Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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James Madison

JAMES MADISON (1751–1836)

James Madison, fourth President of the United States, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

James Madison, Virginia politician, American statesman, and fourth President of the United States, is best remembered as the father of the Constitution of the United States. He was born on March 5, 1751, in Orange County and was educated at the College of New Jersey (its name was later changed to Princeton University), from which he graduated in 1771. Slight of build and frail of health, Madison had one of the finest minds of any American statesman. He entered politics in 1776 when he was elected to the fifth and final of the Virginia Revolutionary Conventions and drafted one of the amendments to the Virginia Declaration of Rights that enlarged its scope and guaranteed all men the right to the free exercise of religion. Madison served on the Council of State and in the Continental Congress during the American Revolution and afterwards in the House of Delegates, in which he guided Thomas Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom through to passage in January 1786. Madison was the first great national legislative leader during four terms in the House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797. He was secretary of state during Thomas Jefferson's presidency, from 1801 to 1809, and president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. He also served in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829–1830.

The father of the Constitution, Madison drafted the so-called Virginia Plan that formed the basis for debate in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He also kept detailed notes of the debates, which preserve the most important information about the convention's work. Madison joined with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to write the newspaper essays known as “The Federalist” that provided the most thorough and persuasive analysis of the Constitution and that helped make the case for ratification in several of the state conventions. Madison was the leading advocate for ratification in the Virginia Convention in June 1788. By a narrow vote, the Virginia Convention ratified the Constitution, but a majority of its members urged amendments in the form of a bill of rights to protect Americans' liberties and also for other changes in the Constitution. Convinced that they were correct about a bill of rights, Madison introduced the first draft of what became the Bill of Rights in the House of Representatives in 1789.

In 1794 Madison married Dolley Payne Todd. They did not have any children. Madison died at his home, Montpelier, in Orange County, on June 28, 1836.