Madison, James


Madison, James
(1751–1836)
   American founding father, statesman, and fourth President of the United States, James Madison was born March 16, 1751, the first of the 10 children of Eleanor Conway and James Madison, Sr., a major landowner in Orange County, Virginia. Madison was a dedicated student and natural scholar. He graduated from the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, in 1771, where he studied government, history, law, ethics, and Hebrew and founded the American Whig Society. After returning to Virginia, Madison played a prominent role in the state’s politics from 1775 to 1780.
   With the arrival of the American Revolution, Madison was chosen as a delegate to the Virginia Convention of 1776 and subsequently was the youngest delegate to the Continental Congress. His keen awareness of the flaws of the 1781 Articles of Confederation made Madison a major intellectual influence at the Federal Convention at Philadelphia in 1787 and - through the Federalist papers, coauthored with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay - as prominent a figure as any of the founding generation in articulating the spirit of the Constitution of the United States. Madison then served under Jefferson as secretary of state from 1801 to 1809, was involved in the Louisiana Purchase, and grappled with the dilemma of American neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars, wrongly assuming Britain’s blockade of Europe to be the greater threat to American shipping rights.
   Succeeding Thomas Jefferson in the presidency in 1809, Madison demonstrated that intellect is no passport to executive acumen by transforming the neutral rights issue into an unnecessary and imprudent conflict, the Anglo-American War of 1812, with the British Empire. The American invasion of Canada went very badly; American troops managed to burn the parliament of Upper Canada, but British troops returned the favor by invading the United States and torching the White the next year. Further calamities were avoided when the war ended with the Treaty of Ghent. “Mr. Madison’s War,” as his critics named the conflict, profited the United States nothing save the emergence of Andrew Jackson as a national hero in the Battle of New Orleans after the peace had already been signed.
   FURTHER READING:
    Banning, Lance. The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995;
    Horsman, Reginald. The Causes of the War of 1812. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962;
    Stagg, J.C.A. Mr. Madison ’ s War: Politics, Diplomacy and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.
   CARL CAVANAGH HODGE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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