Portrait of President James Madison by John Sully.


4th President, 1809–1817

Party Affiliation: Democratic-Republican

Chief 1808 Opponent: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (Federalist) Chief 1812 Opponent: DeWitt Clinton (Federalist)


Where and when was James Madison born?

James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia, to James and Eleanor Rose Conway Madison on March 16, 1751. He lived on the family’s estate, Montpelier.

What was unusual about Madison’s mother?

James Madison’s mother lived an extremely long life. She was born in January 1731 and passed away in February 1829, at the age of 98.

What did Madison’s father do for a living?

As with George Washington’s father, Augustine, James Madison Sr. was a prominent tobacco planter. He owned a large plantation named Montpelier. He also served as a colonel in the Virginia militia.

Did James Madison have any siblings?

Yes, Madison was the oldest of twelve siblings, though three died in infancy. One of his brothers, William Madison, fought in the Revolutionary War and served as a lawyer.

What was his education?

Madison learned at home for many of his early years. At age eleven, he studied under the tutelage of Donald Robertson of the Innes plantation. Madi- son studied mathematics, geography, languages, and history from Robertson, whom Madison credited later in life with developing his love of learning. At age sixteen, Madison studied for two years under the Reverend Thomas Martin. Madison then entered the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University) where he studied history, government, and law. He graduated from college in two years.

Did he marry?

Madison married Dolley Dandridge Payne Todd in 1794. Madison was forty-three, while Todd was a twenty-six-year-old widow.

Did he have any children?

Dolley had a son, John Payne Todd, from her first marriage to Philadelphia lawyer John Todd, who died in 1792. Madison later adopted John Payne as his own son.

Whom did Madison nearly marry years before he met Dolley?

“Kitty” Floyd. In those times, women often married at a very early age. New York delegate William Floyd, Kitty’s father, approved and encouraged her relationship with the thirty-two-year-old Madison. The two became engaged, but Kitty later broke off the engagement.

What was unusual about Madison’s size?

Madison was a very diminutive man, standing five feet, four inches tall, and weighing approximately one hundred pounds. He is the shortest of all the presidents. Perhaps that is why one of his nicknames was “Little Jemmy.”


What did Madison do after graduation?

Madison returned home to Montpelier after graduation in ill health, partly because of his excessive studying. He continued his insatiable quest for learning more about politics and government. He joined the Committee of Safety, a local Virginia defense organization. Later, he was commissioned as a colonel in the Orange County militia.

Did Madison fight in the Revolutionary War?

No, Madison’s poor health precluded him from fighting in combat. He did serve in various positions during the Revolutionary War, however, including as a colonel in the Orange County militia and as a member of a local group known as the Committee of Safety. He also tirelessly advocated on behalf of independence.


What was Madison’s first political position?

Madison earned a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1776 where he helped in the creation of his state’s constitution. It was in this position that he met his lifelong friend and colleague Thomas Jefferson.


What political race did Madison lose?

Madison ran for reelection in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1777 under the new constitution. During this election, Madison learned a valuable lesson about popular support when he refused to follow the practice of providing alcohol to voters. He lost the election to a tavern owner who had no such qualms.

When did Madison join the Continental Congress?

Madison joined the Continental Congress in 1779 at the age of twenty-nine. He argued for a stronger central government in much of his legislative work. He proposed that representatives from different states meet in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss how to improve the existing constitution of the United States—the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation provided much power to the states but provided for a weak central government that could not regulate commerce between the states. Madison later supported the call for a new convention in Philadelphia to discuss how to improve the Articles of Confederation.

What was Madison’s role in the Philadelphia Convention?

Madison played a key role in the Philadelphia Convention. He arrived early and had prepared well for the convention. A month before the convention opened, Madison published a document called “Vices of the Political Systems of the United States.” He criticized many aspects of the Articles of Confederation.

At the convention, he introduced several resolutions to provide for a stronger central government. His most famous contribution in terms of resolutions was the so-called Virginia Plan. Though sometimes referred to as the Randolph Plan because Edmund Randolph formally introduced it, Madison wrote the essence of the measure. Madison’s plan consisted of a bicameral legislature—a U.S. House of Representatives and a Senate. The number of representatives in each house would be determined by the state’s population. Under this plan, the people would elect members to the U.S. House of Representatives, but then members of the House would elect and vote on membership to the Senate. The Virginia Plan also included plans for a national (or federal) judiciary.

 He also took a detailed set of notes about the proceedings of the Convention. Historians emphasize that without Madison’s notes, we would know little about the historic meetings in Philadelphia that eventually led to the U.S. Constitution. Madison instructed that his detailed notes of the Convention were not to be released until the last delegate at the Convention died. Ironically, that last delegate was Madison, who died in 1836 at the age of eighty-five. Madison also played a key role in persuading fellow Virginian George Washington to attend the proceedings. The delegates elected Washington as chairman of the meeting. Washington’s presence was important given his leadership and popularity after the Revolutionary War.

What did Madison do to help with the ratification of the Constitution?

Madison knew that the delegates’ work was not complete simply because they had finished and signed the new Constitution. They had to convince the different states of the need and importance of this new constitution. They had to convince the states to ratify this new constitution, which radically changed the power of the central government.

Using pseudonyms, Madison—along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay— drafted a series of essays called The Federalist Papers, which advanced forceful arguments for the necessity of the new Constitution. Madison also argued in the Virginia legislature for the need for Virginia to ratify the Constitution. Madison argued directly against Virginia governor Patrick Henry.

From what position did Madison push for the Bill of Rights?

Madison won election to the newly created U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for eight years beginning in 1789. In the House of Representatives, Madison spear-headed the adoption of the Bill of Rights—a series of amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would secure individual freedom and popular support for the new Constitution. For his role in the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, Madison is referred to as “the Father of the Constitution” and “the Father of the Bill of Rights.”

What were, in Madison’s words, “the great rights of mankind”?

Madison’s “great rights of mankind” were the Bill of Rights. On June 8, 1789, Madison made an impassioned plea in the U.S. House of Representatives, arguing for the adoption of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. Madison argued in part that many of the people would support the newly enacted Constitution if only they could be assured that their individual freedoms would be protected.

As Madison stated it: “[There is a] great body of the people falling under this description, who at present feel much inclined to join their support to the cause of  federalism, if they were satisfied in this one point: We ought not to disregard their inclination, but, on principles of amity and moderation, conform to their wishes, and expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this constitution.”

Where did Madison look in proposing his amendments to the Constitution?

Madison looked largely to existing state constitutions, which contained guarantees of individual freedom in the form of declarations of rights. For example, many existing state declarations of rights protected freedom of speech and religion, trial by jury and the right to due process.

What famous document did Madison draft in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts?

Madison—and his friend Thomas Jefferson—adamantly opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, adopted by the Federalist-controlled Congress and signed by President John Adams. In response, Madison and Jefferson drafted the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, documents approved by the states’ respective state legislatures, declaring the new federal laws null and void. Madison drafted the Virginia Resolution, while Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions.

What role did Madison serve in Jefferson’s presidency?

Madison served as Jefferson’s secretary of state for two terms. He served as Jefferson’s key advisor on political matters.

As secretary of state, how did Madison become involved in a famous Supreme Court decision?

When Jefferson became president, he sought to thwart former President John Adams’s last-minute attempt to stock the federal judiciary with Federalist appointees. Jefferson ordered Madison, his secretary of state, not to deliver the commissions of some of the new midnight justices. One of these individuals was William Marbury, who later sued to have his commission delivered.

That led to the famous constitutional case of Marbury v. Madison (1803) in which Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the federal law allowing the appointment of Marbury was unconstitutional. However, Marshall also took time to criticize Madison and Jefferson and to declare that the judicial branch had the power to declare legislative and executive branch acts unconstitutional under judicial review.



Who did Madison defeat to win his first term as president?

Madison defeated Federalist candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in the election of 1808. Madison won 122 electoral votes to Pinckney’s 87. It was the second consecutive presidential election that Pinckney lost.

Who were James Madison’s vice presidents?

Madison’s first vice president was George Clinton, who had been Jefferson’s vice president. However, Clinton died in 1812, before the end of Madison’s first term. Madison’s second vice president was Elbridge Gerry, who also had been a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Gerry also died in office in 1814. No one served as Madi- son’s vice president after Gerry died.

Which future president served in Madison’s administration?

James Monroe, the country’s fifth president, served as James Madison’s secretary of state for Madison’s full two terms in office. For a brief time, Monroe also served as Madison’s secretary of war after the resignation of John Armstrong.

What war did Madison declare that defined his presidency?

Madison asked Congress to declare war on Great Britain, leading to the so-called War of 1812. English ships continually stopped American ships on the high seas, seizing cargoes and even abducting sailors. The British also supported attacks by various Indian tribes in the Northwest.

Which two future presidents were war heroes during the War of 1812?

Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, the future seventh and ninth presidents respectively, achieved great acclaim during the War of 1812 for military successes. Jackson led a group of militia and others against British forces in the Battle of New Orleans, which took place between December 1814 and January 1815. Jackson led American forces to a stunning victory over the British.

General William Henry Harrison won the Battle of the Thames over the Shawnee Indian leader Tecumseh in 1813. Harrison originally achieved acclaim when, as the governor of the Indiana territory, he led a successful campaign against a group of Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

What happened to the nation’s capital during the War of 1812?

British forces overran Washington, D.C., and burned both the White House and the U.S. Capitol. General William Winder, whom Madison had appointed as commander in charge of defending the capital, did an inadequate job in preparing the area’s defenses. Madison had to flee the city after hearing from General Wilder of the oncoming British invasion.

Which member of Madison’s cabinet lost his job as a result of the burning of the Capitol?

Secretary of War John Armstrong received blame for the poor defense of the Capito during the War of 1812. Armstrong resigned under pressure in September 1814, essentially as the scapegoat for the British burning of the capital city. The future fifth president of the United States James Monroe served as secretary of war along with his secretary of state duties.

What treaty ended the War of 1812?

The Treaty of Ghent effectively ended the War of 1812. The treaty was signed in the Netherlands (modern-day Belgium) in December 1814, though it was not ratified until February 1815 after the intervening Battle of New Orleans. Under the treaty, which the U.S. Senate ratified unanimously, the United States received its territories near the Great Lakes and Maine but renounced any lands they had acquired in Canada.

What did Madison do with regard to a national bank?

Madison supported the chartering of the Second National Bank of the United States. He recognized that the country was struggling with debt as a result of the War of 1812. The bank’s charter lasted for twenty years.

Who were Madison’s U.S. Supreme Court appointees?

Madison appointed two men to the U.S. Supreme Court—Joseph Story and Gabriel Duvall. Madison appointed the thirty-two-year-old Story to the Court in 1811, making him the youngest person ever to serve on the high court. The story was about a highly respected legal scholar and attorney who later helped found Harvard Law School. He served more than thirty-two years on the Court. Duvall served twenty-three years on the Court, though he authored few opinions and nearly always agreed with Chief Justice John Marshall.


Did Madison have any contact with James Monroe after stepping down?

Yes, James Monroe would consult with Madison about many political matters. Madi the son often served as an informal advisor to his friend and successor.


What position did Madison accept during his post-presidency?

Madison agreed to become the new rector of the University of Virginia after his friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson died. Madison had worked on the development and creation of the university with Jefferson over many years.

What important political event in Virginia occupied Madison for some of 1829 and 1830?

Madison participated as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829 to 1830, which resulted in changes to Virginia’s existing state constitution of 1776. Madison helped to bridge a compromise between the wealthy landowners in the eastern part of the state with the less wealthy western region of the state. The net result was a constitution that loosened the restrictions on suffrage—the right to vote—and changed the membership of the Virginia General Assembly.

When did Madison die?

Madison died at the age of eighty-five on June 28, 1836.

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