What Number President was He?
James Madison, the fourth President of the United States from 1809 to 1817, played a significant role in securing the ratification of the Constitution through his collaboration on The Federalist Papers alongside Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. He later earned the title of the "Father of the Constitution."
At his inauguration, James Madison, a diminutive and aged-looking man, was described by Washington Irving as resembling a "withered little apple-John." Despite any lack of personal charm, Madison's wife Dolley more than made up for it with her warmth and vivacity. She became a celebrated figure in Washington society.
Born in 1751, Madison grew up in Orange County, Virginia, and attended what was then called the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. Well-versed in history, government, and law, he contributed to the framing of the Virginia Constitution in 1776 and took part in the Continental Congress, where he became a leading figure in the Virginia Assembly.
During the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Madison, then 36 years old, actively engaged in the debates, leaving a significant mark on the proceedings.
His most notable achievement came in aiding the Constitution's ratification by co-authoring the Federalist essays with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. Despite later being hailed as the "Father of the Constitution," Madison insisted that the document was the result of collective effort, not just his own thinking.
While serving in Congress, Madison played a key role in shaping the Bill of Rights and passing the initial revenue legislation. He emerged as a prominent figure in the Republican, or Jeffersonian, Party, largely due to his opposition to Hamilton's financial plans, which he believed favored wealthy northern financiers.
As Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson, Madison protested against Britain and France's seizure of American ships, citing violations of international law. However, his efforts were mocked by some, like John Randolph, who likened them to "a shilling pamphlet hurled against eight hundred ships of war."
Despite the unpopular Embargo Act of 1807, which led to a depression in the United States without changing the behavior of the belligerent nations, Madison won the presidency in 1808. The Embargo Act was repealed before he took office.
In the initial year of his presidency, the U.S. halted trade with both Britain and France. In May 1810, Congress permitted trade with both nations under the condition that the President could suspend trade with either if they respected American neutral rights.
Napoleon claimed compliance, and Madison declared non-intercourse with Britain in late 1810. A group of young Congress members, including Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, known as the "War Hawks," urged Madison towards a more aggressive stance.
British actions such as impressing American seamen and seizing cargo pushed Madison to yield to this pressure. On June 1, 1812, he called upon Congress to declare war.
Despite America's unpreparedness, its forces suffered some defeats, including the British burning the White House and Capitol after entering Washington. However, significant naval and military victories, culminating in General Andrew Jackson's success at New Orleans, convinced Americans that the War of 1812 had been a triumphant endeavor, spurring nationalistic fervor. This led to the decline of the Federalist Party, whose members had opposed the war and even discussed secession.
In his retirement at Montpelier, his estate in Virginia's Orange County, Madison voiced concerns about the disruptive influence of states' rights, which by the 1830s posed a threat to the Federal Union. A posthumously revealed note written after his death in 1836 expressed his heartfelt belief that the Union of the States should be cherished and preserved.
“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 nourish 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.”