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James Madison


James Madison by Catherine A. Drinker, after Gilbert Stuart, 1875.  Used by permission of Independence National Historic Park.
James Madison by Catherine A. Drinker, after Gilbert Stuart, 1875. Used by permission of Independence National Historic Park.
Within site of Blue Ridge, in Virginia, lived three Presidents of the United States, whose public career commenced in the Revolutionary times, and whose political faith was the same throughout a long series of years. These were Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison. The latter was born at the house of his maternal grandmother, on the banks of the Rappahannock, in Virginia, on the 16th of March, 1751. His parents resided in Orange county, and there, during a long life, the eminent statesman lived. After completing his preparatory studies, he was sent to the college at Princeton, Now Jersey, then under the charge of Dr. Witherspoon, for his parents knew the atmosphere of the lower country at Williamsburg to be uncongenial for personas from the mountain regions. He left Princeton, in the Spring of 1773, with health much impaired by intense study1 and immediately entered upon a course of reading preparatory for the practice of the law, which he had chosen for a profession. Political affairs attracted his attention, and he was diverted from law to public employments. In the Spring of 1776, he was a member of the convention which formed the first Constitution for the new free State of Virginia; and the same year he was elected a member of the State legislature. He lost the suffrages of his constituents the following year, because, it was alleged, he would not "treat" the people to Liquor, and could not make a speech! The legislature named him a member if the executive council, in which office he served until 1779, when he was elected to membership in the Continental Congress. He tools his seat there in March, 1780, and for three years he was one of the most reliable men in that body. 2

Mr. Madison was again a member of the Virginia Assembly, from 1784 to 1786, where he was the champion on of every wise and liberal policy, especially is religious matters. He advocated the separation of Kentucky from Virginia; opposed the introduction of paper money; supported the laws codified by Jefferson, Wythe, and Pendleton; and was the author of the resolution which led to the convention at Annapolis, in 1786, and the more important constitutional convention, in 1787. He was a member of the convention that formed the Federal Constitution, and lie kept a faithful record of all the proceedings of that body, day after day. 3 After the labors of the convention were over, he joined with Hamilton and Jay in the publication of a series of essays in support of it.4 These, in collected form, are known as The Federalist. In the Virginia convention called to consider the constitution, Mr. Madison was chiefly instrumental in procuring its ratification, in spite of the fears of many, and the eloquence of Patrick Henry. He was one of the first representatives of Virginia in the Federal Congress, and occupied a seat there until 1797. He was opposed to the financial policy of Hamilton, and to some of the most important measures of Washington's administration, yet this difference of opinion did not produce a personal alienation of those patriots. 5 His republicanism was of the conservative stamp, yet Mr. Jefferson esteemed him so highly that he chose him for his Secretary of State, in 1801. That station he filled with rare ability during the whole eight years of Jefferson's administration, and then he was elected President of the United States. It was a period of great interest in the history of our Republic, for a serious quarrel was then pending between the governments of the United States and Great Britain. In the third year of his administration quarrel resulted in war, which continued from 1812 until 1815.

After serving eight years as chief magistrate of the Republic, Mr. Madison, In March, 1817, returned to his paternal estate of Montpelier, where he remained in retirement until his death, which occurred almost twenty years afterward. He never left his native county but once after returning from Washington, except to visit Charlottesville, occasionally, in the performance of his duties as visitor and rector of the University of Virginia. He made a journey to Richmond, in 1829, to attend a convention called to revise the Virginia Constitution. He had married an accomplished widow, in Philadelphia, in 1794, and with her, his books, friends, and in agricultural pursuits, he passed the evening of his days In great happiness. At length, at the age of eighty-five years, on a beautiful morning in June (28th), 1836, the venerable statesman went peacefully to his rest.

1. while at Princeton, he slept only three hours of the twenty-four, for months together.
2. He was the author of the able instructions ructions to Mr. Jay, when be went as minister to Spain: also of the Address of the States, at the end of the war, on the subject of the financial affairs of the confederacy.
3. His interesting papers were purchased by Congress, after his death, for the sum of thirty thousand dollars.
4. See sketches of Hamilton and Jay.
5. Mr. Madison was opposed to the Alien and Sedition laws, enacted at the be ginning of John Adams' administration ; and it became known, after his death, that he was the author of the famous Resolutions on that topic, adopted in the convention of Virginia, held in 1798.

Source: Lossing, Benson J. Eminent Americans: Comprising Brief Biographies of Leading Statesmen, Patriots, Orators and others, Men and Women, Who Have Made American History. New York: John B. Alden, 1883. Pages 296-298.


Designed and Edited by John Vinci
Last modified November 24, 2004