James Madison was the fourth President of USA 1809-1817 and one of the founding fathers of the country.
Born in Port Conway, King George, Virginia, Madison’s childhood was spent in Orange County in Virginia. He was the eldest among a dozen siblings of whom only seven survived. His father was Colonel James Madison Sr. and his mother, Eleanor Rose Conway. Both were owners of slaves and prosperous tobacco planters.
He belonged to the Church of England – this being the state religion of Virginia at that time. He attended Princeton what was then called the College of New Jersey. He was a student of history as well as government or political science. He read law with great interest and was conversant with its intricacies. Madison was ‘Princeton’s first graduate student.’
He was married to Dolley Payne Todd Madison who was comely and attractive. She was 17 years younger to him. They did not have any children. She was her husband’s political ally and adviser and the toast of Washington.
Madison was the shortest and lightest President with a height of 5’4” and a weight of 100 Lbs. But in those days the average American was not tall like today.
James Madison was instrumental in the shaping of the Virginia Constitution and was a leader of the Assembly. H took active part in debates in Philadelphia. Madison is often referred to as the ‘father of the Constitution’. His Federalist Essays won him laurels. In the Congress he was the architect of the Bill of Rights and initiated the revenue legislation for the first time.
He opposed financial steps that would give northern financiers an edge over others. Out of this he gave leadership to the Jeffersonian or Republican party. When he was Secretary of State to Jefferson he protested that Britain and France contravened international laws by seizing American ships. The Embargo Act of 1807 made him unpopular for causing a depression without making the hostile nations change their stand. He was elected President in 1808. The act was repealed before he took over charge.
On June 1812 circumstances compelled Madison to declare war against France, then under Napoleon. The young nation was not prepared to stand up to the beating. The British entered Washington setting fire to the White House and Capitol. But General Andrew Jackson turned the tide at New Orleans. The Federalists who had opposed the war now were to all practical purposes wiped out.
When Madison retired at the age of 65 to Montpelier to his country estates in Orange County he used to speak for the perpetuation of the United States and against state rights that were disruptive in nature. Madison had suffered financially from his plantation and this had left him facing increasing debts. Together with this he began to breakdown mentally and physically. In 1829 when he was 78, Madison was chosen as representative to the Constitutional Convention at Richmond for revising the Virginia Constitution. This was his last active appearance.
Madison was known as The Great Legislator and tried to give proportionate representation to all the states. The problem about the slaves was his undoing during the last years. He was ignored by the new leaders of a new America.
James Madison left behind a rich legacy with many towns, institutions, cities and rivers being named after him. Even ships were christened James Madison. Two vice presidents died while he was president – a record of sorts.