Which President Was the Shortest?

Although a number of the U.S. presidents were under six feet tall, only one president was under 66 inches (five feet six inches) tall. The tallest president was Abraham Lincoln who stood at six foot four inches at the time of his death, and there is a full foot difference between him and the shortest president.

Examining the heights of the presidents also brings up another interesting discussion. Does height affect whether or not a candidate wins the election? While such a statement is difficult to actually prove, statistics do seem to imply that there is at least something worth noting about that idea.

Shortest President

President James Madison was the shortest, standing at five feet and four inches tall (163 centimeters). Although he is known for being the shortest president, more importantly he is remembered as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He was the fourth president; therefore, he played an important role in the beginnings of the country.

He:

  • Was the main author of the Constitution
  • Was the primary source for the first ten amendments, which are commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights
  • Wrote about a third of the Federalist Papers, which was full of important supplementary material to the Constitution. The papers are still studied and read today, particularly by individuals who are interested in the fields of politics, law, and history.
  • Was a major proponent of the concept of checks and balances to ensure that no branch of the government gets out of line and tries to exert too much power

Madison also spent time as a leader in the House of Representatives, and worked with George Washington to establish ideals for the new system of government.

In 1791, Madison joined forces with Thomas Jefferson to establish the Republican Party in opposition to the Federalist party. They strongly protested against ideas such as the Jay Treaty and the prospect of a national bank. Furthermore, he secretively worked with Jefferson to create the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts. However, after his presidency, Madison started to reverse on some of his policies. He supported the establishment of a national bank, high tariffs, and a strong military.

One of the most well known events in the history of the United States was the Louisiana Purchase, which added so much new land to the country. Madison was a major overseer of that project. Madison also acted as a leader in the War of 1812 against Britain.

Other Short Presidents

There were a handful of presidents who were under what has been considered average heights for men. Of course, these numbers do change with time, as people have generally gotten taller as the centuries have progressed. The average height for a man living in America in 2005 was five foot 9.2 inches, and the average height of presidents has been five foot 10.8 inches. There were a few others who fell below both of these averages.

Presidents under five foot nine were:

  • Rutherford B. Hayes (five foot eight and a half)
  • William Henry Harrison
  • James K. Polk
  • Zachary Tyler
  • Ulysses S. Grant (five foot eight)
  • John Quincy Adams (five foot seven and a half)
  • John Adams
  • William McKinley (five foot seven)
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • Martin Van Buren (five foot six)

Therefore, Madison was the shortest president ever by two inches.

Notable Trends

There were 49 elections in which the heights of both primary candidates were known. In those elections, the taller candidate won approximately 53% of the time, while the shorter candidate won approximately 39% of the time. In the remaining 8% of cases, the two opponents were the same height.

These numbers are certainly not hard evidence of anything. Perhaps people consider physical stature when they vote, and want to elect someone who seems more powerful, or perhaps people are generally just drawn toward taller candidates. In fact, height may not have any effect at all on how people choose to vote, and the statistics may just simply be coincidence.

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