- NAME: James Madison
- OCCUPATION: U.S. President
- BIRTH DATE: March 16, 1751
- DEATH DATE: June 28, 1836
- EDUCATION: College of New Jersey (now Princeton University)
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Port Conway, Virginia
- PLACE OF DEATH: Orange County (Montpelier), Virginia
- Full Name: James Madison Jr.
- Nickname: "Father of the Constitution"
- AKA: James Madison
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The fourth U.S. president, James Madison believed in a robust yet balanced federal government and is known as the "Father of the Constitution."
James Madison - War of 1812 (2:21)
At just 5'4", James Madison was hardly a commanding presence, but that didn't stop him from shaping American history.
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In 1780, he went to Philadelphia to serve as one of Virginia's delegates to Continental Congress.
In 1783, Madison returned to Virginia and the state legislature. There, he became a champion for the separation of church and state and helped get Virginia's Statute of Religious Freedom, a revised version of a document penned by Jefferson in 1777, passed in 1786. The following year, Madison tackled an even more challenging government composition—the U.S. Constitution.
In 1787, Madison represented Virginia at the Constitution Convention. He was a federalist at heart, thus campaigned for a strong central government. In the Virginia Plan, he expressed his ideas about forming a three-part federal government, consisting of executive, legislative and judicial branches. He thought it was important for this new structure to have a system of checks and balances, in order to prevent the abuse of power by any one group.
While many of Madison's ideas were included in the Constitution, the document itself faced some opposition in his native Virginia and other colonies. He then joined Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in a special effort to get the Constitution ratified, and the three men wrote a series of persuasive letters that were published in New York newspapers, collectively known as The Federalist papers. Back in Virginia, Madison managed to outmaneuver such Constitution opponents as Patrick Henry to secure the document's ratification.
In 1789, Madison won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, a legislative body that he had helped envision. He became an instrumental force behind the Bill of Rights, submitting his suggested amendments to the Constitution to Congress in June 1789. Madison wanted to ensure that Americans had freedom of speech, were protected against "unreasonable searches and seizures" and received "a speedy and public trial" if faced with charges, among other recommendations. A revised version of his proposal was adopted that September, following much debate.
While initially a supporter of President George Washington and his administration, Madison soon found himself at odds with Washington over financial issues. He objected to the policies of Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, believing that these plans lined the pockets of wealthy northerners, and was detrimental to others. He and Jefferson campaigned against the creation of a central federal bank, calling it unconstitutional. Still, the measure was passed by 1791. Around this time, the longtime friends abandoned the Federalist Party and created their political entity, the Democratic-Republican Party.
Eventually tiring of the political battles, Madison returned to Virginia in 1797 with his wife Dolley. The couple had met in Philadelphia in 1794, and married that same year. She had a son named Payne from her first marriage, who Madison raised as his own, and the couple retired to Montpelier. (Madison would officially inherit the estate after his father's death in 1801.) But Madison didn't stay out of government for long.
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They are American icons—they're on our dollars and coins, they are the subject of our monuments, and we live our daily lives in the world their ideas helped create. America's "Founding Fathers" include George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and of course, Benjamin Franklin. These men, together with several other key players of their time, structured the American democracy and left a legacy that has shaped the world. But beyond their legends, these men were human beings who led complex and fascinating lives. Learning their stories helps us better understand what made them tick, as well as their influence on our world today.
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