James Madison, Father of the Constitution
Setting the Limits of Government
James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, was born March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Virginia. He was born to a moderately wealthy family and was well educated. Sadly, he suffered from weak health. He served briefly in a military capacity during the Revolutionary War, but with poor health, he soon retired from service to focus on designing the government by which the new nation would be founded.
In the days of the Articles of Confederation,
"he was regarded as the man of the soundest judgment in Congress." - the Chevalier de la Luzerne (French Minister to the U.S.)
Realizing the weaknesses of the Articles and the danger of disintegrating the new nation, Madison greatly influenced the writing of the Constitution by proposing its unique system of checks and balances that would set the limits of the American government. For this contribution he came to be known as the Father of the Constitution, though Madison himself would argue that there were several other men whose influence was just as important to the formation of the new government. He wrote 29 out of the 85 Federalist Papers to persuade the states to ratify the Constitution, the most famous of which is Federalist No. 10,
"It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy that it was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency." - James Madison
Later he also wrote and proposed The Bill of Rights including 12 original amendments, 10 of which were ratified by the states in 1789. The other two would be ratified long after Madison's death.
He was Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson when the Louisiana Purchase was accomplished and went on to be the fourth President of the United States. It was under his leadership that the U.S. fought the War of 1812 also known at the time as “Mr. Madison’s War.”
His political career was perhaps the most complex of the Founding Fathers. He favored the decentralized freedom held under the Articles of Confederation but helped to centralize the Federal government through the institution of the Constitution. He was not in favor of adding a Bill of Rights because he did not want the government then to assume that all the rights of the people were wholly encompassed in this document and that they did not hold other rights given by God, but not listed in the document. However, he wrote and sponsored the amendments to the Constitution when it became clear the nation would not ratify the Constitution without a Bill of Rights. He wrote extensively in the Federalist Papers about the need for a strong government that would not fall prey to the weaknesses they were exposed to with the Articles of Confederation but had a falling out with Hamilton over their ideas about how to pay national war debts. Hamilton wanted to strengthen the Federal government by cementing men of wealth to it; while Madison focused on protecting the needs of Revolutionary War Veterans. He went on to Co-Found the Democratic-Republican Party in opposition to Hamilton’s Federalists. Jefferson and Madison’s party favored limited federal government and states’ rights. He opposed the creation of a National Bank under Hamilton’s Treasury but requested the formation of a National Bank out of necessity after the War of 1812.
After retiring from the political stage, he returned to his home, Montpellier, and farmed his land for over 19 years developing modern innovations for agriculture and writing constantly to combat arguments over nullification and secession. He abhorred slavery but was not able to free all of his slaves because of his financial debts.
In short, Madison was a political genius who spent his life trying to find the balance between the powers of government and the rights of the people. He advocated just limits for government so that tyranny and oppression would be prevented. To learn more about Madison's fascinating political development and philosophy of government, check out the resources in our references below!
*All opinions expressed by WYO Conservative guests are theirs alone and may not represent the views of WYO Conservative’s Founder and Owner, Donna K. Rice, or any WYO Conservative affiliates.