Author: J. C. A. Stagg

professor of history and editor of The Papers of James Madison at the University of Virginia. Author of three monographs on Madison and his times, he has edited twenty-six volumes of The Papers of James Madison.

James Madison (1751–1836)

James Madison was a forceful advocate of religious liberty, the architect of the U.S. Constitution, the author of the Bill of Rights, and the fourth president of the United States (1809-1817). Madison was born in King George County on March 16, 1751, and educated at the College of New Jersey. In 1776 he was elected as a delegate to the Fifth Virginia Convention, where he established the principle of religious liberty through the Virginia Declaration of Rights. He represented Virginia in the Continental Congress between 1780 and 1783 and again in 1787. While in the General Assembly of Virginia (1784-1786), his classic defense of religious liberty—a “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments“—helped secure passage of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786). His dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation informed his Virginia Plan, which was adopted as the framework for the Constitution. Madison wrote twenty-nine essays for The Federalist Papers to secure its ratification. He then served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1789-1797), where he introduced the Bill of Rights. After 1792 he turned against the administration of George Washington, largely due to disagreements with Alexander Hamilton, which led to the formation of the Democratic-Republican Party with his friend Jefferson. After his retirement from Congress, Madison drafted the Virginia Resolutions (1798) to oppose the Alien and Sedition Acts. Madison served as Jefferson’s secretary of state (1801-1809) and was inaugurated as the fourth president of the United States on March 4, 1809. His administration was preoccupied by foreign policy disputes with Great Britain, France, and Spain, which led to the War of 1812 (1812-1815) and the annexation of the West Florida region. He was driven from the capital by the British army in August 1814, but the Treaty of Ghent restored peace with no concessions to Great Britain, and Madison enjoyed a final two years of popularity. He served as the second rector of the University of Virginia from 1826 to 1834. Madison died on June 28, 1836, and was buried at Montpelier.