

You remember - James Madison. Little guy? Used to be in politics?

For that matter, why are so many other places named for our fourth president? Besides Wisconsin's capital, there are cities and towns honoring him with their names in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida - well, in at least 31 other states. There are also 20 counties nationwide called "Madison."

Just why will always be something of a mystery, but the same man named both our city and county. "There is no doubt but that Judge Doty did both," said Albert Ellis, a member of the first Wisconsin territorial Legislature at Belmont, which selected this undeveloped wilderness as capital.

James Duane Doty was a federal judge, land speculator, and later Wisconsin territorial governor. He left few clues regarding the choice of Madison's name.

Before settlement in 1837, European-Americans generally called this the Four Lakes region. The original land plat, dated July 7, 1836, records us as "City of the Four Lakes." However another plat, made five days earlier by Doty, refers to this area in his own handwriting as the future "Town of Madison."

There were plenty of other speculators, and many other parts of what now are Madison reflected the earliest name: "City of the First Lake," "City of the Second Lake," and so on. To confuse matters further, Doty founded the "Four Lakes Company," to resell his land. The survey Doty made here in person with John Suydam calls us "Madison City."

Why Madison?

But why name us for President James Madison at all?

"As of 1836, Madison had outlived most of his contemporaries," says Jean Lee, professor of history at the UW-Madison. "Americans in general were acutely conscious that few men and women who had actually experienced the Revolution were still alive, and therefore honoring Madison by naming a town in Wisconsin would have seemed entirely appropriate."

Physically, James Madison hardly commanded such attention. He stood 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. He was born in Virginia, on March 16, 1751. He did not marry until he was 43, to widow Dolley Todd; they had no children. He was shy, quiet, and too frail to enlist during the Revolutionary War.

But as commander in chief, when the British invaded Washington during the War of 1812, Madison personally took command of an artillery battery.

He was president from 1809 to 1817. He was the principal author of one of our most important founding documents, and therefore became known as "Father of the Constitution." He also wrote the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights. His passions were the governmental checks and balances. He helped organize the federal government under George Washington, and as secretary of state under Thomas Jefferson, engineered the Louisiana Purchase.

He owned slaves. He favored gun ownership as a means to depose leaders should they become tyrannical.

He died June 28, 1836. Three days later, his name appeared on Doty's handwritten plat. The news could hardly have reached Doty so quickly; Samuel Morse didn't patent his electrical telegraph for another year.

Astor's suggestion But Doty considered honoring Madison a year earlier, perhaps with a street or square in the village of Astor, which he was trying to create near Green Bay with fur magnate John Jacob Astor. The suggestion came from Astor, who was a friend of Madison's.

Apparently Doty's partners in the Four Lakes Company also regarded James Madison highly. "The name of the future city was agreed upon by (Doty) and others of us who were the original proprietors," recalled Morgan Martin, who also sat in the first territorial Legislature at Belmont.

A group effort sounds a little more likely; Doty was very much a lifelong rascal, a profiteer who was removed as territorial governor in disgrace after the legislature asked President John Tyler to do so in 1844. But apparently, Doty wanted his city to aspire to something better. And maybe he named it alone, after all.

The last word comes from Suydam, who traveled on horseback here with Doty to survey the ground in person, on their way to Belmont.

Said Suydam later, "The name was given to the city by him in honor of President Madison, whose memory he held in high esteem."

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