|4th President of the United States|
March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817
|Preceded by||Thomas Jefferson|
|Succeeded by||James Monroe|
|5th United States Secretary of State|
May 2, 1801 – March 3, 1809
|Preceded by||John Marshall|
|Succeeded by||Robert Smith|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 15th district
March 4, 1793 – March 4, 1797
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||John Dawson|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th district
March 4, 1789 – March 4, 1793
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||George Hancock|
|Delegate to the Congress of the Confederation from Virginia|
March 1, 1781 – November 1, 1783
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Thomas Jefferson|
March 16, 1751|
Port Conway, Virginia Colony, British America
|Died||June 28, 1836
Orange, Virginia, U.S.
|Resting place||Montpelier (Orange, Virginia)|
|Height||5 ft 4 in (163 cm)|
|Spouse(s)||Dolley Payne Todd (m. 1794; his death 1836)|
|Children||John Payne Todd (stepson)|
|Alma mater||Princeton University|
|Profession||Planter, college administrator|
James Madison, Jr. (March 16 [O.S. March 5] 1751 – June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, political theorist, and the fourth President of the United States (1809–17). He is hailed as the "Father of the Constitution" for being instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and as the key champion and author of the Bill of Rights. He served as a politician much of his adult life.
After the constitution had been drafted, Madison became one of the leaders in the movement to ratify it. His collaboration with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay produced The Federalist Papers (1788). Circulated only in New York at the time, they would later be considered among the most important treatises in support of the Constitution. He was also a delegate to the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention, and was instrumental to the successful ratification effort in Virginia. Like most of his contemporaries, Madison changed his political views during his life. During the drafting and ratification of the constitution, he favored a strong national government, though later he grew to favor stronger state governments, before settling between the two extremes late in his life.
In 1789, Madison became a leader in the new House of Representatives, drafting many basic laws. He is notable for drafting the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and thus is known as the "Father of the Bill of Rights". Madison worked closely with President George Washington to organize the new federal government. Breaking with Hamilton and what became the Federalist Party in 1791, Madison and Thomas Jefferson organized what they called the Republican Party (later called by historians the Democratic-Republican Party).
As Jefferson's Secretary of State (1801–09), Madison supervised the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the nation's size. After his election to the presidency, he presided over renewed prosperity for several years. As president (1809–17), after the failure of diplomatic protests and a trade embargo against the United Kingdom, he led the U.S. into the War of 1812. He was responding to British encroachments on American honor and rights; in addition, he wanted to end the influence of the British among their Indian allies, whose resistance blocked U.S. settlement in the Midwest around the Great Lakes. Madison found the war to be an administrative nightmare, as the United States had neither a strong army nor financial system; as a result, he afterward supported a stronger national government and a strong military, as well as the national bank, which he had long opposed. Like other Virginian statesmen in the state's slave society, he was a slaveholder who inherited his plantation known as Montpelier, and owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime to cultivate tobacco and other crops. Madison supported the Three-Fifths Compromise that allowed three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves to be counted for representation.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Military service in the Revolutionary War
- 3 Early political career
- 4 Father of the Constitution
- 5 The Federalist Papers and ratification debates
- 6 Member of Congress
- 7 Founding the Democratic-Republican party
- 8 Marriage and family
- 9 United States Secretary of State 1801–1809
- 10 Election of 1808
- 11 Presidency 1809–1817
- 12 Later life
- 13 Legacy
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes
- 16 Bibliography
- 17 External links
Early life and education
James Madison, Jr. was born at Belle Grove Plantation near Port Conway, Virginia on March 16, 1751, (March 5, 1751, Old Style, Julian calendar), where his mother had returned to her parents' home to give birth. He grew up as the oldest of twelve children. Nelly and James Sr. had seven more boys and four girls. Three of James Jr.'s brothers died as infants, including one who was stillborn. In the summer of 1775, his sister Elizabeth (age 7) and his brother Reuben (age 3) died in a dysentery epidemic that swept through Orange County because of contaminated water.
His father, James Madison, Sr. (1723–1801), was a tobacco planter who grew up on a plantation, then called Mount Pleasant, in Orange County, Virginia, which he had inherited upon reaching adulthood. He later acquired more property and slaves; with 5,000 acres (2,000 ha), he became the largest landowner and a leading citizen of Orange County, in the Piedmont. James Jr.'s mother, Nelly Conway Madison (1731–1829), was born at Port Conway, the daughter of a prominent planter and tobacco merchant and his wife. Madison's parents were married on September 15, 1749. In these years the southern colonies were becoming a slave society, in which slave labor powered the economy and slaveholders formed the political élite.
From ages 11 to 16, the young "Jemmy" Madison was sent to study under Donald Robertson, an instructor at the Innes plantation in King and Queen County, Virginia in the Tidewater region. Robertson was a Scottish teacher who tutored numerous prominent plantation families in the South. From Robertson, Madison learned mathematics, geography, and modern and ancient languages. He became especially proficient in Latin. Madison said that he owed his bent for learning "largely to that man (Robertson)."
At age 16, he returned to Montpelier, where he began a two-year course of study under the Reverend Thomas Martin in preparation for college. Unlike most college-bound Virginians of his day, Madison did not choose the College of William and Mary, because the lowland climate of Williamsburg, where mosquitoes transmitted fevers and other infectious diseases during the summer, might have strained his delicate health. Instead, in 1769, he enrolled at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, where he became roommates and close friends with poet Philip Freneau. Madison unsuccessfully proposed to Freneau's sister Mary.
Through diligence and long hours of study that may have damaged his health, Madison graduated in 1771. His studies included Latin, Greek, science, geography, mathematics, rhetoric, and philosophy. Great emphasis also was placed on speech and debate; Madison helped found the American Whig Society, in direct competition to fellow student Aaron Burr's Cliosophic Society. After graduation, Madison remained at Princeton to study Hebrew and political philosophy under the university president, John Witherspoon, before returning to Montpelier in the spring of 1772. He became quite fluent in Hebrew. Madison studied law from his interest in public policy, not with the intent of practicing law as a profession.
At a height of only five feet, four inches (163 cm), and never weighing more than 100 pounds, he was the smallest president.
Although educated by Presbyterian clergymen, young Madison was an avid reader of English deist tracts. Madison as an adult paid little attention to religious matters. Hutson says that historians searching through Madison's voluminous writings discover that after he left college, "there is no trace, no clue as to his personal religious convictions." However, some scholars say he leaned toward deism. Others maintain that Madison accepted Christian tenets generally and formed his outlook on life within a Christian world view.
Military service in the Revolutionary War
After graduation from Princeton, young Madison took an increasing interest in the relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain, which deteriorated over the issue of British taxation. In 1774, Madison took a seat on the local Committee of Safety, a patriot pro-revolution group that oversaw the local militia. This was the first step in a life of public service that his family's wealth allowed him to pursue. In October 1775 he was commissioned as the colonel of the Orange County militia. He would not serve in combat on account of poor health.
Early political career
As a young man during the American Revolutionary War, Madison served in the Virginia state legislature (1776–1779), where he became known as a protégé of the delegate Thomas Jefferson. He had earlier witnessed the persecution of Baptist preachers in Virginia, who were arrested for preaching without a license from the established Anglican Church. He worked with the Baptist preacher Elijah Craig on constitutional guarantees for religious liberty in Virginia. Working on such cases helped form his ideas about religious freedom, which he applied to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Madison attained prominence in Virginia politics, working with Jefferson to draft the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was finally passed in 1786. It disestablished the Church of England and disclaimed any power of state compulsion in religious matters. He excluded Patrick Henry's plan to compel citizens to pay taxes that would go to a congregation of their choice. In 1777 Madison's cousin, the Right Reverend James Madison (1749–1812), became president of The College of William & Mary. Working closely with Madison and Jefferson, Bishop Madison helped lead the College through the changes involving separation from both Great Britain and the Church of England. He also led college and state actions that resulted in the formation of the new Episcopal Diocese of Virginia after the Revolution.
As the youngest delegate to the Continental Congress (1780–1783), Madison was considered a legislative workhorse and a master of parliamentary coalition building. He persuaded Virginia to give up its claims to northwestern territories—consisting of most of modern-day Ohio and points west—to the Continental Congress. It created the Northwest Territory in 1783, as a federally supervised territory from which new states would be developed and admitted to the union. Virginia's land claims had partially overlapped with those of Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland; they too ceded their westernmost lands to national authority, with the understanding that new states could be formed from the land. The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the new territory north of the Ohio River, but did not end it for those slaves held by settlers already in the territory.
Madison was elected a second time to the Virginia House of Delegates, serving from 1784 to 1786 in the new years of independence. During these final years in the House of Delegates, Madison grew increasingly frustrated with what he saw as excessive democracy. He criticized the tendency for delegates to cater to the particular interests of their constituents, even if such interests were destructive to the state at large. In particular, he was troubled by a law that denied diplomatic immunity to ambassadors from other countries, and a law that legalized paper money. He thought legislators should be "disinterested" and act in the interests of their state at large, even if this contradicted the wishes of constituents. This "excessive democracy," Madison grew to believe, was the cause of a larger social decay which he and others (such as Washington) believed had resumed after the revolution and was nearing a tipping point. They were alarmed by Shays' Rebellion.
Father of the Constitution
The Articles of Confederation established the United States as a confederation of sovereign states with a weak central government. This arrangement did not work particularly well, and was even less successful after the war was over. Congress had no power to tax, and as a result was unable to pay debts left over from the Revolution. Madison and other nationalists, such as Washington and Alexander Hamilton, were very concerned about this. They feared a break-up of the union and national bankruptcy. The historian Gordon S. Wood has noted that many leaders, including Madison and Washington, feared more that the revolution had not fixed the social problems that had triggered it and that the excesses ascribed to the King were being seen in the state legislatures. Shays' Rebellion is often cited as the event that forced the issue; Wood argues that many at the time saw it as only the most extreme example of democratic excess. They believed the constitution would need to do more than fix the Articles of Confederation. Like the revolution, it would need to rewrite the social compact and redefine the relationship among the states, the national government, and the people.
As Madison wrote, "a crisis had arrived which was to decide whether the American experiment was to be a blessing to the world, or to blast for ever the hopes which the republican cause had inspired." Partly at Madison's instigation, a national convention was called in 1787. Madison was crucial in persuading George Washington to attend the convention, since he knew how important the popular general would be to the adoption of a constitution. As one of the first delegates to arrive, while waiting for the convention to begin, Madison wrote what became known as the Virginia Plan. The Virginia Plan was submitted at the opening of the convention, and the work of the convention quickly became to amend the Virginia Plan and to fill in the gaps. Though the Virginia Plan was an outline rather than a draft of a possible constitution, and though it was extensively changed during the debate (especially by John Rutledge and James Wilson in the Committee of Detail), its use at the convention led many to call Madison the "Father of the Constitution". He was only 36 years old.
During the course of the Convention, Madison spoke over two hundred times, and his fellow delegates rated him highly. For example, William Pierce wrote that "... every Person seems to acknowledge his greatness. In the management of every great question he evidently took the lead in the Convention ... he always comes forward as the best informed Man of any point in debate." Madison recorded the unofficial minutes of the convention, and these have become the only comprehensive record of what occurred. The historian Clinton Rossiter regarded Madison's performance as "a combination of learning, experience, purpose, and imagination that not even Adams or Jefferson could have equaled." Years earlier he had pored over crates of books that Jefferson sent him from France on various forms of government. The historian Douglas Adair called Madison's work "probably the most fruitful piece of scholarly research ever carried out by an American." Many have argued that this study helped prepare him for the convention.
Gordon Wood, however, argues that Madison's frustrating experience in the Virginia legislature years earlier most shaped his constitutional views. Wood notes that the governmental structure in both the Virginia Plan and the final constitution were not innovative, since they were copied from the British government, had been used in the states since 1776, and numerous authors had already argued for their adoption at the national level. Most of what was controversial in the Virginia Plan was removed, and most of the rest had been commonly accepted as necessary for a functional government (state or national) for decades; thus, Madison's contribution was more qualitative. Wood argues that, like most national politicians of the late 1780s, Madison believed that the problem was less with the Articles of Confederation than with the nature of the state legislatures. He believed the solution was to restrain the excesses of the states. This required more than an alteration in the Articles of Confederation; it required a change in the character of the national compact. The ultimate question before the convention, Wood notes, was not how to design a government but whether the states should remain sovereign, whether sovereignty should be transferred to the national government, or whether the constitution should settle somewhere in between.
Those, like Madison, who thought democracy in the state legislatures was excessive and insufficiently "disinterested", wanted sovereignty transferred to the national government, while those (like Patrick Henry) who did not think this a problem, wanted to fix the Articles of Confederation. Madison was one of the only delegates who wanted to deprive the states of sovereignty completely, which he considered the only solution to the problem. Though sharing the same goal as Madison, most other delegates reacted strongly against such an extreme change to the status quo. Though Madison lost most of his battles over how to amend the Virginia Plan (most importantly over the exclusion of the Council of Revision), in the process he increasingly shifted the debate away from a position of pure state sovereignty. Since most disagreements over what to include in the constitution were ultimately disputes over the balance of sovereignty between the states and national government, Madison's influence was critical. Wood notes that Madison's ultimate contribution was not in designing any particular constitutional framework, but in shifting the debate toward a compromise of "shared sovereignty" between the national and state governments.
The Federalist Papers and ratification debates
The Constitution developed by the convention in Philadelphia had to be ratified. This would be done by special conventions called in each state to decide that sole question of ratification. Madison was a leader in the ratification effort. He, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote The Federalist Papers, a series of 85 newspaper articles published in New York to explain how the proposed Constitution would work, mainly by responding to criticisms from anti-federalists. They were also published in book form and became a virtual debater's handbook for the supporters of the Constitution in the ratifying conventions. The historian Clinton Rossiter called The Federalist Papers "the most important work in political science that ever has been written, or is likely ever to be written, in the United States." They were not scholarly arguments or impartial justifications for the constitution, but political polemics intended to assist the federalists in New York, which was the only state to have a coordinated anti-federalist movement. One reason Madison was involved in the project was because he was a delegate to the lame duck Confederation Congress, which was meeting in New York.
If Virginia, the most populous state at the time, did not ratify the Constitution, the new national government would likely not succeed. When the Virginia convention began, the constitution had not yet been ratified by the required nine states. New York, the second largest state and a bastion of anti-federalism, would likely not ratify it if Virginia rejected the constitution, and Virginia's exclusion from the new government would disqualify George Washington from being the first president. Virginia delegates believed that Washington's election as the first president was an implicit condition for their acceptance of the new constitution and the new government. Without Virginia, a new convention might have been held and a new constitution written in a much more polarized atmosphere, since the constitution did not specify what would happen if it was only partially ratified. The states might have joined in regional confederacies or allied with Spain, France or Britain, which still had North American colonies. Arguably the most prominent anti-federalist, the powerful orator Patrick Henry was a delegate and had a following second only to Washington (who was not a delegate). Most delegates believed that most Virginians opposed the constitution. Initially Madison did not want to stand for election to the Virginia ratifying convention, but was persuaded to do so because the situation looked so bad. His role at the convention was likely critical to Virginia's ratification, and thus to the success of the constitution generally.
As the states were leery of creating a powerful central government, the drive to achieve ratification was difficult. Patrick Henry feared that the constitution would trample on the independence of the states and the rights of citizens. In the Virginia ratifying convention, Madison, who was a poor public speaker, had to go up against Henry, who was the most esteemed orator in the country. Although Henry was by far the more powerful and dramatic speaker, Madison successfully matched him. While Henry's arguments were emotional appeals to possible unintended consequences, Madison responded with rational answers to these claims; he eventually argued that Henry's claims were becoming absurd. Madison pointed out that a limited government would be created, and that the powers delegated "to the federal government are few and defined." Madison persuaded prominent figures such as Edmund Randolph, who had refused to endorse the constitution at the convention, to change their position and support it at the ratifying convention. Randolph's switch likely changed the votes of several more anti-federalists. When the vote was nearing, and the constitution still looked likely to be defeated, Madison pleaded with a small group of anti-federalists, and promised them he would push for a bill of rights later if they changed their votes.
To address the issues of greatest concern, the convention considered the following resolution:
Resolved, That previous to the ratification of the new Constitution of government recommended by the late Federal Convention, a declaration of rights asserting and securing from encroachment the great principle of civil and religious liberty and the unalienable rights of the people, together with amendments to the most exceptional parts of the said Constitution, ought to be referred by this Convention to the other States in the American Confederation for their consideration.
Supported by George Mason and Patrick Henry but opposed by Madison, Henry Lee III (Light-Horse Harry Lee), John Marshall, Randolph and Bushrod Washington, the resolution failed, 88—80. Lee, Madison, Marshall, Randolph and Washington then voted in favor of a resolution to ratify the constitution, which the convention approved on June 28, 1789 by a vote of 89-79, with Mason and Henry voting in the minority.
In terms of slavery and the Constitution, Madison viewed African American slaves as an "unfortunate race" and believed their true nature was both human and property. On February 12, 1788, Madison, in the Federalist Letter No. 54, stated that the Constitutional three-fifths compromise clause was the best alternative for the slaves' current condition and for determining representation of citizens in Congress. Madison believed that slaves, as property, would be protected by both their masters and the government.
Madison was called the "Father of the Constitution" by his peers in his own lifetime. However, he was modest, and he protested the title 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, stating his opinion that "ratification was in toto and 'for ever'".
Member of Congress
Madison had been a delegate to the Confederation Congress, and wanted to be elected senator in the new government. A vengeful Patrick Henry wanted to deny Madison a seat in the new congress, so he ensured that Madison remained in the lame duck Confederation Congress to prevent him as long as possible from campaigning. Henry used his power to keep the Virginia legislature from appointing Madison as one of the state's senators. When Madison decided to run for election to the house instead, Henry gerrymandered Madison's home district, filling it with anti-federalists in an attempt to prevent Madison's election. Madison could have run in another district, so to prevent this, Henry forced through a law requiring congressmen to live in the district they represent. Later this was recognized as unconstitutional but, at the time, the law made it increasingly unlikely that Madison would be elected to congress. He ran against James Monroe, a future president, and traveled with Monroe while campaigning. Later as president, Madison was told by some of his former constituents that, had it not been for unusually bad weather on election day, Monroe likely would have won. Madison defeated Monroe and became an important leader in Congress.
Father of the Bill of Rights
Though the idea for a bill of rights had been suggested at the end of the constitutional convention, the delegates wanted to go home and thought the suggestion unnecessary. The omission of a bill of rights became the main argument of the anti-federalists against the constitution. Though no state conditioned ratification of the constitution on a bill of rights, several states came close, and the issue almost prevented the constitution from being ratified. Some anti-federalists continued to contest this after the constitution had been ratified and threatened the entire nation with another constitutional convention. This would likely have been far more partisan than the first. Madison objected to a specific bill of rights for several reasons: he thought it was unnecessary, since it purported to protect against powers that the federal government had not been granted; that it was dangerous, since enumeration of some rights might be taken to imply the absence of other rights; and that at the state level, bills of rights had proven to be useless paper barriers against government powers.
Though few in the new congress wanted to debate a possible Bill of Rights (for the next century, most thought that the Declaration of Independence, not the first ten constitutional amendments, constituted the true Bill of Rights), Madison pressed the issue. Congress was extremely busy with setting up the new government, most wanted to wait for the system to show its defects before amending the constitution, and the anti-federalist movements (which had demanded a new convention) had died out quickly once the constitution was ratified. Despite this, Madison still feared that the states would compel congress to call for a new constitutional convention, which they had the right to do. He also believed that the constitution did not sufficiently protect the national government from excessive democracy and parochialism (the defects he saw in the state governments), so he saw his amendments as a way to mitigate these problems. On June 8, 1789, Madison introduced his bill proposing amendments consisting of Nine Articles comprising up to 20 Amendments, depending on how one counts. Madison initially proposed that the amendments be incorporated into the body of the Constitution. The House passed most of his slate of amendments, but rejected the idea of placing the amendments in the body of the Constitution. Instead, it adopted 17 amendments to be attached separately and sent this bill to the Senate.
The Senate edited the slate of amendments still further, making 26 changes of its own, and condensing their number to twelve. Madison's proposal to apply parts of the Bill of Rights to the states as well as the federal government was eliminated, as was the last of his proposed change to the preamble. A House–Senate Conference Committee then convened to resolve the numerous differences between the two Bill of Rights proposals. On September 24, 1789, the committee issued this report, which finalized 12 Constitutional Amendments for the House and Senate to consider. This final version was approved by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789.
Articles Three through Twelve were ratified as additions to the Constitution December 15, 1791, and became the Bill of Rights. Article Two became part of the Constitution May 7, 1992 as the Twenty-seventh Amendment. Article One is technically still pending before the states.
Debates on foreign policy
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 imminent in 1794, as the British seized hundreds of American ships that were trading with French colonies. Madison believed that Britain was weak and the United States was strong, and that a trade war with Britain, although risking a real war by the British government, 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 discounted the much more powerful British army and navy for "her interests can be wounded almost mortally, while ours are invulnerable." The British West Indies, Madison maintained, could not live without American foodstuffs, but Americans could easily do without British manufactures. This 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 threw his energies into fighting the Treaty—his mobilization of grassroots support helped form the First Party System. He failed in both the Senate and House, and the Jay Treaty led to ten years of prosperous trade with Britain (and anger on the part of France leading to the Quasi-War). All across the United States, voters divided for and against the Treaty and other key issues, and thus became either Federalists or Jeffersonian Republicans.
Madison was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 57.37% of the vote, defeating James Monroe.
Madison was re-elected with 97.79% of the vote, defeating Monroe.
Founding the Democratic-Republican party
Supporters for ratification of the Constitution had become known as the Federalist Party. Those opposing the proposed constitution were labeled Anti-Federalists, but neither group was a political party in the modern sense. Following ratification of the Constitution and formation of the first government in 1789, two new political factions formed along similar lines as the old division. The supporters of Alexander Hamilton's attempts to strengthen the national government called themselves Federalists, while those who opposed Hamilton called themselves "Republicans" (later historians would refer to them as the Democratic-Republican party). Madison and other Democratic Party organizers, who favored states' rights and local control, were struggling to find an institutional solution to the Constitution's seeming inability to prevent concentration of power in an administrative republic. As first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton created many new federal institutions, including the Bank of the United States. Madison led the unsuccessful attempt in Congress to block Hamilton's proposal, arguing that the new Constitution did not explicitly allow the federal government to form a bank. As early as May 26, 1792, Hamilton complained, "Mr. Madison cooperating with Mr. Jefferson is at the head of a faction decidedly hostile to me and my administration." On May 5, 1792, Madison told Washington, "with respect to the spirit of party that was taking place ...I was sensible of its existence". He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1794.
In 1798 under President John Adams, the U.S. and France unofficially went to war—the Quasi War, that involved naval warships and commercial vessels battling in the Caribbean. The Federalists created a standing army and passed laws against French refugees engaged in American politics and against Republican editors. Congressman Madison and Vice President Jefferson were outraged. Madison and Jefferson secretly drafted the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts to be unconstitutional and noted that "states, in contesting obnoxious laws, should 'interpose for arresting the progress of the evil.'" These turned out to be unpopular, even among republicans, since they called for state governments to invalidate federal laws. Jefferson went further, urging states to secede if necessary, though Madison convinced Jefferson to back down from this extreme view.
According to Chernow, Madison's position "was a breathtaking evolution for a man who had pleaded at the Constitutional Convention that the federal government should possess a veto over state laws." Chernow feels that Madison's politics remained closely aligned with Jefferson's until his experience as president with a weak national government during the War of 1812 caused Madison to appreciate the need for a strong central government to aid national defense. At the time, he began to support a national bank, a stronger navy, and a standing army.
The historian Gordon S. Wood says that Lance Banning, as in his Sacred Fire of Liberty (1995), is the "only present-day scholar to maintain that Madison did not change his views in the 1790s." In claiming this, Banning downplays Madison's nationalism in the 1780s. Wood notes that many historians struggle to understand Madison, but Wood looks at him in the terms of Madison's own times—as a nationalist but one with a different conception of nationalism from the Federalists'. He wanted to avoid a European-style government and always thought that the embargo would ultimately have been successful. Thus, Wood assesses Madison from a different point of view. Gary Rosen and Banning use other approaches to suggest Madison's consistency.
Marriage and family
Madison was 43 when he married for the first time, which was considered late in that era. On September 15, 1794, James Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, a 26-year-old widow, at Harewood, in what is now Jefferson County, West Virginia. Madison had no children but did adopt Todd's one surviving son, John Payne Todd (known as Payne), after the marriage.
Dolley Payne was born May 20, 1768, at the New Garden Quaker settlement in North Carolina, where her parents, John Payne and Mary Coles Payne, lived briefly. Dolley's sister, Lucy Payne, had recently married George Steptoe Washington, a nephew of President Washington. As a member of Congress, Madison had doubtless met the widow Todd at social functions in Philadelphia, then the nation's capital. She had been living there with her late husband. In May 1794, Madison asked their mutual friend Aaron Burr to arrange a meeting. By August, she had accepted his proposal of marriage. For marrying Madison, a non-Quaker, she was expelled from the Society of Friends.
They were known to have a happy marriage. Dolley Madison put her social gifts to use when the couple lived in Washington, beginning when he was Secretary of State. With the White House still under construction, she advised as to its furnishings and sometimes served as First Lady for ceremonial functions for President Thomas Jefferson, a widower and their friend. When her husband was president, she created the role of First Lady, using her social talents to advance his program. She is credited with adding to his popularity in office.
Madison's father died in 1801 and at age 50, Madison inherited the large plantation of Montpelier and other holdings, and his father's 108 slaves. He had begun to act as a steward of his father's properties by 1780, but this completed his takeover.
United States Secretary of State 1801–1809
When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as president in 1801, he named Madison to be his secretary of state. At the start of his term, Madison was a party to the United States Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison (1803), in which the doctrine of judicial review was asserted by the high Court, much to the annoyance of the Jeffersonians who did not want a powerful federalist judiciary. The main challenge to the Jefferson Administration was maintaining neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars. Throughout Jefferson's presidency, much of Europe was at war, at first between France and Austria. After the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, where France decisively defeated the Austrian Habsburgs, the conflict transformed into a grinding war between France and Britain.
Shortly before Jefferson's election, Napoleon had seized power from the hapless French Directory, which had recently mismanaged France's finances in unsuccessful wars and had lost control of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) after a slave rebellion. Beginning in 1802, Napoleon sent more than 20,000 troops to try to restore slavery on the island, as its colonial sugar cane plantations had been the chief revenue producer for France in the New World. The warfare went badly and the troops were further decimated by yellow fever. Napoleon gave up on thoughts of restoring the empire and sold the Louisiana territory to Madison and Jefferson in 1803. Later that year, the 7,000 surviving French troops were withdrawn from the island, and in 1804 Haiti declared its independence as the second republic in the western hemisphere.
Many contemporaries and later historians, such as Ron Chernow, noted that Madison and President Jefferson ignored their "strict construction" view of the Constitution to take advantage of the purchase opportunity. Jefferson would have preferred to have a constitutional amendment authorizing the purchase, but did not have time nor was he required to do so. The Senate quickly ratified the treaty that completed the purchase. The House, with equal alacrity, passed enabling legislation. With the wars raging in Europe, Madison tried to maintain American neutrality, and insisted on the legal rights of the U.S. as a neutral under international law.
Neither London nor Paris showed much respect, however, and the situation deteriorated during Jefferson's second term. After Napoleon achieved victory at Austerlitz over his enemies in continental Europe, he became more aggressive and tried to starve Britain into submission with an embargo that was economically ruinous to both sides. Madison and Jefferson had also decided on an embargo to punish Britain and France, which forbade American trade with any foreign nation. The embargo failed in the United States just as it did in France, and caused massive hardships up and down the seaboard, which depended on foreign trade. The Federalists made a comeback in the Northeast by attacking the embargo, which was allowed to expire just as Jefferson was leaving office.[page needed]
Election of 1808
With Jefferson's second term winding down, and his decision to retire widely known, Madison was the party choice for president in 1808. He was opposed by Rep. John Randolph, who had broken earlier with Jefferson and Madison. The Republican Party Congressional caucus chose the candidate and easily selected Madison over James Monroe. As the Federalist party by this time had largely collapsed outside New England, Madison easily defeated Federalist Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
Upon his inauguration in 1809, Madison immediately had difficulty in his appointment selection of Sec. Albert Gallatin as Secretary of State. Under opposition from Sen. William B. Giles, Madison chose not to fight Congress for the nomination but kept Sec. Gallatin, a carry over from the Jefferson administration, in the Treasury. The talented Swiss-born Gallatin was Madison's primary advisor, confidant, and policy planner. Madison appointed Robert Smith for Secretary of State, Jefferson's former Secretary of Navy. For his Secretary of Navy, Madison appointed Paul Hamilton. Madison's cabinet, which included men of arguably mediocre talent, was chosen for the purposes of national interest and political harmony. When Madison assumed office in 1809, the federal government had a surplus of $9,500,000; by 1810 the national debt had been reduced, and taxes cut.
Bank of the United States
Madison sought to continue Jefferson's agenda — in particular the dismantling of the system left behind by the Federalist Party under Washington and Adams. One of the most pressing issues Madison confronted was the first Bank of the United States. Its twenty-year charter was scheduled to expire in 1811, and while Madison's treasury secretary said the bank was a necessity, Congress failed to re-authorize it. As the absence of a national bank made war with Britain very difficult to finance, Congress passed a bill in 1814 chartering a second national bank. Madison vetoed it. In 1816, Congress passed another bill to charter a second national bank; Madison signed the act, having learned the bank was needed from the war with Britain.
Prelude to war
By 1809 the Federalist party was no longer competitive outside a few strongholds. Some former members (such as John Quincy Adams, Madison's ambassador to Russia) had joined Madison's Republican party. Though one party appeared to dominate, it had begun to split into rival factions, which would later form the basis of the modern party system. In particular, with hostilities against Britain appearing increasingly likely, factions in favor of and against war with Britain formed in Congress. The predominant faction, the "War Hawks," were led by House Speaker Henry Clay. When war finally did break out, the war effort was led by the War Hawks in Congress under Clay at least as much as it was by Madison; this accorded with the president's preference for checks and balances.
Napoleon had won a decisive victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, and as a consequence Europe remained mostly at peace for the next few years. Congress repealed Jefferson's embargo shortly before Madison became president. America's new "nonintercourse" policy was to trade with all countries including France and Britain if restrictions on shipping were removed. Madison's diplomatic efforts in April 1809, although initially promising, to get the British to withdraw the Orders in Council were rejected by British Foreign Secretary George Canning. By August 1809, diplomatic relations with Britain deteriorated as minister David Erskine was withdrawn and replaced by "hatchet man" Francis James Jackson; Madison however, resisted calls for war. In his Political Observations from April 20, 1795 Madison had stated:
- Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
After Jackson accused Madison of duplicity with Erskine, Madison had Jackson barred from the State Department and sent packing to Boston. During his first State of the Union Address in November 1809, Madison asked Congress for advice and alternatives concerning the British-American trade crisis, and warned of the possibility of war. By spring 1810, Madison was specifically asking Congress for more appropriations to increase the Army and Navy in preparation for war with Britain. Together with the effects of European peace, the United States economy began to recover early in Madison's presidency. By the time Madison was standing for reelection, the Peninsular War in Spain had spread, while at the same time Napoleon invaded Russia, and the entire European continent was once again embroiled in war.
War of 1812
The United States entered the War of 1812, which in many respects was a theater of the broader Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon began his Continental System, intended to force other European countries to join his embargo on Britain. Although he was initially successful in starving out Britain, Portugal refused to capitulate, leading to the Peninsular War throughout Spain. This loosened Spain's grip on its South American colonies. Soon Great Britain was the only major power in the Atlantic.
As Great Britain increased naval pressure against Napoleon, it inadvertently did the same against American ships. Some British tactics quickly caused widespread American anger. Britain had used its navy to prevent American ships from trading with France; the United States, which was a neutral nation, saw this act as a violation of international law. The Royal Navy boarded American ships on the high seas and impressed its seamen, as it needed more sailors than it could recruit. The United States considered this no less an affront to American sovereignty than an invasion of American soil. Britain also armed Indian tribes in the Northwest Territory and encouraged them to attack settlers, even though Britain had ceded this territory to the United States by treaties in 1783 and 1794.
Americans called for a "second war of independence" to restore honor and stature to the new nation. An angry public elected a "war hawk" Congress, led by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war, which was passed along sectional and party lines, with intense opposition from the Federalists and the Northeast (where the economy had suffered during Jefferson's trade embargo).
Madison hurriedly called on Congress to put the country "into an armor and an attitude demanded by the crisis," specifically recommending enlarging the army, preparing the militia, finishing the military academy, stockpiling munitions, and expanding the navy. Madison faced formidable obstacles—a divided cabinet, a factious party, a recalcitrant Congress, obstructionist governors, and 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 extensive smuggling with Canada and refused to provide financial support or soldiers. The problems were worse due to Jefferson's and Madison's dismantling of the system built by Hamilton and the Federalists. They had reduced the military, closed the Bank of the U.S., and narrowed the tax system. They distrusted standing armies and banks, and the dismantling of the federalist taxation system meant they could not finance the quick hiring of mercenaries. By the time the war began, Madison's military force consisted mostly of poorly trained militia members.
The senior command at the War Department and in the field proved incompetent or cowardly—the general at Detroit surrendered to a smaller British force without firing a shot. Gallatin at the Treasury discovered the war was almost impossible to fund, since the national bank had been closed and major financiers in the Northeast refused to help. Madison believed the U.S. could easily seize Canada and thus cut off food supplies to the West Indies, making for a good bargaining chip at the peace talks. But the US invasion efforts all failed. Madison had believed the state militias would rally to the flag and invade Canada, but the governors in the Northeast failed to cooperate. Their militias either sat out the war or refused to leave their respective states for action. The British armed American Indians in the Northwest, most notably several tribes allied with the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh. But, after losing control of Lake Erie at the naval Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, the British were forced to retreat. General William Henry Harrison caught up with them at the Battle of the Thames, where he destroyed the British and Indian armies, killed Tecumseh, and permanently destroyed Indian power in the Great Lakes region. Madison remains the only president to lead troops in battle while in office, although that Battle of Bladensburg (in 1814) did not go well for the American side. The British then raided Washington, as Madison headed a dispirited militia. Dolley Madison rescued White House valuables and documents shortly before the British burned the White House, the Capitol and other public buildings.
By 1814, Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison had destroyed the main Indian threats in the South and West, respectively. As part of the war effort, an American naval shipyard was built up at Sackets Harbor, New York, where thousands of men produced twelve warships and had another nearly ready by the end of the war. American frigates and other vessels, such as the USS Constitution, USS United States, USS Chesapeake, USS Hornet, USS Wasp,[disambiguation needed] and USS Essex, won some significant naval battles on the Great Lakes. In late 1814, Madison and his Secretary of War James Monroe unsuccessfully attempted to establish a national draft of 40,000 men during the war. Antiwar Congressman Daniel Webster of New Hampshire fiercely criticized the proposal on the House floor, and nothing ultimately came of it.
In a famous three-hour battle with the HMS Java, the USS Constitution earned her nickname, "Old Ironsides." The U.S. fleet on Lake Erie went up against a superior British force there and destroyed or captured the entire British Fleet on the lake. Commander Oliver Hazard Perry reported his victory with the simple statement, "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." America had built up one of the largest merchant fleets in the world, though it had been partially dismantled under Jefferson and Madison. Madison authorized many of these ships to become privateers in the war. Armed, they captured 1,800 British ships.
The courageous, successful defense of Ft. McHenry, which guarded the seaway to Baltimore, against one of the most intense naval bombardments in history (over 24 hours), led Francis Scott Key to write the poem that was set to music as the U.S. national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner." In New Orleans, Gen. Andrew Jackson put together a force including regular Army troops, militia, frontiersmen, Creoles, Native American allies and Jean Lafitte's pirates. The Battle of New Orleans took place two weeks after peace treaty was drafted (but before it was ratified, so the war was not over). The American defenders repulsed the British invasion army in the most decisive victory of the war. The Treaty of Ghent ended the war in February 1815, with no territorial gains on either side. The Americans felt that their national honor had been restored in what has been called "the Second War of American Independence." On March 3, 1815, the U.S. Congress authorized deployment of naval power against Algiers, and two squadrons were assembled and readied for war; the Second Barbary War would mark the beginning of the end for piracy in that region.
To most Americans, the quick succession of events at the end of the war (the burning of the capital, the Battle of New Orleans, and the Treaty of Ghent) appeared as though American valor at New Orleans had forced the British to surrender after almost winning. This view, while inaccurate, strongly contributed to the post-war euphoria that persisted for a decade. It also helps explain the significance of the war, even if it was strategically inconclusive. Napoleon was defeated for the last time at the Battle of Waterloo near the end of Madison's presidency, and as the Napoleonic Wars ended, so did the War of 1812. Madison's final years began an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity, which was called the Era of Good Feelings. Madison's reputation as President improved and Americans finally believed the United States had established itself as a world power.
Postwar economy and internal improvements
With peace finally established, Americans believed they had secured a solid independence from Britain. The Federalist Party, which had called for secession over the war at the Hartford Convention, dissolved and disappeared from politics. With Europe finally at peace, the Era of Good Feelings described the prosperity and relatively equable political environment. Some political contention continued, for instance, in 1816, two-thirds of the incumbents in Congress were defeated for re-election after having voted to increase their salary. Madison approved a Hamiltonian national bank, an effective taxation system based on tariffs, a standing professional military, and the internal improvements championed by Henry Clay under his American System. In 1816, pensions were extended to orphans and widows of the War of 1812 for a period of 5 years at the rate of half pay. However, in his last act before leaving office, he vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817, which would have financed more 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 provision of the Taxing and Spending 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."
James Wilkinson was a controversial U.S. military commander and appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory by Thomas Jefferson in 1805. Wilkinson had earlier been implicated in Aaron Burr's conspiracy to form a new nation in the West and taking Spanish gold, however, he was exonerated in 1808. Jefferson chose to retain Wilkinson, a Republican, for political expedience.
After Madison assumed the Presidency in 1809, he placed Wilkinson in charge of Terre aux Boeufs on the Louisiana coast to protect the U.S. from invasion. Wilkinson proved to be an incompetent general; many soldiers complained that he was ineffectual: their tents were defective, and they became sick by malaria, dysentery, and scurvy; dozens died daily. Wilkinson made excuses and refused to move inland from the mosquito-infested coastline. A two-year congressional investigation into the Wilkinson matter proved to be inconclusive, and Madison had to decide whether to keep or sack him. Like Jefferson, Madison chose to retain Wilkinson for political reasons, as Wilkinson had influence as a Pennsylvania Republican. By retaining Wilkinson, both Jefferson and Madison supported military leaders in both the Army and Navy for political reasons rather than competence. Historian Robert Allen Rutland stated the Wilkinson affair left "scars on the War Department" and "left Madison surrounded by senior military incompetents ..." at the beginning of the War of 1812. After Wilkinson's two battle defeats by the British, Madison relieved the officer from active military service.
Upon assuming office on March 4, 1809 James Madison, in his first Inaugural Address to the nation, stated that the federal government's duty was to convert the American Indians by the "participation of the improvements of which the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state". Like Jefferson, Madison had a paternalistic attitude toward American Indians, encouraging the men to give up hunting and become farmers. Although there are scant details, Madison often met with Southeastern and Western Indians who included the Creek and Osage. As pioneers and settlers moved West into large tracts of Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw territory, Madison ordered the US Army to protect Native lands from intrusion by settlers, to the chagrin of his military commander Andrew Jackson. Jackson wanted the President to ignore Indian pleas to stop the invasion of their lands and resisted carrying out the president's order. In the Northwest Territory after the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, Indians were pushed off their tribal lands and replaced entirely by white settlers. By 1815, with a population of 400,000 European-American settlers in Ohio, Indian rights to their lands had effectively become null and void.
Administration and cabinet
|The Madison Cabinet|
|Vice President||George Clinton||1809–1812|
|Secretary of State||Robert Smith||1809–1811|
|Secretary of Treasury||Albert Gallatin||1809–1814|
|George W. Campbell||1814|
|Alexander J. Dallas||1814–1816|
|William H. Crawford||1816–1817|
|Secretary of War||William Eustis||1809–1813|
|John Armstrong, Jr.||1813–1814|
|William H. Crawford||1815–1816|
|Attorney General||Caesar A. Rodney||1809–1811|
|Secretary of the Navy||Paul Hamilton||1809–1813|
|Benjamin W. Crowninshield||1814–1817|
- Madison is the only president to have had two vice-presidents die while in office.
Madison appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
Madison appointed eleven other federal judges, two to the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, and nine to the various United States district courts. One of those judges was appointed twice, to different seats on the same court.
States admitted to the Union
When Madison left office in 1817, he retired to Montpelier, his tobacco plantation in Orange County, Virginia, not far from Jefferson's Monticello. He was 65 years old. Dolley, who thought they would finally have a chance to travel to Paris, was 49. As with both Washington and Jefferson, Madison left the presidency a poorer man than when he entered, due to the steady financial collapse of his plantation, aided by the continued low price of tobacco and his stepson's mismanagement.
Insight into Madison is provided by the first "White House memoir," A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison (1865), told by his former slave Paul Jennings, who served the president from the age of 10 as a footman, and later as a valet for the rest of Madison's life. After Madison's death, Jennings was purchased in 1845 from Dolley Madison by arrangement with the senator Daniel Webster, who enabled him to work off the cost and gain his freedom. Jennings published his short account in 1865. He had the highest respect for Madison and said he never struck a slave, nor permitted an overseer to do so. Jennings said that if a slave misbehaved, Madison would meet with the person privately to try to talk about the behavior.
Some historians speculate that Madison's mounting debt was one of the chief reasons why he refused to allow his notes on the Constitutional Convention, or its official records which he possessed, to be published in his lifetime. "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." Madison's financial troubles weighed on him, and deteriorating mental and physical health would haunt him.
In his later years, Madison became extremely concerned about his historic legacy. He took to modifying letters and other documents in his possession: changing days and dates, adding and deleting words and sentences, and shifting characters. By the time he had reached his late seventies, this "straightening out" had become almost an obsession. As an example, he edited a letter written to Jefferson criticizing Lafayette: Madison not only inked out original passages, but imitated Jefferson's handwriting as well in making changes.
"During the final six years of his life, amid a sea of personal [financial] troubles that were 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 to make himself understood by his fellow citizens."
In 1826, after the death of Jefferson, Madison was appointed as the second Rector ("President") of the University of Virginia. He retained the position as college chancellor for ten years until his death in 1836.
In 1829, at the age of 78, Madison was chosen as a representative to the constitutional convention in Richmond for the revising of the Virginia state constitution. It was his last appearance as a legislator and constitutional drafter. The issue of greatest importance at this convention was apportionment. The western districts of Virginia complained that they were underrepresented because the state constitution apportioned voting districts by county, not population. The growing population in the Piedmont and western parts of the state were not reflected in their representation in the legislature. Western reformers also wanted to extend suffrage to all white men, in place of the historic property requirement. Madison tried to effect a compromise, but to no avail. Eventually, suffrage rights were extended to renters as well as landowners, but the eastern planters refused to adopt population apportionment. Madison was disappointed at the failure of Virginians to resolve the issue more equitably.
Madison was very concerned about the continuing issue of slavery in Virginia and the South. He believed that transportation of free American blacks to Africa offered a solution, as promoted by the American Colonization Society (ACS). He told Lafayette at the time of the convention that colonization would create a "rapid erasure of the blot on our Republican character." The British sociologist Harriet Martineau visited with Madison during her tour of the United States in 1834. She characterized his faith in colonization as the solution to slavery as "bizarre and incongruous." Madison may have sold or donated his gristmill in support of the ACS. The historian Drew R. McCoy believes that "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." Like most African Americans of the time, Madison's slaves wanted to remain in the U.S. where they had been born and believed their work earned them citizenship; they resisted "repatriation".
Through failing health, Madison wrote several memoranda on political subjects, including an essay against the appointment of chaplains for Congress and the armed forces. He felt it would produce religious exclusion but not political harmony.
Between 1834 and 1835, Madison sold 25% of his slaves to make up for financial losses on his plantation. Madison lived until 1836, increasingly ignored by the new leaders of the American polity. He died at Montpelier on June 28, as the last of the Founding Fathers. He was buried in the Madison Family Cemetery at Montpelier.
In 1842, Dolley Madison sold the Montpelier mansion, and in 1844 sold the extensive plantation lands to Henry W. Moncure. She leased half of the remaining slaves to Moncure. The other half were inherited by her, her son John Payne Todd, and James Madison, Jr., a nephew. Between 1845 and 1849 Todd sold numerous slaves; by 1851 he retained only 15 at his residence. By 1850, the Montpelier plantation was a "ghost of its former self". In 1851, Montpelier was owned by Thomas Thorton, an Englishman; he held 40 slaves.
The question of Freemasonry
Although William R. Denslow seemed to have found evidence suggesting that James Madison might have been a Mason, when in 1795, John Francis Mercer seems to have written to Madison, "I have had no opportunity of congratulating you before on your becoming a free Mason—a very ancient & honorable fraternity." However, in an 1832 letter to Stephen Bates, James Madison seems to have written that he never was a Mason, and was a "stranger to the principles" of it.
The 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.
Madison's writings are studied for the debate over human rights among different classes of citizens in the 21st century. Madison appears to have anticipated the danger of a strong majority imposing its will on a weaker minority by popular vote. Madison, in The Federalist Papers, in Federalist No. 51, wrote:
It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part... In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.
In 1986, Congress created the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation as part of the bicentennial celebration of the Constitution. The Foundation offers $24,000 graduate level fellowships to secondary teachers to undertake a master's degree which emphasizes the study of the Constitution. Montpelier, his family's plantation and his home in Orange, Virginia, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Many counties, several towns, cities, educational institutions, a mountain range and a river are named after Madison:
- Madison County – lists counties named for him
- Cities: e.g. Madison, Wisconsin
- Named in his honor were the James Madison College of public policy at Michigan State University; and James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia; the James Madison Institute honors his contributions to the Constitution.
- The James Madison Memorial Building is a building of the United States Library of Congress in Washington, DC and serves as the official memorial to Madison.
- The Madison Range was named in honor of the then U.S. Secretary of State by Meriwether Lewis as the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled through Montana in 1805. The Madison River in southwestern Montana, was named in 1805 by Lewis & Clark.
- Mount Madison in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire is named for him.
- Two U.S. Navy ships have been named USS James Madison and three as USS Madison.
- Madison's portrait was on the old U.S. $5000 bill. This denomination, however, has not been printed since 1946, and they have been recalled since 1969.
- Madison Cottage in New York City was named in his honor shortly after his death. It later became the well-known Madison Square.
- Report of 1800, produced by Madison to support the Virginia Resolutions
- US Presidents on US postage stamps
- History of Virginia on stamps
- List of civil rights leaders
- List of Presidents of the United States
- List of Presidents of the United States, sortable by previous experience
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- James Madison: A Resource Guide at the Library of Congress
- The James Madison Papers, 1723–1836 at the Library of Congress
- James Madison: Philosopher and Practitioner of Liberal Democracy, symposium at the Library of Congress
- The Papers of James Madison, subset of Founders Online from the National Archives
- James Madison at the White House
- American President: James Madison (1751–1836) at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia
- James Madison at the Online Library of Liberty, Liberty Fund
- Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785) at the U.S. National Archives
- The Papers of James Madison at the Avalon Project
- James Madison Museum, Orange, Virginia
- Montpelier, home of James Madison
- "Memories of Montpelier: Home of James and Dolley Madison", a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
- James Madison at C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits
- Jefferson and Madison at C-SPAN's American Writers: A Journey Through History
- Booknotes interview with William Lee Miller on The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding, June 14, 1992.
- Booknotes interview with Lance Banning on The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic, February 11, 1996.
- Works by James Madison at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about James Madison at Internet Archive
- Works by James Madison at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)