James Madison

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James Madison ( John Vanderlyn , 1816)
Signature of James Madison

James Madison (born March 5, jul. / 16th March  1751 greg. In Port Conway , King George County , Virginia Colony ; † 28. June 1836 in Montpelier , Virginia ) was 1809-1817 the fourth President of the United States and a the Founding Fathers of the United States . Committed to the ideas of the Enlightenment , he was the author of large parts of the United States Constitution and drafted the Bill of Rights . He served as Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson and was responsible, among other things, for the acquisition of Louisiana from France . During his tenure as President, he led the United States in the British-American War between 1812 and 1815 .

Family and education

Montpelier, residence of Madison

Madison was born as the eldest of eight children of tobacco grower James Madison, Sr. (1723-1801) and his wife Nelly Conway Madison (January 9, 1731 - February 11, 1829), who came from a wealthy tobacco merchant family. His father had made a significant fortune by inheritance and by marriage to Madison's mother. Madison benefited from this later in his civil service career. Since the Madisons had lived in Virginia for a hundred years, he was related, among others, to Bishop James Madison, President of the College of William & Mary , the politician Edmund Pendleton and on his mother's side to the later President Zachary Taylor . Suffering from a weak constitution, Madison had epilepsy-like seizures in childhood and adolescence. Between the ages of 11 and 16, he received private lessons on a plantation in King and Queen Counties ; he mastered Greek and Latin . In 1769 he began studying at the College of New Jersey , now Princeton University , which he graduated in 1771 and extended by one semester to study Hebrew and philosophy . The following year he returned to his parents' plantation in Montpelier to study law without being able to get enthusiastic about it.

Political career up to the presidency

In 1774 he became a member of a local revolutionary group that monitored the local militias. In 1776 he was a delegate at the Virginia Convention , which at this stage of the American Revolution formed the provisional government of Virginia. In the first regular elections for the new Virginia General Assembly, he was defeated by an opposing candidate who lured voters with free whiskey. In 1778 he was made a member of the Virginia Council of State , which coordinated state affairs in the American Revolutionary War . In this role he met the governor of Virginia , Thomas Jefferson , whose closest adviser and friend he became. In 1780 he became the youngest delegate to the Continental Congress . Here he campaigned vigorously for a stronger central government, as he saw this as necessary to help the loose confederation of the former Thirteen Colonies achieve a military victory in the War of Independence. Most of his proposals in this regard were overruled because many MPs insisted on the autonomy of their states and feared a return to the monarchical principle after the war. Together with Jefferson, he convinced Virginia to transfer its claims in the Northwest Territory to the Continental Congress. In 1784 he returned to the Virginia House of Representatives and got into political disputes, especially with Patrick Henry , who advocated taxation of citizens in favor of Christian churches and called for religious recruitment tests for civil servants. Madison was able to prevent this and other legislative proposals by Henry.

Convinced of the weakness of the Articles of Confederation , which made the republic vulnerable to external and internal enemies, Madison persuaded John Taylor of Caroline , an advocate for federal rights , to call a meeting in Annapolis to address issues in interstate trade. The conference, which met with little response, passed a call to adapt the current constitution to the urgent needs of the Union. After Madison and others on the following, beginning on May 14, 1787 Philadelphia had success with it, George Washington to persuade to her chairmanship, the meeting had achieved sufficient moral weight to the Constitution of the United States to design. Here stepped Madison as a faction leader in appearance and was on the Governor of Virginia , Edmund Randolph , the Virginia Plan bring that served as a blueprint for the future constitution. This included a bicameral system and an independent judiciary . His commitment and influence earned him the title of Father of the Constitution by September 1787 .

Together with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay he defended the new constitution under the pseudonym Publius in 29 of the 85 Federalist Papers after the Philadelphia Convention . In these articles, of which Federalist No. 51 is considered the most important, Madison advocated a strong central government that is subject to the separation of powers , checks and balances . After he was defeated by Henry in the election to the United States Senate , he moved into the House of Representatives in 1789 , where he was able to win the election against his future colleague and Secretary of State James Monroe . In the House of Representatives, he acted as the main supporter of President Washington's policies and successfully passed the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution , the Bill of Rights, through Congress. In doing so, he also fulfilled a promise to Jefferson, who had made his approval of the Philadelphia Convention conditional on its later expansion through inalienable fundamental rights.

He was increasingly critical of the president's policies and particularly rejected Washington's support for Hamilton, who wanted to create a strong central government that was primarily committed to the interests of finance and trade and neglected agriculture. In addition, he did not agree with the structure of economic relations with the United Kingdom and its apparent preference over France after the French Revolution . He therefore left the Federalist Party and organized the Democratic Republican Party as opposition with Jefferson from 1791 , in which the previous anti-federalists, who in previous years had largely rejected the constitution drafted by Madison, gathered. On September 15, 1794, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd , a 26-year-old widow who had a child. They met in Philadelphia through a mutual friend, Aaron Burr . Todd left the Quaker denomination for marriage .

During the presidency of Federalist John Adams , Madison led the opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts , which expanded the president's executive powers over foreigners living in America and which were viewed by Democratic Republicans as a violation of the Bill of Rights. He drafted a resolution for the Virginia Congress that illegally condemned the Alien and Sedition Acts and passed it in 1798. The following year he returned to the Virginia House of Representatives and organized Jefferson's successful presidential campaign of 1800 . He was then Secretary of State of the United States in the Jefferson Cabinet until 1809 . He supported the Louisiana Purchase , the American Tripoli war against the Barbary Pirates and the trade embargo against France and the United Kingdom, during the Napoleonic Wars increasingly American ships hijacked and their crews forced recruited . Although Madison preferred to remain in the background, it is believed that he was an essential part of the president's foreign policy.


Presidential election in the United States 1808

Following the example of Washington, Jefferson decided not to run for a third term as president and recommended Madison to the Democratic Republicans as his successor and candidate for the 1808 presidential election . At the caucus that followed, Madison was nominated, not without encountering opposition. As a vice-presidential candidate , he got George Clinton , who had already been vice-president under Jefferson and, like James Monroe himself, had aspired to the presidency. Given the extremely tight economic situation caused by the embargo on France and the United Kingdom and the threats by the states of New England to leave the Union, the federalists were confident of victory. Therefore, they renounced an internal party election and nominated their candidates from the presidential campaign of 1804 , Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Rufus King , again. During the election, Madison had to contend with the federalists' accusation of having initiated the embargo in order to strengthen domestic craftsmanship to the detriment of foreign trade, and on the other hand, within the party, actually being a supporter of a strong central executive in the Hamiltonian sense. It took all of Jefferson's powers of persuasion to get the internal opposition that had risen around James Monroe on Madison's side. Even Clinton had questioned the outcome of the caucus and was considering running for president of his own. When Congress in Washington announced the result on February 8, 1809, it came as a surprise that Madison had defeated Pinckney by 122:44 votes in Electoral College . On March 4, 1809, Madison was sworn in as the fourth US head of state.

Presidential election in the United States 1812

The 1812 presidential election in the United States was marked by the confrontation with the United Kingdom that escalated into the British-American War . Especially the New England states, which were active in long-distance trade, suffered economically from this conflict. On the other hand, Congressmen from the states of the Midwest and the South called on Madison to counter the British-sponsored attacks by the Indians on the Ohio River . On May 18, 1812, the Democratic Republicans nominated Madison for re-election, with a third of the delegates boycotted the election. The elected running mate John Langdon declined the nomination, making Elbridge Gerry a candidate for vice president. A Democratic Republican faction from New York grouped around DeWitt Clinton to initiate an independent presidential nomination with him and Jared Ingersoll as running mate. Just 15 days after that party convention, Madison presented Congress with a list of American grievances against the UK, and after both Houses had approved the declaration, a state of war was established. In the following presidential election he was able to prevail against the independent candidates, most of whom were also elected by the federalists, and the real federalists Rufus King, who also stood independently for lack of official nomination, with an electoral vote of 128: 89.

Second Bank of the United States

Building of the Second Bank of the United States

Madison vehemently opposed the establishment of the First Bank of the United States as the federal national bank in 1791. As a member of the US House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797, he tried together with Thomas Jefferson to prevent the law from being introduced, but was ultimately unsuccessful. However, since the bank's charter was to expire in 1811, during Madison's tenure as president, according to the will of Congress, he now had the opportunity to prevent a new edition through inactivity.

The opponents of the National Bank came from different camps: the faction of the old Republicans within the Democratic Republican Party saw a national bank as nonconstitutional and a centralistic power in the Hamiltonian sense, while anti-British Republicans saw the large deposits of citizens of the United Kingdom in the First Bank of the United States. Furthermore, the banks at the state level refused to allow a central bank to control the financial sector across the country .

Madison's first Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin, rated the bank's utility much more positive. After she stopped work in 1811, Madison also had to find out how difficult it was to finance the British-American War without an adequate source of money. However, he was not yet ready to deviate from his principles. In 1814, Gallatin's successor, Alexander J. Dallas , presented Congress with a bill for a new national bank, which found a majority in both chambers. However, Madison made use of his right of veto and prevented the law from coming into force in early 1815.

During the year, the country's financial situation deteriorated further due to the high cost of war. In particular, the inflation triggered by the private banks could hardly be controlled. Madison was forced to work out a compromise with Congress at the end of 1815, which led to the establishment of the Second Bank of the United States in 1816 . Critics accused Madison of secretly sympathizing with the federalists.

British-American War

Battle of Queenston Heights, October 13, 1812. Painting by James B. Dennis

Madison's tenure is closely tied to the British-American War from 1812 to 1814. Even before his inauguration as president , Congress passed the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 , which replaced Jefferson's failed trade embargo and allowed exports to resume. Only trade with France and the United Kingdom remained banned while they continued to boycott America. Since neither Paris nor London responded to the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 , Macon's Bill Number 2 was passed in 1810 , which lifted all trade restrictions with these countries for three months. Should one of the two addressees lift its sanctions against Washington during this period, the plan was to reinstate the trade embargo only against the other country. When France signaled its readiness to normalize trade relations with the United States in August 1810, Madison reacted and lifted the sanctions against France in two steps by March 1811. London, however, insisted on continuing to seize American merchant ships as long as France sanctioned its foreign trade. Congress then passed military preparatory measures and, in April 1812, a 90-day trade embargo.

The war started by the United States with reference to numerous British attacks also aimed at a conquest of Canada . Despite great numerical superiority - due to the simultaneous Napoleonic Wars , the British could muster few troops - the American army suffered a series of partly humiliating defeats in its repeated invasion attempts, which in 1814 resulted in the destruction of the public buildings in the capital Washington, DC by the British troops landed at Chesapeake Bay peaked. Madison was partly responsible for these setbacks through the selection of mostly incompetent generals. James Wilkinson , to whom Madison held on for political reasons for a long time, although his incompetence had long been evident, proved to be particularly controversial . After Wilkinson lost the Second Battle at Lacolle Mills despite oppressive superiority , he was removed from active service by the President. In addition to individual capable officers such as Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison , it was primarily thanks to the much more professional Navy that this war did not become a disaster for the United States. The American warships could not break through the economically devastating blockade of the coast by the British Navy, but they did achieve a number of psychologically important successes in battles between individual ships. The main decisive factors in the war, however, were victories in the Battle of Lake Erie and in the Battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain , with which the British were expelled from part of the Great Lakes and in 1814 an impending invasion of New York State was averted.

In view of the military stalemate and the increasing threat to the cohesion of the Union - parts of the mostly federalist New England states threatened secession - Madison concluded the peace of Ghent with the British in late 1814 , in which the United States could not achieve any of its war aims. The victory in the Battle of New Orleans , won by General Andrew Jackson after the signing of the peace treaty and therefore militarily insignificant, made it possible for Madison to portray the war as an American success. Despite the unsatisfactory course of events, the United States gained international prestige, in particular through the success of its navy, and was able to expand westward undisturbed by settling the border disputes with Canada. The war, which ultimately did not have a negative outcome, also meant that the federalists, who had been critical of the entire war and had their base in New England and who had once again flared up politically in the presidential election in 1812, lost their importance massively after the final euphoria and in 1816 for the election of Madisons Successors against James Monroe last put up a candidate before Monroe could run without a single opponent in 1820 .

On the morning of June 28, 1836, James Madison died in his Montpelier residence , Virginia .


Historical evaluation and personality

James Madison is one of the most important spiritual leaders of the American independence movement alongside Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and is one of the founding fathers of the United States . He is considered a thought leader of the Enlightenment and father of the constitution . Not only the system of checks and balances goes back to him , but also the catalog of fundamental rights in the Bill of Rights , which has become the decisive model for all subsequent human rights declarations. The fact that Virginia ratified the constitution despite considerable opposition from the population is largely due to his influence.

Madison acquired the philosophical understanding that shaped his statecraft mainly during his studies at Princeton, where he also made lifelong friendship with William Bradford . During this time he completed two courses in logic and moral philosophy taught by John Witherspoon . Through these studies, Madison came to the conclusion that an institutional framework was to be sought that would put reason in conflict with feeling at an advantage and allow it to develop effectively. At the individual level this is done through a methodical arrangement of ideas, at the society level through an adequate organization of institutions. This formed the basic idea for the system of checks and balances that he later designed .

Due to the British-American war, he could hardly set any domestic political accents during his presidency.



  • “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. " (in German:" [The] knowledge will forever triumph over [the] ignorance; and a people who want to govern themselves, must arm oneself with the power that knowledge gives one ”).

See also


  • Life Portrait of James Madison on C-SPAN , April 9, 1999, 155 minutes (English-language documentation and discussion with historians Jack N. Rakove and Holly Cowan Shulman as well as a guided tour through Montpelier)

Work editions

  • William T. Hutchinson, William ME Rachal, Robert A. Rutland, John CA Stagg (Eds.): The Papers of James Madison . 17 issues so far. University of Virginia, Charlottesville 1962–
  • Barbara Zehnpfennig (eds. And translation): A. Hamilton, J. Madison, J. Jay: The Federalist Papers . Complete edition. CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-547546 .


  • Willi Paul Adams : James Madison (1809-1817): The constitutional father as a party politician, parliamentarian, head of government and commander in chief. In: Christof Mauch (ed.): The American Presidents: 44 historical portraits from George Washington to Barack Obama. 6th, continued and updated edition. Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-58742-9 , pp. 87-95.
  • John R. Vile, William D. Pederson, Frank J. Williams (Eds.): James Madison: Philosopher, Founder, and Statesman . Ohio States University Press, Athens (OH) 2008, ISBN 978-0-8214-1831-4 .
  • Jack N. Rakove: James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic . 3. Edition. Pearson / Longman, New York City 2007, ISBN 978-0-3214-3076-2 .
  • Garry Wills : James Madison (= The American Presidents Series. Ed. By Arthur M. Schlesinger , Sean Wilentz . The 4th President). Times Books, New York City 2002, ISBN 0-8050-6905-4 .
  • F. Thornton Miller: James Madison 1809-1817 . In Melvin I. Urofsky (ed.): The American Presidents: Critical Essays . Taylor & Francis, New York City 2000, ISBN 0-8153-2184-8 , pp. 57-71.
  • Drew R. McCoy: The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1991, ISBN 978-0-5214-0772-4 .
  • Robert Allen Rutland, biography in three volumes:
    • James Madison and the Search for Nationhood . Library of Congress, Washington, DC 1981, LCCN  81-607967 .
    • James Madison: the founding father . University of Missouri, Columbia 1987, ISBN 0-8262-1141-0 .
    • The Presidency of James Madison . University Press of Kansas, Lawrence 1990, ISBN 978-0-7006-0465-4 .
  • Ralph Ketcham: James Madison: A Biography. Paperback edition of the first edition in 1971. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville 1990, ISBN 0-8139-1265-2 .

Individual evidence

  1. In the Kingdom of Great Britain and the British colonies, the Julian calendar was in effect until autumn 1752 . In addition, the turn of the year before 1752 was on March 25th. From 1752 the Gregorian calendar was used.
  2. Footnote in Library of Congress : American Memory, Today in Histoy: March 16 .
  3. Garry Wills: James Madison (= The American Presidents Series. Ed. By Arthur M. Schlesinger , Sean Wilentz . The 4th President). Pp. 11, 12
  4. a b c d e f J.CA Stagg: James Madison: Life Before the Presidency . In: website millercenter.org., University of Virginia , accessed February 23, 2016
  5. a b J.CA Stagg: James Madison: Campaigns and Elections . Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia , accessed April 17, 2018.
  6. a b c J.CA Stagg: James Madison: Domestic Affairs . In: website millercenter.org., University of Virginia , accessed April 5, 2016
  7. JCA Stagg: James Madison: Foreign Affairs . In: website millercenter.org., University of Virginia , accessed May 12, 2016
  8. David North Quest: Madison and Philosophy: His coursework and His Statesmanship . In John R. Vile, William D. Pederson, Frank J. Williams (Eds.): James Madison: Philosopher, Founder, and Statesman . Ohio States University Press, Athens (OH) 2008, ISBN 978-0-8214-1831-4 , pp. 3, 4
  9. David North Quest: Madison and Philosophy: His coursework and His Statesmanship . In John R. Vile, William D. Pederson, Frank J. Williams (Eds.): James Madison: Philosopher, Founder, and Statesman . Ohio States University Press, Athens (OH) 2008, ISBN 978-0-8214-1831-4 , pp. 16, 17
  10. ^ Charles Curry Aiken, Joseph Nathan Kane, The American Counties: Origins of County Names, Dates of Creation, Area, and Population Data, 1950-2010 . 6th edition. Scarecrow Press, Lanham 2013, ISBN 978-0-8108-8762-6 , p. XIV .
  11. The quote also serves as a WikiLeaks motto: http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/static/html/faq.html ( Memento from November 29, 2010 in the Internet Archive )

Web links

Commons : James Madison  - album with pictures, videos and audio files