James Madison

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James Madison was educated on his father’s Virginia plantation by his mother and tutored by Reverend Thomas Martin. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (later named Princeton) in 1771, where he demonstrated special aptitude in government and the law. Madison remained another six months for further instruction in theology from president John Witherspoon. He considered divinity and law as vocations, but never entered either profession.

The foundation of Madison’s university studies was Christian
During the period James Madison attended, Princeton University declared: “Cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ."

James Madison wrote many notes in his Bible and about the Bible, like the following: “It is not the talking but the walking and working person that is the true Christian.” and “Christ's Divinity appears by St. John, chapter xx, 2: 'And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God!' Resurrection testified to and witnessed by the Apostles, Acts iv, 33: 'And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.'"

Madison experienced depression and ill health
Madison wrote to William Bradford, Jr., one of his friends from Princeton, in November of 1772: " A watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest while we are building ideal monuments of Renown and Bliss here we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven. As for 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 past have intimated to me not to expect a long and healthy life with Canadian pharmacy; though itmay be better with me after some time, \[but\] I hardly dare expect it, and therefore have little spirit and to set about anything that is difficult in acquiring and useless in possessing after one has exchanged time for eternity." Note: He outlived all others who signed the Constitution.

Madison desired to be a fervent Advocate in the cause of Christ
James Madison wrote again to William Bradford in September of 1773: “My advice is ... that you would always keep the Ministry obliquely in View whatever your profession be. ...I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of Religion or against temporal Enjoyments even the most rational and manly than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent Advocates in the cause of Christ, & I wish you may give in your Evidence in this way."

Madison disapproved of Virginia’s religious persecution
Madison was baptized and raised in the Anglican faith, the established religion of the colony of Virginia. His strong position of defending religious freedom began when he stood with his father outside a jail and listened to several Baptists preach from their cell windows, having been imprisoned for their faith. Madison disapproved of this to his friend William Bradford in January of 1774: “There are at this \[time\] in the adjacent County not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in close Goal \[jail\] for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox."

Madison framed Virginia’s constitution
Madison was elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in April, 1776 where he framed its constitution. Accompanying the new state constitution, a Declaration of Rights was drafted by George Mason with a significant amendment by young James Madison that "all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience." Madison later referred to Virginia’s Declaration of Rights as “the basis and foundation of government."

Madison desired toleration of all Christian sects
James Madison wrote section 16 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights as follows: “Religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the magistrate, unless under color of religion any man disturb the peace, the happiness, or safety of society, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity toward each other."

Madison was a member of the Continental Congress from 1780 to 1783
When Madison entered the Continental Congress in March 1780, he was its youngest member. The Articles of Confederation took effect in 1781, and Madison did not like serving under them with their reliance on the states. He proposed an amendment to the Articles to give Congress a source of revenue through collecting duties on imported goods, but it was not passed. He sought a stronger central government.

Madison passed Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
Madison served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1784 to 1786. In 1776, nine of the thirteen colonies had government enforced religions. While his friend Thomas Jefferson was in France, Madison proposed and passed Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786). Article two states: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton called for a constitutional convention. Madison sent an outline of his Virginia Plan to Washington, urging his attendance. The governor of Virginia, Edmund Randolph, presented the Virginia Plan to the assembly, but Madison spoke 161 times during the debates. William Pierce, a delegate from Georgia, wrote: "Mr. Maddison is a character who has long been in public life; and what is very remarkable every Person seems to acknowledge his greatness. He blends together the profound politician, with the Scholar. In the management of every great question he evidently took the lead in the Convention, and tho' he cannot be called an Orator, he is a most agreeable, eloquent and convincing Speaker. From a spirit of industry and application which he possesses in a most eminent degree, he always comes forward the best informed Man of any point in debate ... Mr. Maddison is about 37 years of age, a Gentleman of great modesty, -- with a remarkable sweet temper."

Madison authored nine of the ten articles in the Bill of Rights
James Madison was one of the primary authors of “The Federalist Papers” which helped to ratify the Constitution. As a member of Congress, he also authored nine of the ten accepted articles in the Bill of Rights, excluding the first. He also assisted in organizing the executive department and creating a system of federal taxation. In opposition to Hamilton's policies, he and Jefferson founded the Democratic-Republican Party.

Madison was Jefferson’s Secretary of State (1801-1809)
In 1794 Madison married a lovely young widow named Dolley Payne Todd, who had a son; they had no children of their own. While he served as Secretary of State, his wife often served as President Jefferson's hostess. Margaret Bayard Smith, a chronicler of Washington social life, wrote: "She looked a Queen. ..It would be absolutely impossible for any one to behave with more perfect propriety than she did."

As the new Secretary of State, Madison refused to deliver the remaining commissions to judges appointed by former President Adams, including William Marbury’s. Marbury sued, and the Supreme Court sided with him. Madison supported judicial review of state actions, but he didn’t believe the Supreme Court had the constitutional authority to “review” his actions. So Madison refused to deliver the commission to Marbury. Madison, the architect of the Constitution, had his decision to ignore the Judiciary Act of 1789 overturned by the Supreme Court; yet that Act exceeded the authority allotted the Court under Article 3 of the Constitution. Because Congress did not remove or reprimand those judges for “bad behavior”, it set precedent for judicial activism today.

Madison negotiated Louisiana Purchase with Pres. Jefferson
During Napoleon’s attempt to rule the world, his troops became ill in the West Indies. As Secretary of State, Madison took advantage of Napoleon's setback in the West Indies to guide negotiations to purchase Louisiana in 1803, without Congressional approval. He insisted on American ownership of the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Florida, and he also supported American naval squadrons to suppress the Barbary pirates (1803-1805).

James Madison becomes fourth President and serves two terms (1809-1817)
In Madison’s first inaugural address of 1809, he concluded, saying, “...we have all been encouraged to feel in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising Republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future."

WAR OF 1812
British sea captains again began to impress American seamen and seize their cargoes, impelling Madison to ask Congress to declare war. America was not prepared to fight, and it took a severe trouncing. The British entered Washington and set fire to the Capitol and the White House, making Madison the first President to be fired upon. The war ended in stalemate in December 1814 when the inconclusive Treaty of Ghent was signed. But Jackson's victory at New Orleans on January 8, 1815, made Britain lose all hope of ever dominating its former colonies again. The French minister, who had been close to Madison, stated that "three years of warfare have been a trial of the capacity of \[American\] institutions to sustain a state of war, a question ... now resolved in their advantage. Finally the war has given the Americans what they substantially lacked, a national character founded on a glory common to all."

In the midst of ashes, Madison heard of victory
Madison returned to Washington three days after the British had set fire to the Capitol and White House. News arrived that US forces had repulsed a powerful British army coming down Lake Champlain. He was also cheered by word of the British defeat in Baltimore Harbor; the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to our national anthem.

Madison’s Retirement
Madison served as co-chairman of the Virginia constitutional convention of 1829-30 and as rector of the University of Virginia from 1826 to 1836. He also acted as President Monroe’s foreign policy adviser. Although a slaveholder all his life, he was active during his later years in the American Colonization Society, whose mission was to resettle slaves in Africa. Madison spoke out against the North/South controversy and nullification that threatened the Union. Nullification was a state’s right to veto a Federal law within its own boundaries and its right of secession from the United States. The proponents of Nullification quoted Madison’s own words from the Virginia Resolutions. Madison edited his journal of the Constitutional Convention, and the government published it four years after his death in 1836.


Term Definition
advocate a person who defends another
Baptists Christian denomination known for immersing believers in the faith
eloquent ability to speak with fluency and elegance
Federalist member of the political party which favored a strong central government
forbearance patience and restraint
judicial review the power of a court to judge the constitutionality of the laws of a government or government official
orthodox foundationally sound in the Christian faith; believing the genuine doctrines taught in the Scriptures
precedent any act, decision, or case that serves as a guide or justification for future situations
resurrection a rising again; chiefly, the revival of the dead which maintains that baptism ought to be administered only to adults by immersing the body in water
supplications humble and earnest prayers in worship