James Madison

James Madison by John Vanderlyn, 1816

James Madison by John Vanderlyn, 1816

James Madison was born on March 16, 1751. He was the co-author, along with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton of the Federalist Papers and is viewed by many as the ‘father of the Constitution’. He was the fourth President of the United States.

Early Life

Madison was born in Virginia to Colonel James Madison, Senior and Eleanor Rose Conway. His parents were tobacco plantation owners in Virginia, where James spent much of his childhood. In 1769 James ventured to Princeton University, then called the College of New Jersey, finishing his degree in two years. After taking a break to recuperate from the strain, he began being mentored by Thomas Jefferson. Working alongside Jefferson, Madison became a prominent political figure at the state level, as well as by helping Jefferson draft several papers including their declaration of religious freedom.

Continental Congress

In addition, Madison was a key figure in persuading Virginia to offer Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee to the continental congress.

Facts File

President No.: 4th
Served: 1809-1817
Party: Democratic-Republican
From: Virginia
Married: Dolley Payne Todd Madison
Born: March 16, 1751, Port Conway, King George, Virginia
Died: June 28, 1836, Montpelier in Virginia
Education: Princeton University
Jobs: Lawyer, Represented Virginia in the Continental Congress, Congressman, Secretary of State
Height: 5 feet, 4 inches (although this is disputed and could be up to 2 inches either way)
Population when president: 7,239,881
Pets: Macaw
Transportation: Horse and carriage
Communication: Letter

Despite initially being seen as another delegate without much promise, Madison was the best prepared delegate at the convention, his overall influence during the process has led many to call him the ‘father of the constitution’. Indeed within a year his mastery of congressional politics was shown by his ability to form effective legislative coalitions. Indeed while It was one of Madison’s driving passions during his political career to see a strong central government and legislative system. When it came time to decide how states would be represented, Madison voted strongly for representation based on population.

Madison’s notes are one of the few glimpses historians have into the thinking and processes going on behind the scenes during the convention. Later, Madison put aside his doubts about the representation proposal in the Senate to work on the Federalist Papers with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. The Federalist Papers, in addition to Madison’s own notes are perhaps the most definitive commentary on the creation of the Constitution of the United States of America.


While in Congress, Madison was a key figure in the creation of the Bill of Rights. His leadership lead to the creation of the Republican Party that we see today – through an opposition to bowing to the needs of ‘moneyed corporations’ everywhere. The Republican Party was founded on the belief that the common man, and the will of the people, were the foundations of the United States.


Inaugural Addresses
1809, 1813
State of the Union Addresses
1809, 1810, 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1815, 1816

Madison was a man of opposites. At one time even going so far as to say that ‘Democracy is the most vile form of government… democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.’

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart, circa 1821

James Madison by Gilbert Stuart, circa 1821

In his role as Jefferson’s Secretary of State, Madison protested heavily against the French and British practice of seizing American merchant ships, stating that it was contrary to international law. The protests had little real effect.

Madison was one of key figures behind the Embargo Act of 1807, which had little impact on Britain and France, but ultimately caused the United States’ economy to sink into a severe depression. The embargo act was later repealed. In spite of his lack of success with the Embargo, Madison was elected as President in 1808.


As President, he readily recognized that power lead to distrust, stating that ‘The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.’ During the first year of his administrated Madison moved to prohibit trade with Britain and France, a move Congress later authorized – instructing the President to deal most favorably with the nation which recognized America’s neutral rights.

On June 1, 1812, Madison asked Congress to declare war on Britain, in spite of advice from his senior advisers that the American army simply wasn’t large enough or prepared enough for another war. As a result, the young American army was severely defeated and the British invaded Washington, setting fire to the White House and the Capitol.

Later Life

James Madison Stippling Engraving, between 1809 and 1817

James Madison Stippling Engraving, between 1809 and 1817

After this second term, Madison retired to his estate in Virginia. He worked closely with Thomas Jefferson to establish the University of Virginia – largely as a result of what both saw as the educational inadequacies of the College of William & Mary. They were involved in every detail from soliciting funds and construction to finding the best teachers the young country had to offer. As a result of their involvement and influence, the University of Virginia quickly became one of the foremost houses of learning in the country.

After the establishment of the University, both men worked tirelessly: writing curriculum, following up with issues in the growing Universities and working closely with teachers to establish the best teaching methods in the country. After Jefferson’s death, Madison continued to work for the causes Jefferson believed in, arranging his letters and papers and publishing Jefferson’s works on two continents.

Cite This

James Madison Biography, American-Presidents.com, Multiple Authors

Madison was further involved in the Virginia Convention in 1829, however he felt that the quality of the attendees was below par and refused to be involved in any official capacity. However, his influence over the young minds was felt in the hallways where he instructed several of the attendees on how their views should be formed.

Later in life, his involvement was mainly reduced to reading many of the major papers of the time and corresponding with important figures throughout the country – a task made all the more difficult by the onset of rheumatism.

At the end of his life, he continued to entertain guests from around the world at his estate, many of whom commented that he remained animated and energetic until the end. President James Madison died on June 28, 1836.

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