James Madison was the 4th American President. He loved the new American nation and wanted to see the young country become strong and have enough power to protect her citizens. Madison was present at many of the defining moments that helped to form an independent country.
The Early Times of James Madison
James Madison was born in 1751 and grew up in Orange County, Virginia. He attended the College of New Jersey, which later became known as Princeton. He studied history, government, and had an interest in law. He contributed to the writing of Virginia’s state constitution in 1776. James Madison was also chosen to participate in the Continental Congress because he was a major contributor to the Virginia Assembly.
At the age of 36, James Madison was one of the Constitutional Convention delegates that gathered in Philadelphia, and the other attendees noted Madison took a central role in the debates.
James Madison was a key contributor to the eventual ratification of the Constitution by using his writing skills, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, to create the Federalist essays. Later in his life, he gave credit to his fellow delegates when people referred to him as the “Father of the Constitution.” He objected and expressed that the Constitution wasn’t “the offspring of a single brain,” rather it was “the work of many heads and many hands.”
While in Congress, James Madison helped author the Bill of Rights and pass the first legislation concerning revenue. He helped develop the Jeffersonian-based Republican Party due to his concern about the financial proposals presented by Hamilton. He did not want to unfairly contribute to northern bankers’ wealth and power.
James Madison was President Jefferson’s Secretary of State and used his position to protest both the French and British seizure of American ships that was not illegal according to international law. John Randolph bitterly stated that Madison’s objections were as helpful as “a shilling pamphlet hurled against eight hundred ships of war.”
James Madison, an American President
Madison was elected President in 1808 despite the widely disliked Embargo Act of 1807. Instead of making France and Britain change their actions, the Embargo Act caused a financial depression across the United States. Fortunately, the law was repealed before he took office.
During James Madison’s first year as an American President, the US made it illegal to trade with either Britain or France; then in May of 1810, Congress approved trade with both countries, telling the American President that if one of the nations accepted America’s view of neutral rights, he could forbid trading with the other country.
Late in 1810, James Madison declared non-intercourse with Great Britain when Napoleon pretended to agree to the stipulations. An upstart group in Congress that included Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, also known as the “War Hawks,” pushed the President for more aggressive policies.
Once American seamen were being pressed by the British and their cargoes were being seized, Madison was driven to give in to the “War Hawks” pressure. James Madison approached Congress and asked them to declare war on June 1, 1812.
The country was too new and was not ready for a fight; its military took a severe beating. In retaliation, the British marched on Washington and burned both the White House and Capitol.
The few notable naval and military victories, peaking with Gen. Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans, persuaded the American public that the War of 1812 was a magnificent triumph. The people showed an increase of national pride. The New England Federalists—who protested the war and even spoke of secession—were so completely rebutted that the national Federalist Party all but disappeared.
James Madison after the American President Experience
James Madison continued to speak out against the troublesome states’ rights issues, even while retired to his estate, Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia. Those issues almost shattered the Federal Union by the 1830’s. After his death in 1836, sealed letters were found and opened. In one of those letters he stated: “The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.”
The following poster provides an attractive and concise summary of James Madison’s achievements throughout his lifetime: