4th President of the United States
|In office |
March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817
|Vice President(s)||George Clinton (1809-1812), |
Elbridge Gerry (1813-1814)
|Preceded by||Thomas Jefferson|
|Succeeded by||James Monroe|
5th United States Secretary of State
|In office |
May 2, 1801 – March 3, 1809
|Preceded by||John Marshall|
|Succeeded by||Robert Smith|
|Born||March 16, 1751 |
Port Conway, Virginia
|Died||June 28, 1836 |
|Spouse||Dolley Todd Madison|
James Madison (March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836) was an American politician and fourth President of the United States of America (1809–1817). He was one of the most influential Founders of the United States; because it was the core of his Virginia Plan that survived the hard scrutiny of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he is known as the "Father of the Constitution." In 1788, Madison coauthored The Federalist Papers, still the most influential commentary on that document. He also coordinated the composition of the U.S. Bill of Rights. Undergirding his politics was a fervent belief in republicanism as the new nation's overarching social and political value system.
As leader in the House of Representatives, he worked closely with President George Washington to organize the new federal government. Breaking with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Madison and Thomas Jefferson organized what they called the Republican party (eventually becoming the Democratic-Republican Party), in opposition to key policies of the Federalists, especially the national bank and Jay's Treaty. As Jefferson's Secretary of State (1801-1809), he supervised the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the nation's size, and sponsored the ill-fated Embargo of 1807. As president he led the War of 1812 against Great Britain. That conflict began poorly but ended on a high note in 1815 after which a new spirit of nationalism swept the country. During and after the war Madison reversed many of his positions and by 1815, he supported a national bank, a strong military, and a moderate tariff structure.
Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia on March 16, 1751 (March 5 according to the Old Style or Julian calendar). He was the oldest of twelve children, seven of whom reached adulthood. His parents, Colonel James Madison, Sr. (March 27, 1723 – February 27, 1801) and Eleanor Rose "Nellie" Conway (January 9, 1731 – February 11, 1829), were slave owners and the prosperous owners of a tobacco plantation in Orange County, Virginia, where Madison spent most of his childhood years. He was raised in the Church of England, the state religion of Virginia at the time. Madison's plantation life was made possible by his paternal great-great-grandfather, James Madison, who utilized Virginia's headright system to import many indentured servants, thereby allowing him to accumulate a large tract of land. Madison, like his forebears, owned slaves.
Madison attended the College of New Jersey (later to become Princeton University), finishing its four-year course in two years, 1769-1771; and continued to study with John Witherspoon, the College's president at that time, for a year after graduating.
Madison served in the state legislature (1776-79) and became known as a protégé of Thomas Jefferson. In this capacity, he became a prominent figure in Virginia state politics, helping to draft the state's Declaration of Religious Freedom, which not only disestablished the Church of England, but disclaimed any power of state compulsion in religious matters (including compelling citizens to pay for a congregation of their own choice, which was Patrick Henry's plan). He also persuaded Virginia to give its claims to northwestern territories (consisting of most of modern-day Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) to the Continental Congress.
As a delegate to the Continental Congress (1780-83), he was considered a legislative workhorse and a master of parliamentary detail.
Back in the Virginia state legislature, he welcomed peace, but soon became alarmed at the fragility of the Articles of Confederation, and especially at the divisiveness of state governments. He was a strong advocate of a new constitution that would overcome this divisiveness. At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Madison's draft of the Virginia Plan and his revolutionary three-branch federal system became the basis for the American Constitution of today. Madison envisioned a strong federal government that would be the umpire that could overrule the mistaken actions of the states; later in life he came to admire the Supreme Court as it started filling that role.
To aid the push for quick ratification, he joined with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write The Federalist Papers. It immediately became the single most important interpretation of the Constitution, and remains so among jurists and scholars. Madison wrote the single most quoted paper, #10, in which he explained how a large country with many different interests and factions could support republicanism better than a small country where a few special interests could dominate. His interpretation has become a central part of the pluralist interpretation of American politics.
Back in Virginia in 1788, he led the fight for ratification of the Constitution at the state's convention—oratorically dueling Patrick Henry and others who sought revisions (such as the United States Bill of Rights) before its ratification. Madison is often referred to as the "Father of the Constitution" for his role in its drafting and ratification. However, he protested this designation as being "a credit to which I have no claim... [The Constitution] was not, like the fabled Goddess of Wisdom, the offspring of a single brain. It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands".
He wrote Hamilton, at the New York ratifying convention, observing that his opinion was that "ratification was in toto and for ever". The Virginia convention had considered conditional ratification worse than a rejection. 
Patrick Henry persuaded the Virginia legislature not to elect Madison as one of their first Senators; but Madison was directly elected to the new United States House of Representatives and immediately became an important leader from the First Congress through the Fourth Congress (1789–1797).
Though Madison had believed that "that a specific bill of rights remained unnecessary because the Constitution itself was a bill of rights" , the anti-Federalists demanded a bill of rights in exchange for their support for ratification. Hundreds of proposals from throughout the country specified rights – such as free speech and habeas corpus – for which Americans wanted explicit protection against federal infringement. Madison synthesized those proposals into the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights did not apply to the states – not till the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments did any amendments restrict the powers of the states; although many of the state constitutions provided similar rights against the state. In June 1789, Madison offered a package of twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution. By December 1791, the last ten of these were ratified and became the Bill of Rights.
The chief characteristic of Madison's time in Congress was his work to limit the power of the federal government. Wood (2006) argued that Madison never wanted a national government that took an active role. He was horrified to discover that Hamilton and Washington were creating "a real modern European type of government with a bureaucracy, a standing army, and a powerful independent executive". 
When Britain and France went to war in 1793 the U.S. was caught in the middle. The 1778 treaty of alliance with France was still in effect, yet most of the new country's trade was with Britain. War with Britain seemed at hand in 1794, as the British seized hundreds of American ships that were trading with French colonies. Madison (in collaboration with Jefferson, who was in private life), believed that Britain was weak and America strong, and that a trade war with Britain, although it threatened retaliation by Britain, probably would succeed, and would allow Americans to assert their independence fully. Great Britain, he charged, "has bound us in commercial manacles, and very nearly defeated the object of our independence". As Varg explains, Madison had no fear of British recriminations for "her interests can be wounded almost mortally, while ours are invulnerable". The British West Indies, he maintained, could not live without American foodstuffs, but Americans could easily do without British manufactures. This same faith led him to the conclusion "that it is in our power, in a very short time, to supply all the tonnage necessary for our own commerce".  However, George Washington avoided a trade war and instead secured friendly trade relations with Britain through the Jay Treaty of 1794. Madison tried and failed to defeat the treaty, and it became a central issue of the emerging First Party System. All across the country voters divided for and against the Treaty and other key issues, and thus became Federalists or Democratic-Republicans.
Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton built a nationwide network of supporters that became the Federalist Party, and promoted a strong central government with a national bank. Madison and Jefferson organized the Democratic-Republican Party, opposing these policies and the Federalists overall as centralizers and pro-British elitists who would undermine republican values. Madison led the unsuccessful attempt to block Hamilton's proposed Bank of the United States, arguing the new Constitution did not explicitly allow the federal government to form a bank.
Most historians argue that Madison changed radically from a nationally-oriented ally of Hamilton in 1787-88, to a states-rights oriented opponent of a strong national government by 1795. Madison started with attacks on Hamilton; by 1793 he was attacking Washington as well. Madison usually lost and Hamilton usually achieved passage of his legislation, including the National Bank, funding of state and national debts, and support of the Jay Treaty. (Madison did block the proposal for high tariffs.) Madison's politics remained closely aligned with Jefferson's until the experience of a weak national government during the War of 1812 led Madison to appreciate the need for a stronger central government. He then began to support a national bank, a stronger navy and a standing army. However, other historians, led by Lance Banning and Gordon Wood, see more continuity in Madison's views and do not see a sharp break in 1792.
On September 14, 1794, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, who cut as attractive and vivacious a figure as he did a sickly and antisocial one. Dolley is largely credited with inventing the role of "First Lady" as political ally to the president.
The main challenge Madison faced during the Jefferson Administration was navigating between the two great empires of Britain and France, which were almost constantly at war. The first great triumph was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, made possible when Napoleon realized he could not defend that vast territory, and it was to France's advantage that Britain not seize it. He and President Jefferson reversed party policy to negotiate and win Congressional approval for the Purchase. Madison tried to maintain neutrality, but at the same time insisted on the legal rights of the U.S. under international law. Neither London nor Paris showed much respect, however. Madison and Jefferson decided on an embargo to punish Britain and France, which meant forbidding all Americans to trade with any foreign nation. The embargo failed as foreign policy and instead caused massive hardships in the northeastern seaboard, which depended on foreign trade.
The party's Congressional Caucus chose presidential candidates, and Madison was chosen in the election of 1808, easily defeating Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Congress repealed the failed embargo as Madison took office.
British insults continued, especially the practice of using the Royal Navy to intercept unarmed American merchant ships and "impress" (conscript) all sailors who might be British subjects for service in the British navy. Madison's protests were ignored, so he helped stir up public opinion in the west and south for war. One argument was that an American invasion of Canada would be easy and would provide a good bargaining chip. (After long debates historians now agree that Americans did not desire to acquire Canadian lands, but to stop British aid to the hostile Indians.) Madison carefully prepared public opinion for what everyone at the time called "Mr. Madison's War", but much less time and money was spent building up the army, navy, forts, and state militias. After he convinced Congress to declare war, Madison was re-elected President over DeWitt Clinton but by a smaller margin than in 1808 (see U.S. presidential election, 1812). Some historians in 2006 ranked Madison's failure to avoid war as the sixth worst presidential mistake ever made.
In the ensuing War of 1812, the British won numerous victories, including the capture of Detroit after the American general surrendered to a smaller British force without a fight, and occupation of Washington, D.C., forcing Madison to flee the city and watch as the White House was set on fire by British troops. The British also armed American Indians in the West, most notably followers of Tecumseh. Finally the Indians were defeated and a standoff was reached on the Canadian border. The Americans built warships on the Great Lakes faster than the British and defeated the British fleet to avert a major invasion of New York in 1814. At sea, the British blockaded the entire coastline, cutting off both foreign trade and domestic trade between ports. Economic hardship was severe in New England, but entrepreneurs built factories that soon became the basis of the industrial revolution in America.
Madison faced formidable obstacles--a divided cabinet, a factious party, a recalcitrant Congress, obstructionist governors, and amazingly incompetent generals, together with militia who refused to fight outside their states. Most serious was lack of unified popular support. There were serious threats of disunion from New England, which engaged in massive smuggling to Canada and refused to provide financial support or soldiers. (Stagg 1983) However Andrew Jackson in the South and William Henry Harrison in the West destroyed the main Indian threats by 1813.
After the apparent defeat of Napoleon in 1814, both the British and Americans were exhausted, the causes of the war had been forgotten, the Indian issue was resolved, and it was time for peace. New England Federalists, however, set up a defeatist Hartford Convention that discussed secession. The Treaty of Ghent ended the war in 1815. There were no territorial gains on either side as both sides returned to status quo ante bellum, that is, the previous boundaries. The Battle of New Orleans, in which Andrew Jackson defeated the British regulars, was fought fifteen days after the treaty was signed but before the news of the signing reached New Orleans. With peace finally established, America was swept by a sense of euphoria and national achievement in finally securing solid independence from Britain. The Federalist party collapsed and eventually disappeared from politics, as an Era of Good Feeling emerged with a much lower level of political fear and vituperation; although political contention certainly continued.
Although Madison had accepted the necessity of a Hamiltonian national bank, an effective taxation system based on tariffs, a standing professional army and a strong navy, he drew the line at internal improvements as advocated by his Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin. In his last act before leaving office, Madison vetoed on states' rights grounds 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. 
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.
Madison 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".
|Vice President||George Clinton||1809–1812|
|Secretary of State||Robert Smith||1809–1811|
|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|
|William H. Crawford||1815–1816|
|George Graham (ad interim)||1816–1817|
|Attorney General||Caesar A. Rodney||1809–1811|
|Postmaster General||Gideon Granger||1809–1814|
|Secretary of the Navy||Paul Hamilton||1809–1813|
Madison appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
When Madison left office in 1817 Madison retired to Montpelier, his tobacco plantation in Virginia; it was not far from Jefferson's plantation Monticello. Madison was sixty-three years old; Dolley, who thought they would finally have a chance to travel to Paris, was forty-nine. Such was not to be the case. As with both Washington and Jefferson, Madison left the presidency a poorer man than when he entered, due in no small part to the steady financial collapse of his plantation. Some historians speculate that his mounting debt was one of the chief reasons, if not the main reason, why he refused to allow his notes on the Constitution Convention, plus its official records also in his keeping, to be published in his life time. "He knew the value of his notes, and wanted them to bring money to his estate for Dolley's use as his plantation failed -- he was hoping for one hundred thousand dollars from the sale of his papers, of which the notes were the gem."
But as time slipped past Madison became more and more concerned about his legacy. He took to dickering with the priceless documents in his possessions: changing days and dates; inking out words and sentences; adding in the same; shifting about characters, both great and small, like pieces on a chessboard. By the time he had reach his late seventies this "straightening out" had become almost an obsession with Madison. This can be seen by his editing of a letter he had written to Jefferson criticizing Lafayette: Madison not only inked out original passages, but went so far as to imitate Jefferson's handwriting as well.  All this was done by Madison not in an attempt to deceive, but, in his mind, to make himself clear, to justify his actions both to history and to himself.
"During the final six years of his life, amid a sea of personal [financial] troubles that threatening to engulf him...At times mental agitation issued in physical collapse. For the better part of a year in 1831 and 1832 he was bedridden, if not silenced...Literally sick with anxiety, he began to despair of his ability of make himself understood by his fellow citizens."
In 1829, at the age of seventy-eight, Madison was chosen as a representative to the constutitional convention in Richmond for the revising of the Virginia state constitution; this was to be Madison's last appearance as a legislator and drafter of constitutions.
The issue head and shoulders above all others at this convention was reapportionment. The western districts of Virginia complained that they were unrepresented; which they were, and woefully so. This is because according to the current state constitution voting districts were based on population, and slaves, not just free men, were considered as part of the population. Westerners complained that while they had few slaves, the eastern Tidewater gentry with their great plantations had hundreds. And while it was true these slaves couldn't vote, they were counted as part of the population thus distorting state apportionment. The argument was, as it had been at the Federal Convention, that slaves (like foreign residents and the disenfranchised) were part of the population, and attested the power and wealth of the district.
Madison, who in his prime was known as "the Great Legislator", tried, with increasing despondency, to get a compromise, any sort of compromise, worked out. He even tried to convince both parties to consider the 3/5 ratio ("the Federal number"). But it was all for nought. There was no compromise, or even a step towards compromise, by either side. In the end, the Tidewater patriarchs won: slaves, though still not allowed to vote, would continue to be considered a part -- a full part -- of the population of Virginia, and districts would be drawn accordingly. "The Convention of 1829, we might say, pushed Madison steadily to the brink of self-delusion, if not despair. The dilemma of slavery undid him."
He also produced several memoranda on political subjects, including an essay against the appointment of chaplains for Congress and the armed forces, on the grounds that this produced religious exclusion, but not political harmony. 
Madison lived on until 1836, a husk of a man, dying, his face to the wall, at Montpellier on 28 June. With his passing the signers of the United States Constitution were no more.
As historian Garry Wills wrote:
"...Madison's claim on our admiration does not rest on a perfect consistency, any more than it rests on his presidency. He has other virtues...As a framer and defender of the Constitution he had no peer...The finest part of Madison's performance as president was his concern for the preserving of the Constitution...No man could do everything for the country -- not even Washington. Madison did more than most, and did some things better than any. That was quite enough."