JAMES MADISON, was born on 16 March 1751 of a family that had been in Virginia since the mid-seventeenth century. Tradesmen and farmers at first, his forebears quickly acquired more lands and soon were among the "respectable though not the most opulent class," as Madison himself described them. The family moved to Orange County in the Virginia Piedmont about 1730 and settled on a plantation that over the next century grew to five thousand acres, produced tobacco and grains, and was worked by perhaps a hundred slaves. Although Madison abhorred slavery, he nonetheless bore the burden of depending all his life on a slave system that he could never square with his republican beliefs.
Madison learned the fundamentals at home and then went to preparatory school before entering the College of New Jersey at Princeton. There he got a fine classical and Christian education, receiving his bachelor of arts degree in 1771. He studied for six months more under President John Witherspoon, whose intellectual independence, practicality, and moral earnestness profoundly influenced him. Madison read John Locke, Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, David Hume, Voltaire, and others whose Enlightenment world-view became his own. He considered becoming a clergyman or a lawyer but never entered either profession.
While Madison was small and unimpressive physically, he had bright blue eyes, a quiet strength of character, and a lively, humorous way in small groups that made him a welcome and influential colleague in many endeavors. He had some serious illnesses during his life, many bouts of a probably nervous disorder that left him exhausted and prostrate after periods of severe strain, and a hypochondriacal tendency to "fear the worst" from sickness, but he actually lived a long, healthy life free from the common scourges of his day and was capable of sustained, rigorous labors that would have overwhelmed many seemingly more robust men.
As the Revolution approached, Madison served on the Orange County Committee of Safety from 1774, and two years later he was elected to the Virginia convention that resolved for independence and drafted a new state constitution. There he sought successfully to change the clause guaranteeing religious "toleration" only to one proclaiming "liberty of conscience for all." From 1777 to 1779 he served on the Virginia Council of State under two governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
Elected to the Continental Congress in 1780, Madison became one of the leaders of the so-called nationalist group, which saw fulfillment of the Revolution possible only under a strong central government. He thus supported the French alliance and worked persistently to strengthen the powers of Congress. When he retired from Congress in 1783, he was regarded as its best informed and most effective debater and legislator. Madison then served for three years in the Virginia legislature, where he worked to enact Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom and other reform measures. Six years of legislative experience, as well as his studies, increasingly convinced him that weak confederacies were prey to foreign intrigue and domestic instability.
Legislative and Executive Leader
Madison came to see that a vigorous, responsible executive officer, even within republican principles that generally emphasized legislative powers, might be essential to effective government by consent. Revolutionary hostility to the last royal governors, who had been the agents of British tyranny, further heightened American suspicions of executive authority. Yet, by 1787, Madison had also been given many lessons in the liabilities of executive impotence. As a member of the Virginia Council of State, he had observed a government in which the executive not only had very little power overall but was forbidden to act except with the approval of the eight-member council. The delays and inability to act in the exigencies of war eventually convinced Madison that this construction of the executive department was "the worst part of a bad Constitution."
The same executive weakness existed in the Continental Congress. Standing committees conducted much of the executive business, plagued by uncertain authority, dispersed responsibility, rotating personnel, and spotty attendance. Madison supported the creation of "executive departments" of foreign affairs, finance, war, and marine in January and February 1781, and he sought to fill the new offices with able men.
Madison was never among those who suspected that any person given the power to do anything would invariably act badly. Such a proposition, when applied indiscriminately to officials deriving their election or appointment from the people, Madison later charged, "impeached the fundamental principle" of republican government by holding that officers chosen by the people "will immediately and infallibly betray the trust committed to them." Despite this basic faith, in the years immediately preceding the Convention of 1787, Madison observed that in the Virginia and other state legislatures many unjust and unwise laws were passed by popularly elected assemblies.
The dilemma of finding the basic principle of republican government—majority rule—working against the even more fundamental need for just laws was for Madison especially difficult because the source of this malfunction was to be found not only in the tendency toward imprudence and corruption in the representatives but "more fatally [in] . . . the people themselves." That is, a host of private interests, real and imagined, divided the people of the states into groups whose rivalry generally vitiated whatever virtuous motives might be expected to arise from "a prudent regard to their [the people's] own good as involved in the general and permanent good of the community," from a "respect for character," or from religious conviction. Madison concluded that the states, when left to themselves, seemed invariably to trample on both private rights and the public good, despite the fact that the states more fully embodied the principle of legislative supremacy than any other governments in the world. To cope with this discouraging development, Madison argued that in "an extended republic," on the continental scale of the United States, "a greater variety of interests, of pursuits, of passions [would] check each other." Thus, the general government would be less likely to act unjustly and should therefore have "a negative" on the laws of the states, a power he advocated throughout the federal convention. "The great desideratum," he concluded, was "such a modification of the Sovereignty as will render it sufficiently neutral between the different interests and factions." But neutrality meant for Madison a point of view that was impartial, disinterested, above party, such as "the prince . . . in absolute Monarchies" had in judging among his subjects.
At the convention, Madison met powerful advocates of restraint on executive power. Roger Sherman of Connecticut "considered the Executive Magistracy as nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the Legislature into effect." The legislature, Sherman insisted, "was the depository of the supreme will of the Society" and was therefore "the best judge of the business which ought to be done by the Executive department." Sherman sought definition of executive powers by the legislature, proposed various schemes for a plural executive and for its election by the legislature, and objected to an executive veto. Madison, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, and others protested immediately and vigorously that such proposals strengthened, rather than diminished, the power of faction and of provincial interests in government. They admitted that any form of monarchy was out of the question in the United States, but they nonetheless sought somehow to retain the benefit of its ability to check legislative corruption and of its supposed nonpartisanship.
Madison revealed his train of thought to the convention when, defending executive veto, he noted the danger that a republic faced from diversity of interests, demagoguery, and the power of a selfish majority. "In this view," Madison concluded, "a negative in the Executive is not only necessary for its own [protection], but for the safety of a minority.. . . The independent condition of the Executive who has the eyes of all Nations on him will render him a just Judge."
Madison even sought some way to combine the judiciary with the executive in the veto power to increase the sense of wisdom and respectability in this vital restraint on a legislature presumed to be factious. Two days later he noted the difficulty of finding in a republic a source of power that, like "an hereditary magistrate," would have a "personal interest against betraying the national interest." He urged further that the executive have the power to appoint federal judges because he would be "a national officer, acting for and equally sympathizing with every part of the United States." Throughout the debates, Madison sought consistently to protect the executive department from the factious legislature, and insofar as that independence was secure, he was willing to grant wide powers to the executive.
In fact, responding to Wilsons' reasoning, Madison came to see increasingly that in a republic where even executive power rested, directly or indirectly, on the people, there might be less to fear in its exercise than under a monarchy. The more clearly the executive was held responsible to the people, Wilson argued, the more power he could safely be given. This view suited Madison's sober optimism that a self-governing system could be devised that would exercise power wisely and his sense of the need for vigor and responsibility in government. Thus, he supported a single executive, his power to appoint officials in his department, his powers as commander in chief and in foreign affairs, his long term in office, and his eligibility for reelection.
Election of the executive posed a seemingly insoluble problem. Madison shared some of George Mason's fear that to allow election directly by the people was like referring "a trial of colours to a blind man," and Gouverneur Morris' fear that if a legislative body chose the executive "it will be like the election of a pope by a conclave of cardinals." Madison eventually supported the idea of an electoral college as a hedge against both dangers. Altogether, then, the definition of executive power as it emerged from the convention suited Madison as a reasonable compromise between the needs of authority and the need to limit the power of government. He defended the new constitution in his contributions to The Federalist Papers in 1787–1788 and as a delegate to the Virginia Ratification Convention in June 1788.
Everything depended, of course, upon the early precedents established and the conduct of the first presidents. Washington's vast prestige gave crucial support to the dignity and authority of the office, most of which Madison supported. In fact, as Washington's chief adviser in the critical years 1788–1789, Madison had a large role in the organization of the executive branch, its etiquette, and its relations with the other branches.
Especially critical was Madison's defense (in the House of Representatives, where he served from 1789 to 1797) of the president's inherent power to remove his appointees from office. Madison scorned arguments that the president should be denied such power because he would infallibly abuse it by removing faithful public servants; such fears, and the consequent denials of power, would hopelessly hamstring governments. Rather, he insisted upon the more basic, self-regulating "principle of unity and responsibility in the Executive department, which was intended for the security of liberty and the public good. If the President alone should possess the power of removal from office, those employed in the execution of the law will be in their proper situation, and the chain of dependence therefore terminates in the supreme body, namely, in the people." That is, the president needed to have the power of removal for profoundly republican reasons: the people would then be able to hold him responsible for the malfeasance of his appointees and could then be justified in refusing him reelection (or in extreme cases, even impeaching him) for inefficiency or corruption in his department. By 1789, Madison had achieved a maturing idea of what it meant to exercise executive power in a republican government.
Yet, despite his admiration for President Washington, Madison was first amazed and then appalled at what the executive branch became under Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's guidance during the 1790s. Madison's desire for a vigorous executive, an efficient civil service, and a sound public credit led him to support many of Hamilton's proposals taken by themselves, but it was the totality of his program that the Virginian opposed.
The growth of the executive branch, especially the Treasury Department, allowed its secretary to take the initiative. To this power Hamilton quite candidly added the force and support he could derive from granting privilege to bankers and merchants. Sharing the largesse and financial prospects with congressmen and their friends, furthermore, gave him great influence in the legislature. These consolidating moves, mobilized under the doctrine of loose construction, devised to legitimize the Bank of the United States, instituted, in Madison's view, a veritable "phalanx." Far from shaping an executive who took his lead in policy from the legislature and was the executor of its will, as republican theory required, Hamilton had created a machine to lead and dominate the nation. The parallel with the means that George III and his ministers had used to control Parliament in the 1770s and Hamilton's conception of himself as a proconsul or prime minister on the order of Richelieu, Colbert, or the elder Pitt were all too apparent. The ease and speed with which Hamilton achieved this model of the executive, under the Constitution, was a sobering lesson for Madison. Phrases about separation of power, and even what he thought were explicit limitations, seemed to mean little when confronted by someone of Hamilton's energy, wile, and brilliance.
Federalist response to the renewal of war between France and Great Britain in 1793—arguments that the president, not Congress, could "proclaim" neutrality (the counterpart, after all, to declaring war) and calls for a buildup of the armed forces, special diplomatic missions, higher taxes, and so on—frightened Madison because the "needs" of war so perfectly promoted the executive tendencies Hamilton had already set in motion. It seemed to him that American "monocrats" (as Jeffersonian Republicans increasingly, although unfairly, termed the Federalists) used shrill accounts of the excesses of the French revolutionary government in 1793–1794 to slander republicanism generally and to strengthen ties with England that would draw American government and society closer to its aristocratic, imperial model.
When Hamilton urged Washington to gather an army in the fall of 1794 to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion, Madison saw in the making "a formidable attempt . . . to establish the principle that a standing army was necessary for enforcing the laws. " After Hamilton had persuaded Washington to criticize publicly the "democratic societies" or "Jacobin clubs," which had mushroomed in opposition to Federalist policies in 1794, Madison retorted that "in the nature of republican government the censorial power is in the people over the government, and not in the government over the people."
During John Adams' administration, Madison continued to fret and fume over executive excess. He saw in the president's florid addresses in the war crisis of 1798 only "violent passions and heretical politics," and he labeled the Alien Enemies Act "a monster that must forever disgrace its parents." He wrote Jefferson, "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger real or pretended from abroad." In the "Report on the [Virginia] Resolutions of 1798" (1800), Madison scored an enlargement of the executive by "excessive augmentation of . . . offices, honors, and emoluments" that seemed bent on "the transformation of the republican system of the United States into a monarchy." Thus, by 1801, Madison had witnessed the Constitution he had helped draft and had enthusiastically recommended to his countrymen used—indeed, abused—in ways he was sure would destroy the whole notion of free self-government. The chief engine for this ruin, moreover, built by Hamilton from a domestic coalition of mercantile, anti-republican forces and a consolidation of the powers of government spurred by foreign danger, was the executive branch.
Service as secretary of state in Jefferson's cabinet (1801–1809), though, had the not surprising effect of reviving Madison's sense of the legitimate use of executive power—so much so, in fact, that more doctrinaire Republicans such as John Randolph of Roanoke saw him as a dangerous "crypto-Federalist" betraying Jeffersonian principles. Madison, however, was discriminating. He agreed thoroughly with Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin that a prime Republican responsibility was to reduce the apparatus of federal government and especially of the executive branch. But, as Jefferson stated in his first inaugural address, among the "essential principles of our government [is] . . . the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor."
Madison undertook his own campaign for "mild" government by firing one of the eight clerks in the State Department (its entire personnel in 1801) and by abandoning virtually all ceremony in conducting his office. He approved Republican measures to reduce the diplomatic establishment, lower the number of federal employees, put the national debt "on the road to extinction," diminish the military, reduce taxes, and repeal the Federalist Judiciary Act of 1801. He agreed, though, that Federalist institutions that had proved useful, such as the Bank of the United States, should remain undisturbed, and he participated willingly in the informal leadership Jefferson exercised through his influence over key members of Congress.
In two major events of Jefferson's presidency, the Louisiana Purchase and the embargo of 1807–1809, Madison showed his willingness to use executive power to achieve important republican ends. He agreed with Gallatin that the Louisiana Purchase was constitutional because "the existence of the United States as a nation presupposes the power enjoyed by every nation of extending their territory by treaties" and that the Constitution clearly gave the executive the authority to conduct such treaties. The critically important republicanizing results of the purchase—the doubling of agricultural lands, the removal of great power rivalry from the Mississippi Valley, and the reduction thus permitted in defense expenditures—more than compensated for a departure from the letter of Jefferson's self-imposed strict constructionism.
The embargo was a similarly bold effort to achieve a momentous republican breakthrough—nothing less than the substitution of economic pressure for war in international relations—by the orderly processes of a law passed by Congress and its faithful administration by the executive. Jefferson and Madison underestimated the sectional inequity of the measure and the consequent unwillingness of the nation to accept the required sacrifices, and overestimated the dependence of international trade (especially Britain's) on American exports. Thus, enforcement of the embargo, and the apparent need for its long-range continuance, soon entailed a considerable extension of executive power.
At this point, the Republican leaders—Madison most reluctantly—made a revealing decision: they gave up a policy proven ineffective in its intended objective and, even worse, sure to erode seriously their republican values if maintained in the face of widespread public opposition. They resisted the temptations to prove determination and "creditability" by enlarging executive authority and to overpower rather than conciliate deeply felt opposition. There was a critical need, in Madison's mind, to balance the positive uses of executive power against the constant danger of that power becoming oppressive.
Madison as President: The Road to War
Having long pondered the complex question of how to provide leadership in a system of government deriving its "just powers from the consent of the governed" and having gained wide experience in public office, Madison became president on 4 March 1809. Although painful intraparty opposition by his long-time friend James Monroe and by Vice President George Clinton, as well as by a Federalist party revived by anger at the embargo, denied him the political domination enjoyed by Jefferson, Madison nonetheless won comfortably with 122 votes in the electoral college to 47 for Federalist Charles C. Pinckney, 6 for Clinton, and none for Monroe.
Trying to adjust to his diminished political position and perhaps too little inclined to exert his will on Congress, Madison accepted one of the weakest cabinets in American history. Thwarted by the Senate from moving Gallatin to the State Department, Madison instead appointed affable but incompetent Robert Smith, who, through alliance with a group of hostile senators led by his brother, Samuel Smith of Maryland, became a center of disaffection within the cabinet. Madison endured this disloyalty and covered up for Robert Smith's incompetence by in effect continuing to do the work of the secretary of state himself for two years, but he finally had to replace Smith in a storm of factional invective in April 1811.
The new secretaries of war and the navy, William Eustis of Massachusetts and Paul Hamilton of South Carolina, were second or third choices for their posts and were appointed largely to achieve regional balance. Eustis proved utterly unsuited to the administrative needs of the War Department, while Hamilton became an alcoholic, ordinarily unable to perform any duties after noontime. Even Gallatin, although a most able secretary of the treasury and entirely loyal, was restive, resentful, and politically damaged at being barred by the Senate from the State Department.
Two men carried over from Jefferson's administration in offices not yet accorded cabinet status were scarcely better: Attorney General Caesar Rodney was seldom in the capital, while Postmaster General Gideon Granger, because of disputes over appointments, was increasingly estranged from, and hostile to, the president. Madison began his presidency, then, laboring under severe political difficul-ties and surrounded by less-than-ideal colleagues.
The ill effects of these appointments might have been avoided in normal times, but Madison faced the climactic years of the Napoleonic Wars. Britain and France were locked in a life-and-death combat that made neutrality difficult and infringed the rights of nonbelligerents. Both great powers plundered American vessels on the high seas, issued arbitrary decrees to damage American commerce, and otherwise took what advantage they could of the scorned and unarmed upstart nation. But it was Britain—with warships that ruled the seas; arrogant naval officers who ruthlessly impressed American sailors; sharp-dealing merchants who were eager to keep the former colonies in a state of economic dependence; and a fleet that could harass, blockade, and bombard the American coast with impunity—that could, and did, most injure and offend the United States. Thus, Madison saw Britain as the principal threat to the nation and came increasingly to feel that standing up to her might require a "second War of Independence."
The tangled diplomacy and stop-and-start legislation to impose economic sanctions on one or both of the belligerents that preoccupied Madison during his first three years as president—the signing and repudiation of the Erskine Agreement, the two Macon bills, protests of British orders-in-council and Napoleonic decrees, and so on—all failed because both France and Britain, fighting for survival, were prepared to use any means to win any advantage they could.
In the summer of 1811, Madison, by then ably supported by James Monroe, who had replaced Robert Smith as secretary of state, and buttressed in Congress by energetic young members soon dubbed War Hawks (Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun foremost among them), decided that if final efforts at favorable diplomatic settlement with each belligerent failed, war with the worst offender (almost sure to be Britain) would be necessary. In the spring of 1812, as Madison, Monroe, and their congressional allies pushed war preparations, intransigent dispatches arrived from Europe, so on 1 June, Madison asked Congress to declare war on the former mother country. With Federalists (dominant only in New England) solidly in opposition, the House of Representatives voted for hostilities (seventy-nine to forty-nine) and the Senate followed suit (nineteen to thirteen); on 18 June, Madison signed the declaration of war.
Madison viewed the declaration with sadness and regret, although he had for nearly a year been working with his cabinet and with Clay and others in Congress to prepare the country for battle. In reviewing the course toward war, Madison observed that Britain's notice of July 1811 that it would require humiliating concessions before withdrawing orders-in-council had made hostilities virtually inevitable. Writing to antiwar John Taylor "of Caroline" even before the final declaration, Monroe had explained that upon joining the cabinet in April 1811, he had found erroneous his conviction that Britain would make concessions if properly approached. Nothing, he added, "would satisfy the present Ministry of England short of unconditional submission which it was impossible to make." Thus, after July 1811, "the only remaining alternative was to get ready for fighting, and to begin as soon as we were ready. This was the plan of the administration when Congress met [in November 1811]; the President's message announced it; and every step taken by the administration since had led to it."
Asked to assess Madison's state of mind as the war approached, his private secretary, Edward Coles, noted that "it was congenial alike to the life and character of Mr. Madison that he should be reluctant to go to war, . . . this savage and brutal manner of settling disputes between nations," while diplomacy afforded any peaceful hopes at all. Coles agreed with Monroe that Britain's notice of July 1811 "closed the door to peace in Mr. Madison's opinion" and observed further that during the long session of Congress from November 1811 to July 1812, "a class of irritable men, . . . hotspurs of the day," declaimed for war, heedless of the need for preparation and scornful of "sound, prudent and patriotic men" who wanted delay and further diplomatic initiatives. Madison stood in the middle, Coles said, trying "to moderate the zeal and impatience of the ultra belligerent men, and to stimulate the more moderate and forbearing. To check those who were anxious to rush on hastily to extreme measures without due preparation and to urge those who lagged too far behind." The president restrained his own determination to go to war to bring to his side "tardy and over cautious members of Congress" and thus be able to declare war "by a large and influential majority."
Viewed in this perspective, Madison's course during the year preceding the war declaration and even during the whole seven-year period following full-scale resumption of the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, appears straight and consistent, if not always wise and well executed. He thought throughout that his goal, a genuine republican independence for the United States, found its worst menace in the commercial and maritime arrogance and power of Great Britain. To have submitted to her unilateral decrees, her discriminatory trade regulations, or her naval outrages would have restored the colonial dependence Madison had fought for half a century. It would, moreover, have ratified unjust principles of international law and emboldened antirepublican forces in Britain and the United States, thereby threatening, in Madison's opinion, the survival of free government anywhere in the world.
War was deemed so corrosive to republican principles that only the direst emergency could condone it. Thus, Madison tried every conceivable and even some inconceivable ways of peaceful resistance until many men less patient, less subtle, and less earnestly republican than he thought him hopelessly irreso-lute or a tool of Napoleon. Madison pronounced this latter charge "as foolish as it is false." If the war coincided with the views of the enemy of Great Britain and was favored by Napoleon's operations against the British, he observed coolly,
that assuredly could be no sound objection to the time chosen for extorting justice from her. On the contrary, the coincidence, though it happened not to be the moving consideration, would have been a rational one; especially as it is not pretended that the United States acted in concert with [Napoleon], or precluded themselves from making peace without any understanding with him; or even from making war on France, in the event of peace with her enemy, and her continued violation of our neutral rights.
Although in retrospect it may seem Madison underestimated Napoleon's global ambitions, he had no illusions about the French tyrant. Britain's greater capacity to injure the United States was the steady, realistic base of Madison's policy.
Less defensible is Madison's relentless, sometimes innocently implausible reliance on peaceful coercion—such as embargo, selective trading with the belligerents, or alliances with other neutral nations—which instead of persuading the belligerents to deal honorably with the United States, only convinced them they had nothing to fear from it. Thus, insult followed depredation, year after year. Shifting from one kind of nonviolent coercion to another and offering the carrot and then the stick first to one belligerent and then to the other, instead of persuading either of them to accept American support in exchange for commercial justice, led each country to think it could, by intrigue and maneuver, get all it wanted while granting nothing. As a result, by 1812 the United States was neither trusted nor respected by the warring powers. At home, Madison's patient, subtle efforts to unite the country behind him often had the doubly debilitating effect of disgusting those impatient for war and encouraging those opposed to it to think he would ultimately flinch from hostilities. Although, even in retrospect, better alternatives are not readily apparent, Madison's course seldom had the effect he intended.
Least defensible of all is the unfitness of the nation for war in June 1812. In response to those who charged that Britain, not the United States, had to fight at long distance and therefore would benefit from delay and warning, Madison insisted that "it was, in fact, not the suddenness of war as an Executive policy, but the tardiness of legislative provision" that left the nation unprepared. He had, he pointed out, recommended a military buildup in early November 1811, and it was more than two months before Congress took even ill-conceived steps. Although Congress did indeed hang back in this and many other ways during the twelve years of Republican rule, Madison seldom did more than call vaguely for "attention to the nation's defenses," and Secretary Gallatin insisted repeatedly that military expenditures be limited by his plans to discharge the national debt. From 1805 on, while Madison talked loudly and unyieldingly of neutral rights, the chasm widened between the obvious military peril of the European war and the pitiful state of the country's armed forces. He often spoke loudly and carried no stick at all.
Madison correctly pointed out the host of difficulties he faced in placing the nation on a war footing. Officers for the army had to be chosen from among "survivors of the Revolutionary band," many of whom "were disqualified by age or infirmities," or from among those untried on the battlefield. Furthermore, to appoint any executive officer, "an eye must be had to his political principles and connections, his personal temper and habits, his relations . . . towards those with whom he is to be associated, and the quarter of the Union to which he belongs." Add to this, Madison concluded, "the necessary sanction of the Senate" (often denied) and the large "number of refusals" of office by the most qualified prospects, and the reasons for a poorly staffed register were painfully obvious. Madison did not lack will, or understanding of what needed to be done, or courage to face war, but rather, as his own apologies verify, the capacity to disentangle himself from republican pieties, political crosscurrents, and organizational weaknesses.
Calhoun wrote a friend in April 1812 that "our President tho a man of amiable manners and great talents, has not I fear those commanding talents, which are necessary to controul those about him. He permits division in his cabinet. He reluctantly gives up the system of peace." The South Carolinian observed further that "this is the first war that the country has ever been engaged in; there is a great want of military knowledge; and the whole of our system has to be commenced and organized." Eight months later, after disasters caused by "errors and mismanagement . . . of most incompetent men," Calhoun noted that the difficulties "lie deep; and are coeval with the existence of Mr. Jefferson's administration."
Jeffersonian republicanism, with its hostility to economic regulation, deficit financing, and militarism, simply was not a vehicle designed for effective travel down the road to war. What Clay, Calhoun, and other War Hawks did in 1811 and 1812 was not browbeat the president into war or give the impulse to it from their expansionist predilections but rather to provide the legislative leadership in Congress, the effective attention to preparedness, and the sharp propaganda sense needed to arouse the country. Madison saw too clearly all the variables of a complex situation, knew too well the traps awaiting him in every direction, and understood too profoundly the anti-republican tendencies of arming for war to accept readily the reckless and unsubtle needs of girding for battle. What undermined Madison's policy of upholding American rights by peaceful means was, first and foremost, the absence of effective armed force, which again and again prevented him from being able to confront his opponents with a plausible threat and made skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic doubt he could have any ultimate intention of going to war. Second, an impression of irresolution grew from the shifting terms of his policies of commercial retaliation and peaceful coercion—embargo, nonintercourse, nonimportation, and so on—which often, at the very moment of effective pressure, freed trade long enough for Britain to fill its warehouses. Madison underestimated, too, the flexibility of international trade, the endurance of the belligerents, and the amount of damage some of his policies inflicted on the United States. Thus, the nation, especially New England, saw no credible and effective policy around which to rally. Although Madison, striving for domestic unity, both tempered his policy and manipulated his channels of communication, his stance was inevitably regarded as unwarlike.
Reflecting on the causes of the war, Republican Congressman Jonathan Roberts wrote that "there had all along been an idea cherished by the opposition, that the majority would not have nerve enough to meet war. This I believe, mainly induced Britain to persist in her aggressions. If she could have been made to believe . . . that we were a united people, and would act as such, war might have been avoided." As the London Independent Chronicle pointed out, "in every measure of government, the [Federalist] faction have rallied in opposition, and urged the British Ministry to persist in their Orders. They forced the United States to the alternative, either to surrender their independence, or maintain it by War."
Thus, although these misjudgments, too subtle policies, and republican predilections may paradoxically have made more likely the war that Madison tried to avoid and certainly left the nation dangerously unprepared, he was perfectly clear, as he stated in his first wartime message to Congress, on the basic cause and ultimate need for hostilities:
The war in which we are actually engaged is a war neither of ambition nor of vainglory.. . . It is waged not in violation of the rights of others, but in maintenance of our own.. . . To have shrunk [from it] . . . would have struck us from the high rank where the virtuous struggles of our fathers had placed us, and have betrayed the magnificent legacy which we hold in trust for future generations. It would have acknowledged that on [water] . . . where all independent nations have equal and common rights, the American people were not an independent people but colonists and vassals.
Madison as Wartime President
Madison and his advisers hoped that American zeal for the war (especially in the West), and the vulnerability of Canada as Britain strained its resources in the climax of the desperate struggle with Napoleon, would lead swiftly to American victory. He therefore ordered an American invasion of Canada at Detroit and an assault on the lightly defended borders at Niagara and in the direction of Montreal, with the intent of gaining advantages that could then be traded for British concessions on the high seas and along the Atlantic coast, where its naval power was overwhelming. Disaster ensued, for on 16 August one poorly led and ill-trained American army surrendered to a much smaller British and Indian force at Detroit and on 13 October another was badly beaten at Queenston Heights opposite Buffalo. A third army, commanded by an old, tired, timid, fumbling Revolutionary War general, William Dearborn, hampered by near-treasonable avoidance of duty by New England militia, retreated to winter quarters near Albany without even attempting to cut the vital, undefended British supply lines strung out westward from Montreal. Spectacular but isolated victories by the Constitution and other frigates boosted American morale but did not challenge overall British command of the seas.
These reversals made it necessary (and possible) for Madison to appoint new leaders for the Navy and War departments and to begin finding younger, more able, and more vigorous commanders for the army. His choice for the Navy Department, William Jones, turned out to be able and loyal, serving with distinction until the end of the war, but the War Department "solution" was more problematic. Madison finally settled on General John Armstrong, a New York politician who had wide military and administrative experience but was quarrelsome, imperious, and almost sure to be disloyal politically, especially to a Virginia-led administration. The president was well aware of the liabilities but hoped Armstrong's "known talents" and military experience, together with "a proper mixture of conciliating confidence and interposing control would render objectionable peculiarities less in practice than in prospect." Political considerations seemed still to compel appointment of some incompetent commanders in the army, but a move toward improvement was made by putting William Henry Harrison in command in the Northwest Territory and by promoting Winfield Scott, Jacob Brown, and Andrew Jackson to posts of enlarged responsibility.
In the election of 1812, Madison survived a political challenge from De Witt Clinton, who gathered support from a motley collection of Federalists and discontented Republicans, some of whom wanted a more vigorous and some a less vigorous prosecution of the war. After a scurrilous, even disgraceful campaign, Clinton carried all of New England except Vermont, as well as New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, but Madison's strength elsewhere gave him a 128–89 victory in the electoral college.
Two years of anxiety, frustration, and defeat still faced Madison. Financial and diplomatic headaches increased throughout 1813 as Britain felt emboldened by the effects of Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow, and American armies continued to flounder in the swamps west of Lake Erie. Only toward the end of the year did prospects for successful campaigns against Canada arise, following Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's naval victory on Lake Erie on 10 September and Harrison's defeat of a British and Indian army on the Thames River, north of the lake, on 5 October.
Meanwhile, another inept campaign in New York State and bold excursions by British naval forces in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere along the Atlantic coast left the nation frustrated and apparently defenseless. Disheartened, Madison suffered a near-fatal illness in the summer of 1813, provoking tactless political enemies to wonder how he could "appear at the bar of Immortal Justice" with the "bloody crime" of an unnecessary war on his hands and to hope publicly that the vice president, "scant-patterned old skeleton" Elbridge Gerry, as one Federalist labeled him, would soon follow the "lingering incumbent" to the grave so that a Federalist president of the Senate might rescue the country from its woes. (Gerry did indeed die in November 1814.)
News of Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig and of Wellington's victories in Spain, reaching Washington late in 1813, made it certain, moreover, that Britain would soon have thousands of battle-hardened troops free to assault and punish its former colonies, which, British leaders felt, had attacked treacherously when England was in desperate struggle against the French tyrant. British transports soon brought a fresh army to Canada, and another one appeared in the Chesapeake Bay in the summer of 1814 accompanied by an awesome naval force. An issue of the Times of London that arrived in Washington in June 1814 threatened, "Oh, may no false liberality, no mistaken lenity, no weak and cowardly policy, interpose to save the United States from the blow! Strike! Chastize the savages, for such they are! With Madison and his perjured set no treaty can be made.. . . Our demands may be couched in a single word—Submission!" The French minister to Washington wrote, "The Cabinet is frightened.. . . It has a consciousness of its weakness and of the full strength of its enemy."
Madison tried to organize the defense of the capital, but Secretary Armstrong refused either to heed the president's suggestions or to formulate alternate plans. To make matters worse, the army commander in the region, General William Winder, although earnest and loyal, was inexperienced and incompetent. When British forces landed near Washington on 19 August 1814, Madison, Monroe, and Winder sought to muster and position the untested, largely militia forces. The Americans were outmaneuvered, fought a losing battle at Bladensburg on 24 August, and gave up the capital that afternoon.
The Madisons packed what state papers, valuables, and belongings they could and fled on horseback to Virginia as the British force burned the Capitol, the White House, and other public buildings. For seventy-two hours the exhausted president roamed the Virginia and Maryland countryside, searching for his family, sleeping wherever he could, and trying desperately to keep his army and government in being. He was personally courageous during the crisis and exerted a steadying influence on those around him. For a man of sixty-three, in uncertain health, his physical exertions were remarkable if not foolhardy or heroic.
The British, having humiliated the American government and not intent on permanent occupation, soon withdrew, and Madison returned to the charred and dispirited city on 27 August. He at once, quite properly, dismissed Armstrong and Winder for their serious unfitness in the crisis, and although his own shortcomings were not always those his detractors have charged against him, he does bear ultimate responsibility for the disaster. Sooner than any of his advisers, he warned of the likely motivation for, and place of, the British attack. As Monroe later observed, Washington "might have been saved, had the measures proposed by the President to the heads of departments on the first of July, and advised by them, and ordered by him, been carried into effect."
Madison's faults of conception lay mainly in supposing the militia could be mustered effectively after the British forces appeared and in trusting military command to Winder. A Jackson or a Winfield Scott would almost certainly have foiled the hesitant, poorly executed British campaign against the capital. Madison must bear the blame for Winder's unfortunate appointment as well as for the retention of Armstrong during a period of crisis. Whatever uproar might have followed dismissal of the politically powerful secretary of war, it would have been preferable to his vitiating presence.
Furthermore, if, as is generally warranted by the record, Madison knew that the preparations he deemed essential to the defense of Washington were not being made, he failed as commander in chief in not correcting the situation by whatever means necessary. The dangers and liabilities of almost any course of action likely to lead to correction were as grave as Madison supposed, but it was nevertheless incumbent on him to do something. The events of the summer of 1814 illustrate all too well the inadequacy in wartime of Madison's habitual caution and tendency to let complexities remain unresolved when no clear course of action was available. Although such inclinations are ordinarily virtues, in crises they are calamitous.
Madison's fault was more profound than personal predisposition or the accident of being in the wrong position at the wrong time. Shortly after the president's return to Washington, Navy Secretary Jones, who had worked with him closely for a year and a half and had been with him almost constantly during the preparations, attack, and flight, observed, "The President is virtuous, able and patriotic, but . . . he finds difficulty in accommodating to the crisis some of those political axioms which he has so long indulged, because they have their foundation in virtue, but which from the vicious nature of the times and the absolute necessity of the case require some relaxation." That is, it was, ironically, Madison's very republican virtue that in part unsuited him to be a wartime president.
Madison's understanding of executive conduct did not require or even allow him single-handedly to make up for the reluctance of the people to be ready to defend themselves, for the hesitations of the states to adopt forthright measures, for the ineffectiveness of other executive officers, or for the failure of Congress to authorize and pay for a sufficient war machine. To have done so would, according to Madison's "political axioms," have corroded every virtue necessary to republican government: a responsible citizenry, vital state governments, self-reliant public servants, and respect for legislative leadership. It was, of course, impossible for him to be a Caesar or a Cromwell, but it was also against his nature and deeply held principles to become even a William Pitt or a Hamilton.
Earnest congressmen such as Nathaniel Macon, former President Jefferson, and even, in a lesser way, Gallatin himself managed, with good luck and without becoming gravely irresponsible, to evade the confrontation of republican pieties with the hounds of war thrust painfully and unavoidably on Madison by British arms in the summer of 1814. Madison believed, with much justification, that he could not conduct a war to validate a republican independence in the manner of an imperial proconsul without destroying that cause in the process. Had he done that, his failure would have been a moral one, permanently disastrous to the country. As it was, he only failed, pathetically in many ways, to find the proper blend, discerned by Washington and Lincoln, of stern, vigorous leadership and of republican deference necessary in wartime. The result was a merely temporary anxiety and destruction, perhaps a small price to pay to save the vital political character of the nation.
Although the repossession of the capital, the repulse of British forces before Baltimore (where Madison's prisoner—exchange envoy, Francis Scott Key, saw "by the dawn's early light" on 14 September that "the star-spangled banner yet waved" over Fort McHenry), hard-fought battles on the Niagara frontier, and, most important, the defeat of a British land-and-water invasion of the Champlain Valley on 11 September cheered and heartened Americans, and in fact would eventually cause Britain to seek an end to the war, months were to pass before Madison knew the crisis was over. American commissioners were in Europe with instructions for seeking peace, but in the summer and fall of 1814, British diplomats were still insisting on harsh terms. In the meantime, as another powerful British force gathered in the Gulf of Mexico menacing New Orleans, an enlarged war seemed likely amid heightened domestic difficulties.
Although some Federalists in Congress gave loyal if grudging support of the war effort, extremists, still vociferous and strong, reacted differently. To one plea for support of the administration, a leading Federalist retorted:
How often, in the name of God, will you agree to be cheated? What are you to gain by giving Mr. Madison Men and Money? . . . An union of the commercial states to take care of themselves, leaving the War, its expense and its debts to those choice spirits so ready to declare and so eager to carry it on, seems to be now the only rational course.
Not surprisingly, one visitor in Washington found Madison's thoughts and conversation "full of the New England sedition." To an old friend he wrote:
You are not mistaken in viewing the conduct of the Eastern States as the source of our greatest difficulties in carrying on the war; as it is certainly the greatest, if not the sole, inducement with the enemy to persevere in it. The greater part of the people in that quarter have been brought by their leaders, aided by their priests, under a delusion scarcely exceeded by that recorded in the period of witchcraft; and the leaders are daily becoming more desperate in the use they make of it. Their object is power. If they could obtain it by menaces, their efforts would stop there. These failing, they are ready to go to every length.
In this atmosphere Madison faced more New England resistance to war measures. Massachusetts refused to send militia to meet a British invasion of Maine; Vermont smugglers drove herds of cattle into Canada to feed British troops; Connecticut Federalists talked of a New England army free from federal control; and the Massachusetts legislature called for a convention to plan regional "self-defense" and to decide whether "to lay the foundation for a radical reform in the national compact," a resolution that led to the Hartford Convention of December 1814.
Acting Secretary of War James Monroe found these moves so threatening that he sent the hero of the Battle of Lundy's Lane, Colonel Thomas Jesup, to Hartford, ostensibly as a recruiting officer but actually as a federal agent to watch for possible treason and rebellion. Jesup's unreassuring reports caused Monroe to authorize New York's Governor Daniel D. Tompkins and General Robert Swartwout to send in loyal troops in case of a New England uprising. Only the triumph of relative moderates at the Hartford Convention persuaded Monroe and Madison to relax from a posture of armed preparedness against potential domestic insurrection.
All this watchful concern by the administration occurred without whipping up the public against the dissenters, without attempting to interfere with the Hartford Convention, and without any special declarations of emergency or other measures that might have led to detentions, strictures on the press, threats to public meetings, or other curtailments of civil liberties. It might be argued, of course, that to praise such restraint is to make a virtue of necessity, since the degree of disaffection in New England was such that Madison could not have coerced the home territory of Daniel Shays even if he had tried. At the very least some stiff fighting might have ensued, but the temptation and perhaps the force for a repressive policy existed.
For the time being at least, British forces in Canada were discouraged and quiescent as attention focused on New Orleans, so the veterans of Plattsburg and the Niagara frontier, now battle-tested and under vigorous, young leadership, were available for service. A few regiments marched to Hartford, Springfield, or even Boston might have cowed the dissidents and emboldened national sentiment in the region. Furthermore, politically the Republicans might have relished an opportunity to brand their foes as traitors and perhaps discredit them for a generation. Again one need only imagine what Hamilton, who had mobilized an army against the whiskey rebels, might have done in New England in 1814 to see the point.
On 4 February 1815 long-delayed news of climactic events that had happened thousands of miles away finally reached the gloomy, anxious capital. First came word of an astonishing American victory on 8 January at New Orleans: Andrew Jackson's frontier army, drawn up behind breastworks and ably prepared and commanded, had destroyed a battle-hardened British army that advanced courageously but fruitlessly against the American lines. The British lost seven hundred killed, fourteen hundred wounded, and five hundred captured, to American casualties of seven killed and six wounded. Then, on 14 February, came news that a peace treaty with Britain had in fact been signed at Ghent, Belgium, on Christmas Eve, 1814.
For Madison, these events were immensely gratifying. Jackson's victory not only rescued the nation from a sense of military inferiority but also achieved a goal Madison had sought for thirty-five years: secure American possession of New Orleans and the great valley it controlled. Now, with Spain prostrate, France conquered, and Britain utterly defeated at the very gates of New Orleans itself, a century and a half of strife and changing control had ended; the red sea of British dead created by the fire of Jackson's men dramatically and finally underscored American possession of the western empire. Madison knew the cheering throngs that filled the streets of Washington were celebrating the most important triumph of American arms since Yorktown.
The Treaty of Ghent contained not one of the humiliating conditions insisted upon by the British the previous August and thus restored all American territory occupied by British forces; recognized American rights on the Mississippi, the Great Lakes, and the Newfoundland fishing banks; placed the two countries on equal grounds commercially; and, by neither confirming nor denying impressment and other maritime rights, left these matters to the almost surely benign consequences of peace. Thus, although the treaty in one way seemed to settle nothing, merely restoring the status quo antebellum, ignoring the maritime grievances so often proclaimed as the cause of the war, and leaving many disputed matters to be settled later by commissions, in fact the United States, by standing up to Britain, had won a second war of independence.
The Senate ratified the treaty unanimously, and on 17 February, Madison declared the conflict ended. Celebrations again resounded throughout the nation, as not only were its independence and honor rescued but, with dazzling trade prospects opened, an era of growth and prosperity seemed assured. Furthermore, these glorious events, coming as they did when internal dissension and financial chaos threatened but before the Madison administration had to take repressive steps, seemed to vindicate the whole republican concept of government. This, of course, was Madison's only real war aim and the crowning achievement of his public life.
Madison as National Leader and Elder Statesman
With the return of peace, Madison sought out policies that would allow the nation to fulfill its potential. He gave top civilian and military appointments to able and proven colleagues—Monroe, Gallatin, John Quincy Adams, Commodores John Rodgers and David Porter, and Generals Jackson and Winfield Scott, for example—in whom the whole nation took pride. He also provided leadership to Congress in his annual message of December 1815, recommending a rechartered Bank of the United States, an equitable commercial treaty with Great Britain, a mildly protective tariff, a small but high-quality defense establishment, a national university, and a program of internal improvements authorized by a constitutional amendment.
This broad, national program was for Madison a propitious return to the high hopes he had shared with Jefferson and Gallatin in 1801–1804, before the ten-year hiatus forced on the nation by the traumatic, nearly overwhelming effects of the Napoleonic Wars. With the Hamiltonian engine in part restrained or dismantled and the nation's republican institutions validated and strengthened by their wartime testing, it was possible to use them for the public interest, and it was the responsibility of the president to articulate that interest. Although it was the task of Congress to legislate, the need for both practical and symbolic leadership was still crucial. Madison thus furnished steady, principled guidance during two years of national euphoria.
Viewed in this light, Henry Adams' often repeated criticism that Madison found himself forced to become a federalist in order to govern properly becomes a half-truth. He was, as Jefferson had claimed for himself, a federalist in that he saw virtue in active national leadership and other federalist principles, but Madison neither abandoned republican precepts nor sought to embrace federalism in its partisan guise. Rather, he intended to eliminate party itself from public life. It was not only safe but essential in 1815 to provide presidential leadership, within widely acknowledged republican guidelines, for the nation as a whole; and in order to do this, the president would have, as much as possible, to rise above partisanship.
Madison (and the other pre-Jackson presidents), rather than supposing it was necessary for the chief executive, even in the White House, to be a vigorous, unabashed party leader, accepted the view that good leadership had to be nonpartisan. Madison knew, of course, that no human being can entirely transcend a partial view, but he would also have insisted that, especially in executive office, it is important to deemphasize party and faction and neutralize them as much as possible, as he had argued in The Federalist (paper no. 10). He further recognized there that special-interest, pluralist politics were "sown in the nature of man" and were "nourished" by the very air of free government. But Madison also believed that the serious intention and the obvious stance of the president to subordinate party (partial) interests and needs, if consistently kept in mind and in public view, would make a difference both in how he acted and in how the nation responded to him. Such an intention and such a stance, moreover, were especially important in a republic because they might influence public perceptions of the presidency and thus affect the range and character of leadership possible in the nation.
Madison's realism about the irrepressible causes of faction led him, in framing the Constitution, to guard against their influence and against any concentration of power that would allow greed and ambition to be dangerous to liberty. But he also regarded virtuous (that is, nonpartisan) leadership as vital to the public good, and he was willing, indeed determined, to encourage such leadership even if it meant putting some restraint on direct, popular government. In so acting, moreover, Madison believed not that he showed hostility to self-government but rather that he was being a wise and creative democrat. As his collaborator Jefferson said so clearly and so often, the true test of a republic was whether or not it cultivated talent and virtue. Neither he nor Madison, furthermore, ever doubted that wise leadership, above party, could provide critical assistance in meeting that test. Such, at any rate, was the aspiration, the republican commitment, and the conception of the presidency that guided Madison as he first devised and later filled the office that for two centuries has focused the hopes as well as the forebodings of the American people.
In retirement at Montpelier, his plantation in Orange County, Virginia, Madison and his vivacious, supremely sociable wife, Dolley, enjoyed twenty years of happy visiting with family, old friends, and semiofficial guests (most notably, the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824) who wanted to see and talk with the sage soon to be known as the Father of the Constitution. Madison remained active politically both as an adviser to public officials and as a participant in some especially favored activities. As long as Monroe was president, Madison wrote and conferred with him regularly, especially on the intricate and momentous settlements in foreign policy with Europe and Latin America that culminated in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.
Letters exchanged and visits enjoyed with Gallatin, Richard Rush, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Martin Van Buren kept Madison in close touch with the nation's affairs well into the Jacksonian era. Most important, he took a leading role in combating the nullification movement, especially in denying, directly and authoritatively, that the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 had advocated that doctrine.
He continued a lifelong interest in scientific farming as president of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle, served for a time as president of the antislavery American Colonization Society, and attended the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829, where he sought both to diminish the power of Tide-water slaveholders and to extend the franchise. His most sustained public service, however, was to assist Jefferson in founding the University of Virginia and then to serve as its rector for eight years following Jefferson's death in 1826.
Although for ten years or so after his retirement Madison's health remained good enough to allow him to supervise his own farm daily and to make journeys to see many Virginia friends (including semiannual visits with Jefferson and Monroe near Charlottesville, twenty-five miles away), rheumatism and stomach disorders gradually confined him to Montpelier. There he spent most of his time arranging his voluminous papers and especially preparing his full and uniquely valuable notes on the debates of the Convention of 1787 for posthumous publication (published in three volumes in 1839, they became the leading source for understanding that signal event). In wide correspondence and frequent visits with dozens of historians and scholars, the learned, well-informed former president exerted a profound and judicious influence on the recording of the early history of the United States. In 1833 and 1834 his health failed seriously and he was confined to the fireside of his sitting room, where he died quietly on 28 June 1836, the last survivor of those who had played a leading role in the founding of the Republic.
William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 23 vols. (Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–), is the full, definitive publication of Madison's papers, including letters written to him, now complete in 17 volumes to 1801, and with beginning volumes in the Secretary of State Series ed. by Robert J. Brugger, et al. (5 vols.) and the Presidential Series, ed. by Robert A. Rutland et al. (4 vols.). Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison, 9 vols. (New York, 1900–1910), is the best source for Madison's writings not yet reprinted in The Papers of James Madison. Marvin Meyers, ed., The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison (Indianapolis, Ind., 1973), provides a useful selection of Madison's writings.
Irving Brant, James Madison, 6 vols. (Indianapolis, Ind., 1941–1961), gives a detailed, fully sympathetic account of Madison's life. Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (New York, 1971; Charlottesville, Va., 1990), is a full-length biography. Robert A. Rutland, The Presidency of James Madison (Lawrence, Kans., 1990), is a sympathetic account of that subject. William Lee Miller, The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding (Charlottesville, Va., 1992), and Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York, 1996), are excellent studies of Madison's uniquely important role during the founding era, 1786–1791.
J. C. A. Stagg, Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830 (Princeton, N.J., 1983), is the authoritative study of both the coming and the conduct of the War of 1812. Drew R. McCoy, The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy (New York, 1989), provides a valuable interpretation of the last parts of Madison's career. Robert A. Rutland, ed., James Madison and the American Nation, 1751–1836: An Encyclopedia (New York, 1994), contains four hundred entries on Madison and his times.
Recent works include Garry Wills, James Madison (New York, 2002), and Gary Rosen, American Compact: James Madison and the Problem of Founding (Lawrence, Kans., 1999).
Born March 16, 1751 (Port Conway, Virginia)
Died June 28, 1836 (Montpelier, Virginia)
U.S. president, secretary of state
Between 1780 and 1817, James Madison's overriding goal was the success of American independence. Madison directed key aspects of the formation of the new nation. At the age of twenty-nine, he produced a plan for ceding (giving up) Virginia's western land claims, a plan that prompted the successful ratification (approval) of the nation's first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. When barely thirty-five, Madison worked with the Virginia legislature to pass a document written by his friend Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; see entry in volume 1) that provided a basis for religious freedom in America. At thirty-six, he was the chief author of the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted by the states in 1788. A year later, he pulled together suggestions by the states for additions to the Constitution; these additions became the Bill of Rights. For eight years, from 1801 to 1809, he served under President Jefferson as secretary of state. From 1809 until 1817, Madison served as the nation's fourth president. He retired feeling convinced that American independence was secured.
"The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated."
Born on March 16, 1751, to James Madison Sr. (1723–1801) and Nelly Conway Madison (1732–1829), James was the first of eleven children. He grew up on a prosperous tobacco plantation in Virginia called Montpelier, which was home to over one hundred slaves.
James's early education with tutor Donald Robertson between 1762 and 1767 instilled in him a love of learning. His second teacher, the Reverend Thomas Martin, was a graduate of Princeton, then called the Presbyterian College of New Jersey. Most likely at Martin's urging, young Madison decided to attend Princeton rather than the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, where most sons of wealthy Virginians were educated.
Madison left for Princeton in 1769. Intent on his studies, he graduated in only two and a half years at the age of twenty. His rigorous regimen of study, which was self-imposed, left him exhausted. He recovered at Montpelier while helping his father manage the property. However, Madison's first interest was reading and learning all he could. Madison Sr. allowed his son to order books on many subjects—philosophy, law, economics, sciences, literature, history, and politics. Madison could competently read books written in French, Greek, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Hebrew.
Public life begins
Madison's life took a new meaning when the first shots of the American Revolution (1775–83) were fired at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Madison wholeheartedly embraced separation from Britain and creation of a republican form of government, one run for and by the people. Orange County voters elected him as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1776 in Williamsburg. On June 7, 1776, the convention delegates adopted the Declaration of Rights and a constitution written by a fellow delegate, George Mason (1725–1792).
Twenty-five-year-old Madison made a favorable and lasting impression on the other Virginia delegates. His next official duty was to serve on Virginia's Privy Council or Council of State. The council aided Governor Patrick Henry (1736–1799) in carrying out his duties. In 1777, those duties generally had to do with the war effort and included recruiting soldiers and ordering supplies. Madison kept a close watch on the war's progress. He had become a revolutionary through and through, and from this time on, his whole life was dedicated to the success of the American Revolution.
In June 1778, the General Assembly of Virginia chose Madison as a delegate to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia. Madison declined, saying he preferred serving on the Council of State. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson succeeded Henry as governor, so for the first of many occasions, Madison
James Madison and the Library of Congress
James Madison was a bibliophile, a lover of books. He began his library at his home in Montpelier, Orange County, Virginia. His father allowed James to purchase books on any topic that he found interesting. James was interested in most subjects—philosophy, law, economics, sciences, literature, history, and politics. He could also read in six languages—French, Greek, Italian, Latin, Spanish, and Hebrew—so his library was not confined to books written in English. By the time Madison retired to Montpelier in 1817, his library contained several thousand books, less than one-third in English.
When Madison was a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress in 1783, he naturally volunteered to serve on a committee called the Committee on Books. Congress hoped to start a library for congressional research and asked the committee to look into the idea. Madison made a list of three hundred titles that should be purchased for such a library. The titles included books on law, politics, history, geography, war, language, and subjects related to the United States. The three hundred titles represented about thirteen hundred volumes. The list, in Madison's handwriting and dated January 24, 1783, is still preserved at the modern Library of Congress. Unfortunately in 1783, Congress had no funds for a library, so the list was never used.
In 1800, Congress passed an act signed by President John Adams that established the Library of Congress. It was first housed in one room in the first and only completed wing of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Congress appropriated $5,000 to buy books. Between 1801 and 1814, the library's collections grew rapidly under the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, another bibliophile, and Madison. During the War of 1812, British troops almost completely destroyed the collection when they marched on Washington and set fire to all the government buildings. Immediately, President Madison signed an act of Congress to buy Jefferson's private library of 6,487 books to replace the collections lost in the fire. Thereafter, the library continued to grow.
In 1897, the library moved into an elaborate sandstone building just east of the Capitol. A second library building was completed in 1938. In 1980, the third building, the largest library building in the world, was completed and named the James Madison Memorial Building. The 1897 structure was renamed the Thomas Jefferson Building, and the 1938 building was renamed the John Adams Building in honor of the nation's second president. These three buildings make up the Library of Congress, the world's largest library. They house 130 million items—books and other printed material, recordings, photographs, maps, and manuscripts—that are available for use by Congress and the American people.
served under Jefferson. Madison immediately liked the personable Jefferson and enjoyed conversing with him. Likewise, Jefferson took note of Madison's intellect, energy, and commitment to the cause of American independence. Jefferson and Madison began what would be almost fifty years of cooperation and friendship. However, Madison's time under Jefferson ended when the Virginia General Assembly insisted that Madison join the state's delegation at the Continental Congress.
Serving in the Continental Congress
Madison arrived in Philadelphia in March 1780 to begin his service in the Virginia delegation at the Continental Congress. Madison's two primary accomplishments during his almost three-year stay in Congress involved the cession of western claims by states and fierce support for U.S. navigation rights on the Mississippi River.
When Madison took his seat in Congress, the ratification process of the Articles of Confederation was stalled. The chief obstacle to approval was disagreement among the states over ownership and use of western lands, which at that time meant the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
Madison came up with an idea about how to resolve the issue of western land use. By January 1781, he produced a plan for cession of Virginia's western claims; the document was called "Virginia's Cession of Western Lands to the United States." The plan suggested that Virginia give up its western land claims to Congress so that the land could be used for the common good of all the states. It also provided a cession model for the six other states holding western claims. Several years of negotiation between Congress and Virginia followed before the plan was agreed to. Nevertheless, the other states realized in 1781 that if Virginia, America's most influential state, was willing to cede its claims, the rest of the states holding claims should do likewise. When Madison submitted his proposal, Maryland was the only state still holding back its approval of the Articles of Confederation. Once they were convinced that all the states holding claims would give up their lands, Mary-land's delegates signed the Articles on March 1, 1781, and the nation's first constitution was officially in force.
The second issue that consumed a large part of Madison's time was navigation rights on the Mississippi River. Pioneers in the Ohio River valley and those settled in western areas bordering the Mississippi, such as Kentucky, needed to send their goods to market down the Mississippi and through the port of New Orleans to the east coast and Europe. Spain held claim to the Mississippi and to New Orleans and harassed American boatmen, occasionally closing the port at New Orleans. Madison fiercely defended U.S. rights on the Mississippi, and eventually U.S. navigation claims were secured.
Aside from congressional matters, Madison found time in 1783 to court and propose marriage to sixteen-year-old Catherine Floyd, the daughter of Continental congressman William Floyd (1734–1821) of New York. However, within the year, Catherine broke off the engagement. A disappointed Madison wrote to his friend Jefferson to tell him of this woeful love affair.
Return to Virginia
At the end of his term in late 1783, Madison returned to Montpelier and tried to interest himself in plantation management and perhaps training to become a lawyer. Neither subject held his attention, and he felt rescued when in April 1784 Orange County elected him to the Virginia House of Delegates. For the next three years, Madison attended legislative sessions in the House of Delegates in the fall and winter. His major accomplishment was successfully shepherding the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom through the Virginia legislature. Religious freedom was a hotly debated topic in the states. The statute, written by Jefferson with Madison's help, stated that an individual was free to decide all religious matters for himself—religious freedom was a natural right. Historians recognize the document as the most important step toward religious freedom in America.
In the spring and summer, when the House of Delegates was not in session, Madison spent time at Montpelier and also traveled to the growing northern cities, especially Philadelphia and New York. Besides spending long hours in the cities' bookstores, he listened to people talk about their growing disenchantment with the Articles, which were proving too weak to hold the states in line. The Articles contained no plan for a national executive (president) or national court system, no way to tax the people to raise needed funds, and no way to regulate foreign trade alliances.
States in competitive turmoil
By 1786, the cooperation that had existed between the states during the Revolution had given way to mistrust, jealousy, and conflict. Each state issued its own currency and squabbled over its worth. States imposed taxes on each other. They made trade agreements with foreign nations to gain the upper hand over their neighboring states. The confused, deteriorating trade conditions made it difficult for Virginia planters to sell and export their products and to obtain loans to expand. In addition to economic turmoil over trade issues, the states were increasing taxes to pay for their war debts. Businessmen often passed on these taxes to farmers in the form of higher priced goods. Farmers had little money to pay for goods in the first place. Taking matters into their own hands, in August 1786 some Massachusetts farmers protested in the streets, and by spring of 1787 they were closing down state courts before being stopped by the Massachusetts militia. The protest was known as Shays's Rebellion.
Madison looked at the financial and trade problems with real misgivings. Fellow Virginian George Washington (1732–1799; see entry in volume 2), who had commanded the Continental Army during the Revolution, wrote to Madison that he feared a collapse of the union and all that had been won in the war might be lost. Madison also received letters from Jefferson, who was serving as minister to France. Jefferson said that European officials thought the young nation would soon collapse. Madison shuddered to think of such a possibility.
Making a start at state cooperation, a concerned Madison, together with Washington and Edmund Randolph (1753–1813; see entry in volume 2), called a meeting between Virginia and Maryland in the spring of 1785. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss commercial uses of the Potomac River, which flowed between the two states. The meeting, held at Mount Vernon, was successful, and the two states made plans to meet again. By the summer of 1786, the plans had grown to include all the states; the meeting was scheduled to begin in September in Annapolis, Maryland. Only five states—Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey—showed up, but they made a momentous decision. Led by Madison and Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804; see entry in volume 1), a brilliant young lawyer from New York, the states in attendance decided to call for a general meeting of all states to consider changing and strengthening the Articles of Confederation.
Constitutional Convention of 1787
Declining national economic conditions and the fear of another incident similar to Shays's Rebellion gave the states a strong incentive to attend the proposed meeting; it was clear that the Articles were not adequately serving the nation or the individual states. Seven state legislatures immediately authorized delegates. The Continental Congress, now meeting in New York City, put out an official call for the states to meet the second Monday in May 1787 in Philadelphia. Although not called such at the time, this meeting would become the Constitutional Convention of 1787. All states except Rhode Island attended.
During the winter of 1786–87, Madison prepared extensively for the meetings. He read all he could gather about different government systems both modern and ancient; he studied ideas about what a government should be and how it could be put together. Madison wrote to Jefferson in France for books about European political histories. Jefferson responded by sending him one hundred volumes. Through his studies, Madison became convinced that it was useless to merely fix the Articles. Instead, Madison would propose that a new constitution be written to create a new structure of government.
The Philadelphia convention was scheduled to begin on May 14, but because of heavy rain and extremely muddy roads, many delegates arrived late, and the convention did not begin until May 25. Madison had arrived early on May 3. Governor Randolph had also arrived early. While waiting for more delegates to arrive, Madison took advantage of the time to craft the Virginia Plan, his plan for a new frame of government.
When the convention finally got under way on May 25, 1787, the delegates chose General George Washington to preside as president of the convention. Major William Jackson (1759–1828) was designated secretary for the convention but did not carefully record the proceedings. If it had not been for Madison, little detail would be known about the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Madison chose a seat up front close to Washington and took comprehensive notes on everything that was said. He would not miss even one hour of the entire four-month convention and addressed the convention 161 times.
Although not authorized by Congress to do so, the convention quickly moved to throw out the Articles and devise a new form of government; in other words, they decided to write an entirely new national constitution. The Virginia delegation took a leadership role from the start. Governor Randolph read the Virginia Plan on May 29 and 30, though everyone present knew that Madison was the author of the plan. Historians assume Madison believed Randolph's tall stature would create a more commanding presence as he read. Madison stood only 5 feet 4 inches tall and did not present an imposing figure.
The Virginia Plan called for replacing the single-house Continental Congress with a powerful two-house legislature; it also proposed the addition of a president or executive, a national court system, and a system of checks and balances, measures to keep the three branches of government balanced in their powers. Although the original details of the plan were significantly altered through debate and compromise, the basic ideas proposed by Madison stood. Madison played a dominant role in deliberations, and history remembers him as the "Father of the Constitution."
Federalist Papers and ratification
The new constitution was sent to the states for ratification in September 1787. People who favored ratification were called Federalists; they supported a strong central or federal government. Those who opposed ratification were called Anti-Federalists. Madison teamed with Alexander Hamilton and statesman John Jay (1745–1829) of New York to anonymously write essays explaining why the Constitution should be ratified. The essays, called the Federalist Papers, were published in newspapers throughout the states. In total, the three men wrote eighty-five essays presenting the Federalist position. Madison authored twenty-nine of the essays, including the most famous, Federalist Paper, Number 10. His essays are considered the most important original analysis of the U.S. system of government ever written.
Only nine states needed to approve the Constitution to put it into effect, but by the end of July 1788, eleven had ratified and the Constitution became the law of the land. Only North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet ratified. The chief obstacle to ratification had been the lack of a bill of rights, a basic set of individual liberties that could never be taken away. During the ratification debates, various states had sent to Congress their requests for changes or additions to the Constitution; these were called amendments. Madison, who was now serving in the House of Representatives, combined the many recommendations into a concise list of twelve amendments. By December 15, 1791, the states had ratified ten of the twelve amendments. Those ten became the Bill of Rights.
Political parties develop
Madison understood the intent of the Constitution better than anyone in the country, and he advised George Washington, the nation's first president, on what it allowed. Madison also played an active role in helping Washington choose a permanent site for the U.S. capital, on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. Washington called on Madison to write his speeches. When Washington considered stepping down from the presidency in 1792, Madison prepared a farewell speech. Washington did not step down, instead choosing to serve out the remainder of his second term in 1797, but parts of his famous Farewell Address, a published statement that announced his retirement, were written by Madison in 1792.
During Washington'ssecondterm, Madison and Washington parted ways over constitutional issues. Washington looked more and more to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton for direction in solving the nation's financial difficulties. Hamilton supported establishment of a national bank. He also wanted to build up the nation's navy and commercial shipping fleet. Bankers and merchants favored this approach. Madison opposed establishment of a national bank because it was not called for in the Constitution. Madison and Jefferson, longtime friends who shared similar political views, opposed the national bank, intended to keep taxes low, and had no desire to build up the navy. Farmers tended to side with Madison and Jefferson. Two political parties emerged.
Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams (1735–1826; see entry in volume 1), Washington's vice president, along with many bankers and merchants, became known as Federalists. Madison and Jefferson, and like-minded farmers, were called Republicans (or later, Democratic-Republicans). The Republicans of the 1790s were entirely different from the modern Republican Party, which formed in the mid-1850s.
After two terms as president, Washington decided not to run again. At the time, ordinary citizens did not vote directly in presidential elections. Instead, electors chosen from each state cast votes for president. Whoever got the most votes was president, and whoever got the second most was vice president. In the 1796 election, the Federalist candidate, John Adams, received the most votes, seventy-one, and the Democratic-Republican candidate, Thomas Jefferson, came in second with sixty-eight. So in 1796, the nation had a president and vice president aligned with different political parties. Madison was offered a diplomatic mission to France, which he declined.
Dolley and solidifying beliefs
Madison went home to Montpelier in early 1797 to be with his wife, Dolley Madison (1768–1849; see entry in volume 2). Dolley and Madison had married in September 1794 after only a few months of courtship. Dolley grew up in Virginia and Philadelphia. She first married lawyer John Todd, but he died in the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. Dolley's energy would help sustain Madison through the rest of his public career. They remained at Montpelier until 1801.
Madison and Jefferson wrote to each other frequently and together solidified their ideas about how the U.S. republic should operate. Madison and Jefferson championed the common people, believing that they could make good decisions on political issues and cast thoughtful votes. They also believed that the rights and liberties of all people, not just the majority, had to be protected. Increasing numbers of Americans and newly arrived immigrants joined the Democratic-Republican side.
Federalists, on the other hand, tended to believe that the country would be run best by wealthy, highly educated men. Federalists began to see their numbers declining. Many newspapers, favoring the Democratic-Republican view, criticized President Adams, a Federalist, and the Federalist-controlled Congress. Congress lashed back by passing the Alien and Sedition Laws.
Alien and Sedition Laws
The Alien and Sedition Laws clearly infringed on civil rights (the basic rights that belong to individuals by virtue of their citizenship). The Alien Laws made it more difficult for immigrants to become U.S. citizens and allowed the president to expel or imprison an alien without giving a specific reason. An alien is a person who holds citizenship in one country but resides in a different country. The Sedition Act provided heavy fines and imprisonment for anyone writing, publishing, or speaking in a manner considered critical of the government or its officials. Ultimately, the Alien Laws were never used, but a number of newspapermen were charged under the Sedition Act.
Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions
In 1798 and 1799, Democratic-Republicans fought hard against the Alien and Sedition Laws. Madison and Jefferson anonymously wrote resolutions denouncing the Alien and Sedition Laws as unconstitutional, meaning that the laws went against the intent of the Constitution. Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolution, which Kentucky's legislature passed. Madison wrote the Virginia Resolution, which Virginia's General Assembly passed. The resolutions declared the Alien and Sedition Laws to be null and void, in essence saying states had the right to declare laws passed by Congress unconstitutional. Jefferson and Madison were soon disappointed, however, because no other states agreed that it was within state power to decide the constitutionality of congressional laws. The debates over Madison and Jefferson's resolutions led the Supreme Court in 1803 to adopt the role of ruling on the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress. The Constitution did not specifically say the Supreme Court had or did not have such power.
Although most states failed to adopt the resolutions, the debate focused opposition against the Federalist-written Alien and Sedition Laws. The laws proved disastrous for the Federalists in the presidential election of 1800. Democratic-Republicans won the election, and Jefferson became the nation's third president. He appointed Madison as his secretary of state.
Secretary of state
Madison served as Jefferson's secretary of state, his right-hand man, for the entire Jefferson presidency, from March 1801 until March 1809. Madison's wife, Dolley, also played a key role. Because Jefferson was a widower, Dolley took on the duties of official hostess at presidential social functions.
President Jefferson and Madison set about dismantling some Federalist policies that they found unacceptable. The hated Alien and Sedition Laws expired in 1801, and Congress, now controlled by Democratic-Republicans, failed to renew them. Both the president and Madison were determined to reduce the national debt, and they were successful. By the time Madison took over the presidency in 1809, the debt had been reduced from $83 million in 1801 to $57 million. With no war threatening, they reduced the navy and army that Presidents Washington and Adams had built up. At the urging of Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin (1761–1849; see entry in volume 1), a wizard with figures and finance, Jefferson and Madison kept the Federalist-established national bank.
Undoubtedly the most important happening during Madison's first four years as secretary of state was the purchase of Louisiana from France, a land deal that doubled the size of the United States. Louisiana referred to an immense region west of the Mississippi River from New Orleans north to Canada and west to the Rocky Mountains. Jefferson was easily reelected in November 1804, and Madison remained at his side as secretary of state.
As soon as Jefferson's second term began, war between Britain and France erupted after a few years of peace between the two old enemies. Jefferson and Madison held to a policy of neutrality, not favoring either side. They insisted neutrality gave the United States the right to continue freely trading with any foreign country as long as the trade did not involve war materials. Neither Britain nor France recognized such a right, and both warring countries seized American merchant ships when they had the opportunity to do so. Britain seized sailors from these ships as well, an action called impressment. British seamen would board American ships, seize crew members, and force them to work on British ships.
Jefferson decided to try to force Britain and France to stop their seizure of American ships by passing the Embargo Act. Madison agreed with the move, as he firmly believe dinusing economic controls or sanctions on other countries. Besides, they had reduced the U.S. Navy to only four ships, so going to war was not an option. The Embargo Act, passed on December 22, 1807, banned all U.S. merchant ships from sailing to foreign ports. It also prohibited foreign ships from carrying American goods away from U.S. ports. Jefferson and Madison believed that Britain and France relied on American goods and that they would agree to halt seizure of Americans hips so trade with America could resume.
The act backfired, crippling the U.S. economy rather than Britain and France. Exports (goods leaving the country) and imports (goods coming into the country) plummeted. Mid-Atlantic farmers saw wheat prices fall from $2 to 75 cents a bushel. Southern farmers saw tobacco and cotton stack up on wharves because there were no buyers. New Englanders, who relied most heavily on international shipping from their ports, felt great resentment over the Embargo Act.
Although the Embargo Act increased public support for the Federalist Party, the Democratic-Republican base was still widespread among ordinary Americans. Jefferson's exceptional ability to relate to the public outweighed his problems as president. Knowing Madison would most likely become the next president, Jefferson was ready to retire to his Virginia home at Monticello. Madison, the Democratic-Republican candidate for president in 1808, received 122 electoral votes, while Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746–1825), the Federalist candidate, received 47 votes.
President Madison inherited from Jefferson a country with major economic woes, primarily because of the Embargo Act. To make matters worse, the nation was creeping toward another war with European powers. Just before Madison took office in early 1809, Congress replaced the Embargo Act with the Intercourse Act, which restricted trade with Britain and France, but not other countries. Again, instead of easing trade restrictions on the United States to revive trade, Britain and France stubbornly continued seizing American ships and further closing ports to U.S. trade.
Out of desperation, Congress passed Macon's Bill No. 2 in May 1810. It temporarily lifted all trade restrictions against Britain and France, but promised to keep the restrictions lifted against whichever country lifted their restrictions against the United States while reimposing restrictions against the other country. In essence, the United States promised to economically assist whichever country quit harassing U.S. ships first. French leader Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821) announced he would repeal the French restrictions. Eager for any kind of resolution, Madison in November 1810 announced that France had complied with Macon's Bill and that the United States would therefore place restrictions on British trade once again. Trade with France resumed, while the United States and Britain grew further apart.
The midterm congressional elections in the fall of 1810 brought major changes to Congress. The government's failure to stop British seizures of American ships and sailors was a major source of public disgust. The country elected a group of twenty to thirty congressmen, primarily from the South and West and all Democratic-Republicans, who were eager to go to war with Britain to reclaim American honor. These congressmen became known as war hawks. Meanwhile, the Federalists, who were concentrated in the New England region, demanded that Madison resume trade with Britain and not go to war. New England merchants and manufacturers needed to ship their products to Britain. Madison himself wanted to avoid a declaration of war and was dismayed over the split in the nation.
The conflict with Britain over seizures of American ships and sailors continued in the spring of 1811. The war hawks wanted the U.S. Navy to begin escorting American merchant ships across the Atlantic. In May, a British warship approached an American merchant ship escorted by the U.S.S. President. The President fired on the British ship, killing several crewmen. War seemed close at hand.
With not even the slightest hint from Britain that it might halt the seizures and restrictions on U.S. trade, Madison felt he had no choice but to take the nation to war. In early June 1812, he delivered a war message to Congress. On June 18, Congress declared war against Britain. All Federalists in Congress voted against the war, but most Democratic-Republicans supported Madison's decision, with the exception of fourteen Democratic-Republicans from the North.
The British had actually been suffering a great deal from not being able to trade with America; therefore, on June 23, 1812, Britain revoked its restrictions on U.S. trade. However, the news took weeks to cross the Atlantic, and no one in America knew of Britain's decision before war was already declared.
The United States was ill prepared for war. During Jefferson's administration, the army and navy had been slashed. There was little money to rebuild them. Most of America's military officers were aging veterans of the American Revolution. Congress decided that state militias would fight the war. By the end of 1812, "Mr. Madison's War," as it was called, was not going well. Aside from some amazing U.S. victories on the Great Lakes and on the high seas, carried out by two U.S. ships, the Constellation and the Constitution, Britain had the upper hand. Nevertheless, in November 1812, Madison was reelected to a second term.
The low point of the war came in August 1814. The British landed in Chesapeake Bay and marched down the streets of Washington, D.C., burning every public building, including the Capitol and the President's House. Dolley Madison's courageous attempts to save a few American treasures, such as a portrait of George Washington, became legendary. The British next turned on Baltimore and bombarded Fort McHenry. After a long night, the fort held, and Americans rejoiced.
In September 1814, Americans had another victory to celebrate. A small fleet of four ships commanded by thirty-year-old U.S. commodore Thomas Macdonough (1783–1825) turned back a British advance on Lake Champlain in northern New York state. Macdonough's heroic efforts probably saved New York City.
A weary Madison had sent five diplomats to Ghent, Belgium, to begin negotiations with Britain to end the war. The group was led by John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), son of the second U.S. president, John Adams. John Quincy Adams would later become the sixth U.S. president. In the fall of 1814, news of the failed British invasions and the destruction in Washington, D.C., subdued the mood on both sides of the negotiating table in Ghent. Demands stopped, and the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814. News that General Andrew Jackson (1767–1845; see entry in volume 1) had defeated some eight thousand British troops at New Orleans on January 8, 1815, reached Washington, D.C., about the same time as the news of the peace treaty. Some Americans mistakenly thought the victory at New Orleans had spurred the treaty signing. Although the war had essentially ended in a draw, Americans praised Madison for not giving in. Madison and his fellow Americans were eager to move forward to a time of peace and rebuild the Capitol and the economy.
Madison completed his final two years in Washington in a time of peace and prosperity. Trade with European nations normalized for both New England merchants and American farmers. Madison worked closely with his secretary of state, James Monroe (1758–1831; see entry in volume 2), hoping that Monroe would become the fifth president. In November 1816, Monroe was the third Democratic-Republican to be elected president.
The Madisons packed and returned to Montpelier at the end of March 1817. They hosted many guests in their home. They also spent hours arranging old saved correspondence and writing new letters. Madison rode around his property, taking a greater interest in agriculture than ever before.
Madison visited Jefferson at Monticello as often as he could. When Jefferson died in 1826, Madison succeeded him as head of the University of Virginia, which was founded by Jefferson. Madison also served as president of the American Colonization Society, which advocated sending slaves to Africa to set up their own colony. Disturbed by the increasing unrest over the issue of slavery, he hoped this might be a good solution. Despite the slavery matter, Madison believed the American Revolution, which had begun in 1775, had at last been won. Madison dictated his last public message, "Advice to My Country," to Dolley. He died on June 28, 1836.
For More Information
Brant, Irving. James Madison. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941-61.
Rakove, Jack N. James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman/Little, Brown Higher Education, 1990. Reprint, New York: Longman, 2002.
Rutland, Robert A. James Madison and the Search for Nationhood. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1981.
Rutland, Robert A. James Madison: The Founding Father. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Reprint, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.
Rutland, Robert A., ed. James Madison and the American Nation, 1751–1836:An Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Wills, Garry. James Madison. New York: Times Books, 2002.
"First Invasion: The War of 1812." The History Channel.http://www.historychannel.com/1812/ (accessed on August 17, 2005).
The James Madison Center.http://www.jmu.edu/madison/center/home.htm (accessed on August 17, 2005).
James Madison's Montpelier.http://www.montpelier.org/ (accessed on August 17, 2005).
Born March 16, 1751
Port Conway, Virginia
Died June 28, 1836
Politician, president of the United States
James Madison was a guiding light among the group of men who created and defended the United States Constitution, which established a government structure that continues to survive. A shy person of small stature—he stood only five feet, four inches tall and weighed about one hundred pounds—Madison achieved greatness as a political thinker. He was devoted to balancing the interests of the Union with individual liberties, and he was good at making compromises to achieve that balance. While serving as president during the unpopular and problematic War of 1812, Madison was criticized for weak leadership. Yet when the war was over, Americans were more optimistic than they had ever been, and Madison's popularity rose again. He is credited with leading the United States in a valiant struggle to retain its independence and national honor during the war.
A privileged childhood
James Madison was born into privilege. He was the oldest of twelve children of wealthy tobacco grower James Madison Sr. and Nellie Conway Madison, who also came from a wealthy family. The future president was born at his maternal grandparents' home in Port Conway, Virginia and grew up at Montpelier, his family's five-thousand-acre plantation. Madison lived at Montpelier his whole life, except for those periods when his role as an elected official kept him away.
A period of doubt
After graduating from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), Madison considered a career as a minister but, unable to decide what path to take, he returned to Montpelier. There he entered one of the bouts of illness and depression that he was to experience throughout his adult life. An intellectual with a love of sophisticated culture, Madison felt isolated on the plantation, and was plagued by indecision about what to do with his life.
It wasn't long before Madison's gloom lifted, as he began to breathe the scent of rebellion that was in the air. At this time, the American colonies were starting to become annoyed with British rule. Leaders who spoke of independence and democracy were emerging, and Madison began to debate their ideas with a local group. In 1774 the soft-spoken but brilliant Madison was elected to Virginia's Committee of Safety, which would serve as the colony's government during the American Revolution (1775-83).
A young legislator gains experience
Two years later, Madison joined the Virginia Convention, where delegates would draft a new constitution and declaration of rights for their state. There Madison met another Virginia delegate named Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who had just returned from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he had authored the Declaration of Independence. In 1778 he was appointed to serve on the Governor's Council under Governor Patrick Henry (1736-1799). When Jefferson succeeded Henry as governor of Virginia, Madison began to work closely with him, and the two began a lifelong collaboration and friendship.
The Revolutionary War was now in full swing. Madison served in the Continental Congress, the body established to serve as the colonies' central government, from 1780 to 1783. When he entered the Congress at age twenty-nine, he was the youngest representative. During these years he honed his skills as a debater and legislator, emerging from the experience as a seasoned politician.
The need for a new form of government
After serving as a delegate to the Annapolis Convention, a meeting called to resolve some trade issues between the states of Virginia and Maryland, Madison was appointed to the Virginia delegation to Constitutional Convention. Members of the convention fashioned a document called the Virginia Plan, their concept—authored primarily by Madison—of how the new government should be shaped.
The Constitution: Madison's brilliant plan
Most commentators agree that the formulation of the Constitution was Madison's greatest achievement. The government he proposed through the Virginia Plan included an elected executive (the president) with the power to veto legislation, a federal judiciary branch (the courts or justice system), and a two-body legislature (the law-making body, which in the United States is the Congress). Each branch would have certain responsibilities, but each would be controlled by a system of checks and balances. This meant that because the branches would be able to approve or disapprove each other's actions, none of them could become more powerful than the others.
In 1788 Madison was elected to the brand-new House of Representatives, and he soon became one of its most distinguished legislators. One of his first tasks was to assist in the passage of the Bill of Rights, a set of twelve amendments to the Constitution that were designed to safeguard such individual rights as the freedom to practice one's own religion, to express (and publish) one's beliefs, and to gather together to peacefully protest government policies.
Disagreeing with the Federalists
In 1789 George Washington (1732-1799) unanimously became the first president of the United States. However, by 1792, Madison and Jefferson had become increasingly opposed to the Federalist slant of Washington's administration. (The Federalist Party supported a strong central or federal government.) Gradually, those who agreed with Madison and Jefferson became known as anti-Federalists. When war broke out between Great Britain and France in 1793, differences between the two viewpoints became even more pronounced. Eager to maintain the commercial ties with Great Britain that had been re-established after the Revolutionary War, the Federalists sided with the British. The anti-Federalists sympathized with the French, who had assisted the United States so ably in its fight for independence and who had recently waged their own revolution.
A brief retreat to Montpelier
In 1796 Federalist John Adams (1735-1826) won the U.S. presidential election. Discouraged by what he saw as a decline in his own influence, Madison retired from Congress in 1797. Three years earlier, he had married Dolley Payne Todd (1768-1849; see biographical entry), a lively twenty-six-yearold widow he had met in Philadelphia. Probably concerned about his aging parents and perhaps longing for the tranquility of rural Virginia, Madison and his wife moved back to Montpelier. There he enjoyed a happy married life and ran his plantation while also keeping on eye on political developments.
Madison was soon pulled back into politics, however, by the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were designed, in part, to stifle criticism of the government. To Madison, this stirred memories of Great Britain's attempts to limit freedom in its former colonies. Convinced the laws were a direct threat to freedom of speech and freedom of the press and thus unconstitutional, he sponsored the Virginia Resolution in his state's legislature. This document, which says that states have the right to oppose federal laws they consider unconstitutional, was matched by a similar resolution sponsored by Jefferson in the Kentucky legislature.
A new political party is formed
Opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts among the anti-Federalists was a leading factor in the formation of a newpolitical party led by Madison and Jefferson. During the next several years, the Democratic-Republicans (eventually referred to as simply the Republicans) would gain dominance in national affairs as more and more citizens came to consider them the champions of ordinary people's interests.
In fact, by 1800 the political party had garnered so much popularity that Jefferson was elected as the nation's third president. He appointed Madison as secretary of state, which gave Madison responsibility for foreign policy issues. The two friends worked closely together through the major events of Jefferson's first term, especially the Louisiana Purchase, in which France sold a huge piece of territory west of the Mississippi to the United States for only fifteen million dollars. Both Jefferson and Madison were eager to acquire more territory into which U.S. settlers could move; in fact, this would be one of the motivations for the War of 1812, as the United States saw an opportunity to acquire land in both Canada and Spanish-held Florida.
Jefferson's second term was dominated by the growing problems connected to the ongoing war between England and France. Unable to dominate Great Britain militarily, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)—the emperor of France—had established the Continental System, which prevented neutral countries from trading with Great Britain. In response, Great Britain had put in place the Orders in Council, which similarly punished countries that continued to trade with France. The United States was caught in the middle, and its ships were being seized by both countries.
In addition, the British were carrying on a practice called impressment by which men they considered British citizens and deserters from their navy were taken from U.S. ships and forced back into military service. Many U.S. citizens (or former British citizens who had become Americans) had been illegally impressed. Americans were incensed by this practice, especially after the Chesapeake-Leopard incident, when the captain of the USS Chesapeake refused to allow British sailors from the HMS Leopard aboard to reclaim alleged deserters. As a result, the British attacked the Chesapeake and several were sailors killed.
Trying to avoid war
Convinced that the United States was not ready for another war with Great Britain, Madison urged Jefferson to try to resolve the problem through economic means. The resulting Embargo Act of 1807, which eliminated all U.S. trade with other nations, was intended to teach both France and Great Britain a lesson. The act, however, proved a disaster for the U.S. economy.
As Jefferson's second term came to an end, he wanted his friend Madison to succeed him. Despite growing dissatisfaction with the "Virginia dynasty"—the group of Virginia politicians, including Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, that had dominated politics during the last two decades—Madison won the 1808 presidential election. With his victory he inherited the continuing problems of trade restrictions and impressment and the very real possibility of war. In his inaugural speech, Madison stated that the United States would not put up with interference from other nations, but this tough talk did nothing to change the situation.
"Mr. Madison's War"
Meanwhile, some young members of Congress felt passionately that war with Great Britain was a good idea. Nicknamed the War Hawks, these men (most of whom were from the western and southern states) resented British interference in U.S. trade and shipping and thought the United States should defend its national honor by striking back. They also claimed that the British were involved in arming Native Americans in the Northwest Territories (what would become the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and parts of Minnesota) and even encouraging them to attack white American settlers in that region. The War Hawks believed that a war with Great Britain would give the United States a chance to expand its territory by annexing the British colony of Canada as well as Spanish-held Florida.
Toward the end of 1811, Congress began debating the prospect of war. The Federalists, many of them representing the northeastern states, argued that entering a war with Great Britain would only cause further damage to the American economy, and that an invasion of Canada was unnecessary and ill-advised. Seven months later, on June 1, 1812, Madison sent Congress a "War Message" in which he stated that Great Britain's actions had made war unavoidable.
Although Congress approved the declaration of war on June 18, the close votes in both the House of Representatives and the Senate showed that there was considerable opposition to the war. Not surprisingly, all of the Federalists in Congress had voted against the war, but a substantial number of Republicans also were against it. These divisions would grow deeper and more troublesome for Madison as the conflict, which his critics immediately began to call "Mr. Madison's War," continued.
Only a few days before the declaration of war was signed, Great Britain had cancelled its Orders in Council, but the slowness of communication (the news could only travel by ship across the Atlantic Ocean) meant that the news arrived too late; in addition, the British still did not agree to end the practice of impressment. The war would proceed, despite a startling lack of U.S. military and financial preparation for it. Neither the army nor the navy had adequate soldiers or sailors to effectively fight a war, and neither the secretary of war, William Eustis (1753-1825), nor the secretary of the navy, Paul Hamilton (1762-1816) had the experience to direct the effort.
A disappointing start
It's not at all surprising, then, that the first year of the war did not go smoothly. There were some unexpected victories at sea, such as the defeat of the HMS Guerriere by the USS Constitution, but the U.S. invasion of Canada failed due to poor planning and leadership and an over-reliance on state militias (armies made up not of professional soldiers but of private citizens who fight on an emergency, temporary basis), who often refused to fight. The surrender of U.S. troops at Detroit to a much smaller British force added to the mood of humiliation and anxiety that dominated the country as 1812 drew to a close.
Madison was just barely re-elected to the presidency in 1812. Widely faulted for weak leadership, he was especially criticized for failing to get rid of the incompetent people in his administration. The Federalists and a sizable number of Republicans who were dissatisfied with Madison backed New York statesmen DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) in the election, and he almost beat Madison. The close election served as something of a wake-up call to Madison, who reshuffled his cabinet at the beginning of 1813. Eustis and Hamilton were replaced with John Armstrong (1758-1843) and William Jones (1760-1831), both men of solid military experience.
Both victories and defeats in 1813
During the course of the next year, the military began slowly improving as Congress authorized funds to build up its numbers and as younger, more skilled and dynamic officers were promoted to replace the Revolutionary War veterans who had been in charge at the beginning of the war. In 1813 the United States won a few significant victories, including those at York (now Toronto), on Lake Erie, and at the Battle of the Thames.
Madison had suffered from a long illness in the early summer of 1813 from which he nearly died. His recovery was about all he had to celebrate, though, especially after some ominous news arrived from Europe in the fall. Great Britain and its allies had defeated Napoleon's troops at the Battle of Leipzig, and the tide in the Napoleonic Wars seemed to be turning. The French emperor was on the run now, and his defeat would free up thousands of British troops for service in the war with the United States.
Meanwhile, addressing Congress at the end of 1813, Madison tried to sound optimistic about the prospects for a U.S. victory, but there was no overcoming the bleak mood that prevailed in Congress and around the country. On December 30, however, a glimmer of hope arrived in the form of an offer from Great Britain to begin peace negotiations. Madison quickly approved the offer. Another year of war remained, though, before peace would be reached.
The British burn Washington, D.C.
In July 1814 Madison and a few other leaders began to worry that the British were planning to attack Washington, D.C. Armstrong, however, strongly believed that Great Britain's target would be Baltimore, Maryland, a major shipping center and a more strategic target than the nation's capital. Therefore, Armstrong devoted most of the available military resources (especially troops) to Baltimore. As August approached, however, it became clear that an attack on Washington was probable, and defensive preparations were quickly begun.
The British landed in the Chesapeake Bay on August 18 and began their march toward Washington, which they had decided to attack from the north. On August 24 a force of inexperienced, hastily assembled U.S. troops—most of them militiamen—were thoroughly defeated by the British force at Bladensburg, Maryland. The British then marched south and entered Washington, which most residents had already left. After visiting Bladensburg just before the battle began, Madison had retreated into the Virginia countryside outside of Washington, D.C. He was joined at a roadside inn by his wife Dolley, who had left the capital with a load of official documents and other treasures, including a famous portrait of George Washington.
In retaliation for the burning of public buildings when U.S. troops occupied York in Canada, the British ransacked and destroyed the Capitol, the president's home, and other government buildings. Then they marched north to attack Baltimore, but they found that city much better defended. Unable to defeat Baltimore's U.S. defenders with either their land or naval forces, the British retreated.
In Ghent, Belgium, peace negotiations between the United States and Great Britain began in August. Madison sent a set of able statesmen representing a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints: diplomat John Quincy Adams (1767-1848); James Bayard (1767-1815), a Federalist senator known for his moderate views; Speaker of the House Henry Clay (1777-1852; see biographical entry), the leader of the War Hawks; and Madison's longtime, trusted ally Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), the former secretary of the treasury.
In October, Madison heard the first, discouraging news about what was happening in Ghent. The British were asking for too much, especially in their demand that most of the Northwest Territory be made into a Native American homeland. It appeared that the United States would continue fighting the war as 1815 approached. As the year drew to a close, a mood of discontent prevailed over much of the United States. The newspapers expressed impatience with Congress and with Madison's administration. In New England, delegates to a special meeting called the Hartford Convention expressed heir complaints against the way they felt the Madison administration had treated their region.
End of the war
With the new year, however, came a change of fortune—or at least of attitude—for the United States. On January 8, after a series of preliminary skirmishes (small gunfights or battles), the British attacked New Orleans with a large force of seasoned soldiers who had recently fought Napoleon's troops in Europe. Under Major General Andrew Jackson's (1767-1845; see biographical entry) strong leadership, a diverse assortment of regular soldiers, militiamen, Native American allies, and even pirates won a lopsided victory for the United States. The British lost about two thousand men (including three hundred dead and five hundred captured) and the Americans only seventy (including only about a dozen killed).
The news of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent ending the war arrived in the United States in February 1815. As it turned out, the British had given up their previous demands, and both sides had agreed to return to the status quo antebellum, the situation that had existed before the war. None of the issues over which the war had supposedly been fought were mentioned in the treaty, for the Orders in Council had been cancelled in June 1812, and impressment was no longer an issue (since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain's need for more soldiers had dropped off). In military and political terms, the War of 1812 had ended in a draw.
A new spirit of pride and optimism
Against all expectations, the United States had fought off a much bigger, more experienced force, and now peace was at hand. The Treaty of Ghent had gained nothing for the United States, but that hardly mattered to Americans. After the months and even years of gloom as the war continued with no victory in sight, they were basking in the light of triumph. In the wink of an eye, Madison was transformed from the much-criticized head of a nation at war to the leader of a victorious people who considered themselves capable of almost anything now that they had (or felt that they had) brought Great Britain to its knees. Madison was popular again, and his remaining two years as president were pleasant.
An active retirement
In the presidential election of 1816, Madison was succeeded by his fellow Republican (and member of the Virginia dynasty) James Monroe (1758-1831). Madison retired to Montpelier, where he took up farming again and experimented with new, scientific approaches to agriculture. He offered advice to Monroe when called upon, and helped Jefferson establish the University of Virginia, also serving as the university's rector (president) after Jefferson's death in 1826.
Eighty-six years old when he died at Montpelier, Madison was buried in the family cemetery. In a document titled Advice to My Country, which Madison specified was to be opened only after his death, he expressed his wish for the nation he had helped to found: "The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is, that the union of the states be cherished and perpetuated."
For More Information
Ketcham, Ralph. James Madison: A Biography. Charlottesville: UniversityPress of Virginia, 1971; reprinted., 1992.
Leavell, J. Perry, Jr. James Madison. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Madison, James. Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, Published by Order of Congress. Edited by Philip Fendall. Philadelphia, Penn.: Lippincott, 1865.
Malone, Mary. James Madison. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow, 1997.
McCoy, Drew R. The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Polikoff, Barbara. James Madison: 4th President of the United States. Ada, Okla.: Garrett Educational Corp., 1989.
Rakove, Jack. James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
Rutland, Robert A. James Madison: The Founding Father. New York:Macmillan, 1987; reprint, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.
"James Madison." White House History. [Online] http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/jm4.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).
"James Madison: His Legacy." James Madison Center. James Madison University. [Online] http://www (accessed on November 26, 2001).
"Madison, James." American Presidents, Life Portraits. [Online] http://www.americanpresidents.org/presidents/president.asp?/President-Number=4 (accessed on November 26, 2001).
President James Madison, 4th President of the United States. [Online] http://www.library.advanced.org/12587/contents/personalities/madison/jm.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).
Born March 16, 1751
Port Conway, Virginia
Died June 28, 1836
Orange County, Virginia
President of the United States, secretary of state, congressman
James Madison was a wealthy man with a careful but creative mind who gave his whole life to public service. He worked to gain American independence and helped establish the nation's new government. Madison is known as the person most responsible for making the Bill of Rights part of the U.S. Constitution.
James Madison, the first of ten children, was born in 1751 to a wealthy young couple, James and Eleanor Conway Madison. Members of the Madison family were longtime residents of Virginia and owned a great deal of land. Although he was frail and sickly, James Madison was an excellent student. He was brought up in Orange County, Virginia, and entered what is now Princeton University in New Jersey in 1769, graduating in a mere two years. While at college, he was a member of a student club that favored colonial resistance to British taxation policies. Ever since the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, colonists had been complaining about British attempts to raise money by taxing them.
After graduation, Madison considered becoming a Protestant minister. Instead, he returned home to Virginia, depressed and uncertain what to do with his life.
Begins political career
Madison regained his zest for living in 1774, at age twenty-three, when he began serving on Orange County's committee of safety, which was responsible for local defense. Citizens of Virginia and Massachusetts were among the first to imagine the possibility of a war of independence between the colonies and Great Britain. Madison was part of a group of early Virginia patriots that included Patrick Henry see entry. They enthusiastically supported the separation of the American colonies from England.
Madison's political career moved to a new level with his appointment to the 1776 Virginia Convention. Virginia was always a leader in discussing individual rights and liberties and passing laws to guarantee them, and Madison played a large role in getting such laws passed. In May 1776 he and the other delegates at the Virginia Convention voted to propose a resolution to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Congress was a meeting of representatives from all thirteen colonies; the topic of discussion was the tense situation between the colonies and Great Britain. The Virginia resolution stated: "Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
Madison helped write the Virginia constitution, which was adopted on June 28, 1776. It was a vital step in breaking all ties with England and embarking on independence. On July 2, 1776, Congress accepted the Virginia resolution, and two days later, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, the document that broke all ties between all the colonies and England and established the United States as a nation.
Helps write Declaration of Rights; serves in Virginia government
In 1776 the Virginia Convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights; it would later serve as the model for the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution (discussed below). The Declaration of Rights laid out some basic principles of republican government, the type that Madison favored. Republican government is a system in which power is held by the people, who exercise their power through elected representatives. Madison helped George Mason see entry, the primary author of the Declaration, to strengthen the section on religious freedom (see box on p. 308).
Virginia's new constitution had established the Virginia House of Delegates as its lawmaking body. Madison began serving in the House in October 1776. He lost his elected seat there in April 1777, reportedly because he refused to furnish liquor to the voters. Buying votes with liquor was a common practice at that time. But the House recognized his leadership abilities and appointed him to serve on the Virginia Council of State, the official group of advisers of the Virginia governor.
At Williamsburg, then Virginia's capital, Madison worked closely with Thomas Jefferson see entry and Patrick Henry. At that time most of the talk was about war, and the men threw their energies into the war effort. Thomas Jefferson became governor of Virginia in June 1779. By that time, he and Madison had developed what proved to be a lifelong friendship.
Assumes national leadership role
In March 1780, the twenty-nine-year-old Madison won a three-year term to represent Virginia in the Continental Congress. Although he was the youngest member of the Congress, Madison quickly became one of its leaders. He realized that the new American nation would have to collect taxes and make treaties with foreign governments in order to grow and become a respected world power. Madison worked out a way for Congress to raise money by collecting taxes on imported goods. He wrote the arguments that John Jay see entry took to Spain in 1780; Jay was seeking the right of free navigation of the Mississippi River, then controlled by Spain. Jay had little luck with the Spanish, in part because America's form of government was too disorganized and the states could not agree on treaties. Seeing this, Madison became an early supporter of a strong central government.
In the spring of 1784, Madison redirected his attention to state politics when he was elected to the Virginia General Assembly. He served from 1784 to 1786. When talk turned to a new form of government for America, Madison paved the way for the Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787. Representatives of all the states met there to write a new constitution.
Plays role in adoption of U.S. Constitution
At the Constitutional Convention, Madison presented the Virginia Plan, his state's version of a new constitution. The plan called for larger states like Virginia to have more representatives in government than smaller states had. Naturally, the larger states supported the Virginia Plan, while the smaller states supported another, called the New Jersey Plan, which gave the smaller states equal representation with the larger ones. After a bitter fight, the delegates compromised on a system in which the states would be equally represented in a senate, and a state's representation in a house of representatives would be proportional to the state's population. This system remains in place today.
Madison believed that the challenge of building a new nation required the strong central government proposed in the Constitution. He worked tirelessly to get it accepted by the other delegates. Madison also took notes at the convention, and although an official record was kept of the proceedings, Madison's notes serve as an interesting and valuable addition.
Madison's opponents were people who supported a loose alliance of states instead of a strong central government. They raised objections to the proposed constitution. To explain why the proposed form of government was necessary, Madison joined with Alexander Hamilton see entry and John Jay to write a document called The Federalist Papers. It remains today the best explanation of the U.S. Constitution.
A Constitution forming a strong central government was finally adopted by the convention delegates and was sent around to the individual states for their approval. Passage by Virginia and New York was crucial, because they were the largest states. Madison fought hard to get the Constitution passed in his home state. He then traveled to New York to urge delegates there to ratify the constitution. The U.S. Constitution was eventually ratified by all the states and was adopted in 1789.
Writes Bill of Rights, joins Republican Party
In 1789 Madison was elected to the U.S. House of Rep resentatives, where he served throughout the eight years of President George Washington 's see entry term. He made many contributions to the formation of a stable government. He helped form the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, and War. His major accomplishment in Congress was writing the Bill of Rights, the name given to the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. During this period, Madison witnessed the birth of the two-party system in the United States.
When he first ran for national office, Madison was a member of the Federalist Party. Federalists believed that the rich and well educated should have more influence in government than ordinary citizens. As time went on, Madison found himself objecting to the financial plans proposed by the Federalist Secretary of State, Alexander Hamilton. He was particularly disgusted by Hamilton's followers in Congress, who were using Hamilton's financial setup for their own personal profit. His disgust grew, and over time, Madison became strongly allied with Thomas Jefferson and the newly forming Republican Party, which called itself the party of the common man.
Marries; enjoys brief retirement
In 1794 Madison's life took a happy turn when he married a pretty young widow named Dolly (or Dolley) Payne Todd (see box). Historian Henry Adams described James Madison at this time as, "a small man, quiet, somewhat precise in manner, pleasant, fond of conversation, with a certain mixture of ease and dignity" in the way he presented himself.
In 1797 Madison retired from the U.S. House of Representatives, and went to live at Montpelier (pronounced mon-PEEL-yer), his grand Virginia estate. But still he remained a strong figure in his party. He came out of his brief retirement in 1798 to draft the Virginia Resolutions that argued that individual states had the right to reject acts of Congress as unconstitutional.
Serves as U.S. secretary of state
Madison returned to the national scene in 1801 when new President Thomas Jefferson appointed his old friend to serve as U.S. secretary of state. He was responsible for helping to plan and carry out American foreign policy. Madison held the office throughout Jefferson's eight-year presidency and also served as Jefferson's chief adviser.
The great achievement of their partnership was the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, in which the United States paid France less than fifteen million dollars for a territory that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. It doubled the size of the United States.
At the time Madison became secretary of state, England and France were at war. Neither France nor England could move trade goods out of their countries, so the United States was doing it for each of them. American ships were often stopped by the French or British navy, who took over their cargoes. In addition, the British often kidnapped American sailors and forced them to serve in the British navy. Jefferson and Madison protested this behavior by the French and the British and finally cut off trade with both countries.
Becomes fourth U.S. President
In 1808 Madison ran for president as a Republican and was elected to succeed Jefferson as President of the United States. His election victory was celebrated by a grand ball, which then became an American tradition.
As Madison took office in 1809, England and France were still at war with one another and their conflict threatened the peace in America. In 1810 the United States agreed to resume trade with both England and France. But both coun tries violated their agreements with the United States and continued to seize American ships and sailors.
England became even more hostile, threatening to unite with the Indians in the Great Lakes region in a war the United States. Madison himself had little enthusiasm for the war, but the "war hawks" in his own party largely forced his hand. They were primarily westerners who feared Indian attacks in the Northwest, backed by money and supplies from Great Britain. In 1812 Madison recommended to Congress that the United States declare war on Great Britain and on June 18 the War of 1812 (1812–15) began.
"Mr. Madison's War"
Madison was reelected president in 1812. As the war progressed, British soldiers occupied large sections of the Great Lakes region and support for the war was high among westerners. But New Englanders largely opposed the war. America's conflict with England, the world's major naval power, interfered with the profitable shipping-related activities that were a vital part of the New England economy. The Federalist Party had its base in New England and referred to the war as "Mr. Madison's War."
According to Mark M. Boatner III, writing in the Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, "The disgraceful performance of an unprepared and disunited country in the War of 1812 … cost [Madison] popularity." In the summer of 1814, the British invaded Washington, D.C., set the White House on fire, and took over the city. A popular story credits Dolly Madison with saving a life-size portrait of George Washington from the fire. The Madisons fled to safety in the surrounding area. When they returned to Washington five days later, they found the White House in need of rebuilding. The War of 1812 came to an end with the Treaty of Ghent (Belgium) on December 24, 1814.
Growth of Republican Party, decline of the Federalist Party
Although most historians see the War of 1812 as a draw between America and Great Britain, the Americans of the time saw the war as a great victory. As a result, a feeling of national pride swept the country. The Republican Party of James Madison was given credit for the victory and thrived after the War of 1812.
During the war, New England Federalist leaders had met secretly in Hartford, Connecticut. Many people suspected that they were plotting to have New England secede (break off from) the United States. After the war, the Federalists were called disloyal. Suspicion of the Federalist Party was so great that it soon declined and disappeared.
By the end of Madison's second term of office, he had come to believe that the nation needed a national bank. He had opposed the creation of a national bank in 1791, but now, with his support, a national bank was created.
Has productive retirement
Madison retired in 1817 at the end of his second term and retired to Montpelier. He remained an active citizen. From 1826 to 1834 Madison served as headmaster of the University of Virginia and arranged that after his death his personal library would go to the institution.
Madison's later years were marked by illness, but he always retained his quick mind. He enjoyed entertaining but soon found himself in debt. Economic circumstances forced Madison to scale down his way of life and sell off some of his land to raise money to live on. In his final months, Madison was confined at home because of illness. He died at Montpelier in the summer of 1836.
American historian and secretary of state Daniel Webster said of James Madison, "He had as much to do as any man in framing the Constitution, and as much to do as any man in administering it."
For More Information
Boatner, Mark M., III. "Madison, James." Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994, pp. 668-70.
Bourgoin, Suzanne M. and Paula K. Byers. "Madison, James." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998, vol. 10, pp. 121-23.
Ketcham, Ralph. James Madison: A Biography. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1980.
"James Madison: Fourth President 1809–1817." [Online] Available http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/glimpse/presidents/html/jm4.html (accessed on 9/21/99).
Dolly Madison, the First "First Lady"
Dolly Payne Madison's first husband died in 1793, and she married James Madison in 1794. Despite the fact that she was twenty years younger than Madison, the couple enjoyed a happy marriage. Although the Madisons had no children of their own, James Madison became the stepfather of Dolly's young son by her first marriage, Payne Todd.
Dolly Madison first became the darling of Washington society when she began hosting parties and dinners for President Thomas Jefferson, a widower. At that time, her husband was serving as Jefferson's secretary of state. The friendly and lively Dolly Madison was immensely popular and earned the honorary title "first lady" of the land. She continued to function in that role until 1817, when her husband James Madison ended his second term as president.
Following James Madison's death in 1836, Dolly Madison faced financial difficulties, brought on in part by the foolish spending of her son. She was forced to sell the family's Montpelier estate to raise money; the sale remained a heartache to her for the rest of her life. Friends sometimes had to supply her with the necessities of life.
Dolly Madison lived in poverty until Congress purchased her husband's historical papers. She moved into a home across the street from the White House and died there at the age of eighty-one on July 12, 1849. She was buried next to James Madison on the grounds of Montpelier.
Madison's Role in the Separation of Church and State
Ever since the first settlers came to the New World to escape religious persecution, the relationship between church and state has been the subject of countless arguments. In the Old World, it was common for nations to have official religions; frequently, people who did not belong to the official religion were persecuted.
At the time when Virginia was working on its Declaration of Rights, the Protestant Anglican Church was the official church of Virginia. James Madison favored freedom of religion and strongly opposed any state religion. He played an important role in making the Virginia Declaration of Rights more supportive of the personal freedom of individuals.
The committee that drafted a proposed Declaration of Rights adopted an article by George Mason on the subject of religion. It stated that "all men shou'd enjoy the fullest toleration in the Exercise of Religion, according to the dictates of conscience." But Madison tried to get the word "toleration" stricken from the document to prepare the way for total liberty of conscience and separation of church and state in Virginia. Madison wanted the declaration to read "all men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise of [religion] according to the dictates of conscience; and therefore that no man or class of man ought, on account of religion to be invested with [special payments] or privileges."
But the adoption of Madison's words would have had serious consequences for the Anglican Church and many of the Virginia representatives opposed that notion. So Madison offered an alternate wording that read, "all men are equally entitled to enjoy the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the [courts], unless the preservation of equal liberty and the existence of the State are manifestly endangered."
This change satisfied most of the convention members, and the key part of Madison's revision was adopted. The final article read that "religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force and violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other."
The change Madison made to this document was very important because it made freedom of conscience a right that did not depend on some authority figure granting his approval. Freedom of conscience now existed on its own, belonged to all men, and was a right that could not be taken away. According to historian Ralph Ketcham, "Madison … made possible complete liberty of belief or unbelief, and the utter separation of church and state."
Excerpt from "Amendments to the Constitution"
Reprinted from The Papers of James Madison, edited by Charles F. Hobson and Robert A. Rutland
Published in 1979
James Madison of colonial Virginia is considered the father of the U.S. Constitution. Madison fought hard for the recognition and protection of individual rights in the new nation's legal framework. He also supported the need for a strong central government. As a result, Madison sought a delicate balance between a strong and effective central federal government and the basic freedoms of citizens from potentially oppressive government rule.
Madison formed his beliefs on individual liberties from government actions while serving in various political roles during the American Revolution (1775–83). With war underway, Madison served in the 1776 Virginia Convention that drew up the state's declaration of rights and a new state constitution. From 1778 to 1779 he served on the Virginia Council of State that guided actions of the new governor.
"The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments."
Madison also represented Virginia in the Continental Congress from 1780 to 1783, which drafted the first constitution known as the Articles of Confederation. The Articles proved ineffective by creating a weak central government and giving most power to the states. The central government had no law enforcement powers and no central courts. Charged with creating a more effective national government, the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in 1787. Madison took the lead in drafting a new constitution. The end result provided was a constitution with a much stronger central government, but with a complex system of checks and balances between the three branches and different levels of government and an independent judicial system.
Adoption of the new constitution required the approval of at least nine of the original thirteen states. Adoption was up in the air as considerable debate centered on the strengthened central government. Many looked back at the two centuries under dominant British rule and did not wish to see such a powerful central government. They still wanted most power to rest with the individual state governments, as in the Articles of Confederation. This group was known as the anti-Federalists; they believed the new constitution threatened individual liberties, including its criminal courts of law.
To help with the adoption process, Madison and John Jay, a future Supreme Court justice, and Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. secretary of treasury, wrote a series of eighty-five essays known collectively as The Federalist Papers. Madison and the others explained that individual liberties would best be protected by a strong central government, not the many individual state governments.
Doubts persisted and many still demanded a stronger statement on the protection of individual rights than the Constitution offered. Madison and others relented and agreed to write the first amendments to the Constitution to satisfy those concerned. Finally by the summer of 1788, Madison and the Federalists had prevailed and the new constitution was ratified by eleven states, two more than necessary.
Madison then began writing the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Madison was also elected as a Virginia delegate to the new U.S. House of Representatives. Madison described the newly developing bill to the House on June 8, 1789.
Things to remember while reading excerpts from "Amendments to the Constitution":
- Citizens of the new nation did not want to find themselves once again at the mercy of a powerful court system as they had been in the king's courts of Britain. They sought fairness in how criminal justice was administered.
- Madison received a solid education at what later became known as Princeton University studying the important thinkers of Europe. He accepted the growing idea that humans fully possessed the power of reason, the basis for emphasizing individual rights over the power of government. Madison also read law but was not interested in its practice.
- Being short of stature and poor in health, Madison tackled revolutionary politics rather than the battlefield. At twenty-five years of age Madison served as an intellectual force in the American Revolution (1775–83) war effort.
Excerpt from "Amendments to the Constitution"
It will be a desirable thing to extinguish from the bosom of every member of the community any apprehensions, that there are those among his countrymen who wish to deprive them of the liberty for which they valiantly fought and honorably bled. . . .
It cannot be a secret to the gentlemen in this house , that, notwithstanding the ratification of this system of government byeleven of the thirteen United States, in some cases unanimously, in others by large majorities; yet still there is a great number of our constituents who are dissatisfied with it. . . . We ought not to disregard their inclination, but, on principles of amity and moderation, conform to their wishes, and expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this constitution. . . .
But I will candidly acknowledge, that, over and above all these considerations, I do conceive that the constitution may be amended; that is to say, if all power is subject to abuse, that then it is possible the abuse of the powers of the general government may be guarded against in a more secure manner than is now done, while no one advantage, arising from the exercise of that power, shall be damaged or endangered by it. We have in this way something to gain, and, if we proceed with caution, nothing to lose. . . . But I do wish to see a door opened to consider, so far as to incorporate those provisions for the security of rights, against which I believe no serious objection has been made by any class of our constituents. . . .
The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable .
The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the legislature by petitions . . . for redress of their grievances . . . .
No person shall be subject, except in cases of impeachment, to more than one punishment, or one trial for the same offence; nor shall be compelled to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor be obliged to relinquish his property, where it may be necessary for public use, without a just compensation.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers, and the witnessesagainst him; to have a compulsory [required] process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel [lawyer] for his defence. . . .
No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases. . . .
No appeal to such court shall be allowed where the value in controversy shall not amount to ___ dollars: nor shall any fact triable by jury, according to the course of common law, be otherwise reexaminable than may consist with the principles of common law. . . .
The trial of all crimes (except in cases of impeachments, and cases arising in the land or naval forces, or the militia when on actual service in time of war or public danger) shall be by an impartial jury . . . with the requisite of unanimity for conviction, of the right of challenge, and other accustomed requisites; and in all crimes punishable with loss of life or member, presentment or indictment by a grand jury, shall be an essential preliminary, provided that in cases of crimes committed within any county which may be in possession of an enemy, or in which a general insurrection may prevail, the trial may by law be authorized in some other country of the same state, as near as may be to the seat of the offence.
In cases of crimes committed not within any country, the trial may by law be in such county as the laws shall have prescribed. In suits at common law, between man and man, the trial by jury, as one of the best securities to the rights of the people, ought to remain inviolate [sacred or unbreakable]. . . .
Although I know whenever the great rights, the trial by jury, freedom of the press, or liberty of conscience, came in question in that body, the invasion of them is resisted by able advocate, yet their Magna Charta does not contain any one provision for the security of those rights, respecting which, the people of America are most alarmed. The freedom of the press and rights of conscience, those choicest privileges of the people, are unguarded in the British constitution.
But altho' the case may be widely different, and it may not be thought necessary to provide limits for the legislative power in that country, yet a different opinion prevails in the United States. The people of many states, have thought it necessary to raise barriers against power in all forms and departments of government, and I am inclined to believe, if once bills of rights are established in all the states as well as the federal constitution, we shall find that altho' some of themare rather unimportant, yet, upon the whole, they will have a salutary tendency. . . .
It has been said by way of objection to a bill of rights, by many respectable gentlemen . . . that they are unnecessary articles of a republican government, upon the presumption that the people have those rights in their own hands, and that is the proper place for them to rest. It would be a sufficient answer to say that this objection lies against such provisions under the state governments as well as under the general government; and there are, I believe, but few gentlemen who are inclined to push their theory so far as to say that a declaration of rights in those cases is either ineffectual or improper. It has been said that in the federal government they are unnecessary, because the powers are enumerated, and it follows that all that are not granted by the constitution are retained: that the constitution is a bill of powers, the great residuum being the rights of the people; and therefore a bill of rights cannot be so necessary. . . .
Civil Liberties and Criminal Justice
The 1791 Bill of Rights greatly influenced the development of the U.S. criminal justice system through the next two centuries. Of the ten amendments, the following specifically address criminal justice issues:
Fourth Amendment—the right of people to be safe from unreasonable search and seizures. Warrants for arrest and search had to be based on sufficient evidence to support an arrest, known as probable cause.
Fifth Amendment—called for grand juries (a panel of citizens convened to determine if sufficient evidence exists to charge a person with a crime) and also stated that a person could not be tried for the same offense twice, known as double jeopardy. Defendants also could not be made to testify against themselves and had the right to remain silent during questioning.
Sixth Amendment—called for speedy, public trials using impartial juries.
Eighth Amendment—banned excessive bail (money a defendant pays a court to be released while waiting for a trial) and cruel and unusual punishment.
I admit that these arguments are not entirely without foundation; but they are not conclusive to the extent which has been supposed. It is true the powers of the general government are circumscribed; they are directed to particular objects; but even if government keeps within
those limits, it has certain discretionary powers with respect to the means, which may admit of abuse to a certain extent, in the same manner as the powers of the state governments under their constitutions may to an indefinite extent; because in the constitution of the United States there is a clause granting to Congress the power to makeall laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof; this enables them to fulfill every purpose for which the government was established. . . .
[Madison concedes to those critics of the U.S. Constitution who demand more explicit restrictions on the national government than the Constitution provides that the Constitution does give the national government some flexibility in making laws it sees as necessary. Through its law-making power the federal government could overstep its limits, as state governments could do with the much more sweeping powers they hold than the federal government.]
I wish also, in revising the constitution, we may throw into that section, which interdicts the abuse of certain powers in the state legislatures. . . . The words, "No state shall pass any bill of attainder , ex post facto law . . ." were wise and proper restrictions in the constitution. I think there is more danger of those powers being abused by the state governments than by the government of the United States. . . . I should therefore wish to extend this interdiction, and add, as I have stated . . . that no state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, freedom of the press, or trial by jury in criminal cases; because it is proper that every government should be disarmed of powers which trench upon those particular rights. I know in some of the state constitutions the power of the government is controlled by such a declaration, but others are not. . . .
Having done what I conceived was my duty, in bringing before this house the subject of amendments, and also stated such as I wish for and approve, and offered the reasons which occurred to be in their support; I shall content myself for the present with moving that a committee be appointed to consider of and report such amendments as ought to be proposed by Congress to the legislatures of the states, to become, if ratified by three-fourths thereof, part of the constitution of the United States. . . . I should advocate greater dispatch in the business of amendments, if I was not convinced of the absolute necessity there is of pursuing the organization of the government; because I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow citizens . . . as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the government. . . .
What happened next . . .
The Bill of Rights was adopted by the states in 1791. It provided important individual liberties, such as freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, freedom from self-incrimination, and freedom from illegal search and seizures. Following its adoption, Madison used his seat in the House of Representatives, which he held until 1797, to defend individual and state rights from the strong federal government he helped fashion.
Madison founded a new political party known as the Democratic-Republicans whose main focus was to ensure the federal government did not infringe on the individual liberties he had listed in the Bill of Rights. Madison and fellow party leader Thomas Jefferson fought the stronger Federalist tendencies of the George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97) and John Adams (1735–1826; served 1797–1801) administrations.
Thomas Jefferson won the presidency for the party in the 1800 elections and appointed Madison his secretary of state. Madison would not only follow Jefferson into the White House in 1809, but became head of the University of Virginia upon Jefferson's death. Madison died in 1836.
Did you know . . .
- James Madison became the fourth president of the United States and served for two terms from 1809 to 1817. His presidency was dominated by the War of 1812 (1812–14) with Great Britain, the first U.S. foreign war to protect its newly created governmental system.
- Madison was born in 1751 on a Virginia plantation at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, his official home for his entire life. Though the plantation had slaves and Madison kept slaves his entire life, following his presidency Madison was an outspoken critic of slavery and headed the American Colonization Society dedicated to relocating freed American slaves back into Africa. Little came from the effort.
Consider the following . . .
- Have the class research arguments by the Federalists and anti-Federalists regarding the federal government. Present a debate over the merits of each perspective, focusing on criminal justice concerns.
- Some claimed the liberties protected by Madison and the Supreme Court eroded in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. For example, the War on Drugs initiated in the 1980s and the later USA Patriot Act (passed as an antiterrorist measure in 2001) gave law enforcement greater powers. Describe how individual liberties could be affected by these programs.
- The protections offered in the Bill of Rights would not be strongly upheld until the 1960s when the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings that revolutionized the criminal justice system. What did the Supreme Court rule and how did it support the constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights?
Bosom: Chest; meaning a person's emotional center.
House: U.S. House of Representatives.
Amity: Common understanding.
Inviolable: Cannot be violated.
Redress of their grievances: To resolve political issues.
Requisite of unanimity: All jurors agree on the verdict.
Salutary: Helpful; supporting a useful purpose.
Republican: Government in which the power is held by the citizens who elect their political leaders.
Residuum: The remainder.
Discretionary: Left to its own judgment.
Bill of attainder: The legislature finding a person guilty of a felony rather than a court of law.
Ex post facto law: Making a new law apply to the past actions of people.
Trench upon: Abuse.
For More Information
Hobson, Charles F., and Robert A. Rutland, eds. The Papers of James Madison. Vol 12. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1979.
Excerpt from "The Virginia Plan"
Delivered to the Constitutional Convention on May 29, 1787
Published in Documents of American History, edited by
Henry S. Commager, 1943
In February 1787, the Continental Congress was operating under the Articles of Confederation, America's first constitution. Congress authorized the thirteen state legislatures to elect delegates to a convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention's purpose was to revise and strengthen the Articles, which had proven inadequate as a framework for governing the young nation. The convention was scheduled to begin on May 14, but by that date only delegates from Pennsylvania and Virginia had arrived. Travel by horseback or carriage over roads muddied by spring rains was slow and difficult. Representatives from eight states needed to be present before the convention could begin.
While waiting for more delegates to arrive, Virginia's delegates, including James Madison (1751–1836), hammered out the Virginia Plan, a proposal for an entirely new structure of government for the United States. Although he was only thirty-six years old, Madison had experience in the political affairs of the nation. He had arrived in Philadelphia on May 3 and prepared extensively for the meeting. Madison had been reading all the information he could gather about how a government might serve its people and how it could be realistically put together. He had written to his good friend Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), who was serving as ambassador to France at that time, and asked him for books on European political histories. Jefferson responded by sending him one hundred volumes. Through his studies, Madison became convinced that it was useless to merely fix the Articles. Instead, he crafted and would propose to the convention the Virginia Plan, a plan to establish a new framework for the U.S. government.
At last, by Monday, May 28, enough delegates had arrived for the convention to get under way. With time for extensive planning during the two previous weeks, Virginia's delegates were in a position of leadership from the start. The most famous Virginian, George Washington (1732–1799), was elected president of the convention. Then on May 29 and 30, his fellow delegate, Virginia governor Edmund J. Randolph (1753–1813), read Madison's plan to the rest of the delegates. The plan contained fifteen relatively simple and very clear proposals for creating a strong national government. Most delegates favored a stronger national government, but the proposals in the Virginia Plan represented a radical change from the Articles. Even though Randolph presented the plan, everyone knew Madison was the principal author.
Congress had authorized the delegates only to revise the Articles, not entirely rewrite them. The Virginia Plan was obviously a call for a new constitution. The first major debates of the next week centered on the legality of replacing the Articles. A majority of states present at the convention voted on May 30 to boldly move forward with establishing a new frame of government.
In the Virginia Plan, Madison proposed that the national legislature be made up of two branches. For each branch, the number of representatives from each state would be based on the state's free (non-slave) population or on state monetary contributions to the national government. The monetary contribution basis was soon dropped. Representatives in the first branch of the legislature would be elected by the people. Members of the first branch would then elect representatives for the second branch of the national legislature, choosing from a list of persons nominated by the state legislatures.
The sixth proposal of the Virginia Plan was even more radical than a call for a two-branch legislature. It proposed the national legislature pass laws on issues that might cause conflict among the separate states. Under this proposal, the national legislature would also be allowed to negate state laws that in its opinion violated the intent of the Constitution. Most radical, Proposal 6 would allow the national government to use military force against states to force them to comply with its wishes.
Proposals 7, 8, and 9 of the Virginia Plan called for the legislature to elect a "national executive," the president, and judges to serve in the judiciary. In the eighth proposal was the first plan for a checks and balances system, where the specific powers in one branch of government would allow it to limit the powers of the other branches. Madison proposed a "council of revision" made up of the executive and a number of judges. The council could veto (cancel) legislative acts.
Proposal 10 requested that states be admitted to the union with less than a unanimous vote of the legislature. Under Proposal 12, the Continental Congress would continue until the new government was approved and took over. Proposal 13 allowed for changes to the Constitution when necessary. Finally, Proposal 15 called for people of each state to elect representatives to state conventions. Those representatives would be charged with approving or disapproving the new government framework.
Things to remember while reading excerpts from "The Virginia Plan":
- The Virginia Plan replaced the single-house Continental Congress with a two-house legislature. In both houses, the number of representatives from each state would be determined by the states' populations. This was a major change from the Articles, which allowed one vote for each state in the single-house Continental Congress. Under the Articles, small states and large states had equal power in Congress. Under the Virginia Plan, large states would have the most representatives in both houses and therefore hold much more power than small states. This one matter—determining the number of representatives each house would have—would consume more of the convention delegates' time than any other issue.
- The U.S. Constitution provides for two legislative branches: the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the House, the number of representatives from each state is determined by the states' populations. In the Senate, every state, regardless of its population, has two representatives.
Excerpt from "The Virginia Plan"
1. Resolved that the Articles of Confederation ought to be so corrected & enlarged as to accomplish the objects proposed bytheir institution; namely, "common defence, security of liberty and general welfare."
2. Resolved therefore that the rights ofsuffrage in the National Legislature ought to be proportioned to theQuotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants, as the one or the other rule may seem best in different cases.
3. Resolved that the National Legislature ought to consist of two branches.
4. Resolved that the members of the first branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several States every [to be filled in] for the term of [to be filled in]; to be of the age of [to be filled in] years at least; to receiveliberal stipends by which they may be compensated for the devotion of their time to public service; to be ineligible to any office established by a particular State, or under the authority of the United States, except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the first branch, during the term of service, and for the space of [to be filled in] after its expiration; to be incapable of reelection for the space of [to be filled in] after the expiration of their term of service, and to be subject torecall.
5. Resolved that the members of the second branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by those of the first, out of a proper number of persons nominated by theindividual Legislatures, to be of the age of [to be filled in] years at least; to hold their offices for a termsufficient to ensure their independency; to receive liberal stipends, by which they may be compensated for the devotion of their time to public service; and to be ineligible to any office established by a particular State, or under the authority of the United States, except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the second branch, during the term of service, and for the space of [to be filled in] after the expiration thereof.
6. Resolved that each branch ought to possess the right oforiginating Acts; that the National Legislature ought to be impowered [sic] to enjoy the Legislative Rightsvested in Congress bythe Confederation & moreover tolegislate in all cases to which the separate States areincompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise ofindividual Legislation; tonegative all laws passed by the several States,contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature thearticles of Union; and to call forth the force of the Union against any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duty under the articles thereof.
7. Resolved that aNational Executive be instituted; to be chosen by the National Legislature for the term of [to be filled in] years, to receive punctually at stated times, afixed compensation for the services rendered, in which no increase ordiminution shall be made ... and that besides a general authority to execute the National laws, it [the executive] ought to enjoy the Executive rights vested in Congress by theConfederation.
8. Resolved that the Executive and a convenient number of the NationalJudiciary, ought to compose a Council ... with authority to examine every act of the National Legislature before it shall operate, & every act of aparticular Legislature before aNegative thereon shall be final; and that the dissent of the said Council shall amount to a rejection, unless the Act of the National Legislature be again passed, or that of a particular Legislature be again negatived by [to be filled in] of the members of each branch.
9. Resolved that a National Judiciary be established to consist of one or more supremetribunals, and of inferior tribunals to be chosen by the National Legislature, to hold their offices during good behaviour; and to receive punctually at stated times fixed compensation for their services, in which no increase or diminution shall be made so as to affect the persons actually in office at the time of such increase or diminution. That thejurisdiction of the inferior tribunals shall be to hear and determine in the first instance, and of the supreme tribunal to hear and determine in thedernier resort, all piracies and felonies on the high seas, captures from an enemy; cases in which foreigners or citizens of other States applying to such jurisdictions may beinterested, or whichrespect the collection of the Nationalrevenue; impeachments of any National officers, and questions which may involve the national peace and harmony.
10. Resolved that provision ought to be made for the admission of States lawfully arising within the limits of the United States ... with the consent of a number of voices in the National legislatureless than the whole.
11. Resolved that aRepublican government ... ought to be guarantied by the United States to each State.
12. Resolved that provision ought to be made for thecontinuance of Congress and their authorities and privileges, until a given day after the reform of thearticles of Union shall be adopted, and for the completion of all their engagements.
13. Resolved that provision ought to be made for theamendment of the Articles of Union whensoever it shall seem necessary. ...
14. Resolved that the Legislative[,] Executive & Judiciary powers within the several States ought to be bound by oath to support the articles of Union.
15. Resolved that the amendments which shall be offered to the Confederation, by the Convention ought at a proper time, or times, after theapprobation of Congress to be submitted to an assembly orassemblies of Representatives, recommended by theseveral to be expressly chosen by the people, to consider anddecide thereon.
What happened next...
In June 1787, the delegates debated the proposals of the Virginia Plan. New Jersey's delegates, led by William Paterson (1745–1806), offered an alternative called the New Jersey Plan. The nine resolutions of their plan revised and strengthened the Articles of Confederation. The resolutions included plans to strengthen Congress by allowing it to raise revenue with taxes and control trade between states and foreign powers. Like the plan proposed by Virginia's delegates, the New Jersey Plan called for executive, judicial, and legislative branches. However, the legislative branch would continue to operate as it had under the Articles—as one house with each state having one vote. The states with large populations opposed this plan. After a few days of heated debate, the New Jersey Plan was defeated and the Virginia Plan accepted. However, almost every proposal within the Virginia Plan had to be debated and reworked.
A major disagreement centered on how many representatives from each state should be in each house of Congress. This issue was the most difficult issue of the entire convention.James Madison of Virginia and James Wilson (1742–1798) of Pennsylvania insisted that in both houses the number of representatives from each state should be based on the population of the state. This arrangement would give populous states such as Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania more power and influence in Congress, putting states with smaller populations at a definite disadvantage. The smaller states—Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland—bitterly protested. They feared the plan would allow them almost no say in congressional decisions.
On July 5, the Connecticut Compromise, also known as the Great Compromise, was proposed by a committee that included New Jersey's Paterson and delegate Roger Sherman (1721–1793) from Connecticut. Under the compromise, the number of representatives in the lower house would be determined by each state's population—one elected representative for every forty thousand inhabitants (this number was changed to thirty thousand just before the Constitution was signed). Each state would have an equal number of representatives in the upper house. It was a brilliant, simple compromise. After more intense debate, both small and large states agreed to the Great Compromise.
Did you know...
- Although James Madison was the principal author of the Virginia Plan, it was Edmund Randolph who formally presented the plan at the Constitutional Convention. Randolph was the popular governor of Virginia and head of Virginia's delegation to the convention. He was an imposing, handsome figure, standing at least 6 feet tall. Madison, also a Virginian, was barely 5 feet, 4 inches, tall and did not have as powerful a presence as Randolph did. The Virginia delegates hoped that Randolph would win over some of those who might initially oppose the Virginia Plan. Randolph himself was undecided about whether he wanted a strong central government, but his fellow Virginians thought that if he presented the plan, he would be more likely to support it when it came to a vote. Ultimately, however, Randolph decided against the stronger national government proposed in the newly drafted constitution. When the day arrived for the delegates to put their names on the document, Randolph did not sign.
- Virginia was the most populous and powerful state, so it followed that Virginia would play a leading role at the convention. Four of the first five presidents of the United States would come from Virginia.
- The proposal for a two-house legislature was a radical departure from historical political theory. European political theory held firmly that power must rest in one legislature and a single head of government. A two-branch legislature was unheard of.
- Debate on the Virginia Plan proposals began on June 1 with Resolution 7. Resolutions 2 to 6 were the most controversial parts of the plan, so the delegates postponed discussing them for a week or so. Raising too much controversy at the beginning of the debate might have caused the convention to fail, and everyone knew that if the convention failed, the union would most likely fail.
Consider the following...
- If you were a delegate committed to keeping the state legislatures more powerful than the national legislature, which proposal of the Virginia Plan would have seemed highly offensive?
- Using your knowledge of how the U.S. government operates in the twenty-first century, find at least five statements within the fifteen proposals that were not part of the final draft of the Constitution signed in September 1787.
Resolved: Formally proposed.
Their institution: The United States.
Quotas of contribution: State monetary contributions requested by Congress based on the wealth of the state.
Liberal stipends: Good pay.
Recall: Removal from office by vote of the people.
Sufficient: Long enough.
Originating Acts: Proposing legislation.
Vested in: Given to.
Legislate: Make laws.
Incompetent: Unable to successfully legislate.
Individual Legislation: Laws passed by separate states.
Contravening: Contradicting or violating.
Articles of Union: National constitution.
National Executive: President.
Fixed compensation: Salary.
Confederation: Articles of Confederation.
Particular: Specific state.
Jurisdiction: Power to exercise legal authority.
Revenue: Government income from taxes and other sources.
Impeachments: Formal charges of misconduct made against public officials.
Less than the whole: Not unanimous.
Republican government: A government operating by the consent of the people and for the benefit of the people through elected representatives.
Continuance of Congress: Continued service of the national legislature under the Articles of Confederation.
Articles of Union: Articles of Confederation.
Assemblies of Representatives: Chosen delegates from each state.
Several: A reference to all of the states.
Decide thereon: Approve or not approve.
For More Information
Berkin, Carol. A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution. New York: Harcourt, 2002.
Commager, Henry S., ed. Documents of American History. New York: F. S. Crofts and Company, 1943.
Ferris, Robert G., and James H. Charleton. The Signers of the Constitution. Flagstaff, AZ: Interpretive Publications, 2001.
Mattern, David B. James Madison: Patriot, Politician, and President. New York: PowerPlus Books, 2005.
4th president, 1809–1817
Born: March 16, 1751
Died: June 28, 1836
Vice Presidents: George Clinton, Elbridge Gerry
First Lady: Dolley Payne Todd Madison
Although he was one of the smallest presidents—only 5 feet, 4 inches tall—James Madison had a large impact on the formation of the United States. Often called the "Father of the Constitution," Madison fought for the Bill of Rights, which ensured Americans would have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.
Madison was born in 1751 in Virginia. He attended Princeton, where he studied history and government. In addition to writing portions of the Virginia Constitution in 1776, he also served in the Continental Congress and the Virginia Assembly. He was President Jefferson's secretary of state, and then was elected president in 1808.
- Madison was the first president to serve in Congress before taking office.
- Madison was the first president to wear long pants instead of knee breeches.
- Madison was the shortest president to hold office-5'4".
- In 1844, Dolley Madison was the first person to send a personal message over the Morse telegraph.
- Dolley Madison introduced a new dessert to parties held at the White House that eventually became a national favorite—ice cream.
At the time Madison came to office, relations between the United States and Great Britain were very poor. British warships were stopping U.S. merchant ships at sea to "impress"—or force into service—American sailors. This practice led to a U.S. embargo, a law that prohibited U.S. ships from leaving port to trade goods overseas. The embargo was highly unpopular among both Northern merchants and Southern planters. Madison repealed the embargo and replaced it with laws that forbid trade with Britain and France only.
When Madison Was in Office
- Work began on the National Road, which ran between Maryland and Illinois and was a main route for settlers moving west.
- The War of 1812 between the United States and Britain began.
Louisiana became a state.
- Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" while watching the British bombard Baltimore during the War of 1812.
Invading British troops burned the Capitol and the White House, forcing Madison and other government officials to flee Washington, D.C.
The War of 1812 ended.
- The African Methodist Church, the first independent African-American church in the United States, was founded in Philadelphia.
René Laënnec, a French doctor, invented the stethoscope.
Indiana became a state.
Madison was married to Dolley Payne Todd.
The Madisons never had children. President Madison retired to Montpelier, his estate, and died on June 28, 1836.
On Madison's First Inauguration Day
When Madison stepped to the podium on Inauguration Day, the document he was largely responsible for assembling—the U.S. Constitution—was barely 20 years old. The spirit of the new country had grown in two ways. One was a spirit of nationalism—a love for the United States. The other was sectionalism—the belief that your part of the huge country was the part to which you owed your first loyalty.
James Madison's First Inaugural Address
In Washington, D.C., Saturday, March 4, 1809
UNWILLING to depart from examples of the most revered authority, I avail myself of the occasion now presented to express the profound impression made on me by the call of my country to the station to the duties of which I am about to pledge myself by the most solemn of sanctions. So distinguished a mark of confidence, proceeding from the deliberate and tranquil suffrage of a free and virtuous nation, would under any circumstances have commanded my gratitude and devotion, as well as filled me with an awful sense of the trust to be assumed. Under the various circumstances which give peculiar solemnity to the existing period, I feel that both the honor and the responsibility allotted to me are inexpressibly enhanced.
The present situation of the world is indeed without a parallel, and that of our own country full of difficulties. 1 The pressure of these, too, is the more severely felt because they have fallen upon us at a moment when the national prosperity being at a height not before attained, the contrast resulting from the change has been rendered the more striking. Under the benign influence of our republican institutions, and the maintenance of peace with all nations whilst so many of them were engaged in bloody and wasteful wars, the fruits of a just policy were enjoyed in an unrivaled growth of our faculties and resources. Proofs of this were seen in the improvements of agriculture, in the successful enterprises of commerce, in the progress of manufacturers and useful arts, in the increase of the public revenue and the use made of it in reducing the public debt, and in the valuable works and establishments everywhere multiplying over the face of our land.
It is a precious reflection that the transition from this prosperous condition of our country to the scene which has for some time been distressing us is not chargeable on any unwarrantable views, nor, as I trust, on any involuntary errors in the public councils. Indulging no passions which trespass on the rights or the repose of other nations, it has been the true glory of the United States to cultivate peace by observing justice, and to entitle themselves to the respect of the nations at war by fulfilling their neutral obligations with the most scrupulous impartiality. If there be candor in the world, the truth of these assertions will not be questioned; posterity at least will do justice to them.
This unexceptionable course could not avail against the injustice and violence of the belligerent powers. In their rage against each other, or impelled by more direct motives, principles of retaliation have been introduced equally contrary to universal reason and acknowledged law. How long their arbitrary edicts will be continued in spite of the demonstrations that not even a pretext for them has been given by the United States, and of the fair and liberal attempt to induce a revocation of them, can not be anticipated. Assuring myself that under every vicissitude the determined spirit and united councils of the nation will be safeguards to its honor and its essential interests, I repair to the post assigned me with no other discouragement than what springs from my own inadequacy to its high duties. If I do not sink under the weight of this deep conviction it is because I find some support in a consciousness of the purposes and a confidence in the principles which I bring with me into this arduous service.
To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality toward belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an appeal to arms; to exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves and too elevated not to look down upon them in others; to hold the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; 2 to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to the success of the general system; to avoid the slightest interference with the right of conscience or the functions of religion, so wisely exempted from civil jurisdiction; to preserve in their full energy the other salutary provisions in behalf of private and personal rights, and of the freedom of the press; to observe economy in public expenditures; to liberate the public resources by an honorable discharge of the public debts; to keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics—that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe; to promote by authorized means improvements friendly to agriculture, to manufactures, and to external as well as internal commerce; to favor in like manner the advancement of science and the diffusion of information as the best aliment to true liberty; to carry on the benevolent plans which have been so meritoriously applied to the conversion of our aboriginal neighbors from the degradation and wretchedness of savage life to a participation of the improvements of which the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state—as far as sentiments and intentions such as these can aid the fulfillment of my duty, they will be a resource which can not fail me.
It is my good fortune, moreover, to have the path in which I am to tread lighted by examples of illustrious services successfully rendered in the most trying difficulties by those who have marched before me. Of those of my immediate predecessor it might least become me here to speak. I may, however, be pardoned for not suppressing the sympathy with which my heart is full in the rich reward he enjoys in the benedictions of a beloved country 3, gratefully bestowed or exalted talents zealously devoted through a long career to the advancement of its highest interest and happiness.
But the source to which I look or the aids which alone can supply my deficiencies is in the well-tried intelligence and virtue of my fellow-citizens, and in the counsels of those representing them in the other departments associated in the care of the national interests. In these my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed, next to that which we have all been encouraged to feel in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising Republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future.
Quotes to Note
- "The present situation..." At the time Madison took office, France and Great Britain were at war. Both countries were attacking U.S. merchant ships at sea and in European ports.
- "to support the Constitution..." Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," says that the limits of the document are just as important as its powers to hold the nation together.
- "my heart is full..." Madison is expressing his admiration for his predecessor Jefferson, and his appreciation for the high regard in which Americans hold Jefferson.
On Madison's Second Inauguration Day
By the end of Madison's first term, the United States was at war with Great Britain and the Native Americans on the western frontier who were aided by that country. The war was unpopular, however, and many Americans in the North felt the country's disagreements with Great Britain could be settled peacefully.
James Madison's Second Inaugural Address
In Washington, D.C., Thursday, March 4, 1813
ABOUT to add the solemnity of an oath to the obligations imposed by a second call to the station in which my country heretofore placed me, I find in the presence of this respectable assembly an opportunity of publicly repeating my profound sense of so distinguished a confidence and of the responsibility united with it. The impressions on me are strengthened by such an evidence that my faithful endeavors to discharge my arduous duties have been favorably estimated, and by a consideration of the momentous period at which the trust has been renewed. From the weight and magnitude now belonging to it I should be compelled to shrink if I had less reliance on the support of an enlightened and generous people, and felt less deeply a conviction that the war with a powerful nation, which forms so prominent a feature in our situation, is stamped with that justice which invites the smiles of Heaven on the means of conducting it to a successful termination.
May we not cherish this sentiment without presumption when we reflect on the characters by which this war is distinguished?
It was not declared on the part of the United States until it had been long made on them, in reality though not in name; 1 until arguments and postulations had been exhausted; until a positive declaration had been received that the wrongs provoking it would not be discontinued; nor until this last appeal could no longer be delayed without breaking down the spirit of the nation, destroying all confidence in itself and in its political institutions, and either perpetuating a state of disgraceful suffering or regaining by more costly sacrifices and more severe struggles our lost rank and respect among independent powers.
On the issue of the war are staked our national sovereignty on the high seas and the security of an important class of citizens, whose occupations give the proper value to those of every other class. Not to contend for such a stake is to surrender our equality with other powers on the element common to all and to violate the sacred title which every member of the society has to its protection. I need not call into view the unlawfulness of the practice by which our mariners are forced at the will of every cruising officer from their own vessels into foreign ones, nor paint the outrages inseparable from it. 2 The proofs are in the records of each successive Administration of our Government, and the cruel sufferings of that portion of the American people have found their way to every bosom not dead to the sympathies of human nature.
As the war was just in its origin and necessary and noble in its objects, we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that in carrying it on no principle of justice or honor, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy or humanity, have been infringed. The war has been waged on our part with scrupulous regard to all these obligations, and in a spirit of liberality which was never surpassed.
How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the enemy!
They have retained as prisoners of war citizens of the United States not liable to be so considered under the usages of war.
They have refused to consider as prisoners of war, and threatened to punish as traitors and deserters, persons emigrating without restraint to the United States, incorporated by naturalization into our political family, and fighting under the authority of their adopted country in open and honorable war for the maintenance of its rights and safety. Such is the avowed purpose of a Government which is in the practice of naturalizing by thousands citizens of other countries, and not only of permitting but compelling them to fight its battles against their native country.
They have not, it is true, taken into their own hands the hatchet and the knife, devoted to indiscriminate massacre 3, but they have let loose the savages armed with these cruel instruments; have allured them into their service, and carried them to battle by their sides, eager to glut their savage thirst with the blood of the vanquished and to finish the work of torture and death on maimed and defenseless captives. And, what was never before seen, British commanders have extorted victory over the unconquerable valor of our troops by presenting to the sympathy of their chief captives awaiting massacre from their savage associates. And now we find them, in further contempt of the modes of honorable warfare, supplying the place of a conquering force by attempts to disorganize our political society, to dismember our confederated Republic. Happily, like others, these will recoil on the authors; but they mark the degenerate counsels from which they emanate, and if they did not belong to a sense of unexampled inconsistencies might excite the greater wonder as proceeding from a Government which founded the very war in which it has been so long engaged on a charge against the disorganizing and insurrectional policy of its adversary.
To render the justice of the war on our part the more conspicuous, the reluctance to commence it was followed by the earliest and strongest manifestations of a disposition to arrest its progress. The sword was scarcely out of the scabbard before the enemy was apprised of the reasonable terms on which it would be resheathed. Still more precise advances were repeated, and have been received in a spirit forbidding every reliance not placed on the military resources of the nation.
These resources are amply sufficient to bring the war to an honorable issue. Our nation is in number more than half that of the British Isles. It is composed of a brave, a free, a virtuous, and an intelligent people. Our country abounds in the necessaries, the arts, and the comforts of life. 4 A general prosperity is visible in the public countenance. The means employed by the British cabinet to undermine it have recoiled on themselves; have given to our national faculties a more rapid development, and, draining or diverting the precious metals from British circulation and British vaults, have poured them into those of the United States. It is a propitious consideration that an unavoidable war should have found this seasonable facility for the contributions required to support it. When the public voice called for war, all knew, and still know, that without them it could not be carried on through the period which it might last, and the patriotism, the good sense, and the manly spirit of our fellow-citizens are pledges for the cheerfulness with which they will bear each his share of the common burden. To render the war short and its success sure, animated and systematic exertions alone are necessary, and the success of our arms now may long preserve our country from the necessity of another resort to them. Already have the gallant exploits of our naval heroes proved to the world our inherent capacity to maintain our rights on one element. If the reputation of our arms has been thrown under clouds on the other, presaging flashes of heroic enterprise assure us that nothing is wanting to correspondent triumphs there also but the discipline and habits which are in daily progress.
Quotes to Note
- "It was not declared..." Madison says that the United States put up with aggressive behavior from Great Britain for a long time until declaring war in 1812.
- "I need not call..." Madison is referring to the British navy's practice of taking American sailors from their ships to serve on British ships. More than 6,000 Americans suffered from this practice, known as "impressment."
- "They have not..." Madison gives the British a backhanded slap, saying that they aren't exactly guilty of murdering American settlers in the western territories, but they are guilty of supporting the Indians who are doing the killing.
- "Our country abounds..." Madison says that the war with Great Britain in some ways has improved the economy and the spirit of the American people.
James Madison was the fourth president of the United States, serving from 1809 to 1817. Before achieving the nation's highest office, he participated in the Virginia Constitutional Convention; was a delegate to the continental congress; drafted a proposal for the U.S. Constitution; supported ratification of the Constitution, through The Federalist Papers, written with alexander hamilton and john jay; served in the House of Representatives; helped write the bill of rights; and was Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state.
Born March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Virginia, Madison was the first of 11 children in his family. His father, James Madison Sr., was the wealthiest landowner in Orange County, Virginia, and provided Madison with a stable and comfortable upbringing. Eleanor Conway Madison, his mother, was an affectionate woman who gave the family emotional support throughout her ninety-eight years of life.
Madison grew up on an isolated plantation in Montpelier, Virginia. As a teenager he attended school in King and Queen County, studying logic, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and French, among other subjects. Although Madison suffered from ill health during much of his youth, he developed a reputation as an intense and ambitious student at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), which he attended from 1769 to 1772.
By 1774 it was becoming clear to many observers that the differences between the colonists and the British government could not be resolved peacefully. During that year Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, which closed the Boston Port, restricted town assemblies, and authorized British authorities to house their troops in private colonial residences. In September 1774 the First Continental Congress convened to discuss the emerging crisis with Great Britain. Unlike many colonists, who were reluctant to take any radical measures before Parliament
could respond to the petition of grievances drafted by Congress, Madison favored immediate military preparations.
As Madison became more politically vocal, he became more politically active. In December 1774 he was elected to the Orange County Committee of Safety, one of many colonial bodies formed to carry out congressional mandates such as the American boycott of English goods. In October 1775, six months after the Revolution began in Lexington and Concord, Madison was commissioned a colonel in the county militia. In 1776, at age 25, he was elected as a delegate to the Virginia Provincial Convention, where he helped draft Virginia's constitution.
In May 1776 the Virginia Provincial Convention, later known as the New House of Delegates, instructed its representatives at the Second Continental Congress to draft a declaration of independence, negotiate foreign alliances, and complete the U.S. articles of confederation. The Articles of Confederation empowered Congress to govern certain areas of national concern, including foreign policy. The several states retained power to govern most other issues within their own borders.
"But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external or internal controls on government would be necessary."
In the New House of Delegates, Madison forged a friendship with Jefferson that would leave an indelible imprint on U.S. law and U.S. history. Jefferson and Madison shared a love for books, ideas, and solitude. Jefferson had authored the Declaration of Independence, and Madison would be considered the architect of the U.S. Constitution. But whereas Jefferson was idealistic and impetuous, Madison was more realistic and rational. Although Madison was eight years younger than Jefferson, his thoughtful temperament often helped palliate the mercurial Jefferson. From 1777 to 1779, Madison served as a cabinet member for Jefferson, who was the governor of Virginia.
In December 1779 Virginia chose Madison as one of its five delegates to the Continental Congress. Earning respect for his sober and methodical approach to lawmaking as well as his intellectual prowess, Madison helped Congress pass a revenue measure that rescued the fledgling nation from bankruptcy. Over the next three years, Madison learned how to shape an agenda and to achieve results through compromise.
On April 15, 1783, Congress ratified a peace treaty with Great Britain that concluded the Revolutionary War, and won U.S. independence. This year also marked the end of Madison's tenure with the Continental Congress. After returning home to Virginia, Madison was elected by the voters of Orange County to the state legislature in 1784.
During the 1784 fall session, the Virginia assembly approved an act to incorporate the Episcopal Church, and postponed action on another bill that sought to subsidize Christianity by levying a tax on behalf of teachers who taught this religion. In response to this proposed bill, Madison anonymously published a short leaflet entitled Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments. This leaflet called for a separation of church and state, denounced government aid to religion, declared the equality of all religions, and articulated a general liberty to worship according to the dictates of one's conscience without fear of persecution. Many copies of the leaflet were distributed to the state assembly in October 1785, along with supporting signatures, which helped influence enough legislators to defeat the Christian subsidy.
The following year Madison joined Hamilton in urging Congress to summon a national convention at Philadelphia to draft a federal constitution that would replace the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress had no power to regulate commerce. As a result the thirteen states engaged in a series of trade wars with each other. Many states imposed discriminatory taxes and regulations on goods imported from other states, and some states refused to import any goods from neighboring states.
Also under the Articles of Confederation, Congress had no power to tax. When Congress requested money to pay for the public debt and the Continental Army, the states often failed to respond. Consequently, the national debt grew and the Continental Army suffered a rash of desertions. Congressional ability to obtain credit dwindled. Madison observed that the 13 states would be in a precarious and vulnerable position if the country were required to defend its borders against foreign invasion.
Congress was the country's only federal government body; the Articles of Confederation did not provide for an executive branch to enforce congressional will, or a judicial branch to resolve disputes. This single body was virtually powerless to do anything about outbreaks of
rebellion that were becoming more frequent in the states. For example, it offered no reasonable resolution for shays's rebellion of 1786, an insurrection of nearly two thousand farmers who were protesting Massachusetts's land foreclosure laws.
Fifty-five delegates representing 12 states attended the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787. Reaching Philadelphia on May 14, Madison was the first delegate to arrive from any state other than Pennsylvania. Business would not begin until May 25, when a quorum of seven states would first be present. Madison seized the intervening 11 days to draft a 15-point proposal that formed the underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution.
Known as the Virginia Plan, this proposal presented a radical departure from the Articles of Confederation. In it, with help from the other Virginia delegates, Madison suggested a constitutional system comprising a strong centralized federal government with three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The sovereignty granted to each branch would be limited by the sovereignty granted to the other two branches and by the concurrent sovereignty retained by the states. This system of checks and balances had no predecessor in history.
The Virginia Plan provided the blueprint for a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature, with an upper chamber known as the Senate and a lower chamber known as the House of Representatives. As originally conceived, the plan gave Congress the indefinite power to legislate in all "cases to which the states are not competent." State governments would retain authority to legislate local concerns, and to create constitutional systems of their own. However, Madison made clear that the federal government would be supreme, and that any state law in contravention of the U.S. Constitution, a congressional enactment, or a federal treaty would be void.
At the same time, Madison's proposal for a broad grant of undefined congressional power was jettisoned. Madison argued that Congress should be given more legislative authority than state legislatures because state laws had been largely responsible for the recent trade wars and farmer rebellions. However, Madison was unable to explain why the federal government, made up of representatives from the several states, should be trusted to exercise its lawmaking powers any more prudently than had the state governments. Thus, the delegates persuaded Madison that the powers of the executive and legislative branches must be limited to those expressly enumerated in the Constitution. However, one of those enumerated powers, Congress's power to make all laws "necessary and proper" in the performance of its legislative function, has provided a broad constitutional basis for federal lawmaking similar to that originally envisioned by Madison.
The necessary and proper clause was only one of the constitutional provisions vigorously defended in The Federalist Papers, a series of essays written by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay that explained and promoted the system of government created by the Philadelphia convention. Called The Federalist Papers because proponents of the federal Constitution were known as Federalists, this collection of essays was circulated among the delegates to the state ratifying conventions, in an effort to win their support. Opponents of the federal Constitution, known as Anti-Federalists, published and circulated essays and leaflets of their own.
Some Anti-Federalists eventually lent their support to the ratification movement when Madison and other Federalists promised to draft a bill of rights that would protect individual liberty and state sovereignty from encroachment by the federal government. In 1788 the Constitution was adopted by the states. The next year Madison was elected to the House of Representatives, where he subsequently represented Virginia for eight years. During the First Congress, in 1789, Madison drafted 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, ten of which were ultimately adopted by the states, with some subtle changes in language, and now stand as the Bill of Rights.
Neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights expressly mentions the power of judicial review, which is the prerogative of state and federal courts to invalidate laws that violate a constitutional provision or principle. Article VI declares that the federal Constitution "shall be the supreme Law of the Land." Yet it does not state whether the executive, legislative, and judicial branches possess the power to nullify laws that are unconstitutional. Although the Framers of the Constitution recognized that courts had traditionally exercised the authority to interpret and apply the law, the power of judicial review had never been a clearly established practice in Anglo-American legal history.
In the landmark case marbury v. madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803), the U.S. Supreme Court established the power of judicial review in the United States. While serving as secretary of state to President Jefferson (1801–1809), Madison was sued by William Marbury, a judge who had been appointed to the federal bench during the waning hours of President John Adams's administration. Marbury argued that Madison had violated his duties as secretary of state by failing to deliver to Marbury a commission that he needed to complete his appointment to the federal judiciary.
Although the Supreme Court agreed that Madison had wrongfully withheld the commission, it denied Marbury's claim because it had been brought pursuant to an unconstitutional provision of a federal statute. By invalidating that provision, the Supreme Court established the power of judicial review. When Madison learned of the Supreme Court's decision, he criticized the judicial branch for attempting to usurp congressional lawmaking power.
Madison said that to allow unelected federal judges to overturn legislation enacted by the popularly elected branches of government makes "the judicial department paramount in fact to the legislature, which was never intended, and can never be proper." Madison changed his mind on this issue near the end of his life. As an elder statesman attending the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829, and as a director for the University of Virginia from 1826 to 1834, he assailed the nullification theories of southern legislators who proclaimed the prerogative to ignore federal laws in certain circumstances. Only the judiciary, Madison concluded, had the power to declare federal laws unconstitutional.
Serving as the fourth president of the United States (1809–17), Madison revealed the same propensity to reevaluate strongly held beliefs in light of experience. Earlier in his career, he had opposed the creation of a congressionally chartered national bank. He had initially believed that under no faithful interpretation of the Constitution was Congress authorized to establish a national bank. Yet, in 1816 Madison signed a bill that established the Second Bank of the United States, agreeing that it represented a constitutional exercise of congressional power. Popular acceptance of the First Bank of the United States had altered Madison's perception.
The war of 1812 provided some of the best and worst moments of Madison's presidency. During the low point of the war with Great Britain, English troops occupied Washington, D.C., and burned down the White House. Despite other such humiliating moments for the U.S. military, Madison's troops rebounded in 1815 and soundly defeated the British in the final battle of the war at New Orleans. Although Americans gained nothing tangible from the war, they had successfully defended their soil.
The perseverance and resolve demonstrated by Madison and his troops during the war proved to be an important step in the maturation process of the young republic. By winning the War of 1812 and defeating British troops for a second time in less than half a century, john adams remarked, Madison brought more glory to the United States than any of his three predecessors in office. Madison also unified the country like never before in its short history, allowing his successors to build upon the emerging national identity.
After the close of his second term, Madison retired from public office and returned home to Montpelier, Virginia, where he devoted long hours to farming and became president of the local agricultural society. Madison welcomed retirement, seeing it as an opportunity to renew his passion for reading and resume his correspondence with thomas jefferson.
He died on June 28, 1836.
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Bailyn, Bernard. 1977. The Great Republic. Lexington, Mass.: Heath.
Goldwin, Robert A. 1997. From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press.
Hawkins, Michael Daly. 1999. "Mr. Madison, Meet the Modern Judiciary & Its Critics." Oklahoma City University Law Review 24 (spring-summer): 303–7.
Levy, Leonard W. 1988. Original Intent and the Framers' Constitution. New York: Macmillan.
Madison, James. 1987. Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. Edited by Adrienne Koch. New York: Norton.
Meyers, Marvin, ed. 1981. The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison. Rev. ed. Hanover: Univ. Press of New England.
Rakove, Jack. 2002. "Judicial Power in the Constitutional Theory of James Madison. William and Mary Law Review 43 (March): 1513.
——. 1990. James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic. New York: HarperCollins.
Reiss, David. 2002. "Jefferson and Madison as Icons in Judicial History: A Study of Religion Clause Jurisprudence. Maryland Law Review 61 (winter): 94–176.
Scott, James Brown. 2001. James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 and Their Relation to a More Perfect Society of Nations. Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange.
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Madison, James (1751-1836)
James Madison (1751-1836)
Member of congress, delegate to the constitutional convention, secretary of state, president of the united states
Founding Father. James Madison’s achievements as secretary of state and president have never compared favorably with his role as “Father of the Constitution.” He has also been overshadowed by his close friend and political associate, Thomas Jefferson. Madison’s shyness and unimpressive oratory created a public image of ineffective leadership. But he excelled as a political thinker, essayist, and organizer who could persuade and conciliate in legislative committees and political meetings. Madison used those considerable talents to become a Founding Father of both the U.S. government and the Republican Party.
Early Life. James Madison, the oldest of twelve children of James Madison Sr. and Nellie Conway Madison, was born on 16 March 1751 at the home of his maternal grandparents in Port Conway, Virginia, and grew up at his family’s plantation, Montpelier, in Orange County. His membership in a large extended family descended from several generations of Virginia planters gave Madison a strong sense of his place in Virginia society. The daily presence of slavery imparted a hatred of the institution that he nonetheless was involved in all his life. From 1769 to 1771 Madison attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), where a progressive curriculum encouraged “a spirit of liberty, and free enquiry” into all fields of knowledge. Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the college and later a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a Presbyterian minister who had fought the church hierarchy in his native Scotland. He instilled in his students an opposition to all forms of religious and political tyranny. After college Madison experienced a prolonged period of poor health and personal crisis caused by uncertainty over a career. Like other young men of his generation, Madison found a cause—liberty and republican government—and a political career in the American Revolution. In 1774 he was elected to the Committee of Safety, the revolutionary government in Virginia. Two years later he served on committees of the Virginia Convention that framed a new constitution and declaration of rights. In the Virginia Assembly from 1776 to 1777 and on the Governor’s Council from 1778 to 1779, Madison worked closely with Thomas Jefferson on the bill for religious freedom, and he was deeply involved in all issues of war and government while Jefferson was governor. Their friendship would last until Jefferson’s death in 1826.
The Nationalist. Madison’s experiences in the Continental Congress (1780–1783) and the Virginia Assembly (1784–1786) made him a supporter of a strong national government. After only one week in Congress he wrote Thomas Jefferson about the depressing situation of an inadequately supplied army, an empty treasury, and a weak Congress, “recommending plans to the several states for execution and the states separately rejudging the expediency of such plans.…” The situation was no better on the state level. In a letter to Jefferson written in 1788 Madison described “the danger of oppression” caused by state legislatures acting as “the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.” As a delegate to the Annapolis Convention in 1786, Madison knew that strengthening Congress by giving it the power to regulate internal and external trade would not solve the national and state problems of factionalism, sectionalism, and the danger that majority rule posed to minority rights. In a long essay written in 1786, “Of Ancient and Modern Confederacies,” Madison described what he had in mind. The solution was the creation of a government that would act as a “disinterested and dispassionate umpire” to control “disputes between different passions and interests in the State” but that “would itself be sufficiently restrained from the pursuit of interests adverse to those of the whole Society.” Madison feared that the final version of the Constitution approved in September 1787 allowed the states to retain too much power through equal representation in the Senate and the lack of a national veto of state legislation, but in The Federalist (1788) and at the Virginia ratification convention he vigorously supported the new federal government as the best means to protect national union and liberty.
Republican Party. The Virginia Anti-Federalist Patrick Henry blocked Madison’s election to the U.S. Senate, but he could not stop Madison’s election to the House of Representatives in 1789. When Madison emerged as leader of House opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s financial program in 1790, Federalists, including Hamilton, condemned Madison as a traitor. Madison, however, believed that Hamilton had betrayed the principles of the Constitution. Hamilton’s alliance between the federal government and merchant/speculators did not conform to Madison’s concept of the federal government as a “disinterested and dispassionate umpire” that would guarantee liberty and equality for all citizens. He was also alarmed at how support for Hamilton’s policies in the legislative branch created a dangerous consolidation of power in the executive branch. Madison also opposed Hamilton’s pro-British foreign policy, believing that it continued the subservient relationship of the colonial period. In the early 1790s Madison, with the assistance of Clerk of the House John Beckley, was far more active in organizing the Republican Party than Thomas Jefferson, especially after Jefferson retired as secretary of state in 1793. Despite his efforts in Congress and in the press, the Federalists scored one victory after another. The final blow was ratification of the Jay Treaty in 1795, which Madison regarded as obvious proof that the Federalists were “a British party.” In 1797 Madison and Dolley Payne Todd, the young widow whom he had married in 1794, retired to Montpelier. The continuing “transformation of the republican system of the United States into a monarchy,” most evident in the Alien and Sedition Acts, ended Madison’s political retirement. As the anonymous author of the Virginia Resolutions in 1798 and as the author of a report to fellow members of the Virginia legislature in 1800, Madison maintained that the states must “interpose” their authority in order to defend civil liberties from the encroaching power of the federal government.
Secretary of State. Madison’s opportunity to restore republican principles to the federal government came when Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1800 and chose Madison as his secretary of state. Because of their long friendship and shared beliefs, foreign policy in the Jefferson administration was very much a partnership between Jefferson and Madison. Madison’s primary role in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 may have been to implement Jefferson’s instructions, but his interest in access to the Mississippi River and American settlement of western lands dated to his first term in Congress in 1780, when he argued for American claims to navigation on the Mississippi and territory in the Mississippi River Valley. Madison shared Jefferson’s devotion to territorial expansion as the key to ensuring that the United States would remain a peaceful republic of independent, property-owning farmers. As secretary of state he aggressively pursued the expansion of the “Empire of Liberty” through attempts to acquire Florida from Spain, finally annexing West Florida during his presidency. As the Jefferson administration’s most ardent supporter of commercial coercion as an effective method of defending American commerce and American honor, Madison was instrumental in establishing and enforcing the embargo, especially after he became president-elect in December 1808. As president Madison would continue to implement the republican principles of foreign and domestic policy that he had helped formulate as secretary of state.
“Mr. Madison’s War.” When President Madison assumed office in March 1809, he faced the prospect of a war that would endanger the property and liberty of the American people through the introduction of high taxes, a standing army, and increased executive authority. Madison’s continued reliance on commercial coercion as a substitute for war seemed naive after Britain repudiated the Erskine Agreement in 1809, which promised the removal of British restrictions on neutral trade, and France duped the United States into resuming nonintercourse with Britain in 1811 with false assurances that French trade restrictions would be removed. However, Madison’s determination to maintain his republican ideals and to save the country “from the dilemma, of a mortifying peace” or war with both Britain and France compelled him to gamble on this risky policy. At the least, commercial coercion might buy time to make defense preparations and rally public support for a war against one enemy—Britain—whose long history of contempt for American economic and political independence made her the more appropriate target than France. The failure to seize Canada quickly and force Britain into peace negotiations turned the War of 1812 into a protracted struggle filled with military disasters and political opposition from Federalists, which reached its climax in the Hartford Convention of 1814–1815, as well as from antiadministration Republicans. Prosecution of the war also suffered from the mediocrity, incompetence, and political rivalry in Madison’s cabinet; military and financial weaknesses due to the Republican Party’s horror of standing armies, taxes, and a National Bank; and Madison’s own reluctance to damage the separation-of-powers doctrine of the Constitution by consolidating power in the executive branch. Ironically, Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent erased the many humiliations of the war, including the invasion of Washington and the burning of the Executive Mansion in August 1814, and rehabilitated President Madison’s image. In 1817 Madison left office, credited with the defense of republicanism and national honor.
Elder Statesman. In retirement Madison kept a close watch on political and social issues. President James Monroe sent him diplomatic dispatches, and Madison offered foreign policy advice. He assisted Thomas Jefferson in establishing the University of Virginia, and after Jefferson’s death in 1826 Madison succeeded him as rector of the university. As the number of slaves in the country increased each year with the spread of the “Cotton Kingdom,” Madison believed more than ever in emancipation, but he also concluded that racial inferiority and prejudice would prevent the integration of freed slaves into American society. In 1816 he helped establish the American Colonization Society to resettle freed slaves in Africa. The Virginia constitutional convention of 1829 approved Madison’s democratic proposal to extend the vote to all householders and heads of families who paid taxes. However, his proposal to use the federal three-fifths ratio to apportion representation in the lower house of the state legislature failed. Instead, the convention maintained the political dominance of slaveowners in both houses of the legislature by allowing the total slave population to be counted for representation. During the South Carolina nullification crisis of 1828–1833, Madison denied the right of states to nullify federal tariff laws that they considered unconstitutional. Madison now regretted the loose language of his Virginia Resolutions in 1798, which suggested that a state’s right to “interpose” its authority included the nullification of federal laws. He explained that states should work cooperatively to repeal unjust laws. The terrible alternative was nullification, secession, and the dissolution of the Union he had worked so hard to create. James Madison died at Montpelier on 28 June 1836.
Irving Brant, James Madison, 6 volumes (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941–1961);
Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990).
James Madison was born 16 March 1751 in Port Conway, Virginia, the first child of James and Nelly Conway Madison. His father owned a large plantation in Orange County, Virginia, and it was there at Montpelier that Madison grew up. At the age of eleven he went to boarding school and at sixteen returned home to continue his studies with a tutor. Madison entered the College of New Jersey at Princeton in 1769. He completed the fouryear course in two years, graduating in 1771, and spent the following year in graduate studies in the classics, reading Greek and Latin writers, and in natural and moral philosophy, in which modern thinkers like Michel de Montaigne, John Locke, and David Hume figured prominently.
Back home at Montpelier, Madison passed through a period of career indecision that coincided with the political turmoil leading up to the American Revolution. He played a prominent role in local politics as a member of the Orange County Committee of Safety (1774) and as colonel of the county militia (1775) and was elected a member of the Virginia Convention of 1776. At the convention Madison made a significant contribution by inserting language in the state constitution that upheld the free exercise of religion as a right and not a privilege. Defeated for election to the newly created General Assembly in 1777, Madison was selected as a member of the Council of State, an executive body that advised the governor. Madison served through 1779 under the governorships of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
In December 1779 Madison was elected to represent Virginia in the Continental Congress, where he served until 1783. Madison took his duties seriously, participating vigorously in debates, immersing himself in committee work, and taking copious notes of the proceedings. These notes, published in the modern edition of the Papers of James Madison, are a valuable source for the proceedings of Congress. Madison, while upholding the interests of Virginia, was among those members who fought for expanded powers for the Confederation Congress to support the Continental Army, including a federal government tax on imports. Although this measure failed, Madison left Congress with a reputation for intelligence, hard work, and integrity.
From 1784 to 1786 Madison served in the Virginia House of Delegates, where he was instrumental in gaining passage of a portion of Jefferson's law reform measures, including the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. He also helped defeat an attempt by Henry to provide for state support of religious teachers, in the process formulating a Memorial and Remonstrance (1785) that remains a ringing statement
of the essential value of the separation of church and state.
In 1786 Madison attended a convention at Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss interstate trade issues. The convention called for a general convention of delegates from all the states to discuss measures to enhance the powers of the federal government. At home in Virginia Madison lobbied heavily for such a meeting and to compose a slate of distinguished Virginians to attend. He was instrumental in convincing George Washington that his presence was essential for the success of such a convention.
In the meantime, Madison undertook two research projects. The first involved reading widely in the history of ancient republics and confederacies and studying the reasons for their collapse. The second was an examination of the "Vices of the Political System of the U.S." Both projects yielded notes and memoranda that formed the basis for Madison's contributions to the Constitutional Convention.
In February 1787 Madison took his seat as a delegate in the Confederation Congress at New York. During the spring session Madison drafted the plan of a system of government that was adopted by the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention as the Virginia Plan. The plan scrapped the Articles of Confederation and proposed a national government that operated directly on its citizens.
In May 1787 the Philadelphia Convention quickly adopted the Virginia Plan as the framework for discussion. Madison took a central role in the debates that followed and took detailed notes of the proceedings. Despite the defeat of two important parts of his plan—proportional representation in both houses of Congress and a federal veto over state laws—Madison's contribution to the U.S. Constitution was such as to earn him the title "Father of the Constitution."
Once more in Congress, Madison made sure the drafted constitution was sent to the states for ratification. He joined forces with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write a series of essays for a New York newspaper explaining and defending the new constitution. These eighty-five essays, of which Madison wrote twenty-nine, were subsequently published as The Federalist and have ever since been read as a guide to the constitutional thought of the founding generation.
In 1788 Madison returned home to attend the Virginia Ratifying Convention, where he successfully defended the draft constitution against the anti-Federalists led by Patrick Henry. Virginia became the tenth state to ratify. Blocked by Governor Henry from a seat in the U.S. Senate, Madison ran against James Monroe and won a seat in the House of Representatives.
In the First Federal Congress, Madison took a leading part as legislators created a revenue system, executive departments, and a federal court system. Madison also advised President Washington on matters of protocol and procedure and drafted a number of the president's speeches. Madison's most important contribution in this period was the drafting of a series of nineteen amendments to the Constitution, culled from more than two hundred suggested by the states, answering the most vociferous criticisms of the document. Madison insisted that Congress take up this issue, ensuring the debate that sent twelve amendments to the states for ratification. Ten were finally adopted to become the Bill of Rights.
Madison lost influence with the president as Washington turned to his newly appointed cabinet for advice. Perhaps the most powerful voice in the new administration belonged to Hamilton, the secretary of the Treasury, whose financial plans for the new Republic were distinctly at odds with those of Madison. The Virginian opposed Hamilton's policies on assumption of the states' Revolutionary War debt, on his plans to fully fund U.S. securities despite rampant speculation, and on Hamilton's pro-British trade slant. The divide between the two men only grew larger in subsequent Congresses as the full extent of Hamilton's financial system became apparent. Madison, along with Secretary of State Jefferson, considered the system, modeled on that of Great Britain, a betrayal of the original principles of the American Revolution and an attempt to subvert the intent of the framers of the Constitution. Their opposition laid the foundation for the first party system and divided the country into Jeffersonian-Republicans and Federalists.
The divide was further embittered by the European conflict that arose in the wake of the French Revolution. Madison and the Republicans expressed sympathy for France, which they felt was the legitimate heir of their own revolution, whereas Federalists recoiled at the violence and excesses there. Despite treaty ties with France, Washington issued a neutrality proclamation in 1793, which Madison considered unconstitutional. He attacked the proclamation in a series of essays signed "Helvidius," but to no avail. The tilt toward Great Britain continued with the negotiation and ratification of Jay's Treaty in 1794–1795, which brought an end to a number of conflicts at the price of significant concessions. Madison considered these concessions to be so humiliating that he tried to block House appropriations to implement the treaty. Once again his efforts failed. With the election of Federalist John Adams in 1796, Madison took his leave of the House of Representatives in March 1797.
In his Montpelier retirement, Madison responded to the Quasi-War with France and Adams's domestic policies. In 1798 the Virginia legislature accepted a number of his resolutions, with his authorship concealed, in response to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Virginia Resolutions called for the states to protest federal infringements on personal liberties. In 1799 he wrote two essays, also anonymous, for the newspapers: "Foreign Influence" examined British influence on the United States, and "Political Reflections" discussed France and the nature of republican government. In that same year he sought and won a seat in the state legislature, determined to defend the Virginia Resolutions from attacks by other states. His Report of 1800, adopted by the Virginia assembly, set forth the case for the unconstitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts and eloquently defended the right of free speech.
With Jefferson's election to the presidency in 1800, Madison became secretary of state, serving from 1801 to 1809. Madison's tenure was distinguished by the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, which effectively doubled the size of the United States. Madison's greatest trial was maintaining U.S. neutrality in the face of British and French depredations on American commerce. His meticulously researched book, An Examination of the British Doctrine, which Subjects to Capture a Neutral Trade, Not Open in Time of Peace (1806), demonstrating how Great Britain's maritime practice contravened international law, proved to no avail. The embargo enacted in 1807, employing Madison's favorite weapon, economic coercion, was an equal failure.
Elected president in 1808, Madison tried other economic measures to stop European depredations on U.S. commerce and seamen. None proved successful, and Madison undertook measures to prepare the country for war. In June 1812 he laid out the rationale for hostilities with Great Britain, and a declaration of war by Congress followed.
Madison was the first president to serve as commander in chief under the U.S. Constitution. The war effort was hampered by poor leadership at every level—national, state, and in the armed forces—and political opposition from the New England states. The administration's Canada strategy was a fiasco, and the British campaign in the Chesapeake, including the burning of Washington, D.C., was a humiliation. Only the single ship combats on the high seas and the naval victory at Lake Erie provided a modicum of success. The skill of the U.S. negotiators at Ghent and the victory at New Orleans provided a happy ending to what might have been a political disaster.
Upon leaving office, Madison returned to his Montpelier plantation, where he edited his public papers for posthumous publication and assisted Jefferson in the creation of the University of Virginia. He served as the university's second rector from 1826 to 1833. His last public appearance was at the 1829 Virginia Constitutional Convention.
See alsoAlien and Sedition Acts; Anti-Federalists; Articles of Confederation; Bill of Rights; Congress; Constitution, Ratification of; Constitutional Convention; Continental Congresses; Democratic Republicans; Election of 1800; Embargo; European Influences: The French Revolution; Federalist Papers; Federalist Party; Federalists; Ghent, Treaty of; Hamilton, Alexander; Jay's Treaty;Jefferson, Thomas; Lake Erie, Battle of; Louisiana Purchase; New Orleans, Battle of; Presidency, The: James Madison; Quasi-War with France; States' Rights; Virginia; Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom; War of 1812; Washington, George .
Banning, Lance. The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995.
Brugger, Robert J., Mary A. Hackett, and David B. Mattern et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series. 6 vols. to date. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986–.
Hutchinson, William T., and William M. E. Rachal et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison. Vols. 11–17, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1977–91.
Ketcham, Ralph. James Madison: A Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1971; Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990.
McCoy, Drew R. The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Rakove, Jack. James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic. Edited by Oscar Handlin. New York: Longman, 2002.
Rutland, Robert A., and J. C. A. Stagg et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series. 5 vols. to date. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1984–.
Stagg, J. C. A. Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.
David B. Mattern