James Madison

James Madison was a very important founding father in American History. Madison was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. Madison was also our fourth president, and he led us through the War of 1812 against Britain.

James Madison was born on March 16, 1761 in Port Conway Virginia. He was the oldest of twelve children, but only seven lived to adulthood. Madison’s father was a successful plantation owner who primarily grew tobacco, and Madison inherited the plantation after his father’s death in 1801. Throughout his life, Madison was susceptible to disease and as a result, his father hired a private tutor to teach Madison. After he finished his tutoring, Madison went off to the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University. Madison chose to go to college in New Jersey over the local College of William and Mary because the area was infested with mosquitoes, which could make his ill state worse. By the time he graduated college, he had been taught geography, philosophy, Latin, Greek, science, mathematics, and rhetoric. Madison was a scholarly man, however, and stayed with his teacher, John Witherspoon, for a while and studied political ideas and Hebrew. Madison would eventually receive crates of books from Thomas Jefferson on government, and was probably the smartest man on government and topics related to it on Earth during his time, and perhaps even in history.

When the American Revolution broke out, Madison applied for the Continental Army, was too small to be fit for service, which made sense, since James Madison weighed 100 pounds and was only 5’ 4’’, which makes Madison the shortest president in US history and the shortest founding father. Madison was free to pursue a political career, not just because of his size, but also his family’s huge wealth. In 1780, Madison was sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress, which is when he met Thomas Jefferson, and the two became friends up until Jefferson’s death. Madison’s best work, however, wasn’t during the revolution, but instead afterwards. Madison was a federalist, and disliked the Articles of Confederation, mainly because there was no standing army. However, Madison still wanted to serve the new United States of America, so he tried to run for senate, but was blocked by Patrick Henry, the biggest supporter of the Articles of Confederation. Still wanting to serve his country, Madison simply ran for the house instead.  Henry still tried to block Madison, so he forced a bill stating that a representative for the house could only represent the district they reside in, and on top of that, he flooded Madison’s home district with anti-federalists, who opposed Madison’s federalist beliefs. Madison however, after all the difficulties Madison went through, he was elected to the house, defeating James Monroe, who would eventually become the 5th U.S. president, after Madison.

Eventually in 1787, many representatives from across the nation met in Philadelphia to discuss creating a new constitution for the U.S. Madison wrote a draft, which he called the Virginia Plan, and brought the document with him to the convention, where he shared his ideas. The document was meant, only to be a starting point, but many of Madison’s ideas, including the system of checks and balances, which were made to prevent any one branch of government form having too much power, were inserted into the new Constitution. Due to his contributions, Madison’s colleagues nicknamed him, ‘The Father of the Constitution’. Madison clearly stated that it took many minds to create the new document, but the title is still associated with Madison today. Madison was also instrumental in convincing two anti-federalist strongholds, New York (the whole state) and his home state Virginia, in ratifying the Constitution. Madison co-wrote the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, which were distributed throughout New York. The Federalist Papers were a collection of essays mainly written to convince citizens that the constitution wouldn’t take away their rights. In Virginia, however, the act of convincing the state legislatures to ratify the new constitution was entirely his own achievement. Madison had to speak at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, and persuade the members of the convention to ratify the Constitution. Madison was reluctant to do so, but he was the best man available to speak. He was up against one of the two most powerful orators in the nation, Patrick Henry, an anti-federalist. Madison was a terrible public speaker, and the odds were not in his favor. The debate lasted throughout the month of June in 1788, and ended in a surprising Federalist victory. Although Henry was the more powerful and dramatic speaker, Madison replied to Henry’s arguments calmly with reasoning, and was very clear that the government’s powers were “… few and defined.” Henry’s claims started becoming so far-reaching, that Madison simply stated they were absurd. Madison gained the votes of two prominent anti-federalists in the debate, George Mason and Edmund Randolph, who swayed more votes for the Constitution. About a month later after Virginia’s ratification, New York ratified the constitution, and only two states were left, North Carolina and Rhode Island, and Rhode Island ratified the constitution in 1790, the last of the original thirteen colonies to do so.

Madison was also instrumental in creating the Bill of Rights. At the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Madison had been asked to create a bill of rights. Madison said he would try to get members of the Constitutional Convention to ratify a bill of rights. Some of his federalist colleagues, such as Alexander Hamilton, didn’t think the constitution needed a bill of rights. Madison drafted a Bill of Rights, but instead of the ten amendments we think of today, Madison’s original bill had twelve rights. Only rights 3-12 were ratified as the Bill of Rights, so instead of the freedom of speech, religion (which Madison fought for the most), press, assembly, and the right to petition being the Third Amendment, it became the First Amendment. Madison’s second amendment was also ratified, but it became the 27th amendment, not the second amendment.

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were both dissatisfied with the Federalists actions during Washington’s presidency, creating the National Bank in particular was of concern to them. By 1792, both left the Federalist Party and founded their own party, which was known as the Democratic-Republican Party, even though most Democratic-Republicans referred to themselves as republicans, including Thomas Jefferson. On September 15, 1794, James Madison married a widow named Dolly Payne Todd (age 26). Due to Madison’s age (he was 43 at the time), it was considered late for him to marry in the day. Dolly also had a two-year old son named John Payne Todd, or just Payne. Dolly’s husband and younger son both died of the Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia. Payne grew up to be an alcoholic convicted of shooting people multiple times, and Madison bailed him out, which added to his growing debt. Madison even sent Payne over to Europe as an official delegate, a rare honor for one who disrupts society, but Payne spent almost the whole time drinking, shooting, and acquiring artwork. Madison was doing these wonderful things for his son to try to help him find a passion that doesn’t involve drinking or shooting other people. Madison let his son run his plantation, but it didn’t really work too well. The Democratic-Republicans gained popularity in the late 1790s, during John Adams’ first and only term in office, which is also when the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed. Jefferson and Madison declared the acts unconstitutional in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions documents. Jefferson even went as far as states seceding from the Union, but Madison convinced Jefferson to let go of his extreme view.

James Madison was elected president in 1808, and got around 70% of the votes. During Madison’s presidency, tensions between America and Britain rose, and the British impressed, or forced Americans (in this case) into, the Royal Navy, armed Native Americans with guns to prevent American expansion, and even declared French-American trade illegal, although they had no authority to do so. Madison had supported the Embargo Act, which illegalized trade with foreign nations, in hopes of Britain and France, who had also been raiding any American vessels, in fear that they were trading with Britain, but instead hurt the American economy. The attacks on American trade vessels had sparked two groups to form, ones who wanted a war with Britain, and those who were against a trade war. Madison was against a trade war, but in 1812, the U.S. declared war on Britain. Early on in the war, America had been making rapid progress in British Canada, and razed the city of Toronto, but the Americans were eventually pushed back and retreated to the Chesapeake, where British Soldiers burned the Presidents home and the rest of D.C., before a tornado hit and the British retreated. The war cost America loads of money, and Madison’s conduct during the war wasn’t the best, for two major reasons. One, Madison vetoed the new national bank proposal in 1814, which cost America more money, and Madison eventually approved a national bank in 1816 as one of his last acts before he finished his second and final term. Madison realized that a national bank was needed, and wound up in between Federalist and Democratic-Republican views. The second major flaw was the Wilkinson Affair. The story started after Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1803. Jefferson appointed General Wilkinson as the governor of the Louisiana Territory because of his republican influence in Pennsylvania. After Madison’s election, Wilkinson is still the governor of Louisiana, for the same reasons Jefferson had him there, despite Aaron Burr’s conspiracy theory that he stole gold from the Spanish. After his soldier’s complaints and the loss of two battles in Louisiana, Madison relieves Wilkinson from active service. This showed many Americans where Madison’s priorities were, politics first, preventing Britain from retaking America second.

Madison soon retired to his plantation after the end of his second term, which was run down, and Madison was in major debt. In his last years Madison became increasingly obsessed with his legacy. He left a great legacy, that’s for sure, but Madison obsessed over minute details over his legacy, even to the point of editing letters to and from Jefferson and forging Jefferson’s handwriting. Madison eventually drove himself sick and died on June 28, 1836 at his estate.

James Madison left behind a great legacy. He had a profound impact on the U.S. Constitution, The Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. He was even able to win debates and avoid obstacles by Patrick Henry, one of the most powerful speakers in American History. Madison became our fourth president and led America through the War of 1812. Despite his political flaws, Madison was a good, but underrated president, and politician in general. Madison made sure there was a sturdy federal government, but at the same time he made it one where the federal government was limited, and so that powers couldn’t be overused by the federal government. This system works very well (it’s not perfect) and when the federal government abused its power, such as when John Adams applied the Sedition Act, which banned speech critical of (that criticized) the federal government. This was a violation of the First Amendment, which had been in place for seven years, and Madison spoke out, declaring it unconstitutional, which may have been out of his reach, but the Act shouldn’t have been passed to begin with. Madison was a smart, intelligent man who stood up for the constitution and people’s rights, no matter what.