James Madison Jr.
James Madison Biography
Age at Convention: 36
Date of Birth: March 16, 1751
Date of Death: June 28, 1836
Schooling: College of New Jersey (Princeton) 1771
Prior Political Experience: Lower House of Virginia 1776, 1783-1786, Upper House of Virginia 1778, Virginia State Constitutional Convention 1776, Confederation Congress 1781- 1783, 1786-1788, Virginia House of Delegates 1784-1786, Annapolis Convention Signer 1786
Committee Assignments: Third Committee of Representation, Committee of Slave Trade, Committee of Leftovers, Committee of Style
Convention Contributions: Arrived May 25 and was present through the signing of the Constitution. He is best known for writing the Virginia Plan and defending the attempt to build a stronger central government. He kept copious notes of the proceedings of the Convention which were made available to the general public upon his death in 1836. William Pierce stated that “Mr. Madison is a character who has long been in public life; and what is very remarkable every Person seems to acknowledge his greatness. He blends together the profound politician, with the Scholar. … The affairs of the United States, he perhaps, has the most correct knowledge of, of any Man in the Union.”
New Government Participation: Attended the ratification convention of Virginia and supported the ratification of the Constitution. He also coauthored the Federalist Papers. Served as Virginia’s U.S. Representative (1789-1797) where he drafted and debated the First Twelve Amendments to the Constitution; ten of which became the Bill of Rights; author of the Virginia Resolutions which argued that the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were unconstitutional. Served as Secretary of State (1801-1809) Elected President of the United States of America (1809-1817).
Biography from the National Archives:The oldest of 10 children and a scion of the planter aristocracy, Madison was born in 1751 at Port Conway, King George County, VA, while his mother was visiting her parents. In a few weeks she journeyed back with her newborn son to Montpelier estate, in Orange County, which became his lifelong home. He received his early education from his mother, from tutors, and at a private school. An excellent scholar though frail and sickly in his youth, in 1771 he graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), where he demonstrated special interest in government and the law. But, considering the ministry for a career, he stayed on for a year of postgraduate study in theology.
Back at Montpelier, still undecided on a profession, Madison soon embraced the patriot cause, and state and local politics absorbed much of his time. In 1775 he served on the Orange County committee of safety; the next year at the Virginia convention, which, besides advocating various Revolutionary steps, framed the Virginia constitution; in 1776-77 in the House of Delegates; and in 1778-80 in the Council of State. His ill health precluded any military service.
In 1780 Madison was chosen to represent Virginia in the Continental Congress (1780-83 and 1786-88). Although originally the youngest delegate, he played a major role in the deliberations of that body. Meantime, in the years 1784-86, he had again sat in the Virginia House of Delegates. He was a guiding force behind the Mount Vernon Conference (1785), attended the Annapolis Convention (1786), and was otherwise highly instrumental in the convening of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He had also written extensively about deficiencies in the Articles of Confederation.
Madison was clearly the preeminent figure at the convention. Some of the delegates favored an authoritarian central government; others, retention of state sovereignty; and most occupied positions in the middle of the two extremes. Madison, who was rarely absent and whose Virginia Plan was in large part the basis of the Constitution, tirelessly advocated a strong government, though many of his proposals were rejected. Despite his poor speaking capabilities, he took the floor more than 150 times, third only after Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson. Madison was also a member of numerous committees, the most important of which were those on postponed matters and style. His journal of the convention is the best single record of the event. He also played a key part in guiding the Constitution through the Continental Congress.
Playing a lead in the ratification process in Virginia, too, Madison defended the document against such powerful opponents as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee. In New York, where Madison was serving in the Continental Congress, he collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in a series of essays that in 1787-88 appeared in the newspapers and were soon published in book form as The Federalist (1788). This set of essays is a classic of political theory and a lucid exposition of the republican principles that dominated the framing of the Constitution.
In the U.S. House of Representatives (1789-97), Madison helped frame and ensure passage of the Bill of Rights. He also assisted in organizing the executive department and creating a system of federal taxation. As leaders of the opposition to Hamilton’s policies, he and Jefferson founded the Democratic-Republican Party.
In 1794 Madison married a vivacious widow who was 16 years his junior, Dolley Payne Todd, who had a son; they were to raise no children of their own. Madison spent the period 1797-1801 in semiretirement, but in 1798 he wrote the Virginia Resolutions, which attacked the Alien and Sedition Acts. While he served as Secretary of State (1801-9), his wife often served as President Jefferson’s hostess.
In 1809 Madison succeeded Jefferson. Like the first three Presidents, Madison was enmeshed in the ramifications of European wars. Diplomacy had failed to prevent the seizure of U.S. ships, goods, and men on the high seas, and a depression wracked the country. Madison continued to apply diplomatic techniques and economic sanctions, eventually effective to some degree against France. But continued British interference with shipping, as well as other grievances, led to the War of 1812.
The war, for which the young nation was ill prepared, ended in stalemate in December 1814 when the inconclusive Treaty of Ghent which nearly restored prewar conditions, was signed. But, thanks mainly to Andrew Jackson’s spectacular victory at the Battle of New Orleans (Chalmette) in January 1815, most Americans believed they had won. Twice tested, independence had survived, and an ebullient nationalism marked Madison’s last years in office, during which period the Democratic-Republicans held virtually uncontested sway.
In retirement after his second term, Madison managed Montpelier but continued to be active in public affairs. He devoted long hours to editing his journal of the Constitutional Convention, which the government was to publish 4 years after his death. He served as co-chairman of the Virginia constitutional convention of 1829-30 and as rector of the University of Virginia during the period 1826-36. Writing newspaper articles defending the administration of Monroe, he also acted as his foreign policy adviser.
Madison spoke out, too, against the emerging sectional controversy that threatened the existence of the Union. Although a slaveholder all his life, he was active during his later years in the American Colonization Society, whose mission was the resettlement of slaves in Africa.
Madison died at the age of 85 in 1836, survived by his wife and stepson.
Biography from the The White House website:
At his inauguration, James Madison, a small, wizened man, appeared old and worn; Washington Irving described him as “but a withered little apple-John.” But whatever his deficiencies in charm, Madison’s buxom wife Dolley compensated for them with her warmth and gaiety. She was the toast of Washington.
Born in 1751, Madison was brought up in Orange County, Virginia, and attended Princeton (then called the College of New Jersey). A student of history and government, well-read in law, he participated in the framing of the Virginia Constitution in 1776, served in the Continental Congress, and was a leader in the Virginia Assembly.
When delegates to the Constitutional Convention assembled at Philadelphia, the 36-year-old Madison took frequent and emphatic part in the debates.
Madison made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution by writing, with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the Federalist essays. In later years, when he was referred to as the “Father of the Constitution,” Madison protested that the document was not “the off-spring of a single brain,” but “the work of many heads and many hands.”
In Congress, he helped frame the Bill of Rights and enact the first revenue legislation. Out of his leadership in opposition to Hamilton’s financial proposals, which he felt would unduly bestow wealth and power upon northern financiers, came the development of the Republican, or Jeffersonian, Party.
As President Jefferson’s Secretary of State, Madison protested to warring France and Britain that their seizure of American ships was contrary to international law. The protests, John Randolph acidly commented, had the effect of “a shilling pamphlet hurled against eight hundred ships of war.”
Despite the unpopular Embargo Act of 1807, which did not make the belligerent nations change their ways but did cause a depression in the United States, Madison was elected President in 1808. Before he took office the Embargo Act was repealed.
During the first year of Madison’s Administration, the United States prohibited trade with both Britain and France; then in May, 1810, Congress authorized trade with both, directing the President, if either would accept America’s view of neutral rights, to forbid trade with the other nation.
Napoleon pretended to comply. Late in 1810, Madison proclaimed non-intercourse with Great Britain. In Congress a young group including Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, the “War Hawks,” pressed the President for a more militant policy.
The British impressment of American seamen and the seizure of cargoes impelled Madison to give in to the pressure. On June 1, 1812, he asked Congress to declare war.
The young Nation was not prepared to fight; its forces took a severe trouncing. The British entered Washington and set fire to the White House and the Capitol.
But a few notable naval and military victories, climaxed by Gen. Andrew Jackson’s triumph at New Orleans, convinced Americans that the War of 1812 had been gloriously successful. An upsurge of nationalism resulted. The New England Federalists who had opposed the war–and who had even talked secession–were so thoroughly repudiated that Federalism disappeared as a national party.
In retirement at Montpelier, his estate in Orange County, Virginia, Madison spoke out against the disruptive states’ rights influences that by the 1830′s threatened to shatter the Federal Union. In a note opened after his death in 1836, he stated, “The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.”
* indicates delegates who did not sign the Constitution
William Samuel Johnson – Roger Sherman – Oliver Ellsworth (Elsworth)*
George Read – Gunning Bedford, Jr. – John Dickinson – Richard Bassett – Jacob Broom
William Few – Abraham Baldwin – William Houstoun* - William L. Pierce*
James McHenry – Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer – Daniel Carroll – Luther Martin* - John F. Mercer*
Nathaniel Gorham – Rufus King – Elbridge Gerry* - Caleb Strong*
John Langdon – Nicholas Gilman
William Livingston – David Brearly (Brearley) - William Paterson (Patterson) - Jonathan Dayton – William C. Houston*
Alexander Hamilton – John Lansing, Jr.* - Robert Yates*
William Blount – Richard Dobbs Spaight – Hugh Williamson – William R. Davie* - Alexander Martin*
Benjamin Franklin – Thomas Mifflin – Robert Morris – George Clymer – Thomas Fitzsimons (FitzSimons; Fitzsimmons) - Jared Ingersoll – James Wilson – Gouverneur Morris
John Rutledge – Charles Cotesworth Pinckney – Charles Pinckney – Pierce Butler
Rhode Island did not send delegates to the Convention.
John Blair – James Madison Jr. – George Washington – George Mason* - James McClurg* - Edmund J. Randolph* - George Wythe*