President James Madison

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President James Madison

James Madison, (1751-1836), 4th President of the United States of America. Although he served eight years each as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, as secretary of state, and as president, Madison's principal contribution to the founding of the United States was as "Father of the Constitution."

Madison's place among the Founding Fathers reveals the essential qualities of his public career. Jefferson had a superior vision of the potential for life under republican government, a greater capacity for leadership, and a special gift for the memorable phrase, but Madison had a more subtle and incisive political sense.

Madison's ancestors, probably all from England, settled in Virginia along the Rappahannock and Mattaponi rivers in the mid-17th century. James Madison himself, however, lived all his life in Orange county on a 5,000-acre plantation that produced tobacco and grains and was worked by 100 slaves. Madison was born at the home of his maternal grandparents in Port Conway, Va., on March 16, 1751. Madison also read John Locke, Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift, David Hume, Voltaire, and others who fashioned the Enlightenment world view, which became his own.

Madison's understanding of public affairs developed during the decade of colonial resistance to British measures, 1765-1775. Madison's skill led to his election in 1780 to the Continental Congress, where he served for nearly four years. In 1783, after ratification of the peace treaty and demobilization of the army, Madison ranked as a leading promoter of a stronger national government. For three years in the Virginia legislature, Madison worked to enact Jefferson's bill for religious freedom and other reform measures. He also continued to strengthen the national government by securing Virginia's support of it. Madison offered the Virginia plan giving taxing and law-enforcement powers to the national government, and he worked with James Wilson and other nationalists to support a strengthened executive, a broadly based House of Representatives, long terms in the Senate, an independent federal judiciary, and other devices to enhance national power.

Madison argued that an enlarged, strengthened national government, far from being the path to despotism its opponents feared, was in fact the surest way to protect freedom and expand the principle of self-govern...

... middle of paper ... sides tired of war, a peace treaty was signed restoring the pre-war boundaries and ensuring American national independence. The French minister, who had been close to Madison throughout the war, observed that three years of warfare have been a trial of the capacity of American institutions to sustain a state of war. With threats of disunion ended, the path opened for westward expansion, the nation confident of its security in the world and its institutions vindicated, Madison's last two years as president were triumphant. Though in urging a variety of measures, Madison cast aside republican dogma about weak government, he still opposed internal improvement schemes except under a constitutional amendment. Happily retired to his Virginia farm, Madison practiced scientific agriculture, helped Jefferson found the University of Virginia, advised Monroe on foreign policy, arranged his papers for publication, and maintained a wide correspondence. Nationally, Madison wrote in support of a mildly protective tariff, the National Bank, and, most importantly, the power of the union against nullification. Madison's health slowly declined, forcing him more and more to be a silent observer.

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