What is the significance of James Madison

3.5.6 James Madison: Biography

James Madison was born on March 16, 1751, the eldest son of a large landowning family in Virginia. In 1769 he enrolled at the College of New Jersey (today: Princeton University), where he began a humanistic education.

As a result, Madison served in the Virginia State legislature from 1776 to 1779 and soon became known as Protégé Thomas Jeffersons. Madison had particularly supported Jefferson in drafting the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (in force in 1786).

1780-83 Madison was the youngest representative at the Continental Congress. His zeal for work was highly regarded and he was considered a master of parliamentary coalition building.

Madison was elected a second time to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1784-86 and represented his home state at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention the following year. As one of the first delegates to arrive, he spent the waiting time until the beginning of the meeting writing the so-called Virginia Plan. This document, which proposed a two-chamber legislature, which should be appointed proportionally to the size of the population, was presented by the delegation of Virginia at the beginning of the assembly and thus formed the framework for the following constitutional discussion. As a result, Madison, who was just 36 years old at the time, was referred to as the "Father of the Constitution". Madison was also extremely active during the convention: he was regarded as leading on many points of the discussion and also kept an unofficial record, which was to remain the only comprehensive record of the proceedings of the Philadelphia Convention.

As a co-author of the Federalist Papers, Madison was also subsequently responsible for a strong commitment in the ratification debate. The most famous and well-known of all the articles in the Federalist Papers, No. 10, was also penned by Madison. It deals with pluralism, party formation and interest groups, their origins and legitimation.

After the Constitution was passed, Madison represented his home state of Virginia in the US First House of Representatives. As soon as he set about drafting a Bill of Rights, which would meet the concerns of the anti-federalists, not least to prevent a new constitutional convention. Originally Madison wanted to insert the amendments into the constitution, which the Senate rejected. The Senate took from Madison's nine proposed articles, which, depending on the type of counting, comprised 20 amendments, 17 amendments. The Senate condensed these into 11 amendments. This contained an amendment (IX), which Madison had not provided for. Madison was disappointed that the Senate did not accept one of its amendments in particular, which would have guaranteed national sovereignty over the states. Some historians suggest that the Civil War could have been prevented had this amendment not been deleted (James Madison and the struggle for the Bill of Rights, p. 202 [HC 5339]). Madison served in the House of Representatives until 1797.

When he took office in 1801 as the third president of the USA, Thomas Jefferson appointed his "protégé" Madison Secretary of State. In this position Madison was very influential, it was precisely foreign policy issues that revealed the greatest problem areas of the Jefferson administration. It was mainly about the neutral position sought by Madison for the USA to the turmoil in Europe during the Napoleonic wars. In the early days of his tenure as Secretary of State, Madison also appeared as a party in one of the most famous leading cases in US history, Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803). With this decision, the Supreme Court acquired the authority to exercise judicial review - much to the displeasure of Jefferson and his supporters, by the way.

Towards the end of Jefferson's second term in office, it was known that, in keeping with Washington’s tradition, he would not stand for re-election. For the following presidential election, Madison was the clear favorite for the Democratic Republican Party to run for election. He prevailed almost as clearly against the Federalist candidate Charles Pickney (122 to 47 electoral votes), especially since the Federalist Party barely existed outside of New England. Madison became the fourth President of the United States and held the post for two terms from 1809-1817.

The greatest challenge for Madison's administration was the British-American War (English: The War of 1812). The following three factors were the main causes of the outbreak of the conflict: first, the barriers imposed by Great Britain on the US to trade with France; second, the British practice of impressment (forced recruitment of American seamen into the Royal Navy); and third, the alleged British support for the violent resistance of the Indian peoples in the Northwest Territories. In response to these events, Jefferson preferred the trade embargo option during his term in office, but this did not have any effect. Madison, however, convinced Congress to pass a declaration of war. Both sides achieved significant victories and suffered heavy defeats. The British attack on Washington in August 1814 was particularly shameful for the USA: The capital's government buildings, including the White House and the Capitol, fell victim to the flames.

Neither side, however, managed to prevail, which is why a peace treaty was signed in Ghent on December 4, 1814. This merely restored the "status quo ante bellum", with which neither the British nor the Americans were able to realize their original war aims. In the United States, however, the conflict was viewed positively, as the young nation had proven that it was on a par with the world's greatest sea power. The American victory in New Orleans shortly before the signing of the peace treaty also left the impression that it was to be seen as the surrender of the British. For this reason, there has been a veritable euphoria in the last few years of Madison's presidency and a period of peace and prosperity (the so-called "Era of Good Feelings") began.

At the end of his second term as president, Madison withdrew to his plantation, the value of which steadily declined due to the falling tobacco price and mismanagement of his stepson. Madison did not say goodbye to public life, however: he became rector of the University of Virginia in 1826 and in 1829, at the age of 78, Madison attended the Constitutional Convention in Richmond to revise the Virginia's constitution.

On June 28, 1836, James Madison died as the last of the Founding Fathers. Posthumously, his wife Dolley took care of the publication of his writings, including in particular his notes from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia of 1787.