James Madison grew up on a plantation called Montpelier in Virginia. This would eventually become his home. He studied under an influential tutor named Donald Robertson and then the Reverend Thomas Martin. He attended the College of New Jersey which would become Princeton, graduating in two years. He was an excellent student and studied subjects ranging from Latin to geography to philosophy.
Father: James Madison, Sr. – Plantation owner.
Mother: Eleanor Rose Conway – born to a wealthy planter, she lived to be 98.
Siblings: Three brothers and three sisters.
Wife: Dolley Payne Todd – a widow when she married Madison. She was a well-liked hostess throughout Jefferson’s and Madison’s time in office. She was tenacious, not leaving the White House during the War of 1812 until she ensured that many national treasures were saved.
Children: Only Dolley’s son from her first marriage.
James Madison’s Career Before the Presidency
Madison was a delegate to the Virginia Convention (1776) and served in the Virginia House of Delegates three times(1776-77; 1784-86; 1799-1800). Before becoming a member of the Continental Congress (1780-83), he on the Council of State in Virginia (1778-79). He called for the Constitutional Convention in 1786. He served as a US Representative from 1789-97. He drafted the Virginia Resolutions in 1798 in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. He was Secretary of State from 1801-09.
Father of the Constitution
Madison wrote most of the US Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Even though he would later write the Virginia Resolutions which were hailed by anti-federalists, his Constitution created a strong federal government. Once the Convention ended, he along with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers, essays that were intended to sway public opinion to ratifying the new Constitution.
Election of 1808
Jefferson supported Madison’s nomination to run in 1808. George Clinton was chosen to be his Vice President. He ran against Charles Pinckney who opposed Jefferson in 1804. The campaign centered around Madison’s role with the embargo that had been enacted during Jefferson’s presidency. Madison had been the Secretary of State and had argued for the unpopular embargo. However, Madison was able to win with 122 of the 175 electoral votes.
Election of 1812
Madison easily won the renomination for the Democratic-Republicans. He was opposed by DeWitt Clinton. The campaign’s main issue was the War of 1812. Clinton tried to appeal to both those for and against the war. Madison won with 128 out of 146 votes.
War of 1812
The British were impressing American sailors and seizing goods. Madison asked Congress to declare war, although support was anything but unanimous. America began poorly with General William Hull surrendering Detroit without a fight. America did well on the seas and eventually retook Detroit. The British were able to march on Washington and burn the White House. However, by 1814, the US and Great Britain agreed to the Treaty of Ghent which resolved none of the pre-war issues.
Post Presidential Period
Madison retired to his plantation in Virginia. However, he still stayed involved in political discourse. He represented his county at the Virginia Constitutional Convention (1829). He also spoke against nullification, the idea that states could rule federal laws unconstitutional. His Virginia Resolutions were often cited as a precedent for this but he believed in the strength of the union above all. He also helped found the American Colonization Society to help resettle freed blacks in Africa.
James Madison was in power during an important time. Even though America did not end the War of 1812 as the ultimate “victor,” it did end with a stronger and independent economy. As the author of the Constitution, decisions made during his time as president were based on his interpretation of the document. He was well respected in his time for not only authoring the document but also administering it.
Events and Accomplishments of James Madison’s Presidency
At the beginning of Madison’s administration, he attempted to enforce the Non-Intercourse Act. This allowed the US to trade with all nations except France and Great Britain because of the attacks on American shipping by those two nations. Madison offered to trade with either nation if it would stop harassing American ships. However, neither agreed. In 1810, Macon’s Bill No. 2 was passed that repealed the Non-Intercourse Act and instead said that whichever nation would stop harassing American ships would be favored and the US would stop trading with the other nation. France agreed to this and the British continued to stop American ships and impress sailors.
As previously described, America participated in the War of 1812, sometimes called the Second War of Independence, during Madison’s time in office. This name did not necessarily come from the treaty that was signed to end the war which virtually changed nothing between the two nations. Instead, it had more to do with the end of economic dependence on Great Britain.
Support for the War of 1812 was not unanimous and in fact, the New England Federalists met at the Hartford Convention in 1814 to discuss this. There was even talk of secession at the convention.
In the end, Madison attempted to follow the Constitution and tried not to overstep the boundaries set before him as he interpreted them. This is not surprising since he was the primary author of the document.