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Madison, James

James Madison

Ralph Ketcham

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 governmentmajority ruleworking 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 17871788 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 17881789, 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 1793arguments 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 onfrightened 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 17931794 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 usedindeed, abusedin 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 (18011809), though, had the not surprising effect of reviving Madison's sense of the legitimate use of executive powerso 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 18071809, 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 purchasethe doubling of agricultural lands, the removal of great power rivalry from the Mississippi Valley, and the reduction thus permitted in defense expendituresmore 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 breakthroughnothing less than the substitution of economic pressure for war in international relationsby 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 leadersMadison most reluctantlymade 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 Britainwith 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 impunitythat 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 presidentthe signing and repudiation of the Erskine Agreement, the two Macon bills, protests of British orders-in-council and Napoleonic decrees, and so onall 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 coercionsuch as embargo, selective trading with the belligerents, or alliances with other neutral nationswhich 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 coercionembargo, nonintercourse, nonimportation, and so onwhich 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 12889 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 wordSubmission!" 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 prisonerexchange 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 colleaguesMonroe, Gallatin, John Quincy Adams, Commodores John Rodgers and David Porter, and Generals Jackson and Winfield Scott, for examplein 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 18011804, 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, 19001910), 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., 19411961), 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, 17861791.

J. C. A. Stagg, Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 17831830 (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, 17511836: 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).

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Madison, James


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."
—James Madison

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.

further readings

Abney, David L. 1994. "Constitutional Interpretation: Moving Toward a Jurisprudence of Common Sense." Temple Law Review 67.

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.

Wills, Garry. 2002. James Madison. New York: Times Books.

Wood, Gordon S. 1969. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787. New York: Norton.


Bank of the United States; Constitution of the United States; Federalism; Federalist Papers; Virginia Conventions.

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James Madison

James Madison

James Madison (1751-1836), the fourth president of the United States, was one of the principal founders of America's republican form of government.

James Madison lived all his life in the county of Orange, Va., on a 5,000-acre plantation that produced tobacco and grains and was worked by perhaps 100 slaves. Though Madison abhorred slavery and had no use for the aristocratic airs of Virginia society, he remained a Virginia planter, working within the traditional political system of family-based power and accepting the responsibility this entailed. Like his neighbors and friends Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, Madison worked creatively if not always consistently to make republican government a reality amid a social system and a slave economy often deeply at odds with principles of self-government and individual fulfillment.

After learning the fundamentals at home, Madison went to preparatory school and then to the College of New Jersey at Princeton. The bookish boy got a thorough classical education as he learned Latin and Greek. Since all of his teachers were clergymen, he was also continually exposed to Christian thought and precepts. He received his bachelor of arts degree in 1771 and remained for six months studying under President John Witherspoon, whose intellectual independence, Scottish practicality, and moral earnestness profoundly influenced him. Madison also had gained a wide acquaintance with the new thought of the 18th century and admired John Locke, Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift, David Hume, Voltaire, and others who fashioned the Enlightenment world view, which became his own.

American Revolution

From his first consciousness of public affairs Madison opposed British colonial measures. He 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. His special contribution was in strengthening the clause on religious freedom to proclaim "liberty of conscience for all"—an exceptionally liberal view. Elected to the governor's council in 1777, he lived in Williamsburg for two years, dealing with the routine problems of the Revolutionary War. He also began a lifelong friendship with Governor Thomas Jefferson.

Madison's skill led to his 1780 election to the Continental Congress, where he served for nearly four years. During the first year he became one of the leaders of the so-called nationalist group, which saw fulfillment of the Revolution possible only under a strong central government. Madison thus supported the French alliance and Benjamin Franklin's policies in Europe. He also worked persistently to strengthen the powers of Congress. By the end of his service in 1783, after ratification of the peace treaty and demobilization of the army, Madison was among the half dozen leading promoters of stronger national government. He had also earned a reputation as an exceedingly well-informed and effective debater and legislator.

Constitution Making

After three years in Virginia helping enact Jefferson's bill for religious freedom and other reform measures, Madison worked toward the Constitutional Convention, which gathered in Philadelphia in May 1787. There, Madison spent the most fruitful months of his life. He advocated the Virginia plan for giving real power to the national government, guided George Washington and other Virginia delegates to support this plan, worked with James Wilson and other nationalists, accepted compromises, and—altogether—became the most constructive member of the convention.

Madison's basic theoretical contribution was his argument that an enlarged, strengthened national government, far from being the path to despotism its opponents feared, was in fact the surest way to protect freedom and expand the principle of self-government. His concept of "factions" in a large republic counteracting each other, built into a constitution of checks and balances, became the vital, operative principle of the American government. In addition to taking part in the debates, Madison took notes on them; published posthumously, these afford the only full record of the convention.

Establishment of the New Government

Madison shared leadership in the ratification struggle with Alexander Hamilton. He formulated strategy for the supporters of the Constitution (Federalists), wrote portions of the Federalist Papers, and engaged Patrick Henry in dramatic and finally successful debate at the Virginia ratifying convention (June 1788). Then, as Washington's closest adviser and as a member of the first Federal House of Representatives, Madison led in establishing the new government. He drafted Washington's inaugural address and helped the President make the precedent-setting appointments of his first term.

In Congress, Madison proposed new revenue laws, ensured the President's control over the executive branch, and proposed the Bill of Rights. From the Annapolis Convention in 1786, when he had assumed leadership of the movement for a new constitution, through the end of the first session of Congress (October 1789), Madison was the guiding, creative force in establishing the new, republican government.

Growth of the Party System

However, Hamilton's financial program, presented in January 1790, and Madison's quick opposition to it marked the beginning of Madison's coleadership, with Jefferson, of what became the Democratic-Republican party. Madison opposed the privileged position Hamilton accorded to commerce and wealth, especially when it became apparent that this power could awe and sometimes control the organs of government.

Madison and Jefferson saw republican government as resting on the virtues of the people, sustained by the self-reliance of an agricultural economy and the benefits of public education, with government itself remaining "mild" and responsive to grass-roots impulses. This attitude became the foundation of their political party, which was fundamentally at odds with Hamilton's centralized concept of government, requiring strong leadership.

As Madison and Jefferson organized opposition to Hamilton, they seized on widespread public sympathy for France's expansive, revolutionary exploits to promote republican sentiment in the United States. The Federalists, on the other hand, cherished America's renewed commercial bonds with Britain and feared disruptive, entangling involvement with France. Madison opposed Jay's Treaty, feeling that it would align the United States with England in a way that was dependent and betrayed republican principles. Thus, the final ratification of Jay's Treaty (April 1796), over Madison's bitter opposition, marked his declining influence in Congress. A year later he retired to Virginia.

Madison viewed with alarm the bellicose attitude toward France of John Adams's administration. He felt that the "XYZ" hysteria, resulting in the Alien and Sedition Acts, severely threatened free government. With Jefferson, he executed the protest against these acts embodied in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. Madison's drafts of the milder Virginia Resolutions and the Report of 1800 defending them are his most complete expression of the rights of the states under the Constitution. He did not, however, advocate either nullification or secession, as some later claimed. The political frustrations of the years 1793-1800 were relieved by Madison's happy marriage in 1794 to the vivacious widow Dolley (or Dolly) Payne Todd, whose name became a symbol for effusive hospitality in Washington social life.

Secretary of State

Madison worked hard to secure Jefferson's election as president in 1800 and was appointed secretary of state. With the President and the new secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, he made up the Republican triumvirate that guided the nation for eight years. Madison skillfully took advantage of Napoleon's misfortune in the West Indies to purchase Louisiana in 1803 and supported suppression of the Barbary pirates by American naval squadrons (1803-1805). The renewed war between France and Britain, however, became a major crisis, as both powers inflicted heavy damage on American shipping. Britain also engaged in the outrageous impressment of American sailors. Finding appeals to international law useless, and lacking power to protect American trade, Madison promoted the 1807 embargo, which barred American ships from the high seas. However, an unexpected capacity by the belligerents to replace American trade, and substantial smuggling and other evasions by Americans, prevented the embargo from having real force. Madison therefore accepted its repeal at the end of Jefferson's administration.

The President

Elected president in 1808, Madison continued his struggle to find peace with honor amid world war. Republican doctrine, which he shared in part, precluded a heavy military buildup, so Madison's administration lurched from one ineffective commercial policy to another. At the same time, interparty squabbling, Cabinet shuffles, and powerful opposition in Congress undermined his authority. Finally, in November 1811, receiving only insults and deceit from Europe and most heavily injured by Britain, Madison asked Congress for war. "War Hawks," led by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, spurred Congress to some inadequate defense measures, and, as final peace attempts failed, war with England was declared in June 1812. Bitter, active opposition to the war by virtually all New England preachers and politicians (near treasonable in Madison's eyes) severely hindered the war effort and added to the President's difficulties. He nonetheless was reelected easily in 1812.

War of 1812

Madison hoped that American zeal and the vulnerability of Canada would lead to a swift victory. However, the surrender of one American army at Detroit, the defeat of another on the Niagara frontier, and the disgraceful retreat of yet another before Montreal blasted these hopes. Then victories at sea, and the 1813 defeat of the British by Commodore O. H. Perry on Lake Erie and by Gen. W. H. Harrison on the Thames battlefield, buoyed American hopes. Yet the chaos in American finance, Napoleon's debacles in Europe, and another fruitless military campaign in New York State left Madison disheartened. His enemies gloated over his nearly fatal illness in June 1813. New England threatened secession, and the republican government seemed likely to fail the test of survival in war.

The summer of 1814 brought to the American battlefields thousands of battle-hardened British troops. They fought vastly improved American armies to a standstill on the Niagara frontier and appeared in Chesapeake Bay intent on capturing Washington. Madison unwisely entrusted defense of the city to a sulking secretary of war, John Armstrong, and to an inept general, William H. Winder. A small but well-disciplined British force defeated the disorganized Americans at Bladensburg as Madison watched from a nearby hillside. His humiliation was complete when he saw flames of the burning Capitol and White House while fleeing across the Potomac River. However, after he returned to Washington 3 days later, he was soon cheered by news of the British defeat in Baltimore Harbor. News also arrived that two American forces had driven back a powerful British force coming down Lake Champlain.

Thus, with Armstrong dismissed and a new secretary of the Treasury, Alexander J. Dallas, restoring American credit, Madison felt that his peace commission in Ghent could demand decent terms from Britain. On Christmas Eve, 1814, a peace treaty was signed restoring the prewar boundaries and ensuring American national self-respect. Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans achieved on the battlefield what the treaty makers recognized at Ghent: Britain had lost any remaining hope of dominating its former colonies or blocking United States expansion into the Mississippi Valley.

In his last two years as president, Madison urged a sweeping program of internal development. Madison's program, though only partially enacted by Congress, showed that republican principles were not incompatible with positive action by the Federal government. He retired from office in March 1817, enjoying a popularity unimaginable a few years earlier.

Years of Retirement

In happy retirement at Montpelier, Madison practiced scientific agriculture, helped Jefferson found the University of Virginia, advised Monroe on foreign policy, arranged his papers for posthumous publication, and maintained wide correspondence. He returned officially to public life only to take part in the Virginia constitutional convention of 1829. However, informally, he wrote influentially in support of a mildly protective tariff and the national bank, among other issues. Most important, he lent intellectual leadership and vast prestige to the fight against nullification, which in Madison's eyes betrayed the benefits of the union for which he had fought all his life. But his health slowly declined, forcing him more and more to be a silent observer. By the time of his death on June 28, 1836, he was the last of the great founders of the American Republic.

Further Reading

Madison's writings are collected in W.T. Hutchinson and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date, 1962-1969). The standard biography is Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols., 1941-1961); a one volume abridgment of this is The Fourth President: The Life of James Madison (1970). Another account is Ralph Ketcham, James Madison (1971). Adrienne Koch, Jefferson and Madison: The Great Collaboration (1950), discusses Madison's views on selected topics. On the elections of 1808 and 1812 see Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections, vol. 1 (1971). □

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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 Madisons 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. Madisons 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 familys 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 causeliberty and republican governmentand 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 Governors 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 Jeffersons death in 1826.

The Nationalist. Madisons experiences in the Continental Congress (17801783) and the Virginia Assembly (17841786) 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 Madisons election to the U.S. Senate, but he could not stop Madisons election to the House of Representatives in 1789. When Madison emerged as leader of House opposition to Alexander Hamiltons financial program in 1790, Federalists, including Hamilton, condemned Madison as a traitor. Madison, however, believed that Hamilton had betrayed the principles of the Constitution. Hamiltons alliance between the federal government and merchant/speculators did not conform to Madisons 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 Hamiltons policies in the legislative branch created a dangerous consolidation of power in the executive branch. Madison also opposed Hamiltons 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 Madisons 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. Madisons 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. Madisons primary role in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 may have been to implement Jeffersons 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 Jeffersons 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 administrations 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. Madisons 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. Madisons 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, Madisons 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 enemyBritainwhose 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 18141815, as well as from antiadministration Republicans. Prosecution of the war also suffered from the mediocrity, incompetence, and political rivalry in Madisons cabinet; military and financial weaknesses due to the Republican Partys horror of standing armies, taxes, and a National Bank; and Madisons own reluctance to damage the separation-of-powers doctrine of the Constitution by consolidating power in the executive branch. Ironically, Andrew Jacksons 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 Madisons 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 Jeffersons 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 Madisons 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 18281833, 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 states 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, 19411961);

Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990).

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Madison, James

Madison, James



James Madison (1751–1836), fourth president of the United States, from 1809 to 1817, was the principal framer of the constitution of 1787. It was Madison who made the first preliminary move toward the drafting of the constitution by sponsoring the Annapolis Convention of 1786. The constitution embodied his conviction that liberty and the rights of property could best be harmonized and secured in a federal republic, with powers divided between subordinate states and a supreme federal government, each with internal checks and balances to prevent the rise of arbitrary power. According to Madison, republican government required that representatives be elected directly (or, perhaps, in one house, indirectly) by the great body of the people; otherwise the republic would degenerate into an aristocracy or an oligarchy. Government so organized, he believed (relying to some extent on Hume), would be progressively safer to liberty and property as the territorial area was enlarged, since diversity of regional interests and of population would prevent any national majority—whether moved by a common property interest, by political or religious passion, or swayed by an ambitious leader—from gaining power and oppressing the minority. He believed that the acquisition and protection of property is the ruling force in political faction and that the need to protect liberty and restrain power is a pressing one. These concepts, which he presented to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, persuaded delegates fearful of the excesses of democracy to place their trust in democratic self-government. His voluminous notes of debates furnish the principal record of the convention.

In Congress Madison introduced the first ten amendments to the constitution, designed to enlarge its libertarian provisions into a bill of rights. In presenting these amendments he placed heaviest emphasis on freedom of religion, speech, and press. The religious guarantee was based on his modification of the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, which discarded “toleration” and affirmed absolute rights of conscience, and on his successful “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785) for support of teachers of religion; such assessments, he asserted, were tantamount to an establishment of religion. His expectation that “independent tribunals of justice” would form “an impenetrable bulwark” against every encroachment on constitutional liberties was dashed by the enactment and savage enforcement of the Sedition Act of 1798. Consequently he wrote the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, which asserted the right of the states, in case of a deliberate and dangerous violation of the federal compact, to interpose collectively “for arresting the progress of the evil.” Widespread interpretation of this as an assertion of the right to nullify acts of Congress led to his “Report on the Resolutions” (1799–1800), likewise adopted by the Virginia legislature, which defined interposition as an exertion of influence within the terms of the constitution but denied interposition any judicial force. The “Report” was notable for its assertion that freedom of the press exempted the press from punishment for licentiousness and its denial that the federal government had power to punish crimes under the common law of England.

In the famous Federalist No. 10, Madison systematized his earlier discussions of political faction. By that term he did not refer to political parties of the modern type but to the united activities of a majority or minority of the people “actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community” (Hamilton, Madison & Jay [1787–1788] 1961, p. 57). The unsteadiness and injustice of state governments, resulting from a factious spirit, had led to the breakdown of public trust and increasing alarm for private rights. The latent causes of faction, he believed, lie in the nature of man, especially men’s varying capacities for acquiring property and its consequent unequal distribution. Liberty feeds faction, but limiting liberty is a greater evil than faction. The remedy, therefore, lies in controlling the effects of passion through checks and divisions of governments.

Madison had a deterministic view of human conduct and was essentially a pragmatist, committed to no particular school of political thought but intensely devoted to preserving the Union, maintaining a broadly based republican government, and protecting human rights. In the furtherance of national policy, his tendency was to rely upon coercive measures. In the first Congress, he sponsored a moderate protective tariff (though generally preferring free trade), advocated counter-discrimination against British navigation acts injurious to American shipping, and worked unofficially to help repel senatorial encroachments on the president’s powers. Madison and Hamilton were equally committed to full payment of depreciated Revolutionary War claims, but Madison resisted Hamilton’s policy of full payment to speculators who purchased claims, urging that a share should go to the original holders, mostly impoverished veterans. This initiated the political alignment that developed into Hamiltonian federalism and Jeffersonian democracy. Hamilton’s sweeping interpretation of the power to spend for the general welfare likewise prevailed over Madison’s attempt to limit spending to subjects covered by the other enumerated powers—a view which did not prevent him, as president, from inaugurating government distribution of smallpox vaccine.

Jay’s 1794 treaty with England blocked Madison’s counterdiscrimination policy, but maritime restrictions continued and the Napoleonic Wars provoked wholesale seizures of American ships by both belligerents. In striking contrast with President Jefferson’s defensive shipping embargo, Madison in his first month as president made identical offers to England and France: that if the power addressed would cease its aggressions against American commerce, and the other continued them, he would ask Congress to declare war against the continuing offender. Without knowing of these offers, Congress in effect gave them legal force by the Macon Bill No. 2 of 1810, leading to the War of 1812 with England.

Except during his student days at Princeton and the major portion of his years in public office, Madison spent his entire life on his extensive estate, Montpelier, in the Virginia Piedmont. He pioneered in modern scientific agriculture and warned of the future dangers from world-wide overpopulation and man’s upsetting of the balance of nature. although strongly opposed to slavery, he lived by its fruits. The apparent happiness of his slaves, he told Harriet Martineau, was an illusion, concealing the degradation inherent in the institution. Believing that white Americans would permanently deny rights to which freedmen were entitled, he advocated the freeing of all slaves through government purchase—to be financed by western land sales—and voluntary resettlement in Liberia and other separate communities. The final years of his life were devoted to his work as rector of the University of Virginia and to preparing polemical articles combating South Carolina’s nullification doctrine.

Irving Brant

[See alsoRepresentation, article onrepresentational systems; and the biographies ofHamiltonandJefferson.]


(1751–1836) 1962- Papers. Edited by William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal. Univ. of Chicago Press. → The first of a projected series of volumes.

(1769–1836) 1900–1910 The Writings of James Madison, Comprising His Public Papers and His Private Correspondence, … 9 vols. Edited by Gaillard Hunt. New York: Putnam.

(1785) 1904 Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. Pages 183–191 in James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, Comprising His Public Papers and His Private Correspondence, … Volume 2: 1783–1787. New York: Putnam.

(1787–1788) 1961 Hamilton, Alexander; Madison, James; and Jay, JohnThe Federalist. Edited with introduction and notes by Jacob E. Cooke. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press. → See also the 1961 John Harvard Library edition, under the editorship of Benjamin F. Wright and Irving Brant, for assignment of authorship.

(1789) 1904 June 8: Amendments to the Constitution. Pages 370–389 in James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, Comprising His Public Papers and His Private Correspondence, … Volume 5: 1787–1790. New York: Putnam.

(1799–1800) 1906 Report on the Resolutions. Pages 341–406 in James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, Comprising His Public Papers and His Private Correspondence, … Volume 6: 1790–1802. New York: Putnam.

1966 Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. With an introduction by Adrienne Koch. Athens: Ohio Univ. Press.


Brant, Irving 1941–1961 James Madison. 6 vols. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill. → Volume 1: The Virginia Revolutionist. Volume 2: The Nationalist:1780–1787. Volume 3: Father of the Constitution: 1787–1800. Volume 4: Secretary of State: 1800–1809. Volume 5: The President: 1809–1812. Volume 6: Commander in Chief: 1812–1836.

Brant, Irving 1961 Settling the Authorship of The Federalist. American Historical Review 67:71-75.

Burns, Edward M. 1938 James Madison: Philosopher of the Constitution. Studies in History, Vol. 1. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press.

Mosteller, Frederick; and Wallace, David L. 1963 Inference in an Authorship Problem: A Comparative Study of Discrimination Methods Applied to the Authorship of the Disputed Federalist Papers. Journal of the American Statistical Association 58:275–309.

U.S. Constitutional Convention, 1787 (1911) 1937 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. 4 vols., rev. ed. Edited by Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

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Madison, James

James Madison

Born: March 16, 1751
Port Conway, Virginia
Died: June 28, 1836
Orange County, Virginia

American president and founding father

James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, was one of the principal founders of America's republican form of government. As a Founding Father he helped plan and approve the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, two documents that laid the foundation for the American way of life.

Early life and schooling

James Madison lived all his life (except for his presidential years) in the beautiful county of Orange, Virginia, on a 5,000-acre plantation that produced tobacco and grains and was worked by perhaps one hundred slaves. After being schooled at home, Madison went to preparatory school and then to the College of New Jersey at Princeton. The young man took to his studies, which included learning Latin and Greek.

Madison was continually exposed to the Christian religion and was influenced by the new thought of the eighteenth century. He admired writers and thinkers like John Locke (16321704), Isaac Newton (16421727), Jonathan Swift (16671745), and others. Madison was a founding member of the American Whig Society, a debating club in Princeton. During his college career, waves of revolution rolled through the campus as protests increased against British policies.

American Revolution

Upon graduation, Madison's health was weakening and he was forced to live at home, where he continued his education. Once recovered, Madison served on the Orange County Committee of Safety for two years. By then, the American Revolution (177583) had erupted as American forces fought for independence from Great Britain.

In 1776 Madison was elected to the Virginia convention. The convention decided to move for independence from Britain and drafted a new state constitution, or a body of laws that formally lay out the structure of a new government. Madison's special contribution was in strengthening the articles on religious freedom to proclaim "liberty of conscience for all." Elected to the governor's council in 1777, he moved to Williamsburg, Virginia. For two years he dealt with the routine problems of the Revolutionary War. He also began a lifelong friendship with Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson (17431826).

Madison's skill led to his 1780 election to the Continental Congress, which brought famous delegates to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to discuss the problems with British rule. During the first year he became one of the leaders of the so-called nationalist group. The group believed that success of the American Revolution was possible only under a strong central government. By the end of his service in 1783, the peace treaty with Britain was passed and the war ended. Madison was among the half dozen leading promoters of stronger national government and earned a reputation as a well-informed and effective leader. Madison spent three years in Virginia helping pass Jefferson's bill for religious freedom and other reform measures.

The Constitution

In May 1787 Madison attended the Constitutional Convention, whose representatives gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention brought together America's leading politicians, including Benjamin Franklin (17061799) and John Adams (17351826). The convention would produce the Constitution, the document that embodies the principles on which America is founded. At the convention Madison supported the Virginia plan for giving real power to the national government. He guided George Washington (17321799) and other Virginia delegates to support this plan. In the end, Madison became the most constructive member of the convention.

Madison's basic contribution was the idea that an enlarged, strengthened national government was in fact the best way to protect freedom and expand self-government. In addition to taking part in the debates, Madison took notes on them. Published after his death, these give the only full record of the convention.

Establishment of the new government

Madison shared leadership in the ratification, or passing, of the Constitution with New York representative Alexander Hamilton (17551804). Madison designed a strategy for the supporters of the Constitution (the Federalists) and wrote portions of the Federalist Papers, which were essays on political theory for the new country. In a dramatic debate with Senator Patrick Henry (17361799), Madison helped bring about the ratification of the Constitution in June 1788. Then, as Washington's closest adviser and as a member of the first federal House of Representatives, Madison led in establishing the new government. He drafted Washington's inaugural address, or first speech as president, and helped the president during his first term.

January 1790 marked the beginning of Madison'salong with Jefferson'sleadership of what became the Democratic-Republican party. Madison opposed the privileged position Hamilton gave to commerce and wealth. This attitude became the foundation of their political party. Madison also greatly opposed Jay's Treaty, which settled differences between America and Great Britain regarding trade. Madison felt that the treaty would align the United States with England in a way that would betray the nation's principles, or standards. Thus, the final ratification of Jay's Treaty (April 1796) over Madison's bitter opposition marked his declining influence in Congress. A year later he retired to Virginia.

The political frustrations of the years 1793 to 1800 were relieved by Madison's happy marriage in 1794 to Dolley (or Dolly) Payne Todd. Dolley, a widow, was a beautiful and respected woman. Later, when Madison was elected president, she would play an important part in shaping the role of first lady.

Secretary of state

Madison worked hard to secure Jefferson's election as president in 1800, and in response he was appointed secretary of state. Madison skillfully aided the president in the Louisiana Purchase, which acquired land west of the Mississippi River from France. The purchase would nearly double the country's size and begin a push westward to expand the young nation.

The renewed war between France and Britain, however, became a major crisis, as both powers inflicted heavy damage on American ships. Madison promoted the 1807 embargo, or stoppage, which barred American ships from the high seas. However, the nation's economy was fragile and heavily dependent on trade with Europe. The embargo did not last. Madison soon accepted its repeal at the end of Jefferson's administration.

As president

Elected president in 1808, Madison continued his struggle to find peace in a world at war. Unfortunately, ineffective policies, disagreement within his party, and Cabinet restructuring would weaken Madison's power as president. After relations with England fell apart, war was declared in June 1812. Many New England preachers and politicians opposed the war, and their lack of support severely slowed the war effort and added to the president's difficulties. He nonetheless was reelected easily in 1812.

Madison was hopeful for a swift victory in the new war. However, several military setbacks destroyed these hopes. When America won battles at sea in 1813, the tables seemed to be turning. But problems mounted for the president. Chaos in American finance, problems with European allies, and another ineffective military campaign left Madison discouraged, and he suffered a nearly fatal illness in June 1813. The young government seemed to be failing apart due to the war.

The summer of 1814 brought to the American battlefields thousands of battle-hardened British troops. A small but well-disciplined British force defeated the disorganized Americans as Madison watched from a nearby hillside. His embarrassment was complete when he saw flames of the burning Capitol and White House while fleeing across the Potomac River. However, after he returned to Washington three days later, he was soon cheered by news of the British defeat in Baltimore Harbor. News also arrived that two American forces had driven back a powerful British force coming down Lake Champlain in Vermont. On Christmas Eve, 1814, a peace treaty was signed between Britain and America.

Years of retirement

In March 1817 Madison retired from public office and returned to his home in Montpelier, Virginia. During the next years, Madison practiced scientific agriculture, helped Jefferson found the University of Virginia, and advised President James Monroe (17581831) on foreign policy. He returned officially to public life only to take part in the Virginia constitutional convention of 1829. But his health slowly declined, forcing him more and more to be a silent observer.

By the time of his death on June 28, 1836, he was the last of the great founders of the American republic. After his death, Dolley Madison published her husband's personal papers. The Madison papers offer wonderful insights into the politics of the new nation during a time of great historical significance.

For More Information

Leavell, J. Perry, Jr. James Madison. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Madison, James. James Madison: Writings. New York: Library of America, 1999.

Malone, Mary. James Madison. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1997.

McCoy, Drew R. The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Polikoff, Barbara G. James Madison: 4th President of the United States. Ada, OK: Garrett Educational Corp., 1989.

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Madison, James

Madison, James 1751-1836




James Madison was born in King George County, Virginia, in March 1751 and died at Montpelier, his country estate, in June 1836. The fourth president of the United States, Madison was one of early Americas most significant contributors to the developing social sciences, especially through his political and constitutional thought and writings.

Madison was born into a prominent Virginia family, the first son of James Madison Sr. and Nelly Conway. Madisons education began in King and Queen County, Virginia, where he was taught by Donald Robertson, a Scottish teacher who ran a school there. His education continued under the Reverend Thomas Martin, a private tutor who was a graduate of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), which Madison himself later attended, graduating in 1771. At Princeton, Madison was influenced in lasting ways by the college president, John Witherspoon (17231794), who had come to America in 1768 partly through the efforts of Benjamin Rush (17461813), who at the time was a young American medical student studying in Edinburgh. Madison stayed on at Princeton after the completion of his undergraduate degree to study with Witherspoon more closely. As his correspondence shows, by the time he left college Madison was clearly well acquainted with the major thinkers of Western political thought, including Plato (c. 428347 BCE), Aristotle (384322 BCE), Huigh de Groot (15831645), Thomas Hobbes (15881679), and John Locke (16321704), as well as the works of the Scottish Enlightenment, including David Humes multivolume History of England (17541762). Madison also came away from Princetonas did many of his classmatesa fiery supporter of the building Revolutionary cause and with a desire to promote religious freedom.


From at least the early 1770s Madison was known to have championed religious freedom in his home colony of Virginia, a subject to which in 1785 he contributed A Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments. There, Madison wrote:

Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by the vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. (Hutchinson 1956, pp. 302303)


While Madison is remembered in the early twenty-first century as a champion of religious freedom and for his support of the separation of church and state, he is even better remembered for his instrumental part in the deliberations at the Constitutional Convention held at the statehouse in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. That convention resulted in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, a document that showed Madisons imprint at many key points. It is for this that he is remembered as the Father of the Constitution. Part of that legacy was the three-fifths compromise, whereby, for the purposes of taxation and representation, five blacks were considered equivalent to three whites. Like Thomas Jefferson and others of their generation, the slaveholding Madison was not able to reconcileeven in his own mindthe political realities of slavery in eighteenth-century America with the Enlightenment principles of freedom and liberty.

It is also on related constitutional issues that Madison is best known as a social science writer. Madison (with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay) was one of the three authors who under the pen name of Publius composed the Federalist, a collection of eighty-five essays first published in 1787 in New York newspapers. It was written with an eye to assuring ratification of the Constitution, and Madison is thought to have written twenty-nine of the Federalist essays. His most famous papers were Federalist No. 51, No. 39, and No. 10, an essay on the causes, nature, and remedies for the problem of factions. In that paper Madison merged his intimate knowledge of Scottish Enlightenment texts, including Humes History of England, with his personal experiences of American social and political developments. Madison countered Charles-Louis de Secondat (Montesquiéu, 16891755) and other European and American political theorists, who argued in a civic republican vein that republican government could not long exist in a large country such as the United States. Madison wrote:

Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. (Carey and McClellan 2001, p. 48)

Madison was also one of the principal framers of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which went into effect in 1791.

SEE ALSO American Revolution; Aristotle; Bill of Rights, U.S.; Church and State; Constitution, U.S.; Federalism; Freedom; Hobbes, Thomas; Hume, David; Locke, John; Plato; Presidency, The; Slavery; Smith, Adam


Banning, Lance. 1995. The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell.

Carey, George W., and James McClellan, eds. 2001. The Federalist, by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. Gideon ed. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.

Hutchinson, William T., et al., eds. 1962. The Papers of James Madison. Vol. 8. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ketcham, Ralph Louis. 1971. James Madison: A Biography. New York: Macmillan.

Rakove, Jack N. 2002. James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic. Ed. Oscar Handlin, 2nd ed. New York: Longman.

Mark G. Spencer

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Madison, James

James Madison, 1751–1836, 4th President of the United States (1809–17), b. Port Conway, Va.

Early Career

A member of the Virginia planter class, he attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), graduating in 1771. Like George Washington and others, he opposed the colonial measures of the British. His distinctive contribution to the colonial cause was a deep knowledge and understanding of government and political philosophy—resources that first proved their value in 1776 when Madison helped to draft a constitution for the new state of Virginia.

He served in the Continental Congress (1780–83, 1787) and represented his county in the Virginia legislature (1784–86), where he played a prominent part in disestablishing the Anglican Church. During this time he watched the ineffectual floundering of Congress under the Articles of Confederation with apprehension and became convinced of the necessity for a strong national authority.

Master Builder of the Constitution

Madison played important role in bringing about the conference between Maryland and Virginia concerning navigation of the Potomac. The meetings at Alexandria and Mt. Vernon in 1785 led to the Annapolis Convention in 1786, and at that conference he endorsed New Jersey's motion to call a Constitutional Convention for May, 1787. With Alexander Hamilton he became the leading spokesman for a thorough reorganization of the existing government, and his influence on the Virginia Plan, which advocated a strong central government and served as a working model for the new U.S. Constitution, is evident.

At the convention his skills in political science and his persuasive logic made him the chief architect of the new governmental structure and earned him the title "master builder of the Constitution." His journals are the principal source of later knowledge of the convention. He fought to get the Constitution adopted. He contributed with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to the brilliantly polemical papers of The Federalist, and in Virginia he led the forces for the Constitution against the opposition of Patrick Henry and George Mason.


As a representative from Virginia (1789–97), he had a hand in getting the new government established and was a strong advocate of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights). Yet, although modern historians have demonstrated the conservative nature of the Constitution and its founders, Madison was an opponent of the policies of the conservative wing in the Washington administration, a steadfast enemy of Alexander Hamilton and his financial measures, and a supporter of Thomas Jefferson, with whom he organized the Democratic-Republican party. Madison especially deplored Hamilton's frank Anglophilia. After the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, he attacked these measures as unconstitutional and dangerous to the Union, and he prepared the protesting Virginia resolutions (see Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions).


When Jefferson triumphed in the election of 1800, Madison became (1801) his secretary of state. He served through both of Jefferson's terms, and he was Jefferson's choice as presidential candidate. As president, Madison had to deal with the results of the foreign policy that, as secretary of state, he had helped to shape. The Embargo Act of 1807 was in effect dissolved by Macon's Bill No. 2. The bill provided, however, that if either Great Britain or France should remove restrictions on American trade, the president was empowered to reimpose the trade embargo on the other.

Madison, accepting an ambiguous French statement as a bona fide revocation of the Napoleonic decrees on trade, reinstated the trade embargo with Great Britain, an act that helped bring on the War of 1812. This move alone, however, did not bring about the war with Great Britain; equally significant were the activities of the "war hawks," led by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, who, hungry for the conquest of Canada and for free expansion, clamored for action. They helped to bring about the declaration of war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812.

The War of 1812 was the chief event of Madison's administration. New England merchants and industrialists were already disaffected by the various embargoes, and their discontent grew until at the Hartford Convention they talked of sedition rather than continuing "Mr. Madison's War." Even the friends of the president and the promoters of the war grew discouraged as the fighting went badly. Victories in late 1813 and in the autumn of 1814 lifted the gloom somewhat, but disaster came in Sept., 1814, when the British took Washington and burned the White House. Nevertheless the war ended in stalemate with the Treaty of Ghent.

Madison's remaining years in office witnessed the beginning of postwar national expansion. He encouraged the new nationalism, which hastened the split in the Democratic party, evident in the rise of Jacksonian democracy. Through these later upheavals Madison lived quietly with his wife, Dolley Madison, after his retirement in 1817 to Montpelier.


Madison's writings were edited by G. Hunt (9 vol., 1900–1910). See biography in his own words, ed. by M. D. Peterson (1974); biographies by I. Brant (6 vol., 1941–61; abr. ed. 1970), N. Riemer (1968), R. Ketcham (1971, repr. 2003), R. A. Rutland (1981), G. Wills (2002), R. Brookhiser (2011), J. Broadwater (2012), and L. Cheney (2014); studies by D. R. McCoy (1989), L. Banning (1995), and J. P. Kaminski (2010).

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Madison, James

Madison, James (1751–1836), statesman, fourth U.S. president.After growing up at his lifelong home, Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia, and graduating from the College of New Jersey in 1771, Madison entered politics. As a Confederation congressman (1780–83 and 1787–89), he favored strengthening the national union but never endorsed Robert Morris's fiscal agenda. Service in the Virginia legislature (1784–86) convinced him that individual liberties needed protection from majority tyranny.

Having studied ancient and modern confederacies (thereby becoming the best‐prepared delegate at the 1787 Constitutional Convention), Madison concluded that republics would perish without strong central governments. To help achieve ratification, he penned twenty‐nine of the celebrated Federalist Papers. No. 10, his most famous essay, argued that large republics, if properly constructed, could endure best because conflicting factions would make majority tyranny unlikely. During the first Federal Congress, Madison drafted the Bill of Rights. In the 1790s, he resisted Federalist financial and diplomatic policies in favor of perpetuating an agricultural republic friendly to France. His opposition culminated in his authorship of the 1798 Virginia Resolutions, which called for repeal of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

As Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state (1801–09), Madison tried to force Great Britain to grant neutral rights through economic coercion. When this policy failed, Madison as president obtained a declaration of war in 1812. Blame for the military disasters that ensued—including botched invasions of Canada and the burning of Washington, D.C.—belong to Madison. He failed to prepare the country for hostilities, tolerated incompetent generals, and proved a weak commander in chief. These shortcomings resulted from his inveterate determination to allow neither war nor the threat of war to endanger republicanism or personal rights.
[See also Canada, U.S. Military Involvement in; Civil Liberties and War; Commander in Chief, President as; War of 1812.]


Ralph Ketcham , James Madison, A Biography, 1971.
John Stagg , Mr. Madison's War, 1983.
Lance Banning , The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic, 1995.

Stuart Leibiger

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Madison, James

Madison, James (1751–1836) Fourth US president (1809–17). Madison was a close adviser to George Washington until, dismayed by the growing power of the executive, he broke with the Federalist Party, his former allies. He became associated with Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party. Jefferson made Madison secretary of state in 1801, and he succeeded Jefferson in the presidency, winning the election easily in spite of his association with the unsuccessful Embargo Act (1807). As president, he was unable to avoid the War of 1812 with Britain, which provoked threats of secession in New England. The successful conclusion of the war restored national prosperity, and Madison, the ‘Father of the Constitution’, retired to his Virginia plantation as an admired elder statesman.

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