Born: March 16, 1751 in Port Conway, King George, Virginia
Died: June 28,
1836 in Montpelier in Virginia
Married to Dolley Payne Todd Madison
At his inauguration, James Madison, a small, wizened
man, appeared old and worn; Washington Irving described him as "but
a withered little apple-John." But whatever his deficiencies in
charm, Madison's buxom wife Dolley compensated for them with her warmth
and gaiety. She was the toast of Washington.
Born in 1751, Madison was brought up in Orange County, Virginia, and
attended Princeton (then called the College of New Jersey). A student
of history and government, well-read in law, he participated in the framing
of the Virginia Constitution in 1776, served in the Continental Congress,
and was a leader in the Virginia Assembly.
When delegates to the Constitutional Convention assembled at Philadelphia,
the 36-year-old Madison took frequent and emphatic part in the debates.
Madison made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution
by writing, with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the Federalist essays.
In later years, when he was referred to as the "Father of the Constitution," Madison
protested that the document was not "the off-spring of a single
brain," but "the work of many heads and many hands."
In Congress, he helped frame the Bill of Rights and enact the first
revenue legislation. Out of his leadership in opposition to Hamilton's
financial proposals, which he felt would unduly bestow wealth and power
upon northern financiers, came the development of the Republican, or
As President Jefferson's Secretary of State, Madison protested to warring
France and Britain that their seizure of American ships was contrary
to international law. The protests, John Randolph acidly commented, had
the effect of "a shilling pamphlet hurled against eight hundred
ships of war."
Despite the unpopular Embargo Act of 1807, which did not make the belligerent
nations change their ways but did cause a depression in the United States,
Madison was elected President in 1808. Before he took office the Embargo
Act was repealed.
During the first year of Madison's Administration, the United States
prohibited trade with both Britain and France; then in May, 1810, Congress
authorized trade with both, directing the President, if either would
accept America's view of neutral rights, to forbid trade with the other
Napoleon pretended to comply. Late in 1810, Madison proclaimed non-intercourse
with Great Britain. In Congress a young group including Henry Clay and
John C. Calhoun, the "War Hawks," pressed the President for
a more militant policy.
The British impressment of American seamen and the seizure of cargoes
impelled Madison to give in to the pressure. On June 1, 1812, he asked
Congress to declare war.
The young Nation was not prepared to fight; its forces took a severe
trouncing. The British entered Washington and set fire to the White House
and the Capitol.
But a few notable naval and military victories, climaxed by Gen. Andrew
Jackson's triumph at New Orleans, convinced Americans that the War of
1812 had been gloriously successful. An upsurge of nationalism resulted.
The New England Federalists who had opposed the war--and who had even
talked secession--were so thoroughly repudiated that Federalism disappeared
as a national party.
In retirement at Montpelier, his estate in Orange County, Virginia,
Madison spoke out against the disruptive states' rights influences that
by the 1830's threatened to shatter the Federal Union. In a note opened
after his death in 1836, he stated, "The advice nearest to my heart
and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished