James Madison

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James Madison, the 4th president of the United States, born March 16, 1751. Despite serving as President, eight years each as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, as secretary of state, his principal contribution to the founding of the United States was the acclaimed "Father of the Constitution." He played the leading role in authoring the U.S. Constitution, and was its leading defender and interpreter for 50 years. To the top degree, he combined scholarship, a keen intelligence, commitment to republican government, and a realistic understanding of politics in a way that allowed him again and again to move from an idea or a conception to a plan, a policy or a law.

Madison's place among the Founding Fathers reveals the necessary qualities of his public career. Not gifted with Washington's influential presence or instinctive good judgment, he was more expressive and more creative than the first president. He lacked Franklin's extensiveness of interest, communicable wit, and unique political style, but he more deeply understood the problems of government. John Adams was more educated and more mindful of the stubborn, catastrophic dilemmas of human life, but Madison was more skilled at creating institutions likely to cope in some way with those problems. Jefferson had a finer vision of the potential for life under republican government, a greater aptitude for leadership, and a special gift for the brilliant expression, but Madison had a more subtle and keen political sense. Finally, though Hamilton was more brilliant in argument and more proficient at offering complete plans, Madison was more faithful to republican values and more aware of the constraints that human need and diversity should place on the designs of the nation's leaders.

Madison's easy election as president in 1808 continued the "Virginia dynasty," meaning the first five presidents of the United States were from Virginia. Madison also had to overcome resistance that favored his friend James Monroe, further making evident political difficulties for his administration. The united loyalty of the Republican Party to Jefferson, the source of his ability to lead effectively without seeming to violate republican dependability to legislative superiority, dissolved under Madison's less compelling management.

Madison's presidency was quiet until November 1811, when with the support of newly elected "War Hawks" who asserted a mastery over Congress; Madison decided that the nation should move toward war with Britain unless the arrogant and damaging assaults on American ships and seamen were stopped.

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