James Madison

James Madison

4th President, 1809-1817

Portrait by John Vanderlyn, 1816

Portrait by John Vanderlyn, 1816

  • Born on March 16, 1751 in Port Conway, Virginia.
  • Parents: James Madison, Sr. and Nelly Conway; Oldest of twelve children, but only seven lived to adulthood.
  • Grew up in Montpelier, the name given to his father’s estate in Orange County, Virginia, which he would later inherit.
  • Enrolled at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1769 amd graduated two years later.
  • Was proficient in Latin, which he had studied since boyhood and Hebrew, which he studied at Princeton.
  • Using the pseudonym “Publius,” authored 29 of the 58 newspaper essays that became collectively known as the Federalist Papers , written to drum up support for the ratification of the Constitution. The other authors were Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.
  • Served as Orange County’s representative to the Virginia Convention in 1776 where he first met Thomas Jefferson and served in the committee tasked to draft Virginia’s constitution.
  • Was the youngest delegate to the Continental Congress at the age of 29 and served for three years (1780–1783).
  • Founded the Democratic–Republican Party with Thomas Jefferson in opposition to the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton.
  • Authored the “Virginia Plan,” which became the blueprint for the U.S. Constitution. This earned him the nickname “Father of the Constitution.”
  • Was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1789.
  • At the House, he introduced a bill proposing a set of amendments to the Constitution on June 8, 1789. The last of the amendments were ratified in 1791 and became the Bill of Rights. Madison also became known as the “Father of the Bill of Rights.”
  • Married Dolley Payne Todd, a widow, on September 15, 1794 in Jefferson County (then Harewood), West Virginia. They had no children together, but he adopted his wife’s son, John Payne Todd, from her first marriage.
  • Authored the Virginia Resolution, adopted by the Virginia legislature in 1798, which declared that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. Thomas Jefferson authored the Kentucky Resolution, which had the same declaration.
  • Served as Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State for two terms (1801–1809).

Presidency

James Madison portrait, ca. 1828

James Madison portrait, ca. 1828

  • Took his oath of office on March 4, 1809 at the House Chamber, U.S. Capitol.
  • Is considered the smallest person to serve as President at 5’4″ and weighing about 100 lbs.
  • Vice President: George Clinton (1809–1812); Elbridge Gerry (1813–1814).
  • In his first year as President, Congress had enacted a law prohibiting the United States from trading with both Great Britain and France (who were at war).
  • In 1810, Macon’s Bill Number 2 was passed by Congress. The bill ended previous embargoes with Great Britain and France, and promised to end trade with which ever country ceased attacks on U.S. shipping vessels. An opponent of the bill, Madison nontheless agreed when Napoleon offered to stop French attacks.
  • Madison called on Congress to declare war with Great Britain in June of 1812 because of their seizure of American cargo ships in the Atlantic and their impressment of American seamen. The war effort was led by the members of Congress known as the “War Hawks.”
  • The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and Great Britain with their American Indian allies, most notably the Shawnee led by Tecumseh, who wanted the Northwest Territory returned to them.
  • British troops invaded Washington, D.C. in August of 1814 and burned many of the public buildings including the White House and the U.S. Capitol, which then housed the Library of Congress whose collections were subsequently destroyed.
  • The United States’ victory in the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 and the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 repelled further British attacks and created a sense of euphoria among Americans, which they dubbed the “second war of independence.”
  • The war ended with the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815.
  • Although Madison faired poorly in his management of the war, the victories against the British increased his popularity with the American people.
  • When the 20-year charter of the First Bank expired in 1811, Madison vetoed a Congress bill passed in 1814 to charter a second national bank. After the war with Britain, Congress passed another bill to charter a second national bank in 1816 and Madison signed it.
  • An upsurge in nationalism resulted when the war ended, and it also marked the end of the Federalist Party, whose members were pro-Britain and opposed to the war.
  • The victories in the War of 1812 produced two American presidents, Andrew Jackson, who led the victory in the Battle of New Orleans, and William Hendry Harrison, who won the Battle of the Thames against the Indian allies of Britain in 1813.
  • He was a founding member of the American Colonization Society, established in 1816. The Society worked to return freed slaves to Africa.

Post-presidency

James Madison Portrait by Chester Harding, 1829-1830

James Madison Portrait by Chester Harding, 1829-1830

  • Retired to his Montpelier estate in Orange County with his wife.
  • His plantation suffered financial losses due to the falling price of tobacco and mismanagement by his stepson.
  • After Jefferson’s death in 1826, Madison succeeded him as rector of the University of Virginia, a post he held until his death.
  • In 1829, he was chosen as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention. It would be his last involvement in American politics.
  • Maintained correspondence with his friend and political ally Thomas Jefferson whose Monticello estate was just nearby and whom he visited twice a year until Jefferson’s death.
  • Became President of the American Colonization Society in 1833.
  • His mental health is believed to have begun deteriorating in his 70s due to anxiety over his financial situation and concern about his legacy in American history.
  • In 1834, he wrote a message, “Advice to my Country,” in which he stated: “The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.” The message was not released until after his death.
  • He appeared on the $5,000 bill, first printed as a gold certificate in 1878 and then as a federal reserve note in 1918 and 1934. Only 342 of these bills are known to exist today.
  • Died June 28, 1836 at Montpelier. He was the last of the Founding Fathers.
  • Buried at the family cemetery in Montpelier. Over 100 people, both black and white, attended his funeral service.
  • His wife sold their mansion in 1842 and their plantation lands in 1844. Their slaves were, later, either sold or inherited by relatives.
  • His former slave Paul Jennings published a memoir in 1865 describing Madison as “one of the best men that ever lived.”
  • Madison Square in New York City is named after the former President.
  • Montpelier was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.