Biography of James Madison


Early life: Faith was a constant in Madison's life. His teachers were ministers. Furthermore, he pushed religious freedom, which to him was government staying out of religion in terms of allowing all denominations to worship how they chose. As a young lawyer, he defended Baptist ministers who were preaching without a license from the Anglican church (the established religion). Furthermore, he worked with Elijah Craig, a preacher, on constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. He served in the Virginia legislature and gained prestige in helping to draft the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Madison served in the Continental Congress during the Revolution and in the Virginia House of Delegates after the war when the new states were under the Articles of Confederation.

Father of the Constitution: Madison took notes on the debates and discussions at the Constitutional Convention, which was in secrecy (windows nailed shut - if someone made a speech and the public heard, that person wouldn't be able to change his mind). Early on, Madison held up notes and said they were left in a tavern and he wanted to know who did it. No one claimed it, but after that there was complete secrecy. He was convinced that he had the best plan, which pushed for centralized power though he was fearful of the concentration of power and therefore wanted a check and balance on everything. He and Thomas Jefferson wanted a republic over a democracy (where people make all decisions directly) since in a republic voters elect people to make political decisions. He wanted there to be communication between legislators and the people (in other words transparency in government). He believed that a fatal flaw in a republic was the possible formation of a faction (today called interest groups and unions). He said that if factions existed, then any passion at any time could become law to benefit the faction. He believed the other flaw in a republic is that if people stop paying attention, the government can increase its power. Madison believed though that the Constitution guarded against factions due to elections and majority rule (in terms of factions controlling leaders). Overall, Madison favored a republic form of government since he believed that direct democracy would lead to mob rule. Madison was a true believer of self-government. He wanted a system of refining and enlarging the public views so that people were truly the rulers. He wanted to slow things down to keep communication between legislators and constituents (as opposed to today when legislators often try to pass things quickly saying there's an emergency without the people fully understanding what is being passed).

Federalist Papers: The Federalist Papers were articles that supported the Constitution, which were written by Madison as well as John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. One of the major arguments of the Anti-Federalists, who were against the Constitution was the lack of a bill of rights. Madison agreed that if states ratified the Constitution, one of the first orders of business would be to put a bill of rights onto the Constitution.

Bill of Rights: Madison introduced the Bill of Rights in the first Congress. Initially, he didn't believe a bill of rights was necessary since the states had rights in their state constitutions and he worried that listing certain rights may lead future generations to believe rights not listed were not therefore rights. He liked freedom of the press, since he thought newspapers provided another check and balance to government power. The Bill of Rights were amended to the Constitution during the Washington Administration. Also, in the Washington Administration, political parties began from differences between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Even though Madison was against factions, he saw some the idea of liberty in protecting them. He saw competing parties as something that could be good and could serve as a check and a balance. He was against bipartisanship and would be against parties compromising today since he believed compromising would mean abandoning one's beliefs.

Secretary of State: Madison was President Thomas Jefferson's chief foreign policy adviser. He assisted Jefferson in obtaining the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

President: Madison easily defeated Charles Pinckney in 1808 to become the 4th president. The War of 1812 was the major event during the Madison Administration.


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