Born in 1751, James Madison, the fourth President of the United States was brought up in Orange County, Virginia.
As a young man, Madison studied history at Princeton. He was well read and following his graduation from Princeton, Madison became interested in law. He was an active participant in the framing of the Virginia Constitution in 1776, as well as the Continental Congress, along with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. At the same time, Madison was also active in the Virginia Assembly.
James Madison and the American Constitution
Madison made a major contribution to the ratification of the constitution in the form of the Federalist Essays, which he wrote with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. For this reason, Madison was sometimes called the Father of the Constitution. He always disliked this term, claiming that the American constitution came about through the input and collaboration of many people.
In addition to assisting with the drafting of the American constitution, Madison also helped to frame and write the Bill of Rights, as well as enacting the first revenue legislation in American history. He was a vocal opponent of Alexander Hamilton’s financial policies, which he believed would place unnecessary amounts of wealth and power into the hands of northern financiers and business men. In doing so, Madison became one of the leading figures in the nascent Republican movement, which would eventually transform into the Republican Party.
As Secretary of State to Thomas Jefferson, Madison protested to both the French and British government regarding their practice of seizing the cargoes of American merchant ships and impressing American sailors. Madison regarded these actions as a violation of international law, however, his diplomatic efforts to end these practices and enforce American neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars met with little success.
Despite Jefferson’s and Madison’s Embargo Act of 1807, which was politically unpopular in the United States and caused an economic depression, Madison was elected President in 1808. By the time he took office, the Embargo Act, which was meant to prohibit trade with Britain and France, had been repealed.
During the first years of Madison’s administration, the United States prohibited trade with both Britain and France. However, in May, 1810 Congress authorized trade with both nations, on the condition that either nation must recognize American neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars. In return, the United States would forbid trade with the other nation.
The French, seeking to drive a wedge between the fledgling United States and Great Britain, pretended to comply. In return, the United States barred all trade with Britain. In Congress, Henry Clay and John C Calhoun began to push for a more aggressive stance regarding American neutrality.
James Madison and the War of 1812
When British seizures of American cargo and sailors did not stop, Madison was forced to give in to mounting pressure. On June 1, 1812, he asked Congress for a declaration of war against the British. Unfortunately, the United States was not adequately prepared for the War of 1812. As a result, the American Army was severely mauled and the British invaded the United States. They marched on Washington, setting fire to the White House and the Capitol Building.
However, a few notable naval and military successes, such as Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans led most Americans to believe that the War of 1812 was highly successful. One of the side effects of the war was the disappearance of Federalism from the American political landscape.
Following the election of James Monroe in 1818, Madison retired to his estate, Montpelier, in Virginia. He died on June 28, 1836.