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  • James Madison

    • Home State: Virginia Age at Creation: 38 Previous Occupation: Politics/Law Hometown: Rural Traits: Intelligent, Patient, Scholar, Greedy, Weak

    James Madison(cropped)(c).jpg

    Early life and education

    Madison's birthplace. It is on the west side of US 301 in front of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and is just north of the Rappahannock River bridge. Belle Grove plantation house, the actual birthplace, was located 400 yards east and is no longer in existence
    Virginia historic marker for Birthplace of President James Madison in Port Conway, Virginia

    James Madison, Jr. was born on March 16, 1751 (March 5, 1750, Old Style), at Belle Grove Plantation near Port Conway in the Colony of Virginia, to James Madison Sr. and Nelly Conway Madison. His family had lived in Virginia since the mid-1600s.[1] Madison's maternal grandfather was a prominent planter and tobacco merchant.[2] His father was a tobacco planter who grew up at a plantation, then called Mount Pleasant, which he had inherited upon reaching adulthood. With an estimated 100 slaves[1] and a 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) plantation, Madison's father was the largest landowner and a leading citizen in Piedmont. In the early 1760s, the Madison family moved into a newly built house that they named Montpelier.[3] Madison grew up as the oldest of twelve children,[4] with seven brothers and four sisters, though only six lived to adulthood.[3]

    Madison as a young man at Princeton.
    Madison as a student at Princeton, portrait by James Sharples

    From age 11 to 16, Madison studied under Donald Robertson, a Scottish instructor who served as a tutor for several prominent planter families in the South. Madison learned mathematics, geography, and modern and classical languages—he became exceptionally proficient in Latin.[5][6] At age 16, Madison returned to Montpelier, where he studied under the Reverend Thomas Martin to prepare for college. Unlike most college-bound Virginians of his day, Madison did not attend the College of William and Mary, where the lowland Williamsburg climate—thought to be more likely to harbor infectious disease—might have strained his delicate health. Instead, in 1769, he enrolled as an undergraduate at Princeton (then formally named the College of New Jersey).[7]

    His studies at Princeton included Latin, Greek, theology, and the works of the Enlightenment.[8] Great emphasis was placed on both speech and debate; Madison was a leading member of the American Whig–Cliosophic Society, which competed on campus with a political counterpart, the Cliosophic Society.[9] During his time in Princeton, Madison's closest friend was future Attorney General William Bradford.[10] Along with another classmate, Madison undertook an intense program of study and completed the college's three-year Bachelor of Arts degree in just two years, graduating in 1771.[11] Madison had contemplated either entering the clergy or practicing law after graduation, but instead remained at Princeton to study Hebrew and political philosophy under the college's president, John Witherspoon.[1] He returned home to Montpelier in early 1772.[12]

    Madison's ideas on philosophy and morality were strongly shaped by Witherspoon, who converted him to the philosophy, values, and modes of thinking of the Age of Enlightenment. Biographer Terence Ball wrote that at Princeton, Madison "was immersed in the liberalism of the Enlightenment, and converted to eighteenth-century political radicalism. From then on James Madison's theories would advance the rights of happiness of man, and his most active efforts would serve devotedly the cause of civil and political liberty."[13]

    After returning to Montpelier, without a chosen career, Madison served as a tutor to his younger siblings.[14] Madison began to study law books in 1773. He asked Princeton friend William Bradford, a law apprentice under Edward Shippen in Philadelphia, to send him an ordered written plan on reading law books. At the age of 22, there was no evidence that Madison, himself, made any effort to apprentice to any lawyer in Virginia. By 1783, he had acquired an understanding of legal publications. Madison saw himself as a law student but never as a lawyer—he never joined the bar or practiced. In his elder years, Madison was sensitive to the phrase "demi-Lawyer", or "half-Lawyer", a derisive term used to describe someone who read law books, but did not practice law.[15] Following the Revolutionary War, Madison spent time at Montpelier in Virginia studying ancient democracies of the world in preparation for the Constitutional Convention.[16]


    American Revolution and Articles of Confederation

    In 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which taxed the American colonists to help fund the increasing costs of administrating British America. The colonists' opposition to the tax marked the start of a conflict that would culminate in the American Revolution. The disagreement centered on Parliament's right to levy taxes on the colonists, who were not directly represented in that body. However, events deteriorated until the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War of 1775–83, in which the colonists split into two factions: Loyalists, who continued to adhere to George III, and the Patriots, whom Madison joined, under the leadership of the Continental Congress. Madison believed that Parliament had overstepped its bounds by attempting to tax the American colonies, and he sympathized with those who resisted British rule.[17] He also favored disestablishing the Anglican Church in Virginia; Madison believed that an established religion was detrimental not only to freedom of religion but also because it encouraged excessive deference to the authority of the state.[18]

    Madison portrait as a yound man.
    Madison's portrait as Congressional delegate at age 32 when he was already recognized as a contributor to politics and government. Portrait by Charles Willson Peale

    In 1774, Madison took a seat on the local Committee of Safety, a pro-revolution group that oversaw the local Patriot militia.[19] In October 1775, he was commissioned as the colonel of the Orange County militia, serving as his father's second-in-command until he was elected as a delegate to the Fifth Virginia Convention, which was charged with producing Virginia's first constitution.[20] Short in stature and frequently in poor health, Madison never saw battle in the Revolutionary War, but he rose to prominence in Virginia politics as a wartime leader.[21]

    At the Virginia constitutional convention, he convinced delegates to alter the Virginia Declaration of Rights to provide for "equal entitlement", rather than mere "tolerance", in the exercise of religion.[22] With the enactment of the Virginia constitution, Madison became part of the Virginia House of Delegates, and he was subsequently elected to the Virginia governor's Council of State,[23] where he became a close ally of Governor Thomas Jefferson.[24] On July 4, 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence was formally printed declaring the 13 American states an independent nation.[25][26]

    Although Madison was not a signatory of the Articles of Confederation, he did contribute to the discussion of religious freedom affecting the drafting of the Articles. Madison had proposed liberalizing the article on religious freedom, but the larger Virginia Convention stripped the proposed constitution of the more radical language. Other amendments by the committee and the entire Convention included the addition of a section on the right to a uniform government (Section 14).[27] Madison again served on the Council of State, from 1777 to 1779, when he was elected to the Second Continental Congress, the governing body of the United States.[c] America faced a difficult war against Great Britain, as well as runaway inflation, financial troubles, and lack of cooperation between the different levels of government. According to historian J.G.A. Stagg, Madison worked to become an expert on financial issues, becoming a legislative workhorse and a master of parliamentary coalition building.[19] Frustrated by the failure of the states to supply needed requisitions, Madison proposed to amend the Articles of Confederation to grant Congress the power to independently raise revenue through tariffs on imports.[29]

    Though General George Washington, Congressman Alexander Hamilton, and other influential leaders also favored the tariff amendment, it was defeated because it failed to win the ratification of all thirteen states.[30] While a member of Congress, Madison was an ardent supporter of a close alliance between the United States and France; and, as an advocate of westward expansion, he insisted that the new nation had to insure its right to navigation on the Mississippi River and control of all lands east of it in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War.[31] After serving in Congress from 1780 to 1783, Madison won election to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1784.[32]

    Father of the Constitution

    Further information: Confederation Period

    As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Madison continued to advocate for religious freedom, and, along with Jefferson, drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. That amendment, which guaranteed freedom of religion and disestablished the Church of England, was passed in 1786.[33] Madison also became a land speculator, purchasing land along the Mohawk River in partnership with another Jefferson protégé, James Monroe.[34] Throughout the 1780s, Madison advocated for reform of the Articles of Confederation. He became increasingly worried about the disunity of the states and the weakness of the central government after the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.[35] He believed that "excessive democracy" caused social decay, and was particularly troubled by laws that legalized paper money and denied diplomatic immunity to ambassadors from other countries.[36] He was also concerned about the inability of Congress to capably conduct foreign policy, protect American trade, and foster the settlement of the lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.[37] As Madison wrote, "a crisis had arrived which was to decide whether the American experiment was to be a blessing to the world, or to blast for ever the hopes which the republican cause had inspired."[38] He committed to an intense study of law and political theory and also was heavily influenced by Continental Enlightenment texts sent by Jefferson from France.[39] He especially sought out works on international law and the constitutions of "ancient and modern confederacies" such as the Dutch Republic, the Swiss Confederation, and the Achaean League.[40] He came to believe that the United States could improve upon past republican experiments by its size; with so many distinct interests competing against each other, Madison hoped to minimize the abuses of majority rule.[41] Additionally, navigation rights to the Mississippi River highly concerned Madison. He disdained a proposal by John Jay that the United States acquiesce claims to the river for 25 years, and, according to historian John Ketchum, Madison's desire to fight the proposal was a major motivation in his to return to Congress in 1787.[42]

    Image of handwritten copy of the Constitution.
    First page of the original handwritten copy of the U.S. Constitution
    Supportive image of signing of the Constitution with various signers.
    Gouverneur Morris signs the Constitution before George Washington. Madison sits next to Robert Morris, in front of Benjamin Franklin. Painting by John Henry Hintermeister, 1925.[43]

    Before a quorum was reached at the Philadelphia Convention on May 25, 1787,[44] Madison worked with other members of the Virginia delegation, especially Edmund Randolph and George Mason, to create and present the Virginia Plan.[45] This plan was an outline for a new federal constitution; it called for three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial), a bicameral Congress (consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives) apportioned by population, and a federal Council of Revision that would have the right to veto laws passed by Congress. Reflecting the centralization of power envisioned by Madison, the Virginia Plan granted the Senate the power to overturn any law passed by state governments.[46] The Virginia Plan did not explicitly lay out the structure of the executive branch, but Madison himself favored a single executive.[47] Many delegates were surprised to learn that the plan called for the abrogation of the Articles and the creation of a new constitution, to be ratified by special conventions in each state, rather than by the state legislatures. With the assent of prominent attendees such as Washington and Benjamin Franklin, the delegates went into a secret session to consider a new constitution.[48]

    After the Philadelphia Convention ended in September 1787, Madison convinced his fellow congressmen to remain neutral in the ratification debate and allow each state to vote upon the Constitution.[49] Throughout the United States, opponents of the Constitution, known as Anti-Federalists, began a public campaign against ratification. In response, Hamilton and Jay began publishing a series of pro-ratification newspaper articles in New York.[50] After Jay dropped out of the project, Hamilton approached Madison, who was in New York on congressional business, to write some of the essays.[51] Altogether, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote the 85 essays of what became known as The Federalist Papers in six months, with Madison writing 29 of them. The Federalist Papers successfully defended the new Constitution and argued for its ratification by the people of New York. The articles were also published in book form and became a virtual debater's handbook for the supporters of the Constitution in the ratifying conventions. Historian Clinton Rossiter called The Federalist Papers "the most important work in political science that ever has been written, or is likely ever to be written, in the United States".[52] Federalist No. 10, Madison's first contribution to The Federalist Papers, became highly regarded in the 20th century for its advocacy of representative democracy.[53] In Federalist 10, Madison describes the dangers posed by factions and argues that their negative effects can be limited through the formation of a large republic. He states that in large republics the large number of factions that emerge will control their corrupting effect.[54][55] In Federalist No. 51, he goes on to explain how the separation of powers between three branches of the federal government, as well as between state governments and the federal government, establishes a system of checks and balances that ensure that no one institution would become too powerful.[56]

    At the start of the convention in Virginia, Madison knew that most delegates had already made up their minds, and he focused his efforts on winning the support of the relatively small number of undecided delegates.[57] His long correspondence with Randolph paid off at the convention, as Randolph announced that he would support unconditional ratification of the Constitution, with amendments to be proposed after ratification.[58] Though Henry gave several persuasive speeches arguing against ratification, Madison's expertise on the subject he had long argued for allowed him to respond with rational arguments to Henry's emotional appeals.[59] In his final speech to the ratifying convention, Madison implored his fellow delegates to ratify the Constitution as it had been written, arguing that failure to do so would lead to the collapse of the entire ratification effort, as each state would seek favorable amendments.[60] On June 25, 1788, the convention voted 89–79 to ratify the Constitution, making Virginia the tenth state to do so.[61] New York ratified the constitution the following month, and Washington won the country's first presidential election.[62]

    Congressman and party leader (1789–1801)

    Election to Congress

    Further information: Presidency of George Washington

    After Virginia ratified the constitution, Madison returned to New York and resumed his duties in the Congress of the Confederation. With concerns both for his political career and over the possibility that Henry and his allies would arrange for a second constitutional convention, Madison ran for the House of Representatives.[63][64] At Henry's behest, the Virginia legislature created congressional districts designed to deny Madison a seat, and Henry recruited Monroe, a strong challenger to Madison. Locked in a difficult race against Monroe, Madison promised to support a series of constitutional amendments to protect individual liberties.[63] In an open letter, Madison wrote that, while he had opposed requiring alterations to the Constitution before ratification, he now believed that "amendments, if pursued with a proper moderation and in a proper mode ... may serve the double purpose of satisfying the minds of well-meaning opponents, and of providing additional guards in favor of liberty."[65] Madison's promise paid off, as in Virginia's 5th district election, he gained a seat in Congress with 57 percent of the vote.[66]


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