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North Carolina Congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn speaks at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26, 2020 in Charlotte. (screenshot) North Carolina Congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn speaks at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26, 2020 in Charlotte. (screenshot)

North Carolina Congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn speaks at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26, 2020 in Charlotte. (screenshot)

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht August 27, 2020

No, James Madison didn't sign the Declaration of Independence

If Your Time is short

  • Madison Cawthorn is a 25-year-old candidate for Congress in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District.
  • In a speech at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, he mentioned famous Americans who accomplished major goals at a young age.
  • Cawthorn said James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence, which is false.

Speaking at the Republican National Convention, 25-year-old congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn said that people who doubt young people "don’t know American history."

Cawthorn, who faces Democrat Moe Davis in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, then reeled off a few historical figures who were young when they helped change America.

"George Washington was 21 when he received his first military commission. Abe Lincoln: 22 when he first ran for office. My personal favorite: James Madison was just 25 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence," Cawthorn said.

While Cawthorn’s claims about Washington and Lincoln merit minor corrections, there’s a big problem with his claim about Madison.

Madison did turn 25 in 1776, the same year the Declaration of Independence was signed. But Madison didn’t sign it. You can see the list of signatories on the website for the National Archives.

Born March 16, 1751, Madison was a young adult when he made significant contributions to the foundation of the United States. He participated in the framing of the Virginia Constitution in 1776. Before he became president in 1809, Madison in 1789 introduced a proposed Bill of Rights to the Constitution, according to the National Constitution Center.

In an email to PolitiFact Wednesday night, Cawthorn’s spokesman said he meant to point out Madison’s age at the time the Declaration was signed.

"During the taping Madison Cawthorn wanted to mention James Madison," campaign spokesman John Hart said. "He meant to say James Madison was 25 when the Declaration was written. His point stands that young people have made an enormous impact in this country, and still can."

Thursday morning, Cawthorn tweeted about the mistake.

Let’s briefly review Cawthorn’s claims about the other presidents.

Washington: Washington was sworn-in as a major of a militia when he was 21 and volunteered for active duty some ten months later, according to the U.S. Army’s website. A possible cause of confusion: Britain adopted a new calendar during Washington’s lifetime. 

The National Archives record shows Washington was born in Virginia on February 11, 1731, according to the then-used Julian calendar. However, Britain and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 — moving Washington's birthday a year and 11 days to February 22, 1732.

Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809. He was 23 when he first ran for office in 1832, according to the Library of Congress. He finished eighth in a field of 13 candidates seeking a seat in the Illinois General Assembly, the NPS says. He was elected two years later.

In a speech urging viewers to know American history, Cawthorn’s inaccurate claim about Madison stands out.

We rate Cawthorn’s claim False.

Our Sources

C-SPAN video of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26, 2020.

Email correspondence with John Hart, spokesman for Madison Cawthorn, Republican candidate in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.

The National Archives online list of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, webpage about George Washington’s birthday.

Biography of James Madison on WhiteHouse.gov.

Biography of George Washington’s military history on the U.S. Army website.

Blog post by the Constitution Center, "On this day: James Madison introduces the Bill of Rights," published June 8, 2020.

Timeline of Abraham Lincoln’s life, listed on the Library of Congress website.

Timeline of Abraham LIncoln’s life, listed on the National Park Service website.

Fact check by NBC News, "Cawthorn said James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence. He didn't," posted Aug. 26, 2020.

Review of Abraham Lincoln’s first campaign statement on the Dickinson College website.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Paul Specht

No, James Madison didn't sign the Declaration of Independence

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