James Madison

James Madison

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James Madison (1751-1836) was a founding father of the United States and the fourth American president, serving in office from 1809 to 1817. An advocate for a strong federal government, the Virginia-born Madison composed the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and earned the nickname “Father of the Constitution.” In 1792, Madison and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which has been called America’s first opposition political party. When Jefferson became the third U.S. president, Madison served as his secretary of state. In this role, he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase from the French in 1803. During his presidency, Madison led the U.S. into the controversial War of 1812 (1812-15) against Great Britain. After two terms in the White House, Madison retired to his Virginia plantation, Montpelier, with his wife Dolley (1768-1849).

Early Years

James Madison was born on March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Virginia, to James Madison Sr. and Nellie Conway Madison. The oldest of 12 children, Madison was raised on the family plantation, Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia. At age 18, Madison left Montpelier to attend the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).

After graduation, Madison took an interest in the relationship between the American colonies and Britain, which had grown tumultuous over the issue of British taxation. When Virginia began preparing for the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), Madison was appointed a colonel in the Orange County militia. Small in stature and sickly, he soon gave up a military career for a political one. In 1776, he represented Orange County at the Virginia Constitution Convention to organize a new state government no longer under British rule.

During his work in the Virginia legislature, Madison met lifelong friend Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States. As a politician, Madison often fought for religious freedom, believing it was an individual’s right from birth.

In 1780, Madison became a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He left Congress in 1783 to return to the Virginia assembly and work on a religious freedom statute, though he would soon be called back to Congress to help create a new constitution.

Father of the Constitution

After the colonies declared independence from Britain in 1776, the Articles of Confederation were created as the first constitution of the United States. The Articles were ratified in 1781 and gave most of the power to the individual state legislatures who acted more like individual countries than a union. This structure left the national Congress weak, with no ability to properly manage federal debt or maintain a national army.

Madison, after undertaking an extensive study of other world governments, came to the conclusion that America needed a strong federal government in order to help regulate the state legislatures and create a better system for raising federal money. He felt the government should be set up with a system of checks and balances so no branch had greater power over the other. Madison also suggested that governors and judges have enhanced roles in government in order to help manage the state legislatures.

In May 1787, delegates from each state came together at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and Madison was able to present his ideas for an effective government system in his “Virginia Plan,” which detailed a government with three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. This plan would form the basis of the U.S. Constitution. Madison took detailed notes during debates at the convention, which helped to further shape the U.S. Constitution and led to his moniker: “Father of the Constitution.” (Madison stated the Constitution was not “the off-spring of a single brain,” but instead, “the work of many heads and many hangs.”)

Ratifying the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

Once the new constitution was written, it needed to be ratified by nine of the 13 states. This was not an easy process, as many states felt the Constitution gave the federal government too much power. Supporters of the Constitution were known as Federalists, while critics were called Anti-Federalists.

Madison played a strong role in the ratification process, and wrote a number of essays outlining his support for the Constitution. His writings, along with those penned by other advocates, were released anonymously under the title “The Federalist,” a series of 85 essays produced between 1787 and 1788. After extensive debate, the U.S. Constitution was signed by members of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787. The document was ratified by the states in 1788 and the new government became functional the following year.

Bill of Rights

Madison was elected to the newly formed U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1789 to 1797. In Congress, he worked to draft the Bill of Rights, a group of 10 amendments to the Constitution that spelled out fundamental rights (such as freedom of speech and religion) held by U.S. citizens. The Bill of Rights was ratified by the states in 1791.

In the new, more powerful Congress, Madison and Jefferson soon found themselves disagreeing with the Federalists on key issues dealing with federal debt and power. For example, the two men favored states’ rights and opposed Federalist leader Alexander Hamilton’s (c.1755-1804) proposal for a national bank, the Bank of the United States. In 1792, Jefferson and Madison founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which has been labeled America’s first opposition political party. Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe (1758-1831) were the only Democratic-Republicans ever to become U.S. presidents, as the party divided into competing factions in the 1820s.

Dolley Madison

Madison also had a new development in his personal life: In 1794, after a brief courtship, the 43-year-old Madison married 26-year-old Dolley Payne Todd (1768-1849), an outgoing Quaker widow with one son. Dolley’s personality contrasted sharply with that of the quiet, reserved Madison. She loved entertaining and hosted many receptions and dinner parties during which Madison could meet other influential figures of his time. During the couple’s 41-year marriage, Dolley Madison and James Madison were reportedly rarely apart.

James Madison, Secretary of State: 1801-09

Through the years, Madison’s friendship with Jefferson would continue to thrive. When Jefferson became the third president of the United States, he appointed Madison as secretary of state. In this position, which he held from 1801 to 1809, Madison helped acquire the Louisiana Territory from the French in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of America.

In 1807, Madison and Jefferson enacted an embargo on all trade with Britain and France. The two European countries were at war and, angered by America’s neutrality, they had begun attacking U.S. ships at sea. However, the embargo hurt America and its merchants and sailors more than Europe, which did not need the American goods. Jefferson ended the embargo in 1809 as he left office.

James Madison, Fourth President and the War of 1812

In the presidential election of 1808, Madison defeated Federalist candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1745-1825) to become the nation’s fourth chief executive. Madison continued to face problems from overseas, as Britain and France had continued their attacks on American ships following the embargo. In addition to impeding U.S. trade, Britain took U.S. sailors for its own navy and began supporting American Indians in battles against U.S. settlers.

In retaliation, Madison issued a war proclamation against Britain in 1812. However, America was not ready for a war. Congress had not properly funded or prepared an army, and a number of the states did not support what was referred to as “Mr. Madison’s War” and would not allow their militias to join the campaign. Despite these setbacks, American forces attempted to fight off and attack British forces. The U.S. met defeat much of the time both on land and at sea, but its well-built ships proved to be formidable foes.

As the War of 1812 continued, Madison ran for re-election against Federalist candidate DeWitt Clinton (1767-1828), who was also supported by an anti-war faction of the Democratic-Republican Party, and won. Despite the victory, Madison was often criticized and blamed for the difficulties stemming from the war. Trade stopped between the U.S. and Europe, hurting American merchants once again. New England threatened secession from the Union. The Federalists undermined Madison’s efforts; and Madison was forced to flee Washington, D.C., in August 1814 as British troops invaded and burned buildings, including the White House, the Capitol and the Library of Congress.

Finally, weary from battle, Britain and the U.S. agreed to negotiate an end to the war. The Treaty of Ghent was signed in December 1814 in Europe. Before word of the peace agreement reached America, a major victory for U.S. troops at the Battle of New Orleans (December 1814-January 1815) helped shine a positive light on the controversial war. Though the war was mismanaged, there were some key victories that emboldened the Americans. Once blamed for the errors in the war, Madison was eventually hailed for its triumphs.

Final Years

After two terms in office, Madison left Washington, D.C., in 1817, and returned to Montpelier with his wife. Despite the challenges he encountered during his presidency, Madison was respected as a great thinker, communicator and statesman. He remained active in various civic causes, and in 1826 became rector of the University of Virginia, which was founded by his friend Thomas Jefferson. Madison died at Montpelier on June 28, 1836, at the age of 85, from heart failure.

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James Madison University

James Madison University (also known as JMU, Madison, or James Madison) is a public research university in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Founded in 1908 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, the institution was renamed Madison College in 1938 in honor of President James Madison and then James Madison University in 1977. [5] The university is situated in the Shenandoah Valley, just west of Massanutten Mountain.

Madison is located in south central Wisconsin on an isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona in Dane County. Between 300 and 1300 CE, Native American "mound builders" occupied the area and built thousands of effigy mounds. By the time white settlers began to arrive, the Ho-Chunk nation called the area home and continued to camp near the lakes into the 1940s.

Judge and land speculator James Duane Doty (1799-1865) traveled through the isthmus in 1829 and liked the site so much that he bought much of the area. In 1836, Doty persuaded the territorial legislature to make the area that became Madison the new capital. Doty named Madison for James Madison, 4th President of the U.S. The next year, in 1837, Eben and Rosaline Peck (1808-1899) became the first white settlers in Madison.

Eight years after Wisconsin became a state, Madison became a city boasting a population of 6,864. The first settlers were Yankees from the eastern states. They were followed by German, Irish, and Norwegian immigrants. Italians, Greeks, Jews, and African Americans came around the turn of the 20th century.

As the seat of government and home to the state's largest university campus, Madison has long been at the center of Wisconsin's political and intellectual life. Soldiers trained at Camp Randall during the Civil War. In the early 20th century, many progressive reforms, including workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, were created in Madison, giving the city a liberal reputation that lasted through the turbulent 1960s, when it was the center of anti-Vietnam activity.


James Madison Jr. was born on March 16, 1751, (March 5, 1750, Old Style) at Belle Grove Plantation near Port Conway in the Colony of Virginia, to James Madison Sr. and Nelly Conway Madison. His family had lived in Virginia since the mid-1600s. [1] Madison grew up as the oldest of twelve children, [2] with seven brothers and four sisters, though only six lived to adulthood. [3] His father was a tobacco planter who grew up on a plantation, then called Mount Pleasant, which he had inherited upon reaching adulthood. With an estimated 100 slaves [1] and a 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) plantation, Madison's father was the largest landowner and a leading citizen in the Piedmont. Madison's maternal grandfather was a prominent planter and tobacco merchant. [4] In the early 1760s, the Madison family moved into a newly built house that they named Montpelier. [3]

From age 11 to 16, Madison studied under Donald Robertson, a Scottish instructor who served as a tutor for several prominent planter families in the South. Madison learned mathematics, geography, and modern and classical languages—he became exceptionally proficient in Latin. [5] [6] At age 16, Madison returned to Montpelier, where he studied under the Reverend Thomas Martin to prepare for college. Unlike most college-bound Virginians of his day, Madison did not attend the College of William and Mary, where the lowland Williamsburg climate – thought to be more likely to harbor infectious disease – might have strained his delicate health. Instead, in 1769, he enrolled as an undergraduate at Princeton (then formally named the College of New Jersey). [7]

His studies at Princeton included Latin, Greek, theology, and the works of the Enlightenment. [8] Great emphasis was placed on both speech and debate Madison was a leading member of the American Whig Society, which competed on campus with a political counterpart, the Cliosophic Society. [9] During his time in Princeton, his closest friend was future Attorney General William Bradford. [10] Along with another classmate, Madison undertook an intense program of study and completed the college's three-year Bachelor of Arts degree in just two years, graduating in 1771. [11] Madison had contemplated either entering the clergy or practicing law after graduation, but instead remained at Princeton to study Hebrew and political philosophy under the college's president, John Witherspoon. [1] He returned home to Montpelier in early 1772. [12]

Madison's ideas on philosophy and morality were strongly shaped by Witherspoon, who converted him to the philosophy, values, and modes of thinking of the Age of Enlightenment. Biographer Terence Ball wrote that at Princeton, Madison

was immersed in the liberalism of the Enlightenment, and converted to eighteenth-century political radicalism. From then on James Madison's theories would advance the rights of happiness of man, and his most active efforts would serve devotedly the cause of civil and political liberty. [13]

After returning to Montpelier, without a chosen career, Madison served as a tutor to his younger siblings. [14] Madison began to study law books on his own in 1773. Madison asked Princeton friend William Bradford, a law apprentice under Edward Shippen in Philadelphia, to send him an ordered written plan on reading law books. At the age of 22, there was no evidence that Madison, himself, made any effort to apprentice under any lawyer in Virginia. By 1783, he had acquired a good sense of legal publications. Madison saw himself as a law student but never as a lawyer – he never joined the bar or practiced. In his elder years, Madison was sensitive to the phrase "demi-Lawyer", or "half-Lawyer", a derisive term used to describe someone who read law books, but did not practice law. [15] Following the Revolutionary War, Madison spent time at his home Montpelier in Virginia studying ancient democracies of the world in preparation for the Constitutional Convention. [16]

In 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which taxed the American colonists to help fund the increasing costs of administrating British America. The colonists' opposition to the tax marked the start of a conflict that would culminate in the American Revolution. The disagreement centered on Parliament's right to levy taxes on the colonists, who were not directly represented in that body. However, events deteriorated until the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War of 1775–83, in which the colonists split into two factions: Loyalists, who continued to adhere to King George III, and the Patriots, whom Madison joined, under the leadership of the Continental Congress. Madison believed that Parliament had overstepped its bounds by attempting to tax the American colonies, and he sympathized with those who resisted British rule. [17] He also favored disestablishing the Anglican Church in Virginia Madison believed that an established religion was detrimental not only to freedom of religion, but also because it encouraged closed-mindedness and unquestioning obedience to the authority of the state. [18]

In 1774, Madison took a seat on the local Committee of Safety, a pro-revolution group that oversaw the local Patriot militia. [19] In October 1775, he was commissioned as the colonel of the Orange County militia, serving as his father's second-in-command until his election as a delegate to the Fifth Virginia Convention, which was charged with producing Virginia's first constitution. [20] Of short stature and frequently in poor health, Madison never saw battle in the Revolutionary War, but he rose to prominence in Virginia politics as a wartime leader. [21]

At the Virginia constitutional convention, he convinced delegates to alter the Virginia Declaration of Rights to provide for "equal entitlement," rather than mere "tolerance," in the exercise of religion. [22] With the enactment of the Virginia constitution, Madison became part of the Virginia House of Delegates, and he was subsequently elected to the Virginia governor's Council of State. [23] In that role, he became a close ally of Governor Thomas Jefferson. [24] On July 4, 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence was published formally declaring 13 American states an independent nation, no longer under the Crown or British rule.

Madison served on the Council of State from 1777 to 1779, when he was elected to the Second Continental Congress, the governing body of the United States. [c] The country faced a difficult war against Great Britain, as well as runaway inflation, financial troubles, and lack of cooperation between the different levels of government. Madison worked to become an expert on financial issues, becoming a legislative workhorse and a master of parliamentary coalition building. [19] Frustrated by the failure of the states to supply needed requisitions, Madison proposed to amend the Articles of Confederation to grant Congress the power to independently raise revenue through tariffs on imports. [26]

Though General George Washington, Congressman Alexander Hamilton, and other influential leaders also favored the amendment, it was defeated because it failed to win the ratification of all thirteen states. [27] While a member of Congress, Madison was an ardent supporter of a close alliance between the United States and France, and, as an advocate of westward expansion, he insisted that the new nation had to assure its right to navigation on the Mississippi River and control of all lands east of it in the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War. [28] After serving Congress from 1780 to 1783, Madison won election to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1784. [29]

Calling a convention

As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Madison continued to advocate for religious freedom, and, along with Jefferson, drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. That amendment, which guaranteed freedom of religion and disestablished the Church of England, was passed in 1786. [30] Madison also became a land speculator, purchasing land along the Mohawk River in a partnership with another Jefferson protege, James Monroe. [31]

Throughout the 1780s, Madison advocated for reform of the Articles of Confederation. He became increasingly worried about the disunity of the states and the weakness of the central government after the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. [32] He believed that "excessive democracy" caused social decay, and was particularly troubled by laws that legalized paper money and denied diplomatic immunity to ambassadors from other countries. [33] He was also profoundly concerned about the inability of Congress to capably conduct foreign policy, protect American trade, and foster the settlement of the lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. [34] 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." [35] He committed to an intense study of law and political theory, and was heavily influenced by Enlightenment texts sent by Jefferson from France. [36] He especially sought out works on international law and the constitutions of "ancient and modern confederacies" such as the Dutch Republic, the Swiss Confederation, and the Achaean League. [37] He came to believe that the United States could improve upon past republican experiments by virtue of its size with so many distinct interests competing against each other, Madison hoped to minimize the abuses of majority rule. [38] Additionally, navigation rights to the Mississippi River highly concerned Madison. He disdained a proposal by John Jay that the United States acquiesce claims to the river for twenty-five years, and his desire to fight the proposal played a major role in motivating Madison to return to Congress in 1787. [39]

Madison helped arrange the 1785 Mount Vernon Conference, which settled disputes regarding navigation rights on the Potomac River and also served as a model for future interstate conferences. [40] At the 1786 Annapolis Convention, he joined with Alexander Hamilton and other delegates in calling of another convention to consider amending the Articles. [41] After winning election to another term in Congress, Madison helped convince the other Congressmen to authorize the Philadelphia Convention to propose amendments. [42] Though many members of Congress were wary of the changes the convention might bring, nearly all agreed that the existing government needed some sort of reform. [43] Madison ensured that George Washington, who was popular throughout the country, and Robert Morris, who was influential in the critical state of Pennsylvania, would both broadly support Madison's plan to implement a new constitution. [44] The outbreak of Shays' Rebellion in 1786 reinforced the necessity for constitutional reform in the eyes of Washington and other American leaders. [45] [46]

Philadelphia Convention

Before a quorum was reached at the Philadelphia Convention on May 25, 1787, [48] Madison worked with other members of the Virginia delegation, especially Edmund Randolph and George Mason, to create and present the Virginia Plan. [49] The Virginia Plan was an outline for a new federal constitution it called for three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial), a bicameral Congress (consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives) apportioned by population, and a federal Council of Revision that would have the right to veto laws passed by Congress. Reflecting the centralization of power envisioned by Madison, the Virginia Plan granted the U.S. Senate the power to overturn any law passed by state governments. [50] The Virginia Plan did not explicitly lay out the structure of the executive branch, but Madison himself favored a single executive. [51] Many delegates were surprised to learn that the plan called for the abrogation of the Articles and the creation of a new constitution, to be ratified by special conventions in each state rather than by the state legislatures. Nonetheless, with the assent of prominent attendees such as Washington and Benjamin Franklin, the delegates went into a secret session to consider a new constitution. [52]

Though the Virginia Plan was an outline rather than a draft of a possible constitution, and though it was extensively changed during the debate, its use at the convention has led many to call Madison the "Father of the Constitution". [53] Madison spoke over two hundred times during the convention, and his fellow delegates held him in high esteem. Delegate William Pierce wrote that "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." [54] Madison believed that the constitution produced by the convention "would decide for ever the fate of republican government" throughout the world, and he kept copious notes to serve as an historical record of the convention. [55]

In crafting the Virginia Plan, Madison looked to develop a system of government that adequately prevented the rise of factions believing that a Constitutional Republic would be most fitting to do so. Madison's definition of faction was similar to that of the Scottish Enlightenment Philosopher David Hume. Madison borrowed from Hume's definition of a faction when describing the dangers they pose on the American Republic. [56] In Federalist 10 Madison described a faction as a "number of citizens. who are united by a common impulse of passion or interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or permanent and aggregate interest of the community" [57] Madison drew further influence from the Scottish Economist Adam Smith who believed that every civilized society developed into economic factions based on the different interests of individuals. [58] Madison, throughout his writing, alluded to the Wealth of Nations on multiple occasions as he advocated for a free system of commerce among the states that he believed would be beneficial to society. [59]

Madison had hoped that a coalition of Southern states and populous Northern states would ensure the approval of a constitution largely similar to the one proposed in the Virginia Plan. However, delegates from small states successfully argued for more power for state governments and presented the New Jersey Plan as an alternative. In response, Roger Sherman proposed the Connecticut Compromise, which sought to balance the interests of small and large states. During the convention, Madison's Council of Revision was jettisoned, each state was given equal representation in the Senate, and the state legislatures, rather than the House of Representatives, were given the power to elect members of the Senate. Madison convinced his fellow delegates to have the Constitution ratified by ratifying conventions rather than state legislatures, which he distrusted. He also helped ensure that the president of the United States would have the ability to veto federal laws and would be elected independently of Congress through the Electoral College. By the end of the convention, Madison believed that the new constitution failed to give enough power to the federal government compared to the state governments, but he still viewed the document as an improvement on the Articles of Confederation. [60]

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. [61] Most of the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention wanted to empower the federal government to raise revenue and protect property rights. [62] Those who, like Madison, thought democracy in the state legislatures was excessive and insufficiently "disinterested", wanted sovereignty transferred to the national government, while those who did not think this a problem wanted to retain the model of the Articles of Confederation. Even many delegates who shared Madison's goal of strengthening the central government reacted strongly against the extreme change to the status quo envisioned in the Virginia Plan. Though Madison lost most of his battles over how to amend the Virginia Plan, 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. [61] [63]

The Federalist Papers and ratification debates

After the Philadelphia Convention ended in September 1787, Madison convinced his fellow Congressmen to remain neutral in the ratification debate and allow each state to vote upon the Constitution. [64] Throughout the United States, opponents of the Constitution, known as Anti-Federalists, began a public campaign against ratification. In response, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay began publishing a series of pro-ratification newspaper articles in New York. [65] After Jay dropped out from the project, Hamilton approached Madison, who was in New York on congressional business, to write some of the essays. [66] Altogether, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote the 85 essays of what became known as The Federalist Papers in the span of six months, with Madison writing 29 of the essays. The Federalist Papers successfully defended the new Constitution and argued for its ratification to the people of New York. The articles were also published in book form and became a virtual debater's handbook for the supporters of the Constitution in the ratifying conventions. 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". [67] Federalist No. 10, Madison's first contribution to The Federalist Papers, became highly regarded in the 20th century for its advocacy of representative democracy. [68] In Federalist 10, Madison describes the dangers posed by factions, and argues that their negative effects can be limited through the formation of a large republic. Madison states that in large republics the significant sum of factions that emerge will successfully dull the effects of others. [69] In Federalist No. 51, Madison explains how the separation of powers between three branches of the federal government, as well as between state governments and the federal government, established a system of checks and balances that ensured that no one institution would become too powerful. [70]

While Madison and Hamilton continued to write The Federalist Papers, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and several smaller states voted to ratify the Constitution. [71] After finishing his last contributions to The Federalist Papers, Madison returned to Virginia. [72] Initially, Madison did not want to stand for election to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, but he was persuaded to do so by the strength of the Anti-Federalists. [73] Virginians were divided into three main camps: Washington and Madison led the faction in favor of ratification of the Constitution, Edmund Randolph and George Mason headed a faction that wanted ratification but also sought amendments to the Constitution, and Patrick Henry was the most prominent member of the faction opposed to the ratification of the Constitution. [74] When the Virginia Ratifying Convention began on June 2, 1788, the Constitution had been ratified by eight of the required nine states. New York, the second-largest state and a bastion of anti-federalism, would likely not ratify it without Virginia, and Virginia's exclusion from the new government would disqualify George Washington from being the first president. [73]

At the start of the convention, Madison knew that most delegates had already made up their mind about how to vote, and he focused his efforts on winning the support of the relatively small number of undecided delegates. [75] His long correspondence with Edmund Randolph paid off at the convention as Randolph announced that he would support unconditional ratification of the Constitution, with amendments to be proposed after ratification. [76] Though Henry gave several persuasive speeches arguing against ratification, Madison's expertise on the subject he had long argued for allowed him to respond with rational arguments to Henry's emotional appeals. [77] In his final speech to the ratifying convention, Madison implored his fellow delegates to ratify the Constitution as it had been written, arguing that the failure to do so would lead to the collapse of the entire ratification effort as each state would seek favorable amendments. [78] On June 25, 1788, the convention voted 89–79 to ratify the Constitution, making it the tenth state to do so. [79] New York ratified the constitution the following month, and Washington won the country's first presidential election.

Election to Congress

After Virginia ratified the constitution, Madison returned to New York to resume his duties in the Congress of the Confederation. At the request of Washington, Madison sought a seat in the U.S. Senate, but the state legislature instead elected two Anti-Federalist allies of Patrick Henry. [80] Now deeply concerned both for his own political career and over the possibility that Henry and his allies would arrange for a second constitutional convention, Madison ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. [81] At Henry's behest, the Virginia legislature created congressional districts designed to deny Madison a seat, and Henry recruited a strong challenger to Madison in the person of James Monroe. Locked in a difficult race against Monroe, Madison promised to support a series of constitutional amendments to protect individual liberties. [80] In an open letter, Madison wrote that, while he had opposed requiring alterations to the Constitution prior to ratification, he now believed that "amendments, if pursued with a proper moderation and in a proper mode . may serve the double purpose of satisfying the minds of well-meaning opponents, and of providing additional guards in favor of liberty." [82] Madison's promise paid off, as in Virginia's 5th district election, he gained a seat in Congress with 57 percent of the vote. [83]

Madison became a key adviser to President Washington, who looked to Madison as the person who best understood the constitution. [80] Madison helped Washington write his first inaugural address, and also prepared the official House response to Washington's speech. He played a significant role in establishing and staffing the three Cabinet departments, and his influence helped Thomas Jefferson become the inaugural Secretary of State. [84] At the start of the 1st Congress, he introduced a tariff bill similar to the one he had advocated for under the Articles of the Confederation, [85] and Congress established a federal tariff on imports through the Tariff of 1789. [86] The following year, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton introduced an ambitious economic program that called for the federal assumption of state debts and the funding of that debt through the issuance of federal securities. Hamilton's plan favored Northern speculators and was disadvantageous to states such as Virginia that had already paid off most of their debt, and Madison emerged as one of the principal congressional opponents of the plan. [87] After prolonged legislative deadlock, Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton agreed to the Compromise of 1790, which provided for the enactment of Hamilton's assumption plan through the Funding Act of 1790. In return, Congress passed the Residence Act, which established the federal capital district of Washington, D.C. on the Potomac River. [88]

Bill of Rights

During the 1st Congress, Madison took the lead in pressing for the passage of several constitutional amendments that would form the United States Bill of Rights. [89] His primary goals were to fulfill his 1789 campaign pledge and to prevent the calling of a second constitutional convention, but he also hoped to protect individual liberties against the actions of the federal government and state legislatures. He believed that the enumeration of specific rights would fix those rights in the public mind and encourage judges to protect them. [90] After studying over two hundred amendments that had been proposed at the state ratifying conventions, [91] Madison introduced the Bill of Rights on June 8, 1789. His amendments contained numerous restrictions on the federal government and would protect, among other things, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to peaceful assembly. [92] While most of his proposed amendments were drawn from the ratifying conventions, Madison was largely responsible for proposals to guarantee freedom of the press, protect property from government seizure, and ensure jury trials. [91] He also proposed an amendment to prevent states from abridging "equal rights of conscience, or freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases". [93]

Madison's Bill of Rights faced little opposition he had largely co-opted the Anti-Federalist goal of amending the Constitution, but had avoided proposing amendments that would alienate supporters of the Constitution. [94] Madison's proposed amendments were largely adopted by the House of Representatives, but the Senate made several changes. [95] Madison's proposal to apply parts of the Bill of Rights to the states was eliminated, as was his final proposed change to the Constitution's preamble. [96] Madison was disappointed that the Bill of Rights did not include protections against actions by state governments, [d] but passage of the document mollified some critics of the original constitution and shored up Madison's support in Virginia. [91] Of the twelve amendments formally proposed by Congress to the states, ten amendments were ratified as additions to the Constitution on December 15, 1791, becoming known as the Bill of Rights. [97] [e]

Founding the Democratic-Republican Party

After 1790, the Washington administration became polarized among two main factions. One faction, led by Jefferson and Madison, broadly represented Southern interests and sought close relations with France. The other faction, led by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, broadly represented Northern financial interests and favored close relations with Britain. [99] In 1791, Hamilton introduced a plan that called for the establishment of a national bank to provide loans to emerging industries and oversee the money supply. [100] Madison and the Democratic-Republican Party fought back against Hamilton's attempt to expand the power of the Federal Government at the expense of the State's by opposing the formation of a national bank. Madison used his influence in the Democratic-Republican Party and argued that empowering financial interest served as a dangerous threat to the republican virtues of the newly established United States. Madison argued that under The Constitution, Congress did not have the power to create such an institution. [101] Despite Madison's opposition, Congress passed a bill to create the First Bank of the United States after a period of consideration, Washington signed the banking bill into law in February 1791. [100] As Hamilton implemented his economic program and Washington continued to enjoy immense prestige as president, Madison became increasingly concerned that Hamilton would seek to abolish the federal republic in favor of a centralized monarchy. [102]

When Hamilton submitted his Report on Manufactures, which called for federal action to stimulate the development of a diversified economy, Madison once again challenged Hamilton's proposal on constitutional grounds. He sought to mobilize public opinion by forming a political party based on opposition to Hamilton's policies. [103] Along with Jefferson, Madison helped Philip Freneau establish the National Gazette, a Philadelphia newspaper that attacked Hamilton's proposals. [104] In an essay published in the National Gazette in September 1792, Madison wrote that the country had divided into two factions: his own faction, which believed in "the doctrine that mankind are capable of governing themselves," and Hamilton's faction, which allegedly sought the establishment of aristocratic monarchy and was biased towards the wealthy. [105] Those opposed to Hamilton's economic policies, including many former Anti-Federalists, coalesced into Democratic-Republican Party, [f] while those who supported the administration's policies coalesced into the Federalist Party. [106] In the 1792 United States presidential election, both major parties supported Washington's successful bid for re-election, but the Democratic-Republicans sought to unseat Vice President John Adams. Because the Constitution's rules essentially precluded Jefferson from challenging Adams, [g] the party backed New York Governor George Clinton for the vice presidency, but Adams won re-election by a comfortable electoral vote margin. [108]

With Jefferson out of office after 1793, Madison became the de facto leader of the Democratic-Republican Party. [109] When Britain and France went to war in 1793, the U.S. was caught in the middle. [110] While the differences between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists had previously centered on economic matters, foreign policy became an increasingly important issue as Madison and Jefferson favored France and Hamilton favored Britain. [111] War with Britain became imminent in 1794 after the British seized hundreds of American ships that were trading with French colonies. Madison believed that a trade war with Britain would probably succeed, and would allow Americans to assert their independence fully. The British West Indies, Madison maintained, could not live without American foodstuffs, but Americans could easily do without British manufactures. [112] Washington avoided a trade war and instead secured friendly trade relations with Britain through the Jay Treaty of 1794. [113] Madison and his Democratic-Republican allies were outraged by the treaty one Democratic-Republican wrote that the treaty "sacrifices every essential interest and prostrates the honor of our country". [114] Madison's strong opposition to the treaty led to a permanent break with Washington, ending a long friendship. [113]

Adams presidency

Washington chose to retire after serving two terms and, in advance of the 1796 presidential election, Madison helped convince Jefferson to run for the presidency. [109] Despite Madison's efforts, Federalist candidate John Adams defeated Jefferson, taking a narrow majority of the electoral vote. [115] Under the rules of the Electoral College then in place, Jefferson became vice president because he finished with the second-most electoral votes. [116] Madison, meanwhile, had declined to seek re-election, and he returned to his home at Montpelier. [117] On Jefferson's advice, President Adams considered appointing Madison to an American delegation charged with ending French attacks on American shipping, but Adams's Cabinet members strongly opposed the idea. After a diplomatic incident between France and the United States known as the XYZ Affair took place, the two countries engaged in an undeclared naval war known as the Quasi-War. [118]

Though he was out of office, Madison remained a prominent Democratic-Republican leader in opposition to the Adams administration. [119] During the Quasi-War, the Federalists created a standing army and passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were directed at French refugees engaged in American politics and against Republican editors. [120] Madison and Jefferson believed that the Federalists were using the war to justify the violation of constitutional rights, and they increasingly came to view Adams as a monarchist. [121] Both Madison and Jefferson as leaders of the Democratic-Republican party expressed the belief that natural rights could not be infringed upon even during a time of war. Madison believed that the Alien and Sedition acts formed a dangerous precedent, giving government the power to look past the natural rights of its people in the name of national security. [122] In response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions, which argued that the states had the power to nullify federal law on the basis that the Constitution was a compact among the states. Madison rejected this view of a compact among the states, and his Virginia Resolutions instead urged states to respond to unjust federal laws through interposition, a process in which a state legislature declared a law to be unconstitutional but did not take steps to actively prevent its enforcement. Jefferson's doctrine of nullification was widely rejected, and the incident damaged the Democratic-Republican Party as attention was shifted from the Alien and Sedition Acts to the unpopular nullification doctrine. [123]

In 1799, after Patrick Henry announced that he would return to politics as a member of the Federalist Party, Madison won election to the Virginia legislature. At the same time, he and Jefferson planned for Jefferson's campaign in the 1800 presidential election. [124] Madison issued the Report of 1800, which attacked the Alien and Sedition Acts as unconstitutional but disregarded Jefferson's theory of nullification. The Report of 1800 held that Congress was limited to legislating on its enumerated powers, and that punishment for sedition violated freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Jefferson embraced the report, and it became the unofficial Democratic-Republican platform for the 1800 election. [125] With the Federalists badly divided between supporters of Hamilton and Adams, and with news of the end of the Quasi-War not reaching the United States until after the election, Jefferson and his ostensible running mate, Aaron Burr, defeated Adams. Because Jefferson and Burr tied in the electoral vote, the Federalist-controlled House of Representatives held a contingent election to choose between the two candidates. [126] After the House conducted dozens of inconclusive ballots, Hamilton, who despised Burr even more than he did Jefferson, convinced several Federalist congressmen to cast blank ballots, giving Jefferson the victory. [127]

On September 15, 1794, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, a 26-year-old widow, previously wife of John Todd, a Quaker farmer who died during a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. [128] Aaron Burr introduced Madison to her, at his request, after Dolley had stayed in the same boardinghouse as Burr in Philadelphia. After an arranged meeting in spring 1794, the two quickly became romantically engaged and prepared for a wedding that summer, but Dolley suffered recurring illnesses because of her exposure to yellow fever in Philadelphia. They eventually traveled to Harewood, Virginia for their wedding. Only a few close family members attended, and Winchester Reverend Alexander Balmain pronounced them a wedded couple. [129] Madison enjoyed a strong relationship with his wife, and she became his political partner. [130] Madison was an extremely shy individual who deeply relied on his wife, Dolley, to help him in dealing with social pressures that came with the politics of the day. [131] Dolley became a renowned figure in Washington, D.C., and excelled at hosting dinners and other important political occasions. [131] Dolley helped to establish the modern image of the First Lady of the United States as an individual who takes upon a role in the social affairs of the nation.

Madison never had children, but he adopted Dolley's one surviving son, John Payne Todd (known as Payne), after the marriage. [117] Some of Madison's colleagues, such as Monroe and Burr, alleged that Madison was infertile and that his lack of offspring weighed on his thoughts, but Madison never spoke of any distress on this matter. [132]

Throughout his life, Madison maintained a close relationship with his father, James Madison Sr, who died in 1801. At age 50, Madison inherited the large plantation of Montpelier and other possessions, including his father's numerous slaves. [133] He had three brothers, Francis, Ambrose, and William, and three sisters, Nelly, Sarah, and Frances, who lived to adulthood. Ambrose helped manage Montpelier for both his father and older brother until his death in 1793. [134]

Despite lacking foreign policy experience, Madison was appointed as Secretary of State by Jefferson. [135] Along with Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, Madison became one of the two major influences in Jefferson's Cabinet. [136] As the ascent of Napoleon in France had dulled Democratic-Republican enthusiasm for the French cause, Madison sought a neutral position in the ongoing Coalition Wars between France and Britain. [137] Domestically, the Jefferson administration and the Democratic-Republican Congress rolled back many Federalist policies Congress quickly repealed the Alien and Sedition Act, abolished internal taxes, and reduced the size of the army and navy. [138] Gallatin did, however, convince Jefferson to retain the First Bank of the United States. [139] Though the Federalists were rapidly fading away at the national level, Chief Justice John Marshall ensured that Federalist ideology retained an important presence in the judiciary. In the case of Marbury v. Madison, Marshall simultaneously ruled that Madison had unjustly refused to deliver federal commissions to individuals who had been appointed to federal positions by President Adams but who had not yet taken office, but that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction over the case. Most importantly, Marshall's opinion established the principle of judicial review. [140]

By the time Jefferson took office, Americans had settled as far west as the Mississippi River, though vast pockets of American land remained vacant or inhabited only by Native Americans. Jefferson believed that western expansion played an important role in furthering his vision of a republic of yeoman farmers, and he hoped to acquire the Spanish territory of Louisiana, which was located to the west of the Mississippi River. [141] Early in Jefferson's presidency, the administration learned that Spain planned to retrocede the Louisiana territory to France, raising fears of French encroachment on U.S. territory. [142] In 1802, Jefferson and Madison dispatched James Monroe to France to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans, which controlled access to the Mississippi River and thus was immensely important to the farmers of the American frontier. Rather than selling merely New Orleans, Napoleon's government, having already given up on plans to establish a new French empire in the Americas, offered to sell the entire Territory of Louisiana. Despite lacking explicit authorization from Jefferson, Monroe and ambassador Robert R. Livingston negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, in which France sold over 800,000 square miles (2,100,000 square kilometers) of land in exchange for $15 million. [143]

Despite the time-sensitive nature of negotiations with the French, Jefferson was concerned about the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase, and he privately favored introducing a constitutional amendment explicitly authorizing Congress to acquire new territories. Madison convinced Jefferson to refrain from proposing the amendment, and the administration ultimately submitted the Louisiana Purchase without an accompanying constitutional amendment. [144] Unlike Jefferson, Madison was not seriously concerned with the Louisiana Purchase's constitutionality. He believed that the circumstances did not warrant a strict interpretation of the Constitution because the expansion was in the country's best interest. [145] The Senate quickly ratified the treaty providing for the purchase, and the House, with equal alacrity, passed enabling legislation. [146] The Jefferson administration argued that the purchase had included the Spanish territory of West Florida, but France and Spain both held that West Florida was not included in the purchase. [147] Monroe attempted to purchase clear title to West Florida and East Florida from Spain, but the Spanish, outraged by Jefferson's claims to West Florida, refused to negotiate. [148]

Early in his tenure, Jefferson was able to maintain cordial relations with both France and Britain, but relations with Britain deteriorated after 1805. [149] The British ended their policy of tolerance towards American shipping and began seizing American goods headed for French ports. [150] They also impressed American sailors, some of whom had originally defected from the British navy, and some of whom had never been British subjects. [151] In response to the attacks, Congress passed the Non-importation Act, which restricted many, but not all, British imports. [150] Tensions with Britain heightened due to the Chesapeake–Leopard affair, a June 1807 naval confrontation between American and British naval forces, while the French also began attacking American shipping. [152] Madison believed that economic pressure could force the British to end attacks on American shipping, and he and Jefferson convinced Congress to pass the Embargo Act of 1807, which totally banned all exports to foreign nations. [153] The embargo proved ineffective, unpopular, and difficult to enforce, especially in New England. [154] In March 1809, Congress replaced the embargo with the Non-Intercourse Act, which allowed trade with nations other than Britain and France. [155]

Presidential election of 1808

Speculation regarding Madison's potential succession of Jefferson commenced early in Jefferson's first term. Madison's status in the party was damaged by his association with the embargo, which was unpopular throughout the country and especially in the Northeast. [156] With the Federalists collapsing as a national party after 1800, the chief opposition to Madison's candidacy came from other members of the Democratic-Republican Party. [157] Madison became the target of attacks from Congressman John Randolph, a leader of a faction of the party known as the tertium quids. [158] Randolph recruited James Monroe, who had felt betrayed by the administration's rejection of the proposed Monroe–Pinkney Treaty with Britain, to challenge Madison for leadership of the party. [159] Many Northerners, meanwhile, hoped that Vice President George Clinton could unseat Madison as Jefferson's successor. [160] Despite this opposition, Madison won his party's presidential nomination at the January 1808 congressional nominating caucus. [161] The Federalist Party mustered little strength outside New England, and Madison easily defeated Federalist candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. [162] At a height of only five feet, four inches (163 cm), and never weighing more than 100 pounds (45 kg), Madison became the most diminutive president. [163]

Taking office and cabinet

On March 4, 1809, Madison took the oath of office and was inaugurated President of the United States. Unlike Jefferson, who enjoyed political unity and support, Madison faced political opposition from his rival and friend, James Monroe, and from Vice President George Clinton. Additionally, the Federalist Party had resurged owing to opposition to the embargo. Madison's Cabinet was very weak. [164]

Madison immediately faced opposition to his planned nomination of Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin as Secretary of State. Madison chose not to fight Congress for the nomination but kept Gallatin in the Treasury Department. [165] With Gallatin's nomination declined by the Senate, Madison settled for Robert Smith, the brother of Maryland Senator Samuel Smith, to be Secretary of State. [164] For the next two years, Madison did most of the job of Secretary of State due to Smith's incompetence. After bitter party contention, Madison finally replaced Smith with Monroe in April 1811. [166] [167]

The remaining members of Madison's Cabinet were chosen for the purposes of national interest and political harmony, and were largely unremarkable or incompetent. [168] With a Cabinet full of those he distrusted, Madison rarely called Cabinet meetings and instead frequently consulted with Gallatin alone. [169] Early in his presidency, Madison sought to continue Jefferson's policies of low taxes and a reduction of the national debt. [170] In 1811, Congress allowed the charter of the First Bank of the United States to lapse after Madison declined to take a strong stance on the issue. [171]

War of 1812

Prelude to war

Congress had repealed the embargo shortly before Madison became president, but troubles with the British and French continued. [172] Madison settled on a new strategy designed to pit the British and French against each other, offering to trade with whichever country would end their attacks against American shipping. The gambit almost succeeded, but negotiations with the British collapsed in mid-1809. [173] Seeking to split the Americans and British, Napoleon offered to end French attacks on American shipping so long as the United States punished any countries that did not similarly end restrictions on trade. [174] Madison accepted Napoleon's proposal in the hope that it would convince the British to finally end their policy of commercial warfare, but the British refused to change their policies, and the French reneged on their promise and continued to attack American shipping. [175]

With sanctions and other policies having failed, Madison determined that war with Britain was the only remaining option. [176] Many Americans called for a "second war of independence" to restore honor and stature to the new nation, and an angry public elected a "war hawk" Congress, led by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. [177] With Britain in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, many Americans, Madison included, believed that the United States could easily capture Canada, at which point the U.S. could use Canada as a bargaining chip for all other disputes or simply retain control of it. [178] On June 1, 1812, Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war, stating that the United States could no longer tolerate Britain's "state of war against the United States". The declaration of war was passed along sectional and party lines, with opposition to the declaration coming from Federalists and from some Democratic-Republicans in the Northeast. [179] In the years prior to the war, Jefferson and Madison had reduced the size of the military, leaving the country with a military force consisting mostly of poorly trained militia members. [180] Madison asked Congress to quickly put the country "into an armor and an attitude demanded by the crisis," specifically recommending expansion of the army and navy. [181]

Military action

Madison and his advisers initially believed the war would be a quick American victory, while the British were occupied fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. [178] [182] Madison ordered an invasion of Canada at Detroit, designed to defeat British control around American held Fort Niagara and destroy the British supply lines from Montreal. These actions would give leverage for British concessions on the Atlantic high seas. [182] Madison believed state militias would rally to the flag and invade Canada, but the governors in the Northeast failed to cooperate, and the militias either sat out the war or refused to leave their respective states. [183] As a result, Madison's first Canadian campaign ended in dismal failure. On August 16, Major General William Hull surrendered to British and Native American forces at Detroit. [182] On October 13, a separate U.S. force was defeated at Queenton Heights. [184] [182] Commanding General Henry Dearborn, hampered by mutinous New England infantry, retreated to winter quarters near Albany, after failing to destroy Montreal's vulnerable British supply lines. [182]

Lacking adequate revenue to fund the war, the Madison administration was forced to rely on high-interest loans furnished by bankers based in New York City and Philadelphia. [185] In the 1812 presidential election, held during the early stages of the War of 1812, Madison faced a challenge from DeWitt Clinton, who led a coalition of Federalists and disaffected Democratic-Republicans. Clinton won most of the Northeast, but Madison won the election by sweeping the South and the West and winning the key state of Pennsylvania. [186]

After the disastrous start to the War of 1812, Madison accepted Russia's invitation to arbitrate the war, and he sent a delegation led by Gallatin and John Quincy Adams to Europe to negotiate a peace treaty. [178] While Madison worked to end the war, the U.S. experienced some impressive naval successes, boosting American morale, by the USS Constitution, and other warships. [187] [182] With a victory at the Battle of Lake Erie, the U.S. crippled the supply and reinforcement of British military forces in the western theater of the war. [188] In the aftermath of the Battle of Lake Erie, General William Henry Harrison defeated the forces of the British and of Tecumseh's Confederacy at the Battle of the Thames. The death of Tecumseh in that battle marked the permanent end of armed Native American resistance in the Old Northwest. [189] In March 1814, General Andrew Jackson broke the resistance of the British-allied Muscogee in the Old Southwest with his victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. [190] Despite those successes, the British continued to repel American attempts to invade Canada, and a British force captured Fort Niagara and burned the American city of Buffalo in late 1813. [191]

The British agreed to begin peace negotiations in the town of Ghent in early 1814, but at the same time, they shifted soldiers to North America following Napoleon's defeat in the Battle of Paris. [192] Under General George Izard and General Jacob Brown, the U.S. launched another invasion of Canada in mid-1814. Despite an American victory at the Battle of Chippawa, the invasion stalled once again. [193]

Making matters worse, Madison had failed to muster his new Secretary of War John Armstrong to fortify Washington D.C., while Madison had put in command, to stop an impending British invasion, an "inexperienced and incompetent" Brig. General William Winder. [194] In August 1814, the British landed a large force off the Chesapeake Bay and routed Winder's army at the Battle of Bladensburg. [195] The Madisons escaped capture, fleeing to Virginia by horseback, in the aftermath of the battle, but the British burned Washington and other buildings. [196] [197] The charred remains of the capital by the British were a humiliating defeat for Madison and America. [194] The British army next moved on Baltimore, but the U.S. repelled the British attack in the Battle of Baltimore, and the British army departed from the Chesapeake region in September. [198] That same month, U.S. forces repelled a British invasion from Canada with a victory at the Battle of Plattsburgh. [199] The British public began to turn against the war in North America, and British leaders began to look for a quick exit from the conflict. [200]

In January 1815, an American force under General Jackson defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans. [201] Just over a month later, Madison learned that his negotiators had reached the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war without major concessions by either side. Madison quickly sent the Treaty of Ghent to the Senate, and the Senate ratified the treaty on February 16, 1815. [202] To most Americans, the quick succession of events at the end of the war, including 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. This view, while inaccurate, strongly contributed to a feeling of post-war euphoria that bolstered Madison's reputation as president. [203] Napoleon's defeat at the June 1815 Battle of Waterloo brought a final close to the Napoleonic Wars, ending the danger of attacks on American shipping by British and French forces. [204]

Postwar period

The postwar period of Madison's second term saw the transition into the "Era of Good Feelings," as the Federalists ceased to act as an effective opposition party. [205] During the war, delegates from the states of New England held the Hartford Convention, where the delegates asked for several amendments to the Constitution. [206] Though the Hartford Convention did not explicitly call for the secession of New England, [207] the Hartford Convention became a political millstone around the Federalist Party as Americans celebrated what they saw as a successful "second war of independence" from Britain. [208] Madison hastened the decline of the Federalists by adopting several programs he had previously opposed, weakening the ideological divisions between the two major parties. [209]

Recognizing the difficulties of financing the war and the necessity of an institution to regulate the currency, Madison proposed the re-establishment of a national bank. He also called for increased spending on the army and the navy, a tariff designed to protect American goods from foreign competition, and a constitutional amendment authorizing the federal government to fund the construction of internal improvements such as roads and canals. His initiatives were opposed by strict constructionists such as John Randolph, who stated that Madison's proposals "out-Hamiltons Alexander Hamilton". [210] Responding to Madison's proposals, the 14th Congress compiled one of the most productive legislative records up to that point in history. [211] Congress granted the Second Bank of the United States a twenty-five-year charter [210] and passed the Tariff of 1816, which set high import duties for all goods that were produced outside the United States. [211] Madison approved federal spending on the Cumberland Road, which provided a link to the country's western lands, [212] but in his last act before leaving office, he blocked further federal spending on internal improvements by vetoing the Bonus Bill of 1817. In making the veto, Madison argued that the General Welfare Clause did not broadly authorize federal spending on internal improvements. [213]

Native American policy

Upon becoming president, Madison said the federal government's duty was to convert Native Americans by the "participation of the improvements of which the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state". [170] On September 30, 1809, a little more than six months into his first term, Madison agreed to the Treaty of Fort Wayne, negotiated and signed by Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison. The treaty began with "James Madison, President of the United States," on the first sentence of the first paragraph. [214] The American Indian tribes were compensated $5,200 ($109,121.79 for year 2020) in goods and $500 and $250 annual subsidies to the various tribes, for 3 million acres of land. [215] The treaty angered Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who said, "Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the clouds and the great sea, as well as the earth?" [216] Harrison responded that the Miami tribe was the owner of the land and could sell it to whomever they wished. [217]

Like Jefferson, Madison had a paternalistic attitude toward American Indians, encouraging the men to give up hunting and become farmers. [218] Madison believed the adoption of European-style agriculture would help Native Americans assimilate the values of British-U.S. civilization. As pioneers and settlers moved West into large tracts of Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw territory, Madison ordered the U.S. Army to protect Native lands from intrusion by settlers, to the chagrin of his military commander Andrew Jackson, who wanted Madison to ignore Indian pleas to stop the invasion of their lands. [219] Tensions mounted between the United States and Tecumseh over the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne, which ultimately led to Tecumseh's alliance with the British and the Battle of Tippecanoe, on November 7, 1811, in the Northwest Territory. [219] [220] Tecumseh was defeated and Indians were pushed off their tribal lands, replaced entirely by white settlers. [219] [220]

In addition to the Battle of the Thames and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, other American Indian battles took place, including the Peoria War, and the Creek War. Settled by General Jackson, the Creek War added 20 million acres of land to the United States, in Georgia and Alabama, by the Treaty of Fort Jackson on August 9, 1814. [221]

Privately, Madison did not believe American Indians could be civilized. Madison believed that Native Americans may have been unwilling to make "the transition from the hunter, or even the herdsman state, to the agriculture". [216] Madison feared that Native Americans had too great an influence on the settlers they interacted with, who in his view were "irresistibly attracted by that complete liberty, that freedom from bonds, obligations, duties, that absence of care and anxiety which characterize the savage state". In March 1816, Madison's Secretary of War William Crawford advocated for the government to encourage intermarriages between Native Americans and whites as a way of assimilating the former. This prompted public outrage and exacerbated anti-Indigenous bigotry among white Americans, as seen in hostile letters sent to Madison, who remained publicly silent on the issue. [216]

General Wilkinson misconduct

In 1810, the House investigated Commanding General James Wilkinson for misconduct over his ties with Spain. [222] Wilkinson was a hold-over of the Jefferson administration. In 1806, Jefferson was told Wilkinson was under a financial retainer with Spain. Wilkinson had also been rumored to have ties to Spain during both the Washington and Adams administrations. Jefferson removed Wilkinson from his position of Governor of the Louisiana territory in 1807 for his ties with the Burr conspiracy. [223] The 1810 House investigation was not a formal report but documents incriminating Wilkinson were given to Madison. Wilkinson's military request for a court-martial was denied by Madison. Wilkinson then asked for 14 officers to testify on his behalf in Washington, but Madison refused, in essence, clearing Wilkinson of malfeasance. [222]

Later in 1810 the House investigated Wilkinson's public record, and charged him with a high casualty rate among soldiers. Wilkinson was cleared again. However, in 1811, Madison launched a formal court-martial of Wilkinson, that suspended him from active duty. The military court in December 1811 cleared Wilkinson of misconduct. Madison approved of Wilkinson's acquittal, and restored him to active duty. [222] After Wilkinson failed a command during the War of 1812, Madison dismissed him from his command for incompetence. However, Madison retained Wilkinson in the Army, but replaced him with Henry Dearborn as its commander. Not until 1815, when Wilkinson was court-martialled and acquitted again, did Madison finally remove him from the Army. [222] Historical evidence brought forth in the 20th century proved Wilkinson was under the pay of Spain. [224]

Election of 1816

In the 1816 presidential election, Madison and Jefferson both favored the candidacy of Secretary of State James Monroe. With the support of Madison and Jefferson, Monroe defeated Secretary of War William H. Crawford in the party's congressional nominating caucus. As the Federalist Party continued to collapse as a national party, Monroe easily defeated Federalist candidate Rufus King in the 1816 election. [225] Madison left office as a popular president former president Adams wrote that Madison had "acquired more glory, and established more union, than all his three predecessors, Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, put together". [226]

When Madison left office in 1817 at age 65, he retired to Montpelier, his tobacco plantation in Orange County, Virginia, not far from Jefferson's Monticello. As with both Washington and Jefferson, Madison left the presidency a poorer man than when elected. His plantation experienced a steady financial collapse, due to the continued price declines in tobacco and also due to his stepson's mismanagement. [227]

In his retirement, Madison occasionally became involved in public affairs, advising Andrew Jackson and other presidents. [228] He remained out of the public debate over the Missouri Compromise, though he privately complained about the North's opposition to the extension of slavery. [229] Madison had warm relations with all four of the major candidates in the 1824 presidential election, but, like Jefferson, largely stayed out of the race. [230] During Jackson's presidency, Madison publicly disavowed the Nullification movement and argued that no state had the right to secede. [231]

Madison helped Jefferson establish the University of Virginia, though the university was primarily Jefferson's initiative. [232] In 1826, after the death of Jefferson, Madison was appointed as the second rector of the university. 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 Virginia Constitutional Convention for revision of the commonwealth's constitution. It was his last appearance as a statesman. 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. The increased population in the Piedmont and western parts of the state were not proportionately represented by delegates in the legislature. Western reformers also wanted to extend suffrage to all white men, in place of the prevailing property ownership requirement. Madison tried in vain to effect a compromise. Eventually, suffrage rights were extended to renters as well as landowners, but the eastern planters refused to adopt citizen population apportionment. They added slaves held as property to the population count, to maintain a permanent majority in both houses of the legislature, arguing that there must be a balance between population and property represented. Madison was disappointed at the failure of Virginians to resolve the issue more equitably. [233]

In his later years, Madison became highly concerned about his historic legacy. He resorted 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 even forged Jefferson's handwriting as well. [234] Historian Drew R. McCoy writes that, "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." [235]

Madison's health slowly deteriorated. He died of congestive heart failure at Montpelier on the morning of June 28, 1836, at the age of 85. [236] By one common account of his final moments, he was given his breakfast, which he tried eating but was unable to swallow. His favorite niece, who sat by to keep him company, asked him, "What is the matter, Uncle James?" Madison died immediately after he replied, "Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear." [237] He is buried in the family cemetery at Montpelier. [227] He was one of the last prominent members of the Revolutionary War generation to die. [228] His will left significant sums to the American Colonization Society, Princeton, and the University of Virginia, as well as $30,000 to his wife, Dolley. Left with a smaller sum than Madison had intended, Dolley suffered financial troubles until her own death in 1849. [238]


During his first stint in Congress in the 1780s, Madison came to favor amending the Articles of Confederation to provide for a stronger central government. [239] In the 1790s, he led the opposition to Hamilton's centralizing policies and the Alien and Sedition Acts. [240] According to Chernow, Madison's support of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in the 1790s "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". [120] 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". [241] During and after the War of 1812, Madison came to support several policies he had opposed in the 1790s, including the national bank, a strong navy, and direct taxes. [242]

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 that of the Federalists. [241] Gary Rosen and Banning use other approaches to suggest Madison's consistency. [243] [244] [245]


Although baptized as an Anglican and educated by Presbyterian clergymen, [246] young Madison was an avid reader of English deist tracts. [247] As an adult, Madison paid little attention to religious matters. Though most historians have found little indication of his religious leanings after he left college, [248] some scholars indicate he leaned toward deism. [249] [250] Others maintain that Madison accepted Christian tenets and formed his outlook on life with a Christian world view. [251]

Regardless of his own religious beliefs, Madison believed in religious liberty, and he advocated for Virginia's disestablishment of the Anglican Church throughout the late 1770s and 1780s. [252] He also opposed the appointments of chaplains for Congress and the armed forces, arguing that the appointments produce religious exclusion as well as political disharmony. [253] In 1819, Madison said, "The number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State." [254]


Madison grew up on a plantation that made use of slave labor and he viewed the institution as a necessary part of the Southern economy, though he was troubled by the instability of a society that depended on a large enslaved population. [255] At the Philadelphia Convention, Madison favored an immediate end to the importation of slaves, though the final document barred Congress from interfering with the international slave trade until 1808, [256] while the domestic trade in slaves was expressly permitted by the constitution. [257] He also proposed that apportionment in the United States House of Representatives be allocated by the sum of each state's free population and slave population, eventually leading to the adoption of the Three-Fifths Compromise. [258] Madison supported the extension of slavery into the West during the Missouri crisis of 1819–1821. [257] Madison believed that former slaves were unlikely to successfully integrate into Southern society, and in the late 1780s, he became interested in the idea of African-Americans establishing colonies in Africa. [259] Madison was president of the American Colonization Society, which founded the settlement of Liberia for former slaves. [260]

Madison was unable to separate himself from the institution of domestic slavery. Although Madison had championed a Republican form of government, he believed that slavery had caused the South to become aristocratic. Madison believed that slaves were human property, while he opposed slavery intellectually. [261] Along with his colonization plan for blacks, Madison believed that slavery would naturally diffuse with western expansion. Madison's political views landed somewhere between John C. Calhoun's separation nullification and Daniel Webster's nationalism consolidation. Madison's Virginian "legatees" including Edward Coles, Nicolas P. Trist, and William Cabell Rives promoted Madison's moderate views on slavery into the 1840s and 1850s, but their campaign failed due to sectionalism, economic, and abolitionism forces. [261] Madison was never able to reconcile his advocacy of Republican government and his lifelong reliance on the slave system. [1]

In 1790, Madison ordered an overseer to treat slaves with "all the humanity and kindness of consistent with their necessary subordination and work". Visitors noted slaves were well housed and fed. According to Paul Jennings, one of Madison's younger slaves, Madison never lost his temper or had his slaves whipped, preferring to reprimand. [262] One slave, Billey, attempted to escape Madison while in Philadelphia during the American Revolution, but was caught. Rather than free him, or return him to Virginia, Madison sold Billey in Philadelphia, under a gradual emancipation law adopted in Pennsylvania. Billey soon earned his freedom and worked for a Philadelphia merchant. Billey, however, was drowned on a voyage to New Orleans. [262] Madison never outwardly expressed the view that blacks were inferior he tended to express open-mindedness on the question of race. [263]

By 1801, Madison's slave population at Montpelier was slightly over 100. During the 1820s and 1830s, Madison was forced to sell land and slaves, caused by debts. In 1836, at the time of Madison's death, Madison owned 36 taxable slaves. [263] Madison's conservatism prevailed, due to finances, while he failed to free any of his slaves either during his lifetime or in his will. [257] [261] Upon Madison's death, he left his remaining slaves to his wife Dolley, asking her only to sell her slaves with their consent. However, Dolley, sold many of her slaves without their consent. The remaining slaves, after Dolley's death, were given to her son, Payne Todd, who freed them upon his death. However, Todd had debts, and likely only a few slaves were actually freed. [264]

Madison was small in stature, had bright blue eyes, a strong demeanor, and was known to be humorous at small gatherings. Madison suffered from serious illnesses, nervousness, and was often exhausted after periods of stress. Madison often feared for the worst and was a hypochondriac. However, Madison was in good health, while he lived a long life, without the common maladies of his times. [265]


USS JAMES MADISON (SSBN 627) bore the name of our nation's fourth President and Father of the Constitution.

The ship's keel was laid on 5 March 1962 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia. On 15 March 1963, the ship was launched and sponsored by Mrs. A.S. "Mike" Monroney, wife of the famous Oklahoma senator.

28 April 1964 brought initial criticality of the nuclear reactor and an ever increasing tempo led to sea trials in June and July, "the most efficiently run of any yet conducted on a submarine at Newport News," as termed in a letter from the Supervisor of Shipbuilding.

Commissioning took place in a colorful ceremony on 28 July 1964. Our beloved sponsor, Mrs. Monroney, who had launched our ship 16 months earlier, was present to express her wishes for continued success and safety.

There is some question that the statements below are accurate. They were taken from the Welcome Aboard packet from 1982. The two crews, Blue and Gold, next conducted "Shakedown" operations, in turn, at sea. These periods were climaxed by completely successful launches of the A3 Polaris missile by each crew.

The New Year Year of 1965 found the JAMES MADISON en route to Charleston, South Carolina to load and check 16 nuclear armed missiles, each capable of striking targets up to 2500 miles from the ship.

The ship sailed for her first patrol on 17 January 1965. On 3 February 1969, after completing seventeen successful patrols from Rota, Spain and Charleston, South Carolina, MADISON entered the shipyard at Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics Corporation at Groton, Connecticut for overhaul and conversion to a Poseidon Missile Capability. As lead ship for the Poseidon conversion, she was extensively modified to carry our nation's most advanced strategic weapons system. The conversion was completed on 28 June 1970, and the ship departed for shakedown operations on 4 July 1970 to evaluate the Poseidon weapons system.

On 4 August 1970, MADISON successfully launched a Poseidon missile, and with it marked the beginning of a new era in strategic deterrence. The Poseidon weapon system is now deployed beneath the world's oceans to stand guard on our country's freedom.

On 6 November 1974, MADISON completed the first Extended Refit Period (ERP) and on 2 November 1977 completed the second Extended Refit Period (ERP-II). These shortened versions of major shipyard overhauls have occurred at three year intervals and were intended to extend the time between major shipyard overhauls from five to ten years. At the same time, the ERP program has maintained MADISON in top operational readiness condition allowing an increased number of patrols to be completed in the ship's lifetime.

On 3 August 1979, MADISON entered Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company for overhaul, refueling and backfit to the Trident Missile system after completing thirty-two consecutive patrols.

On 12 February 1982, MADISON completed overhaul and backfit and departed on shakedown operations to evaluate the Trident-I weapons system.

Reliability, accuracy, undetected mobility, and instant readiness -- these are the key words that characterize Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines and crews in their continuing role.

The above information is now out-of-date. Specific information which could update this would be appreciated.

This account was provided by Glenn Keiffer, FTB 3 (SS)(DV) PO3.

Now on the history of the Dolly. The Blue crew fired the only A3 missile in September or early Oct. 1964. I was on the Trolley Key and was on the blue crew. There were some gold crew people on board, but the boat was commanded by Captain Joe Skoog, Blue crew commander The gold crew took over the boat at the Cape and we flew back to Charleston, S.C. When they returned, we took over the boat and went and loaded the A3 missiles and went out on patrol right around the 1st of November and the patrol lasted 88 days, which would have gotten the boat back to Rota right around Jan. 17th 1965.

Patrol 5 was blue's and we were out on Christmas 1965. When we finished that patrol I went to Divers school in Feb 1966. Patrol 11 was a blue crew patrol and we were out to sea for Christmas 1966 and then I stayed for awhile and then was transferred to the Atule in March 1967.

FTB3 Keiffer was there. I wasn't. It would be appreciated if some of the other crew members who were there would step forward and provide corroboration for his account of these events. Thanks!

On 20 November 1992, MADISON was decommissioned.

On 24 October, 1997, MADISON was disposed of by submarine recycling at a hull age of 33.3 years.

The Enslaved Household of President James Madison

In a single week in early 1801, James Madison experienced two major life events. On February 27, his father James Madison Sr. died. He bequeathed his estate Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia, and more than 100 enslaved people to his son. On March 5, President Thomas Jefferson named Madison secretary of state, and he prepared to move his family to Washington, D.C., for the first time. 1 Throughout the family’s time in the city, including Madison’s term as secretary of state, his presidency, and Dolley Madison’s widowhood, they would rely on enslaved labor to run their household. This approach was common among the elite households of the new capital city. Washington society was maintained on the backs of enslaved people. Click here to learn more about the enslaved households of President Thomas Jefferson.

The Madisons brought a number of enslaved people with them from Montpelier, but they also hired out enslaved laborers from other slave owners in D.C., paying wages directly to the slave owners rather than to the people actually doing the work. In 1801, Madison entered into an agreement with Benjamin Orr “that Plato the slave of the said Orr is to serve the said Madison for five years,” and that during that time Plato was to be “under the direction in every respect of the said Madison, as fully & completely as if he was his own Slave & property.” 2 Five years was an unusually long term of hire, but otherwise this type of arrangement was rather common. Hiring out enslaved workers provided flexibility in the labor market, especially in urban areas, allowing slave owners to temporarily expand their labor force or rent out enslaved people as a revenue source as needed. In Washington, D.C., where each election cycle brought new residents and new labor demands to the city, such arrangements were particularly essential. James Madison, like many of his contemporaries, continued to make use of this system throughout his lifetime. 3

James Madison was, according to historian Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, a “garden-variety slaveholder.” He adhered to the established social norms of Virginia society when it came to the treatment and living conditions of his enslaved household. Enslaved people worked from dawn to dusk, six days a week, with the customary Sunday off. Madison maintained control, but avoided the kind of excessive cruelty that might have drawn judgment from his peers. 4 Like many in his time, he was concerned about the possibility that slaves might revolt. An attempted revolt in Richmond in 1800 stoked fears of mass slave uprisings, and the British willingness to take in fugitives during the War of 1812 only heightened those fears. 5 Otherwise, he generally accepted slavery as a way of life. His wife, Dolley Madison, had been raised by a Quaker father who emancipated his own enslaved people after the Revolution, but she does not seem to have shared his convictions regarding the immorality of slavery.

Excerpt from an agreement between James Madison and Benjamin Grayson Orr. Madison hired Orr’s enslaved man Plato to work in his household for a period of five years.

Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

A letter to his friend and former secretary Edward Coles offers some insight on Madison’s attitudes toward slavery. Coles had been a slave owner himself, but after leaving Madison’s employ he moved to Illinois, freed his enslaved people, and bought enough land to give each freed family a farm. Madison praised this effort as “a fair experiment for their happiness,” but wrote that unless Coles could change “their colour as well as their legal condition,” the freedmen would lack the “moral rank” and “social blessings” to truly take advantage of their newfound freedom. 6 Coles later confided to his sister that he believed Madison would similarly free his own enslaved workforce when he died, as President George Washington had done. 7 He, however, was mistaken. Madison specified in his will that “none of [the enslaved people] should be sold without his or her consent,” to keep the families together, but he left them to his wife instead of freeing them. 8 His instruction not to sell enslaved people without consent was not legally binding, and Dolley Madison would go on to sell most of those enslaved people to alleviate her financial troubles later in life.

While most of enslaved individuals remained at Montpelier during his presidency, President Madison brought several with him to the White House to serve as household staff. One enslaved man, John Freeman, was already at the White House when the Madisons arrived. Freeman, who worked primarily as a dining room servant, had been hired and later purchased by Thomas Jefferson during his presidency. When Jefferson’s second term ended, Freeman resisted returning to Virginia because it would have meant leaving his family behind. Jefferson agreed to sell Freeman to the incoming president, James Madison, so that he could stay. 9 He was freed in 1815 according to the terms of his original sale contract. He went on to purchase a house, raise eight children, and become a pillar of D.C.’s free black community.

James Madison’s Montpelier estate, which he inherited from his father along with more than 100 enslaved men, women, and children. Reconstructions of the buildings where enslaved people lived and worked can be seen on the right side of the photo.

Photo by Jennifer Wilkoski Glass, Courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation

Like John Freeman, Joseph Bolden, an enslaved man brought to the White House in bondage left a free man. Bolden cared for the Madison family’s horses and carriages. Mary Cutts, a niece of Dolley Madison’s who lived with them for a time, noted that “with his own wages he soon freed himself.” 10 Cutts gave no specific detail regarding these wages, but presumably either the Madisons valued him highly enough to pay him a small stipend, or Bolden worked for wages for other families during his limited free time. Although Joseph Bolden earned his freedom, his wife, Milley, remained enslaved. She belonged to Francis Scott Key, the man who would go on to write what became the national anthem. “Your Servant Joe has been anxious to purchase the freedom of his wife,” Key wrote to Dolley Madison in 1810. Mrs. Madison agreed to advance the couple $200 to buy the freedom of Milley and her child, on the condition that they work for the Madisons to pay off that debt. 11 They struck a deal, and Joseph and Milley Bolden continued to work at the White House as free hired servants for the rest of Madison’s presidency.

The best-documented member of President Madison’s enslaved household was Paul Jennings. Jennings was ten-years-old when Madison became president and brought him to the White House to act as a footman. In D.C., Jennings encountered a substantial free black community for the first time. He witnessed historic events like the British burning of the White House and Capitol Building in 1814. When Madison’s presidency ended, Jennings returned to Montpelier, where he served as Madison’s valet. He married his wife Fanny, an enslaved woman who lived at a neighboring plantation, and despite their separation they raised a family. When James Madison died, however, Dolley Madison returned to Washington, bringing Jennings with her. When it became clear that financial troubles would require the liquidation of the enslaved population owned by Mrs. Madison, Jennings used his contacts in the free black community to get in touch with Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster. Webster agreed to help purchase Jennings’ freedom in 1847. Jennings went on to write A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison, the first published memoir about life in the White House. 12

Paul Jennings worked in close proximity to the Madisons for decades. “I was always with Mr. Madison till he died, and shaved him every other day for sixteen years,” he recalled in his memoir. 13 The family knew Jennings well and clearly valued his service, but that did not stop them from exploiting his labor. When President Madison died, Edward Coles lamented that he had “died without having freed one – no not even Paul.” 14 Previous presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had freed their manservants upon their deaths, and Coles had expected Madison to do the same. 15 Jennings undoubtedly harbored the same hope. Mary Cutts described how Jennings “sighed for freedom” and attempted to run away to New York. 16 Family oral histories also suggest that he used his ability to read and write to forge freedom papers for other enslaved people seeking to escape. These talents were particularly rare as most slave owners resisted the idea of educating enslaved communities, fearing that they could use these skills to escape or organize an uprising. 17 After he secured his own freedom, Jennings likely helped orchestrate the attempted escape of nearly eighty enslaved individuals on board the schooner Pearl, which was thwarted by bad winds and a tip made to local slave owners. 18

An excerpt from James Madison’s September 1819 letter to Edward Coles, in which he suggests that the enslaved people freed by Coles lack the “instruction, the property, and the employments of a freeman.”

Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

One of Jennings’ documented attempts at freedom reveals two additional members of the Madisons’ enslaved household – Jim and Abram. In early 1817, James Madison’s nephew, Robert Lewis Madison, added the following note in a letter to his uncle: “Capt. Eddins thinks that you ought to be apprised that when you were in Orange, your Servants Jim, Abram & Paul observed in the presence of Warrell that they never intended to return to Va. Upon being asked what they meant to do, they replyed that their were Captains of Vessels who wanted Cooks & that they would enter into their service.” 19 The three men must have understood that they had a better chance of escaping from metropolitan Washington, with its close proximity to water and free territory and well-connected free black community, than they ever would back in Orange County, Virginia. With President Madison’s term about to end, they had to seize that opportunity or lose it forever.

Unfortunately for them, someone tipped off Abraham Eddins, an overseer on the Montpelier plantation. 20 There is no record of how President Madison dealt with this attempted escape plan, but we know Paul Jennings went back to Virginia at the end of Madison’s presidency, so the plot was likely foiled. Jim and Abram disappear after this point. Like many of the enslaved people who served in the White House, they only appeared in the written record when they were resisting a slave owner’s authority. Once that had been dealt with, they stopped appearing in Madison’s letters. Of these three, only Jennings worked closely enough with the family to be regularly mentioned in their papers. We can assume that Jim and Abram were reprimanded or punished in some way, which could have meant additional labor, physical punishment, or even sale, although there are no records to suggest that they were sold.

Sukey (possibly short for Susan), Dolley Madison’s lady’s maid, was one of Paul Jennings’ contemporaries at the White House. Like Paul, she was a teenager during her White House years. She assisted Mrs. Madison with every aspect of daily life, from bathing to dressing to styling her hair. 21 Mrs. Madison’s letters suggest a growing tension between her personal clashes with Sukey and her outright dependence on Sukey’s labor. In an 1818 letter to her sister Anna Payne Cutts, Dolley Madison wrote that Sukey “has made so many depridations on every thing, in every part of the house that, I sent her to black Meadow last week but find it terribly inconvenient to do without her, & suppose I shall take her again.” 22 She seemingly believed Sukey was stealing from her, and tried to punish her by sending her to one of the outlying quarter farms a few miles from Montpelier, but after only a week found that she could not manage without her. She acknowledged her own dependence, and how little she could do without Sukey. “I must even let her steal from me, to keep from labor myself,” she told her sister. 23

White House Collection/White House Historical Association

After spending her teenage years in the White House, Sukey returned to Montpelier with the Madisons and raised five children. She came back to Washington, D.C. with Dolley Madison after James Madison’s death, but the former first lady’s financial troubles soon threatened Sukey’s family. Her eighteen-year-old son Ben was sold by Madison and sent to Georgia in 1843. 24 The others soon followed. By 1848, all of Sukey’s children except the youngest, fifteen-year-old Ellen, had died or been sold. When Ellen found out she was going to be sold as well, she attempted to escape on the Pearl, probably with Paul Jennings’ aid. Dolley Madison, furious that Ellen had disappeared, sold Sukey to a local Washington family. Ellen was captured with the rest of the Pearl fugitives, but abolitionists raised the funds to buy her freedom and find her employment in Boston. 25

A few months later, Ben, who had been in Georgia for five years, penned a heartbreaking letter to Dolley Madison, encouraging her to buy him back or find another buyer in Virginia so that he could come home. “Should you be Kind enough to take me back to Virginia I Shall I can Say to You be a dutiful & Faithful Servant as long as you may live,” Ben wrote. He asked her to “Consider my unfortunate Situation away from my Relatives, Who are very near & very dear to me.” 26 Dolley Madison never responded. Of course, Ben did not know the rest of his family had already been sold, so the hoped-for reunion would have been impossible either way. In the end, Ben did not return to Washington until after the Civil War, when he found a job as a tour guide at the U.S. Capitol and made a living telling tourists stories about the Madisons. 27 He eventually bought a house on L Street, just one block away from Paul Jennings’ home. 28

With any research into the history of enslaved people, the greatest obstacle is the lack of definitive and comprehensive sources. President Madison undoubtedly utilized more enslaved labor working for him at the White House than those previously mentioned, but in many cases the White House connection is difficult to prove. An enslaved man named Gabriel, born in 1792, worked for the Madisons as a domestic servant and courier. Benjamin McDaniel was one of the few confirmed literate, enslaved individuals owned by the Madisons. He was about the same age as Paul Jennings. 29 Their ages and assigned tasks suggest that they could have been among the enslaved servants brought from Montpelier to the White House, but none of the extant records prove a definitive link. Ralph Philip Taylor, another enslaved domestic servant, was born during James Madison’s presidency. His mother worked in domestic service as well, so if she was working at the White House then Taylor may have spent the first years of his life there. 30

Dolley Madison during her retirement years in Washington, D.C.

Whether or not Ralph Taylor spent his childhood in the White House, he certainly served in the President’s Neighborhood. Dolley Madison brought him to Washington to work in her house on Lafayette Square during her retirement, and he became her most trusted servant after Paul Jennings left. In fact, because of James Madison’s tenure as secretary of state before he became president and Dolley Madison’s retirement on Lafayette Square, the Madisons have deeper connections to slavery in the President’s Neighborhood than any other first family.

Because the Madison household was divided between Montpelier and Washington for so long, letters were an essential means of communication for both free and enslaved people. A few of the enslaved individuals owned by the Madisons were literate. Some letters written to Dolley Madison and even between enslaved people have survived, mostly from the last years of Mrs. Madison’s life. Sarah Stewart, an enslaved woman who remained at Montpelier when Dolley Madison retired to Washington, sent Mrs. Madison updates about marriages, children, and illnesses among the plantation’s enslaved community. When the local sheriff seized individuals enslaved at Montpelier because of court cases over Mrs. Madison’s debts, it was Sarah Stewart who conveyed the fears of those around her, many of whom were worried that they would be separated from their families. She pleaded with Madison to “make some bargain with some body by which we could be kept together.” 31 Instead, the estate was sold to Henry Moncure shortly thereafter in 1844. Moncure purchased several of the enslaved people living at Montpelier, but others were retained by Dolley Madison or given to Payne Todd, her son from her first marriage. Many of those were later sold to a variety of buyers. The plantation’s enslaved community was permanently fractured. 32

More Like This

Created as a part of The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibition at James Madison's Montpelier, this video recounts the experiences of Ellen Stewart, a young woman enslaved by the Madisons.

Paul Jennings, in the last years before obtaining his freedom, wrote to Mrs. Madison as well, mostly when he was away from Washington to visit his ailing wife Fanny. Fanny died in 1844, with Paul by her side. 33 Jennings’ most remarkable letter, though, is one written directly to Sukey around the same time. It is a rare instance of surviving correspondence between two enslaved people. Jennings’ letter, addressed to “Sister sukey,” illuminates the depth and importance of relational connections within Montpelier’s enslaved community. Jennings was at Montpelier with his wife Fanny, expecting “every day to see the last of her,” but even during this personal crisis he was careful to ensure that news and greetings were passed between the enslaved community at Montpelier and those back in Washington with Mrs. Madison, many of whom had been separated from their families for months. Jennings sent his blessings to “Beckey Ellen Ralph and sister jane Bell” back in Washington and informs Sukey that “Cattey an the Boys & peater is well.” 34 “Cattey an the Boys” were Catharine Taylor and her sons, who were separated from Ralph Taylor while he served Dolley Madison in Washington. Similarly, “Beckey,” or Rebecca Walker, must have appreciated receiving the news that her husband Peter was doing well back at Montpelier. Because so few enslaved people were literate, it was difficult for separated families to communicate with one another, but it is clear from this letter that Paul Jennings purposely sent word to inform those separated from their loved ones.

Before the end of her life, Dolley Madison was in significant debt due to downturns in the Virginia economy and the spending of her son, Payne Todd. She sold her husband’s political papers, the Montpelier plantation, and most of the enslaved community there, and her son inherited the remainder when she died. In his will, he attempted to free those that remained in bondage after his death in 1852. However, he was in such deep debt that those enslaved people were likely sold to pay his creditors. 35 Beyond a few well-documented individuals like Paul Jennings and John Freeman, we know little about what happened to most of the household. As this research initiative continues, we hope to uncover additional stories about the enslaved people who worked under James and Dolley Madison during their multiple residencies in Washington, D.C.

Thank you to Dr. Elizabeth Chew, Executive Vice President and Chief Curator at James Madison’s Montpelier, and Christian Cotz, Director of Education & Visitor Engagement, for their contributions to this article.

The Health Of The President: James Madison

When James Madison was President, Washington Irving described him as a “withered little Apple-John.” He meant the exquisite kind of apple which attains its finest flavor when it looks wrinkled and shrunken. Since early childhood Madison appeared delicate and fragile and never displayed youthful vigor and exuberance. He had the high, bald forehead and the worried look of a premature infant born into a world for which it is not ready.

Madison was about five feet six inches tall. His weight hardly ever exceeded a hundred pounds. The smallest of all American Presidents, he was one of the mental giants among them. On the other hand, his emotional range was limited. He seems to have been incapable of the fire of passion or of suffering on the rack of guilt, like Jefferson and Lincoln.

The flame of his life burned slowly within his meager frame and could rarely be fanned to a faster pace by the whirlwinds that shook the world around him. He was one of the Presidents who had to bear the crushing responsibility of a war of life and death. And the War of 1812 was possibly the most ill-prepared and inconclusive of all American wars and the most unnecessary. The frail President often looked gloomy and exhausted from his labors and disappointments but never seems to have lost his composure, remaining at all times calm and dignified.

In 1817, sixty-six years old, Madison retired from the Presidency, emotionally unscarred and physically none the worse for having given almost forty-one years of toil to his country. He lived nineteen years longer, most of them in comparative good health and comfort, to the age of eighty-five, the second oldest President up to recent times.

The principal factor influencing a man’s life expectancy is heredity. We do not know the ages of Madison’s four grandparents, but we know that his mother reached the age of ninety-seven and his father seventy-eight. Contributing to Madison’s longevity was the economy of circulatory and caloric energy with which his small thin body could be sustained, also his calm disposition.

Helping him to preserve his emotional equilibrium and physical stamina was his extraordinary wife, who was his perfect foil. He had the unusual good sense, at the age of forty-three, to fall in love with the widow Dolley Payne Todd, about seventeen years his junior, after having been jilted by two other women nine and eleven years previously. Dolley Madison gave him the companionship and affection that most men need in order to be at their best. She had a great and kind heart, unusual thoughtfulness and tact, as well as an extraordinary memory for names. The society women of Washington, D.C., at first looked down their noses at the President’s wife, who used snuff and rouge and wore flamboyant oriental headdress and French gowns but her popularity soon silenced them.

A Quaker’s daughter, the widow was the mother of two children. Her first husband and the younger child were victims of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Dolley herself was reportedly stricken by the fever. Her elder child, a son, appears never to have amounted to much, sponging on his mother up to her death at eighty-one in Washington, D.C. It was Aaron Burr who introduced the voluptuous-looking young woman to his austere, apparently sexless classmate from Princeton, and James Madison, with unusual speed, overcame his shyness and proposed. He was accepted after the proper waiting period.

It is not impossible that Dolley married the old bachelor, who was a head shorter than herself, for the sake of security and social prestige. After all, Madison came from a prominent family he was a gentleman and had already made a name for himself as the chief author of the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Apparently he faced a great political future. Dolley soon learned to admire her husband’s mind and to love his sweetness and considerate nature. They had no children, but with the years she bestowed all her maternal affection upon her “Little Jemmie,” who returned her love in his unostentatious way.

Madison was born in Montpelier, Orange County, Virginia, the eldest of twelve (?) children. From early infancy his frail and puny appearance deceived his parents and doctors, who believed that he was doomed to fall early prey to the host of diseases surrounding him. With these forebodings, his family, being in comfortable circumstances, gave the firstborn son all possible care and protection. Surviving the critical first decade, he received an excellent education in the classics, French and Spanish.

At eighteen James was considered ready for college. Doctors advised against sending the delicate youth to William and Mary, located at Williamsburg on the swampy peninsula between the James and York Rivers—the fashionable college, where the sons of Virginia landowners acquired their education and the germs of malaria. In order to avoid exposure to the “bilious fever” of the southern lowlands, James was sent north to the healthier climate of the College of New Jersey at Princeton. He became an outstanding student, working so hard and sleeping so little that he could finish the three-year course within two years. After his graduation, he continued his studies, taking Hebrew and Ethics, which was construed as an indication that he contemplated entering the ministry.

However, Madison was full of indecision and returned home. He was twenty-one years old and probably in the stage of delayed adolescence, deeply disturbed and unsure of himself, his emotional equilibrium oscillating with the changing balance of his hormones. He felt unable to tear himself loose from the close family ties and strike out on his own. Added to these conflicts was the primitive sense of physical inadequacy felt by every man deficient in the male attributes of size and strength compared with his competitors.

The stress of all these factors was too much for him and resulted in a depressive reaction characterized by brooding inertia, hypochondria, and wishful expectation of an early death. Contributing to his depression was the shocking news that his roommate and best friend at Princeton, Joseph Ross, had suddenly died. In the summer of 1772, he wrote to another friend, “As to myself, I am too dull and infirm now to look out for any extraordinary things in this world, for I think my sensations for many months have intimated to me not to expect a long or a healthy life . . . therefore have little spirit or elasticity to set about anything that is difficult in acquiring, and useless in possessing after one has exchanged time for eternity.”

At the same time Madison suffered from strange seizures during which he suddenly appeared to be frozen into immobility. These attacks were diagnosed by his doctors as epilepsy. Modern historians assumed these episodes to have been of a psychophysiologic nature and manifestations of epileptoid hysteria. In psychoanalytic terms, they probably represented a “conversion reaction” whereby some of the patient’s frustrations are relieved by conversion into physical disability.

Madison had the good fortune of having an unusually progressive family physician who did not resort to the customary practice of draining depressed patients of several pints of blood, supposedly containing the mythical black bile of melancholia. The doctor tried to strengthen his patient by physical exercise, like horseback riding and walking. He encouraged him in all kinds of diversions which might take his mind off himself and reawaken his interest in the world around him, and finally sent him away to another climate, to Warm Springs in western Virginia.

Eventually, chance provided Madison with the shock he needed to be jolted out of his depression. It was the cry of a persecuted minority of Baptists in Virginia which stirred his sympathy. The ideal of religious freedom was closest to his heart, and its violation by his very neighbors aroused in him a healthy indignation. In Princeton he had learned to consider the ideals of humanism as embodied in the principles of democracy, not as nebulous theories but as guiding stars toward human progress.

A veil fell from his eyes and suddenly he knew what he must do with his life. He would devote it to working for his ideals and the betterment of his fellow man. In vigorous language he wrote a pamphlet contrasting the religious freedom in Pennsylvania with the intolerance in Virginia. Soon after, he accepted the election to the Committee of Safety in Orange County, his first office in public service.

In 1775, an epidemic of enteric fever swept over the colonies. Madison, twenty-four years old and considered unfit for military service, was one of the few members of his family who did not contract the violent infection which carried away a younger brother and a sister.

The following year he was elected delegate from Orange County to the Virginia constitutional convention, charged with framing a new constitution. He introduced a resolution for religious freedom, which was rejected at the time. He had the hearty support of Thomas Jefferson, already well known for the Declaration of Independence. During their close cooperation in the governors’ council in 1778, Jefferson recognized the great potentialities of Madison and the kinship of their minds. Thus began their lifelong friendship.

In 1787, Madison reached the climax of his career, framing the American Constitution in which he reconciled the states’ rights ideas of Jefferson with the Federalist tendencies of Hamilton. Convinced of the necessity for a strong central government, he cooperated with the latter in advocating it. During the next year he saw himself forced to fight for the adoption of the Constitution and achieved a great political triumph by overcoming the violent objections of the diehard states’ righters of Virginia, led by Patrick Henry, whose booming oratory Madison refuted by the cold facts in his barely audible speeches.

At the time of the crucial debates, Madison was handicapped and enfeebled by an attack of malaria, a disease his parents had endeavored to spare him but which nevertheless plagued him repeatedly during his later life.

In October 1788, Madison campaigned for election to the first U.S. Congress against James Monroe, who had voted against the ratification of the Constitution. The weather was unusually cold and during a long ride, his ears and nose were severely frozen resulting in open sores followed by visible scars—Madison afterward pointed to them with pride as his battle scars. Unquestionably, this was his way of answering the election propaganda of Monroe’s supporters, who vaunted their hero’s war record and the scars won by shedding his blood for his country, while Madison stayed at home spilling ink. But in spite of “waving the bloody shirt” that all through history proved to be a magic lure in attracting votes, this time the pen was mightier than the sword the statesman Madison won over the soldier Monroe by a wide margin.

In the fine spring weather of 1791, Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, and James Madison, member of Congress, rode northward from Philadelphia on a “botanizing” excursion. In Vermont, they were arrested for riding in a carriage on Sunday. Actually, they wanted to clear their brains from the poisonous political atmosphere of Philadelphia. On this trip their plans matured for the founding of a new party which would uphold the democratic principles of the Revolution against Hamilton’s cynical depredations and the reactionary drift of his Federalist Party. No politics were mentioned in their letters when they wrote letters home about strawberries in bloom and the speckled trout they caught, they were really pondering how to catch the souls of men.

During the Federalists’ heyday in 1797, Madison, in disgust, tried to retire from the bedlam of politics and bury himself at his farm in Montpelier. But like Jefferson, he was not granted his wish for very long, but was summoned again by the call of his conscience. In 1798, the Alien and Sedition laws compelled the two friends to break their silence and draw up a resolution declaring these acts unconstitutional and not binding upon the states, a resolution adopted by Kentucky and Virginia.

In March 1801, to his deep regret, Madison was unable to witness the crowning reward of a decade of unstinting labor: the inauguration of his friend Jefferson as the first President from the “new Republican” Party—their creation. He could not leave Montpelier because his father was critically ill, to die soon after. For the same reason he was unable to take up his duties as Secretary of State until May 3.

In October 1805, Dolley Madison wrote of a recurrence of her husband’s “old complaint.” “I saw you in your chamber, unable to move.” The immediate cause of this symbolic expression of frustration at that time is unknown, but quite likely it followed one of the humiliating acts of piracy by the English navy against American ships, acts of violence against which the Secretary of State lacked any stronger means of retaliation than futile paper protests.

President Jefferson’s choice of Madison as his successor was not as much motivated by friendship as by his belief that Madison would be able to maintain the uneasy peace with England and France. He hoped that Madison could muddle through long enough, keeping the nation out of war until the holocaust in Europe had burned itself out and the threat of its sparks had passed. On the occasion of his inauguration Madison appeared for once to be overcome by the grave responsibility thrust upon him. He was extraordinarily pale and visibly trembling when he began to speak.

In June 1813, after a year of war disasters, Madison was seized by a severe febrile disease which was diagnosed as malaria. Preceding his sickness, sleepless nights and loss of appetite had wasted him, robbing him of his physical reserves. Monroe, then his Secretary of State, reported that for two weeks “The fever has, perhaps, never left him, even for an hour, and occasionally the symptoms have been unfavorable.” The fever continued for more than three weeks, and the physicians did not dare, during his high temperature, to give their patient the bark of quinine.

Like his friend Jefferson, Madison felt greatly relieved when he could retire from the toil of the Presidency into the well-deserved peace of his country home. But also for him there was to be no peace, and the last years of his life were clouded by a continuous struggle for economic survival. Again and again, he had to sell parcels of his land to meet his most pressing debts. His residence fell into disrepair. Like Jefferson, Madison up-held the tradition of Virginia hospitality, and treated his friends and visitors to the best he could provide. According to a friend’s description, the host’s conversation was rich in sentiment and facts, “enlivened by episodes and epigrammatic remarks . . . His little blue eyes sparkled like stars under his bushy gray eyebrows and amidst the deep wrinkles of his face.”

Occasionally, as in 1821 and 1832, he suffered chills and fever, thought to be relapses of malaria, and was treated with quinine. He was quite ill in 1827, and also in 1829 before he served once more as delegate to the state convention. Gradually his little body shrank more and more to skin and bone. In 1834 his eyesight began to fail and he became deaf in one ear.

For several years preceding his death, Madison was plagued by rheumatism, affecting especially his arms and his hands. He was suffering from some kind of deforming arthritis, a chronic inflammation and degeneration of the ligaments, cartilages and bones connected with the joints. This condition gradually grew worse by periodic exacerbations. Scar tissue formed about the diseased joints, causing painful limitation of motion and increasing stiffness. The arthritis crippled the wrists and the fingers of the right hand so severely that with the narrowing arc of mobility Madison’s handwriting shrank to minute size. Eventually, he was unable to manage the knife, and the food had to be cut for him.

In time he had to give up all his customary physical activity, his daily drive and even his walk to the porch, and spent all of his time in the bedroom. Here he had his meals on a small table placed near the door of the dining room so that he could chat with his guests. As in most people with superior intelligence, his mind and his memory never deteriorated. His listeners found him bright and alert up to the last.

Unquestionably, he was suffering from the aging process of progressive arteriosclerosis—degeneration and narrowing of the arteries of the brain, kidneys and heart that gradually impaired the function of these organs. The ultimate outcome of this process is the progressive restriction of the vital functions, often accelerated by occlusion of essential blood vessels by blood clots.

As his helplessness increased, Dailey Madison, aided by his favorite niece, devoted more and more of her time to his care. The stoic patient never complained. During the last week of June 1836, it became apparent to his doctors that the end was only a question of days, and they advised Madison to take stimulants which might prolong his life to July Fourth. But, true to his unpretentious sincerity, Madison declined to meddle with his destiny for the sake of vainglory.

On the morning of June 28, 1836, he was moved from his bed to his table as usual. His niece brought him his breakfast, urging him to eat, and left. When she returned after a few minutes, he was dead. He died as he had lived, simply, undramatically.

James Madison - HISTORY

I couldn’t help but notice the boxes of tissue as we entered the screening room at James Madison’s Montpelier. By the end of the film, I understood the need. Although it didn’t actually bring tears to my eyes, the story of Ellen and the enslaved community in which she lived at Montpelier, tugged at my heart. It left me wanting to learn more.

The Nation’s Capital

One of the best perks about living on the east coast, and somewhat near Washington, DC, is the multitude of historical events that have taken place all within a few hours drive of the nation’s capital. We’re determined to visit as many of them as we possibly can. It’s a tough gig, but we’re up to the challenge.

Just shy of three hours outside of Washington, DC lies the former home of President James Madison and his wife, Dolley. Known as James Madison’s Montpelier, the plantation encompasses nearly 3,000 acres and dates back to James’ grandfather, Ambrose, in the early 1700’s.

James Madison’s Montpelier

James Madison

Visiting a plantation is a conundrum for the thought process. It’s a contradiction of the senses. Our eyes see a beautiful sprawling estate that hosted a lifestyle unknown to most, surrounded by manicured gardens and well-kept fields of farm land. While our eyes see the beauty, our minds struggle to appreciate said beauty knowing it was built on the backs of the enslaved.

James Madison was a man before his time in many ways. He was an enlightened thinker and highly educated. He was the father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and yet he owned an enslaved community. It’s too easy to justify slavery by brushing it off as the cultural norms of the day, etc. Of the first 18 presidents, only five of them did not own slaves. If those five figured it out, why not the rest? Economics.

Five of the first 18 presidents did not own slaves.

The Hypocrisy of a President

What’s fascinating, and yet thoroughly hypocritical about Madison, is that he wrote about and spoke out against slavery, but he never freed his enslaved community. Some 300 enslaved people lived and toiled for generations, at Montpelier, from the 1730’s to the 1840’s. Even upon his death Madison did not free his slaves. That concept in itself is another conundrum of thought. It’s okay to own the enslaved as long as I free them when I die?

  • “Although all men are born free, slavery has been the general lot of the human race. Ignorant–they have been cheated asleep–they have been surprised divided–the yoke has been forced upon them. But what is the lesson…? The people ought to be enlightened, to be awakened, to be united, that after establishing a government they should watch over it…. It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently free.” James Madison
James Madison’s Montpelier

With all of that being said, let me tell you about our experience visiting James Madison’s Montpelier. Simply stated, it was extraordinary. I’ve always believed that in order to move forward through this life, we have to understand the past. History is not boring, as I used to tell my sixth grade students, history is life. History is fascinating. To walk in the path of those who came before us lends itself to how we move forward. History comes full circle. Sometimes we learn from it, sometimes… not so much and we’re destined to repeat the worst of it.

Where guests of Montpelier were entertained.

Our day started with a 10:00 a.m. house tour. Let me take a moment to offer a big shout out to Bob, our docent, who on that day celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary by sharing his knowledge of the president and his enslaved community. Well-done Bob. What’s especially fascinating about the home is, of course, the history. At noon, we joined Bob once again for an in-depth discussion/tour of the enslaved community. He was a walking personable history book.

A restored bedroom at Montpelier.

If Walls Could Talk

It’s a long story so I’ll offer a quick snippet. After Madison passed away he left the estate to Dolley. Dolley had a son from her first marriage who had more than his share of issues, and Dolley left him in charge of the plantation while she retired to Washington, DC. Payne (appropriately named) ran the plantation in to debt forcing Dolley to sell most of the enslaved community and eventually she sold Montpelier.

The plantation went through a series of owners until 1901 which is when the du Pont family purchased the home. Daughter Marion lived her life at Montpelier and reinvented the plantation in to a horse farm. Upon her death the plantation was left to National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Excavation and restoration of the original kitchen house.

I say all of this because it’s important to know that the du Pont family added 26 rooms to the home. All of those rooms are now gone, with the exception of one which was taken apart and rebuilt at the visitor’s center. Through the efforts of the foundation and donations, James Madison’s Montpelier has gone through extensive restoration and now stands as it stood when James and Dolley owned the plantation. Impressive.

An Enslaved Community

What’s equally impressive is that the restoration of the plantation includes telling the story of the enslaved community. What impressed us the most is that the exhibits and the docents don’t shy away from the ugly underbelly of slavery and how it impacted the lives of not only those who lived and toiled on the plantation, but the impact on their descendants as well.

Thought to be one of the original tobacco fields. Slave quarters in the distance.

The Mere Distinction of Colour
  • “We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.” James Madison

One of the most powerful exhibits at the plantation is The Mere Distinction of Colour. Housed in the cellars of the home, there are detailed accounts of the daily life of the enslaved and two exceptional videos. One of which tells the story of Ellen (I mentioned the boxes of tissues) and one of which draws a direct connection to the issues of today.

  • “I think our problem as Americans is that we actually hate history, so we can’t really connect the dots. What we love is nostalgia. We love to remember things exactly the way they didn’t happen. History itself is often an indictment. And people? We hate to be indicted.” Regie Gibson
Montpelier & Archaeology

Montpelier is also an active thriving archaeological site and a visit to the laboratory should not be missed! The lab staff welcomes visitors and they are eager to share their treasures and knowledge of Montpelier.

A big shout out to Ben, assistant curator, who shared some of the Montpelier treasures.

Living History

A visit to James Madison’s Montpelier is well-worth the effort. It’s a living history museum where visitors can walk in the path of those who walked before us, while enjoying the incredible beauty of the estate and embracing the lessons history continues to teach.

#7 He served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was a mentor to Madison. The two had played an important role in the passage of the landmark Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1786. The Act disestablished the Church of England in Virginia and guaranteed freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths. Thomas Jefferson became the third President of U.S in 1801 and he chose Madison for the position of Secretary of State. Along with Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, Madison became one of the two major influences in Jefferson’s cabinet. He also supervised the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 which doubled the size of the United States and was by far the largest territorial gain in U.S. history. James Madison served as the 5th United States Secretary of State from May 2, 1801 to March 3, 1809.

James Madison: Impact and Legacy

For many historians, Madison is a puzzle: "the Father of the Constitution," co-founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, and brilliant secretary of state under Jefferson, yet he is not rated as a spectacular President. Part of the explanation for this contrast has to do with Madison's personal strengths. He is said to have been a master of the small arena. Studious, keenly political, and a perceptive judge of men and issues, Madison could shape constitutions and influence legislation with few peers, but he was too cautious for the kinds of presidential leadership that left clear marks upon the political landscape. Moreover, unlike the tall, statuesque Washington and Jefferson, Madison's shorter-than-average body seldom dominated the scene. Even the very short John Adams, with his rocklike character, had exuded authority, yet among his contemporaries, Madison had trouble outshining anyone else in the room. Behind the scenes, in small intimate groups, few men, however, could resist his sharp mind or his persuasive reasoning.

But for his good luck, such as Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans and England's preoccupation with Napoleon, Madison might have lost more than his high place in history. He barely escaped capture when the British sacked the capital, for example. And in Dolley, he had the great fortune of a wife who endeared the Madison family to the nation. She always made him look good, reflecting good luck on his part rather than style of leadership or executive ability.

Recently, however, historians have begun to pay more attention to Madison, seeing his handling of the war as similar to Lincoln's wartime management. Madison's government marshaled resources, faced down secessionist threats from New England, and proved to the British the folly of fighting wars with the Americans. He established, once and for all, respect for American rights on the high seas and emerged from the war with more support than he had when he was first inaugurated in 1808. Had Madison been assassinated by a British sympathizer a week after the Battle of New Orleans or killed by the British in resisting their attack on the White House, he would have died a national hero.

Also, historians note in Madison a flexibility of temperament—equaling Jefferson's practical mood—which did not undermine his basic principles. A strong nationalist and supporter of a powerful central government as the author of the Constitution, Madison nevertheless resisted extreme centralism with his Bill of Rights, Virginia Resolution, and opposition to Hamilton. Similarly, when he became President, Madison saw the need for a national bank and supported its establishment, enlarged government powers during the war, and took a firm federal stance in the face of treason and sedition. His executive sense of priorities, in other words, always considered first and foremost the immediate demands of crisis and the national needs of the moment. In some ways—because he was on the winning side of every important issue facing the young nation from 1776 to 1816—Madison was the most successful and possibly the most influential of all the Founding Fathers.

What did you learn from these James Madison quotes?

While the past year has been chaotic when it comes to politics, it can be interesting to think about what it was like in those early days of being a country.

These James Madison quotes give a good depiction of the concerns of their day and age and what they were thinking about to try to protect freedom for the American people in the future as well.

Now it’s our job to make sure that these liberties remain in place, as our country was founded. Do you wonder what the founding fathers like James Madison would think about our government today?

Everyday Power ► 50 James Madison Quotes from One of the Founding Fathers

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