- 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.
In 1812, James Madison became the first U.S. president to ask Congress to declare war. Find out why he wanted to wage war against Britain and how his constituents felt about it.
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In 1801, Madison joined the administration of his longtime friend, Thomas Jefferson, serving as President Jefferson's secretary of state. He supported Jefferson's efforts in expanding the nation's borders with the Louisiana Purchase,
One of Madison's greatest challenges played out on the high seas, with U.S. ships coming under attack. Great Britain and France were at war again, and American vessels were caught in the middle. Warships from both sides routinely stopped and seized American ships to prevent Americans from trading with the enemy. And the American crewmembers were forced into service for these feuding foreign powers. After diplomatic efforts failed, Madison campaigned for the Embargo Act of 1807, which prohibited American vessels from traveling to foreign ports and halted exports from the United States. Hugely unpopular, this measure proved to be an economic disaster for American merchants.
Running on the Democratic-Republican ticket, Madison won the 1808 presidential election by a wide margin. He defeated Federalist Charles C. Pinckney and Independent Republican George Clinton, securing nearly 70 percent of the electoral votes. It was a remarkable victory, considering the poor public opinion of the Embargo Act of 1807.
One challenge of Madison's first term was growing tensions between the United States and Great Britain. There had already been issues between the two countries over the seizure of American ships and crews. The Embargo Act was repealed in 1809, and a new act reduced the trade embargo down to two countries: Great Britain and France. This new law, known as the Non-Intercourse Act, did nothing to improve the situation. American merchants disregarded the act and traded with these nations anyway. As a result, American ships and crews were still preyed upon.
In Congress, a group of vocal politicians started to call for a war against the British. These men, sometimes known as "War Hawks," included Henry Clay of Kentucky and John Calhoun of South Carolina. While Madison worried that the nation couldn't effectively fight a war with Great Britain, he understood that many American citizens would not stand for these continued assaults on American ships much longer.
The United States declared war on Britain in June of 1812. While his own party supported this move, Madison faced opposition from the Federalists, who nicknamed the conflict "Mr. Madison's War." In the early days of the war, it was apparent that the U.S. Navy was outmatched by British forces. Madison still managed to win the presidential election a few months later, beating out New York City Mayor DeWitt Clinton.
The War of 1812, as it is now known, dragged on into Madison's second term. The conflict took a dark turn in 1814, when British forces invaded Maryland. As they made their way to Washington, Madison and his government had to flee the capital. British soldiers burned many official buildings once they reached Washington that August.
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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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