James Madison

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James Madison
James Madison
Term of office March 4, 1809 – March 3, 1817
Preceded by Thomas Jefferson
Succeeded by James Monroe
Date of birth March 16, 1751
Place of birth Port Conway, Virginia
Spouse Dolley Madison
Political party Democratic-Republican

James Madison (March 16, 1751June 28, 1836) was the fourth (18091817) President of the United States. He was co-author, with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, of the Federalist Papers, and is traditionally regarded as the Father of the United States Constitution.



Madison was born in King George County, Virginia. His parents Colonel James Madison, Sr. (March 27, 1723February 27, 1801) and Eleanor Rose "Nellie" Conway (January 9, 1731February 11, 1829) were the prosperous owners of the tobacco plantation in Orange County, Virginia where Madison spent most of his childhood years. In 1769, he left the plantation to attend Princeton University (it was called the College of New Jersey at the time), finishing its four-year course in two years, but exhausting himself from overwork in the process. When he regained his health, he became a protégé of Thomas Jefferson. In this capacity he became a prominent figure in Virginia state politics, helping to draft their declaration of religious freedom and persuading Virginia to give their northwestern territories (consisting of most of modern-day Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee) to the Continental Congress.

At 5 feet, 4 inches in height (163 cm) and 100 pounds (45 kg) in weight, Madison was the nation's shortest president and frequently ill. In 1794, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, who cut as attractive and vivacious a figure as he did a sickly and antisocial one. It was Dolley who is largely credited with inventing the role of "First Lady" as political ally to the president.

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To support Constitutional ratification in New York State, Madison put aside his doubts to work with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write the Federalist Papers, which are considered the definitive contemporary commentary on the United States Constitution. Madison's arguments were powerfully influenced by the political thought of Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu.

Madison wrote thirty of the eighty-five essays that comprise the Federalist Papers, including perhaps the two most famous, Federalist No. 10 and Federalist No. 51. His most famous passage comes in No. 51:

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

In 1801, in his first Inaugural Address, Thomas Jefferson would express a similar sentiment:

"Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question."

Congressional years

When the Constitution was ratified, Madison was elected to the United States House of Representatives from his home state of Virginia and served from the First Congress through the Fourth Congress, and was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party during his final term in the House. In 1789, he successfully offered a package of twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution, the final ten of which became what is collectively known as the Bill of Rights by December 15, 1791, based upon earlier work by George Mason. Of the first two proposals that were not ratified in 1791, the second one tardily became the 27th Amendment more than 200 years later in 1992.

The chief characteristic of Madison's time in Congress was his desire to limit the power of the federal government. One incident that demonstrates this desire is the debate over the Bank of the United States, in which Madison and other followers of Thomas Jefferson denied that the federal government had the power to form its own bank.

During Madison's time in Congress, the debate over the power of the federal government versus that of the states led to the formation of the first United States political parties. Madison was instrumental in the creation of the Democratic-Republican party, whose members supported Jefferson and believed strongly in limiting centralized power. Opposed to the Democratic-Republicans was the Federalist party, whose members followed Hamilton and believed in a strong central government.

In 1797 Madison left Congress; in 1801 he became Jefferson's Secretary of State.

Presidential years

In the election of 1808, Madison ran for president in his own right, and won, largely on the strength of his abilities in foreign affairs at a time when United Kingdom (Britain) and France were both on the edge of war with the United States. Both countries blockaded the ports of the other, preventing commerce with either. In 1810, a bill was passed that would break off relations with any nation that would not remove the blockade: Napoleon of France claimed they did (But actually didn't), and Britain did not.

In the ensuing War of 1812, the British won numerous victories, including a temporary occupation of Washington, D.C., forcing Madison to flee the city. The British also armed American Indians in the West, most notably followers of Tecumseh. Neither side was terribly enthusiastic about the war, however: the British had little to gain, and in the United States, New England Federalists threatened secession if the war was not ended. In 1814, the Treaty of Ghent ended the war. The Battle of New Orleans, in which Andrew Jackson distinguished himself, was fought 15 days after the treaty was signed — the news not reaching Louisiana in time from Belgium. The major lasting effect for the political face of the country was the end of the Federalist Party, who were considered traitors when they opposed the war.

In his last act before leaving office, Madison vetoed a bill for "internal improvements," including roads, bridges, and canals:

"Having considered the bill...I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States...The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified...in the...Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers..." [1]

Madison rejected the view of Congress that the General Welfare Clause justified the bill, stating:

"Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms 'common defense and general welfare' embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust."

Despite Madison's "last stand," so-called pork-barrel spending would soon become commonplace in the United States.

It should be noted that although Madison would support internal improvement schemes only through constitutional amendment, he urged a variety of measures that he felt were "best executed under the national authority," including federal support for roads and canals that would "bind more closely together the various parts of our extended confederacy."


President James Madison 1809–1817
Vice President George Clinton 1809–1812
  Elbridge Gerry 1813–1814
Secretary of State Robert Smith 1809–1811
  James Monroe 1811–1814
  James Monroe 1815–1817
Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin 1809–1814
  George W. Campbell 1814
  Alexander J. Dallas 1814–1816
  William H. Crawford 1816–1817
Secretary of War William Eustis 1809–1812
  John Armstrong, Jr. 1813
  James Monroe 1814–1815
  William Crawford 1815–1816
  George Graham (ad interim) 1816–1817
Attorney General Caesar A. Rodney 1809–1811
  William Pinkney 1811–1814
  Richard Rush 1814–1817
Postmaster General Gideon Granger 1809–1814
  Return Meigs 1814–1817
Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton 1809–1813
  William Jones 1813–1814
  Benjamin Crowninshield 1815–1817

Supreme Court Appointments

Madison appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

States Admitted to the Union

Later Life

After leaving office, Madison retired to Montpelier, his farm in Virginia. He was the rector of Jefferson's University of Virginia for ten years until his death. He died on June 28, 1836 of rheumatism and heart failure. He was the last of the founding fathers and writers of the Constitution to die. His detailed notes on the Constitutional Convention were published after his death. By his request, these notes were not to be published until the death of the last signer of the constitution. Ironically, the last signatory who died was Madison himself. So ended an era in American history.

Madison was the first president of the American Colonization Society, which bought passage for free black Americans to the Society's colony in west Africa, Liberia. By the terms of his will [2], $2000 was bequeathed to the ACS through its agent Rev. Dr. Ralph Randolph Gurley.

Madison's portrait was on the U.S. $5000 bill. There were about twenty different varieties of $5000 bills issued between 1861 and 1946, and all but three had James Madison. Madison also appears on the $200 Series EE Savings Bond.

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:


  • "Resolved, That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocally express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of this State, against every aggression either foreign or domestic ... That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them."
  • "...[T]he government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government."
  • "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." —1794 (Pertaining to Congress' appropriation $15,000 for relief of French refugees)
  • "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people." —Constitutional Convention June 29, 1787
  • "Besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The establishment of the chaplainship in Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of Constitutional principles. The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments by ecclesiastical bodies has not sufficiently engaged attention in the U.S." —being outvoted in the bill to establish the office of Congressional Chaplain, from the "Detached Memoranda,"
  • "Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents." —Letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 17, 1788

Related articles



  • At 5'4", Madison was the shortest President.

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Preceded by:
U.S. At-Large Congressman from Virginia
Succeeded by:
(district system)
Preceded by:
(at-large system)
U.S. Congressman for the 5th District of Virginia
Succeeded by:
George Hancock
Preceded by:
U.S. Congressman for the 15th District of Virginia
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
John Marshall
United States Secretary of State
May 2, 1801March 4, 1809
Succeeded by:
Robert Smith
Preceded by:
Thomas Jefferson
Republican Party presidential candidate
1808 (won), 1812 (won)
Succeeded by:
James Monroe
Preceded by:
Thomas Jefferson
President of the United States
March 4, 1809March 3, 1817
Succeeded by:
James Monroe

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