James Madison: was the son of a wealthy Virginia plantation owner. His family lived in a large home named Montpelier which was built by slave labor. Upon his father’s death he inherited the home and the slaves. He was privately tutored in a number of different areas and studied at what would later become Princeton. He studied history, geography, philosophy and classical languages. He got involved in Virginia politics and began what would become now only a lifelong working relationship with Thomas Jefferson but a lifelong friendship. Like Washington and Jefferson, he married a young, wealthy widow, Dolley. Dolley Madison proved to be a great asset for her husband politically.
He began his long political career in local politics. He was elected to the Virginia Legislature.
In an earlier podcast, we discussed the failures of the Articles of Confederation and why they were replaced by the Constitution.
James Madison is often referred to as the Father of the Constitution. He kept very detailed notes, more than any other delegate at the convention. This was a title he didn’t embrace and often said The Constitution was the work of many men and minds.
James Madison wrote The Virginia Plan, which provided the framework for the Constitution.
He witnessed first-hand the failures of the Articles of Confederation and the difficulties state governments were having. His plan called for a strong, central government with its power divided among three separate branches (Executive, Legislative and Judicial). His vision for the Legislative branch was that it would be based on population. An opposing plan brought up at the Constitutional convention known as The New Jersey Plan called for equal representation for the states. Compromise would be essential in getting both the large and small states to agree to this new government. Both visions were used. This is why in the Legislative Branch we have a Bicameral or Two House Legislature. The upper house, The Senate where states have equal representation (2 per state) and a lower house The House of Representatives where representation is based on representation. Madison’s plan to have representation based on population led the Southern states to demand the counting of slaves in their population. This would ultimately lead to the 3/5 compromise. This was not a compromise that happened easily, in fact, the delegates debated over the ratio that would be used quite a bit. The northern states wanted to limit the number of slaves that would count and the southern states wanted as many slaves to count as possible. It was Madison himself that came up with the 5 to 3 ratio.
Not everyone was as convinced as Madison that a strong central government was the way to go. As a result, Madison along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers were a series of 85 essays written to persuade delegates of the importance and necessity of ratifying the Constitution. The alliance of Madison and Hamilton would be short lived. Hamilton was Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury and Madison disagreed with the creation of a national bank. Years later, as president, Madison would allow the charter of the first National bank to expire. This would be a detrimental mistake and caused an economic crisis during the War of 1812. Without the bank, the government couldn’t fund the war and had to rely on loans. During his second term, Madison would be forced to support the creation of the Second National Bank.
After the Constitution was ratified, Madison would go on to serve in the House of Representatives for Virginia and was Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state. The two men began their political alliance when Jefferson was the Governor or Virginia. The two men worked to establish religious freedom in Virginia. They shared a love of the sciences. It was Jefferson who convinced Madison that a Bill of Rights was necessary and should be added to The Constitution. They shared the same many of the same political beliefs and feared the direction Hamilton and the Federalists wanted to take the nation in. It was Madison who strengthened The Democratic – Republicans. In 1808, he was elected President and served two terms.
One of Madison’s famous quotes
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary”
Only president to lead troops into battle in war
2nd Charter of The National Bank
When Hamilton first proposed the idea of a National Bank, Madison along with many other Democratic Republicans felt the Bank was Unconstitutional and feared the power it would give the newly created Federal Government. The First National Bank was allowed to expire in 1811. The next 5 years saw increased debt due to the war of 1812, inflation, increased price of goods. The Second National Bank was created with a 20-year charter. Madison was left with no choice but to support the charter.
War of 1812
The War of 1812 is often referred to as The Second War for Independence. It lasted from 1812-1815
Some Causes: Seizing of US Ships, Impressment of American sailors into the British Army
The desire to take over Canada and prevent the British from arming Native Americans, some members of Congress became known as War Hawks they were pushing for War with Britain. Increase in nationalism – The British were insulting American Honor and there was a desire for Westward Expansion.
Battle of Tippecanoe – General William Henry Harrison (who would later become President – his campaign slogan was Tippecanoe and Tyler too) it is considered the first battle of the war of 1812.
Harrison and his soldiers fought against Native American Tribes and eventually won. War hawks felt the British were egging Natives on to attack western settlers and were arming them.
The truth: Westward Expansion increased tensions. Native Americans were angry about unequal land treaties and were beginning to demand more favorable land rights within treaties.
New Englanders and Northerners wanted Peace – the embargo and impending war would hurt them economically.
Burning of Washington
In the first months of the war, Americans were winning a number of battles. By 1814, when the Napoleonic Wars ended, The British could devote their full attention to the war with their former colonies. In Aug. of 1814, after a victory in Maryland, The British marched on Washington D.C. and burned the Capital Building, The President’s mansion (The White House), The Treasury Dept. and a number of other buildings and American warships. In the eyes of The British, this was seen as retribution for the American Soldiers burning the Canadian Capital of York. It would take years to rebuild the capital.
Dolley Madison – ordered the portrait of George Washington saved. An enslaved man named Paul Jennings who was owned by President Madison is the one who actually saved the portrait.
Treaty of Ghent 1814
“Status Quo Antebellum” Reconciliation between Mother Country and its former Colonies. All territories won by the other side had to be returned. No real winner. The US was finally recognized by its former Mother country. The US gave up on its desire to control British controlled and Canada. Former Tories living in Canada who had to flee after the Revolutionary War saw the biggest gains. In Canada The war of 1812, is given ample time in classrooms. For Native Americans, they are left out. American Settlers would continue to expand westward and infringe on their way of life.
Battle of New Orleans
A major victory in the war of 1812, was fought after the War of 1812 ended. The treaty had been signed in Ghent but the soldiers on both sides didn’t know about it yet. It was an overwhelming victory for American forces led by General Andrew Jackson (who would eventually become President). It helped to make him a national hero.
Like many former Presidents before him, after his second term, he returned his Plantation in Virginia.
Madison and Slavery
It is believed that the Madison’s Family enslaved over 300 people. Madison, the man who created the foundations of a government built on the premise of freedom and individual liberties denied those same freedoms to hundreds of people. At Montpelier, there is an exhibition called “The mere distinction of Colour”. It uses the combination of archeological evidence and the oral histories of living descendants of those who were enslaved at Montpelier. It provides a very human face to a very dehumanized system that was slavery. You can learn more at Monteplier.org. Not everyone kept extensive letters like Thomas Jefferson and many historical documents from the time period were destroyed. There is evidence of several burnings of papers at Montpelier. Madison didn’t free his slaves upon his death but instead left them to his wife with the instructions that she not break up families by selling them. She did sell them, families were broken apart and like so many other stories, it was done to repay debts.
After his presidency helped to create the University of Virginia with Jefferson and after Jefferson’s death, ran the University until 1826. Madison died in 1836. Madison’s legacy is that of a great thinker and father of the constitution. The war of 1812 while not a great victory for the United States, didn’t tarnish his presidential legacy. His strong convictions on the importance of Liberty, did nothing of importance to help free those in bondage. His letters and notes during the Constitutional Convention and The federalist papers are some of our greatest works describing the era that helped to build The United States of America.