Presidents of the United States

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James Madison

From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York
By: Chapman Publishing Company
Published: 1895


JAMES MADISON, "Father of the Constitution," and fourth President of the United States, was born March 16, 1757, and died at his home in Virginia June 28, 1836. The name of James Madison is inseparably connected with most of the important events in that heroic period of our country during which the foundations of this great republic were laid. He was the last of the founders of the Constitution of the United States to be called to his eternal reward.

The Madison family were among the early emigrants to the New World, landing upon the shores of the Chesapeake hut fifteen years after the settlement of Jamestown. The father of James Madison was an opulent planter, residing upon a very fine estate called Montpelier, in Orange County, Va. It was but twenty-five miles from the home of Jefferson at Monticello, and the closest personal and political attachment existed between these illustrious men from their early youth until death.

The early education of Mr. Madison was conducted mostly at home under a private tutor. At the age of eighteen he was sent to Princeton College, in New Jersey. Here he applied himself to study with the most imprudent zeal, allowing himself for months but three hours' sleep out of the twenty-four. His health thus became so seriously impaired that he never recovered any vigor of constitution. He graduated in 1771, with a feeble body, but with a character of utmost purity, and a mind highly disciplined and richly stored with learning, which embellished and gave efficiency to his subsequent career.

Returning to Virginia, he commenced the study of law and a course of extensive and systematic reading. This educational course, the spirit of the times in which he lived, and the society with which he associated, all combined to inspire him with a strong love of liberty, and to train him for his life-work as a statesman.

In the spring of 1776, when twenty-six years of age, he was elected a member of the Virginia Convention to frame the constitution of the State, The next year (1777). he was a candidate for the General Assembly. He refused to treat the whisky-loving voters, and consequently lost his election; but those who had witnessed the talent, energy and public spirit of the modest young man enlisted themselves in his behalf, and he was appointed to the Executive Council.

Both Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson were Governors of Virginia while Mr. Madison remained member of the Council, and their appreciation of his intellectual, social and moral worth contributed not a little to his subsequent eminence. In the year 1780 he was elected a member of the Continental Congress. Here he met the most illustrious men in our land, and he was immediately assigned to one of the most conspicuous positions among them. For three years he continued in Congress, one of its most active and influential members. In 1784, his term having expired, he was elected a member of the Virginia Legislature.

No man felt more deeply than Mr. Madison the utter inefficiency of the old confederacy, with no national government, and no power to form treaties which would be binding, or to enforce law. There was not any State more prominent than Virginia in the declaration that an efficient national government must be formed. In January, 1786, Mr. Madison carried a resolution through the General Assembly of Virginia, inviting the other States to appoint commissioners to meet in convention at Annapolis to discuss this subject. Five States only were represented. The convetition, however, issued another call, drawn up by Mr. Madison, urging all the States to send their delegates to Philadelphia in May, 1787, to draft a Constitution for the United States, to take the place of the Confederate League. The delegates met at the time appointed. Every State but Rhode Island was represented. George Washington was chosen president of the convention, and the present Constitution of the United States was then and there formed. There was, perhaps, no mind and no pen more active in framing this immortal document than the mind and the pen of James Madison.

The Constitution, adopted by a vote of eighty-one to seventy-nine, was to be presented to the several States for acceptance. But grave solicitude was felt. Should it be rejected, we should be left but a conglomeration of independent States, with but little power at home and little respect abroad. Mr. Madison was elected by the convention to draw up an address to the people of the United States, expounding the principles of the Constitution, and urging its adoption. There was great opposition to it at first, but at length it triumphed over all, and went into effect in 1789.

Mr. Madison was elected to the House of Representatives in the first Congress, and soon became the avowed leader of the Republican party. While in New york attending Congress, he met Mrs. Todd, a young widow of remarkable power of fascination, whom he married. She was in person and character queenly, and probaby no lady has thus far occupied so prominent a position in the very peculiar society which has constituted our republican court as did MIS. Madison.

Mr. Madison served as Secretary of State under Jefferson, and at the close of his administration was chosen President. At this time the encroachments of England had brought us to the verge of war. British orders in council destroyed our commerce, and our flag was exposed to constant insult. Mr. Madison was a man of peace. Scholarly in his taste, retiring in his disposition, war had no charms for him. But the meekest spirit can be roused. It makes one's blood boil, even now, to think of an American ship brought to upon the ocean by the guns of an English cruiser. A young lieutenant steps on bosrd and orders the crew to be paraded before him. With great nonchalance he selects any number whom he may please to designate as British subjects, orders theni down the ship's side into his boat, and places them on the gundeck of his man-of-war, to fight, by compulsion, the battles of England. This right of search and impressment no efforts of our Government could induce the British cabinet to relinquish.

On the 18th of June, 1812, President Madison gave his approval to an act of Congress declaring war against Great Britain. Notwithstanding the bitter hostility of the Federal party to the war, the country in general approved; and Mr. Madison, on the 4th of March, 1813, was re-elected by a large majority, and entered upon his second term of office. This is not the place to describe the various adventures of this war on the land and on the water. Our infant navy then laid the foundations of its renown in grappling with the most formidable power which ever swept the seas. The contest commenced in earnest by the appearance of a British fleet, early in February, 1813, in Chesapeake Bay, declaring nearly the whole coast of the United States under blockade.

The Emperor of Russia offered his services as mediator. America accepted; England refused. A British force of five thousand men landed on the banks of the Patuxet River, near its entrance into Chesapeake Bay, and marched rapidly, by way of Bladensburg, upon Washington.

The straggling little city of 'Washington was thrown into consternation. The cannon of the brief conflict at Bladensburg echoed through the streets of the metropolis. The whole population fled from the city. The President, leaving Mrs. Madison in the White House, with her carriage drawn up at the door to await his speedy return, hurried to meet the officers in a council of war. He met our troops utterly routed, and he could not go back without danger of being captured. But few hours elapsed ere the Presidential Mansion, the Capitol, and all the public buildings in Washington were in flames.

The war closed after two years of fighting, and on February 13, 1815, the treaty of peace was signed at Ghent. On the 4th of March, 1817, his second term of office expired, and he resigned the Presidential chair to his friend, James Monroe. He retired to his beautiful home at Montpelier, and there passed the remainder of his days. On June 28, 1836, at the age of eighty-five years, he fell asleep in death. Mrs. Madison died July 12, 1849.

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