Madison was the fourth (1809–1817) President of the United
States. He was co-author, with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton,
of the Federalist Papers, and is traditionally regarded as the Father
of the United States Constitution.
Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia on March 16, 1751. Eldest
of 9 children(two of them will die in infancy), his parents Colonel
James Madison, Sr. (March 27, 1723 – February 27, 1801)
and Eleanor Rose "Nellie" Conway (January 9, 1731 –
February 11, 1829) were the prosperous owners of the tobacco plantation
in Orange County, Virginia, where Madison spent most of his childhood
years. Madison's plantation life was made possible by his paternal
great-great-grandfather, James Madison, who utilized Virginia's
headright system to import a significant number of indentured
servants, thereby allowing him to accumulate a large tract of
1769, Madison left the plantation to attend the College of New
Jersey (later to become Princeton University), finishing its four-year
course in two years, but exhausting himself from overwork in the
process. When he regained his health, he served in the state legislature
(1776-79) and became known as a protégé of Thomas
Jefferson. In this capacity, he became a prominent figure in Virginia
state politics, helping to draft their declaration of religious
freedom and persuading Virginia to give their northwestern territories
(consisting of most of modern-day Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois)
to the Continental Congress.
a delegate to the Continental Congress (1780-83), he excelled
as a legislative workhorse and master of parliamentary detail.
Back in the state legislature he welcomed peace, but soon became
alarmed at the fragility of the Confederation. He was a strong
advocate of a new constitution, and played the leading role in
drafting and negotiating the main points at the Constitutional
Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
foster the ratification effort, he joined with Alexander Hamilton
and John Jay to write The Federalist Papers, one of the most influential
documents in American political history. Back in Virginia in 1788,
he led the fight for ratification of the constitution at the state's
convention--oratorically out dueling Patrick Henry and formidable
forces aligned against acceptance of the constitution. For his
efforts, Madison is known as the "Father of the Constitution."
When the Constitution was ratified, Madison was elected to the
United States House of Representatives from his home state of
Virginia and served from the First Congress through the Fourth
Congress, and was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party
during his final term in the House. On June 8, 1789, he successfully
offered a package of twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution.
Based upon earlier work by George Mason, the final ten of these
rights became what is collectively known as the Bill of Rights
by December 15, 1791. An eleventh of the amendments was belatedly
ratified more than two centuries later and is today the 27th Amendment.
chief characteristic of Madison's time in Congress was his desire
to limit the power of the federal government. During this time,
the debate between Hamilton and Jefferson led to the formation
of the first political parties in U.S. history. Members of the
Federalist Party followed Hamilton and believed in a strong central
government. Madison was instrumental in the creation of the Democratic-Republican
Party party, which opposed the Hamiltonians as crypto-monarchists
who would undermine republican values. Madison led the unsuccessful
attempt to block Hamilton's proposed Bank of the United States,
arguing the new Constitution did not explicitly allow the federal
government to form a bank.
1794, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, who cut as attractive
and vivacious a figure as he did a sickly and antisocial one.
It is Dolley who is largely credited with inventing the role of
"First Lady" as political ally to the president.
1797, Madison left Congress; in 1798, he and Jefferson secretly
wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions which insisted that
states could block unconstitutional federal laws. Most biographers
see a sea-change with Madison moving from strong nationalism in
1787-88 to a states' rights position that became extreme in the
resolutions of 1798. Other scholars, notably Lance Banning, see
more continuity, arguing Madison was never caught up in Hamilton's
dream of a powerful nation.
of State 1801-1809
After Jefferson's victory in the 1800 election, Madison became
his Secretary of State. The main challenge Madison faced was navigating
between the two great empires of Britain and France, which were
almost constantly at war. The first great triumph was the Louisiana
Purchase on 1803, made possible when Napoleon realized he could
not defend that vast territory, and it was to France's advantage
that Britain not seize it.
and Jefferson reversed party policy to negotiate and win Congressional
approval for the Purchase. Madison tried to maintain neutrality,
but at the same time insisted on the legal rights of the U.S.
under international law. Neither London nor Paris showed much
respect, however. Madison and Jefferson decided on an Embargo
to punish Britain, which meant forbidding all Americans to trade
with any foreign nation.
Embargo failed as foreign policy and instead caused massive hardships
in the northeastern seaboard, which depended on foreign trade.
The Republican Congressional Caucus chose presidential candidates
for the party, and Madison was chosen in the election of 1808,
easily defeating Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The Embargo was
repealed just before Madison took office.
British insults continued, especially the practice of using the
Royal Navy to intercept unarmed American merchant ships and "impressing"
(seizing) all sailors who might be British subjects for service
in the British navy. Madison's protests were ignored, so he helped
stir up public opinion in the west and south for war. One argument
was that an American invasion of Canada would be easy and would
be a good bargaining chip.
carefully prepared public opinion for what everyone at the time
called "Mr. Madison's War," but much less time and money
was spent building up the army, navy, forts or state militias.
Historians in 2006 ranked the failure to avoid war as the #6 worst
presidential mistake ever made. After Congress declared war, Madison
was re-elected President over DeWitt Clinton, but by a smaller
margin than in 1808.
the ensuing War of 1812, the British won numerous victories, including
the capture of Detroit after the American general surrendered
to a small force without a fight, and occupation of Washington,
D.C., forcing Madison to flee the city and watch atop a hill in
Virginia as the White House was set on fire by British troops.
The British also armed American Indians in the West, most notably
followers of Tecumseh. Finally a standoff was reached on the Canadian
border. The Americans built warships on the Great Lakes faster
than the British, and gained the upper hand. At sea, the British
blockaded the entire coastline, cutting off both foreign trade
and domestic trade between ports.
the defeat of Napoleon, both the British and Americans were exhausted,
the causes of the war had been forgotten, and it was time for
peace. New England Federalists, however, set up a secret defeatist
Hartford Convention and threatened secession. In 1814, the Treaty
of Ghent ended the war, allowing each side to keep the territory
it held when the treaty was finalized. The Battle of New Orleans,
in which Andrew Jackson defeated the British regulars, was fought
15 days after the treaty was signed but before it was finalized.
peace finally established, America was swept by a sense of euphoria
and national achievement in finally securing full independence
from Britain. The Federalists fell apart and eventually disappeared
from politics, as an Era of Good Feeling emerged with a much lower
level of political fear and vituperation.
his last act before leaving office, Madison vetoed a bill for
"internal improvements," including roads, bridges, and
considered the bill...I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty
I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United
States...The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified...in
the...Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed
to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers..."
rejected the view of Congress that the General Welfare Clause
justified the bill, stating:
a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to
Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined
and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms
'common defense and general welfare' embracing every object and
act within the purview of a legislative trust."
Madison would support internal improvement schemes only through
constitutional amendment; but he urged a variety of measures that
he felt were "best executed under the national authority,"
including federal support for roads and canals that would "bind
more closely together the various parts of our extended confederacy."
After leaving office, Madison retired to Montpelier, his tobacco
plantation in Virginia, not far from Jefferson's Monticello. He
engaged in extensive correspondence on political affairs, and
served on the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia
for 17 years. Upon the death of Thomas
Jefferson in 1826, Madison
became the Rector of the University of Virginia and served for
the next 10 years until his own death. This occurred on June 28,
1836 due to rheumatism and heart failure. He left no children.
detailed notes on the Constitutional Convention were published
after his death. By his request, these notes were not to be published
until the death of the last signer of the Constitution. The implication
is that Madison did not want the thoughts and debates of the founders
to shape the nation's interpretation of what the Constitution
meant. He strongly believed that the text, and only the text,
should be consulted.
portrait was on the U.S. $5000 bill. There were about twenty different
varieties of $5000 bills issued between 1861 and 1946, and all
but three had James Madison. Madison also appears on the $200
Series EE Savings Bond.
1. At 5 feet, 4 inches in height (163 cm) and 100 pounds (45 kg)
in weight, Madison was the nation's shortest president and frequently
ill. He was too frail for military service during the Revolution.
2. Madison was a second cousin of the 12th U.S. President, Zachary
3. A nephew James M. Rose was killed at the Battle of the Alamo.
4. A great-nephew, James Edwin Slaugther, was a Confederate General.
5. Both of Madison's Vice Presidents, George Clinton, and Elbridge
Gerry died in office.
6. Madison took the most comprehensive notes at the Constitutional
Convention, which were not published until after his death.
7. In 1812, President Madison signed a federal bill which cancelled
duty on plates aboard one ship imported by the Bible Society of
Philadelphia to print Bibles. "An Act for the relief of the
Bible Society of Philadelphia" Approved February 2, 1813