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Home : Biography : American Presidents
BIOGRAPHY : American Presidents

 

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James Madison

James Madison , our fourth president of the United States, he was known as the Father of our Constitution. Madison was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia on March sixteenth, 1751.

Madison was the son of James Madison Sr. and his Nelly Madison. James was the eldest of twelve children. The Madisons were settled nicely in VA. His father was a wealthy planter. The Madisons had their own plantation, Montpelier. James was a fragile and sickly child. He had many private tutors and he attended the Donald Robertson School in King and Queen County. At the age of 18 he entered the College of New Jersey (Now Princeton). Madison had a strong interest in politics and became an early member of the American Whig Society. He studied very hard and completed the regular course in two years. Madison graduated in 1771.

Madison had a deep interest in religious questions. He spent the next six months learning Hebrew, philosophy and other subjects. Those other subjects were history and law. A weak speaking voice of his prevented him from becoming a minister for his career. Soon after he turned to politics.

In 1774 James Madison entered politics. He was elected to the Committee of Safety in Orange County, VA. This kind of committee provided local government in the days when the British colonial government, was crumbling. 1776 he served on a committee that drafted a new VA constitution and the Declaration of Rights. This was the VA Convention. He also served in VA 's First Legislative assembly in 1776 where he met Thomas Jefferson. They soon began a lifetime friendship. From 1777 to 1779 he was a member of the Governor's Council which was an advisory group. He held this position until he was elected to the Continental Congress in December 1779.

Madison had been elected to the Continental Congress for a three year term. He took his seat in congress in March 1780. In those days, Congress had no power to raise taxes, and found it difficult to pay national debts. Even though he was the youngest member, Madison rose quickly to a position of leadership, working unsuccessfully along with Alexander Hamilton and others, to strengthen the central government by giving Congress power to tax and to regulate trade. He also recommended many other measures to stabilize and dignify the government.

By 1783 he returned to Virginia. Madison then entered the Virginia Legislature. An supporter of separation of church and state, he succeeded in persuading the legislature to adopt the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom drafted by Thomas Jefferson. His chief opponent was Patrick Henry, who favored state support for teachers of the Christian religion. In 1786 the assembly passed Virginia's Statute of Religious freedom. Madison then wrote to Jefferson that so in Virginia, "was extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind."

Madison then went on to the Constitutional Convention. With other people of strong central government, Madison was a large contributor in influencing Congress to call in a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation, or federal constitution. At the convention which met in Philadelphia in May1787, Madison had a leading role. He drafted the Virginia Plan also known as the Randolph plan which became the foundation for the structure of the new government. In agreement with his views , the Constitution provided for a break away from powers with a system of checks and balances. He was responsible for the creation of a strong executive with a refusal and a court with power to prevail state laws. His journal of the transactions established the exclusive record of the debates. With Alex Hamilton and John Jay he drafted essays in defense of the constitution to argue those afraid of centralized power. In the Virginia Constitutional Convention Madison led the successful fight for authorization against the opposition.

Madison's support of the constitution displeased many Virginias who supported states' rights. They united in the Virginia legislature to defeat him in 1788 for a seat in the first United States Senate. Early next year, Madison defeated James Monroe in an election for the U.S. House of Representatives. He then sponsored the first ten amendments to the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights to fulfill a pledge made during the fight over authorization, when it was charged that the constitution failed to protect individual rights. In 1791 he broke with Alex Hamilton and the Federalists, opposing the financial policy of Washington administration. He joined Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe in founding the Democratic-Republican party, they were the pioneers of today's Democratic party. During this period of time he met Dolley Payne Todd. She became his wife in 1794. They had raised on child but it was from Dolley Payne's first marriage.

By 1797 he became tired of politics and retired from congress. The following year Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. Madison became outraged. He drafted the Virginia resolutions of 1798, proposing joint action by the states declaring these laws unconstitutional. He was elected to the Virginia Legislature in 1799 and 1800, and led the fight against what he considered Federalist effort to undermine basic human rights.

1801, Thomas Jefferson became president and appointed Madison to Secretary of State. Subsequently Madison and Jefferson failed to force Great Britain and France to respect the rights of Americans on the high seas. The British and French were fighting each other in Napoleonic Wars, and each had isolated the other's coast. American ships that tried to trade with either country were stopped by warships of the other. Many American seamen were captured and forced to serve on British or French warships. The Embargo act of 1807 attempted to protect American ships but it brought economic distress because it stopped all commerce with foreign countries. The Embargo act hurt more then helped. To resolve the problem the Non-Intercourse Act was passed and opened all trade with other countries but Great Britain and France. Jefferson chose Madison to succeed him as president.

Madison was elected president in1809 with 122 electoral votes to 47 for the Federalists candidate Charles Pinckney. His Vice president was George Clinton. When he was reelected as president his running mate was then Eldrige Gerry of Massachusetts. Madison was married to Dolley Payne Todd. Dolley Madison had a very active social life. She was a dazzling hostess of the White House.

As president James Madison had accomplished many things. Tensions grew between the United States and Great Britain however Madison's action of foreign policy was criticized by both Federalists and members in his own party. In 1812 he asked Congress for a declaration of war against Great Britain. On the day that war was declared, June 18, 1812 the British repealed their trade restrictions. Because they would not abandon impressment, Madison refused to conclude a truce pending formal peace negotiations. Many events happened to Madison and to the world. The war of 1812 started. Napolean invaded Russia in 1812. The White House was burned by the British in 1814 and Madison and his wife had to flee to prevent capture. Denmark gave Norway to Sweden in 1814. Treaty of Ghent, signed by Great Britain and the United States in 1814, ended the war of 1812. During the British attack on Baltimore Francis Scott Key in 1814 wrote the Star Spangled Banner. 1815 Belgium united with the Netherlands to form a single country. In the same year Napolean was crushed in Waterloo. The First Savings banks in the country were founded at Philadelphia and Boston in 1816. In 1817 Madison retired and Monroe took his place as president. He served for 8 years as president.

Madison retired In Montpelier. He busied himself with affairs of his estate. June 28, 1836 at Montpelier he died. His wife died in 1849. Dolley Payne Madison and James Madison had no children but cherished Dolley's son from her first marriage. They were buried at a family plot in Montpelier. He was 85 years old.

James Madison was the father of our constitution. He was our fourth president. He wrote the Bill of Rights. Without him we wouldn't have the liberties we have. James Madison was a great leader, a great man, and very important to this country's history. James Madison was a true hero.



 

 



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