Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Father of Our Constitution

March 16th marked the 256th birthday of James Madison, who born into wealth in Orange County, Virginia.

Many, know very little about James Madison. The name is familiar. They know his association with our fledgling nation, but perhaps are not familiar with all of his accomplishments. Some may not even know that he was our 4th President. If this describes you, then feast your brain on a quick bio of 'The Father of our Constitution'.


As a child, Madison was smaller then most of the kids his age. He was also frail and contracted a lot illnesses growing up, which lead him to becoming a hypochondriac. Because his illnesses, real or assumed, required him to miss a lot of school, Madison was a few years older than his classmates.

Being born into the Virginia aristocracy, Madison never had to worry about working for a living but decided to study law, religion and political theory on his own accord. By age 11 it is believed that he had read every book in his Virginia home, Montpelier.

Madison went on to attend The College of New Jersey (Princeton) where he finished 3 years worth of schooling in 2 years. I guess all that reading paid off. His study at TCNJ was cut short for illness and Madison returned home to tutor his many brothers and sisters.

Political Life

Madison never imagined he'd join the ranks of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington in the fight for independence as his confidence within himself was not strong. He didn't think he had anything to contribute to the colonial movements and labeled himself as too "dull and infirmed now to look out for extraordinary things" and he did not "expect a long healthy life".

In December of 1774, Madison was elected to local office as a member of the Orange County Committee. He attended the Virginia convention in 1776 and was later elected to the General Assembly where he served alongside George Mason, Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Jefferson.

It was here where Madison realized he and Jefferson shared many of the same political views. The two Virginians grew close, and became life long friends and allies.

While on the General Assembly Madison helped Thomas Jefferson to pass the Statute of Religious Freedom and the two worked together to oppose the Government's support of religion and helped to build the "wall of separation" between church and state.

Madison also worked with another well respected Virginian, the great George Washington at the Annapolis Convention. Here they worked out the navigational rights of the Potomac River.

He also participated in the framing of the Virginia Constitution in 1776, and served in the Continental Congress

National Spotlight

As the United States began to take shape, and after winning the war for independence, with help in many different arenas from the aforementioned Washington, Jefferson, Lee, Mason and Madison the United States was now realizing that their first attempt at Government was not working.

The infamous Articles of Confederation, which worked well enough to get the U.S. through the war was now being exposed as having a weak executive branch with no power to demand taxes from the states and having no way to settle disputes between the states. Additionally each state had its own rules on trading and commerce and it did not bode well for relations between the states.

Something had to change. Enter, James Madison.

Good ol' James came to the convention with the intent to scrap the entire Articles of Confederation and start all over. To support his this, Madison came prepared with his own replacement, the Virginia Plan.

The Virginia Plan was part of the compromise between large states and small states. Small states wanted equal representation, the same as the large states, while the larges states felt they should have more representation than the smaller states. Because, after all, they had more people.

Thus, our 2 tiered congress was born. Small states have equal representation in the Senate (2 per state) and the larger states have more representation in the House. (representation based on population.) There was actually a whole lot more to it, with arguments over how slaves should be counted. If slaves counted as citizens for the south shouldn't they count for taxes too? Thus the 3/5 compromise.. the compromises of this Convention go on and on... but since this is about James Madison, we'll save this for another time...

For now, consider this Part 1 - of the life and times of James Madison.

For information about James Madison's life in Philadelphia, please visit The Daily Life and Diversity of Philadelphia. This is a site I worked on in conjunction with Independence National Park.

Please go to the for James Madison Lesson Plans

James Madison... to be continued...

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Jeff Forrest said...

James Madison was 5' 4" tall and weighed 100 lbs. If he lived today, he might be considered a "geek" or a "nerd." Yet he led our nascent country in its first war, the war of 1812. Goes to show you that you should not judge a book by its cover.

As an aside, do you believe that the war of 1812 was inevitable or do you believe that we picked an unnecessary fight?

klkatz said...

jeff... thanks for reading.

the war of 1812 was probably unnecessary but i like to look at it as kicking dirt at the british just one more time. we all know it is the second war for independence... the US believed britain was breaking some international laws and didn't want to be pushed around. we were unprovoked, and nothing was accomplished as a result of the war, which might lead many to believe that it was indeed unnecessary, but it most definitely strengthened the american spirit and made for a more closely knit country.

Geoff Elliott said...

Madison had an unbelieveable work ethic and inner strength for someone so phyiscally frail. The story of his writing the Constitution is one of the most fascinating in U.S. history.

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