Wednesday, February 6, 2013
The Presidents: James Madison
His father, James Madison, Sr. was a tobacco planter who grew up on a plantation, then called Mount Pleasant, in Orange County, Virginia, which he had inherited upon reaching adulthood. He later acquired more property and slaves; with 5,000 acres, he became the largest landowner and a leading citizen of Orange County, in the Piedmont. James Jr's mother, Nelly Conway Madison was born at Port Conway, the daughter of a prominent planter and tobacco merchant and his wife. Madison's parents were married on September 15th, 1749. In these years the southern colonies were becoming a slave society, in which slave labor powered the economy and slaveholders formed the political élite.
From ages 11 to 16, the young "Jemmy" Madison was sent to study under Donald Robertson, an instructor at the Innes plantation in King and Queen County, Virginia in the Tidewater region. Robertson was a Scottish teacher who tutored numerous prominent plantation families in the South. From Robertson, Madison learned mathematics, geography, and modern and ancient languages. He became especially proficient in Latin. Madison said that he owed his bent for learning largely to Robertson.
At age 16, he returned to Montpelier, where he began a two-year course of study under the Reverend Thomas Martin in preparation for college. Unlike most college-bound Virginians of his day, Madison did not choose the College of William and Mary, because the lowland climate of Williamsburg, where mosquitoes transmitted fevers and other infectious diseases during the summer, might have strained his delicate health. Instead, in 1769, he enrolled at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, where he became roommates and close friends with Philip Freneau, later dubbed “The Poet of the Revolution”. Indeed, Madison and Freneau would have become brothers-in-law had Freneau's favorite sister, Mary, accepted Madison’s repeated proposals of marriage. But although Mary greatly admired and respected Madison, she had determined to stay single - one way a woman of her intelligence and accomplishments could hope to pursue her interests and remain independent in that era.
Through diligence and long hours of study that may have damaged his health, Madison graduated in 1771. His studies included Latin, Greek, Science, geography, mathematics, rhetoric, and philosophy. Great emphasis also was placed on speech and debate; Madison helped found the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, in direct competition to fellow student Aaron Burr’s Cliosophic Society. After graduation, Madison remained at Princeton to study Hebrew and political philosophy under the university president, John Witherspoon, before returning to Montpelier in the spring of 1772. He became quite fluent in Hebrew. Madison studied law from his interest in public policy, not with the intent of practicing law as a profession. At a height of only five feet four inches and never weighing more than 100 pounds, he was physically, the smallest president.
As a young man during the American Revolutionary War, Madison served in the Virginia state legislature (1776-79), where he became known as a protégé of the delegate Thomas Jefferson. He had earlier witnessed the persecution of Baptist preachers in Virginia, who were arrested for preaching without a license from the established Anglican Church. He worked with the Baptist preacher Elijah Craig on constitutional guarantees for religious liberty in Virginia. Working on such cases helped form his ideas about religious freedom, which he applied to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
As the youngest delegate to the Continental Congress (1780-83), Madison was considered a legislative workhorse and a master of parliamentary coalition building. He persuaded Virginia to give up its claims to northwestern territories - consisting of most of modern-day Ohio and points west - to the Continental Congress. It created the Northwest Territory in 1783, as a federally supervised territory from which new states would be developed and admitted to the union. Virginia's land claims had partially overlapped with those of Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland; they too ceded their westernmost lands to national authority, with the understanding that new states could be formed from the land. The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the new territory north of the Ohio River, but did not end it for those slaves held by settlers already in the territory.
Madison was elected a second time to the Virginia House of Delegates, serving from 1784 to 1786 in the new years of independence. During these final years in the House of Delegates, Madison grew increasingly frustrated with what he saw as excessive democracy. He criticized the tendency for delegates to cater to the particular interests of their constituents, even if such interests were destructive to the state at large. In particular, he was troubled by a law that denied diplomatic immunity to ambassadors from other countries, and a law that legalized paper money. He thought legislators should be disinterested and act in the interests of their state at large, even if this contradicted the wishes of constituents. This excessive democracy, Madison grew to believe, was the cause of a larger social decay which he and others (such as Washington) believed had resumed after the revolution and was nearing a tipping point. They were alarmed by Shay’s Rebellion.
As Madison wrote, “a crisis had arrived which was to decide whether the American experiment was to be a blessing to the world, or to blast for ever the hopes which the republican cause had inspired.” Partly at Madison's instigation, a national convention was called in 1787. Madison was crucial in persuading George Washington to attend the convention, since he knew how important the popular general would be to the adoption of a constitution. As one of the first delegates to arrive, while waiting for the convention to begin, Madison wrote what became known as the Virginia Plan. The Virginia Plan was submitted at the opening of the convention, and the work of the convention quickly became to amend the Virginia Plan and to fill in the gaps. Though the Virginia Plan was an outline rather than a draft of a possible constitution, and though it was extensively changed during the debate, its use at the convention led many to call Madison the “Father of the Constitution“. He was only 36 years old.
Gordon Wood, however, argues that Madison's frustrating experience in the Virginia legislature years earlier most shaped his constitutional views. Wood notes that the governmental structure in both the Virginia Plan and the final constitution were not innovative, since they were copied from the British government, had been used in the states since 1776, and numerous authors had already argued for their adoption at the national level. Most of what was controversial in the Virginia Plan was removed, and most of the rest had been commonly accepted as necessary for a functional government (state or national) for decades; thus, Madison's contribution was more qualitative. Wood argues that, like most national politicians of the late 1780s, Madison believed that the problem was less with the Articles of Confederation than with the nature of the state legislatures. He believed the solution was to restrain the excesses of the states. This required more than an alternation in the Articles of Confederation; it required a change in the character of the national compact. The ultimate question before the convention, Wood notes, was not how to design a government but whether the states should remain sovereign, whether sovereignty should be transferred to the national government, or whether the constitution should settle somewhere in between.
Those, like Madison, who thought democracy in the state legislatures was excessive and insufficiently disinterested, wanted sovereignty transferred to the national government, while those who did not think this a problem, wanted to fix the Articles of Confederation. Madison was one of the only delegates who wanted to deprive the states of sovereignty completely, which he considered the only solution to the problem. Though sharing the same goal as Madison, most other delegates reacted strongly against such an extreme change to the status quo. Though Madison lost most of his battles over how to amend the Virginia Plan (most importantly over the exclusion of the Council of Revision), in the process he increasingly shifted the debate away from a position of pure state sovereignty. Since most disagreements over what to include in the constitution were ultimately disputes over the balance of sovereignty between the states and national government, Madison's influence was critical. Wood notes that Madison's ultimate contribution was not in designing any particular constitutional framework, but in shifting the debate toward a compromise of shared sovereignty between the national and state governments.
Though the idea for a bill of rights had been suggested at the end of the constitutional convention, the delegates wanted to go home and thought the suggestion unnecessary. The omission of a bill of rights became the main argument of the anti-federalists against the constitution. Though no state conditioned ratification of the constitution on a bill of rights, several states came close, and the issue almost prevented the constitution from being ratified. Some anti-federalists continued to fight the issue after the constitution had been ratified, and threatened the entire nation with another constitutional convention. This would likely be far more partisan than the first had been. Madison objected to a specific bill of rights for several reasons: he thought it was unnecessary, since it purported to protect against powers that the federal government had not been granted; that it was dangerous, since enumeration of some rights might be taken to imply the absence of other rights; and that at the state level, bills of rights had proven to be useless paper barriers against government powers.
The Senate took up his slate of amendments, condensed them into eleven, and removed the language which Madison had included so that they would be integrated into the body of the constitution. The senate also added what became the Ninth Amendment, which was not included in Madison's original slate. To Madison's deep disappointment, they excluded a proposed amendment that guaranteed national sovereignty over the states. Scholars have argued that, if this amendment had been included, the Civil War might have been avoided. By 1791, the last ten of the proposed amendments were ratified and became the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment originally proposed by Madison (but not then ratified) was later ratified in 1992 as the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The remaining proposal was intended to accommodate future increase in the members of the House of Representatives.
In 1798 under President John Adams, the U.S. and France unofficially went to war - the Quasi-War, that involved naval warships and commercial vessels battling in the Caribbean. The Federalists created a standing army and passed laws against French refugees engaged in American politics and against Republican editors. Congressman Madison and Vice President Jefferson were outraged. Madison and Jefferson secretly drafted the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts to be unconstitutional and noted that states, in contesting obnoxious laws, should 'interpose for arresting the progress of the evil. These turned out to be unpopular, even among republicans, since they called for state governments to invalidate federal laws. Jefferson went further, urging states to secede if necessary, though Madison convinced Jefferson to back down from this extreme view.
According to Chernow, Madison's position was a breathtaking evolution for a man who had pleaded at the Constitutional Convention that the federal government should possess a veto over state laws. Chernow feels that Madison's politics remained closely aligned with Jefferson's until his experience as president with a weak national government during the War of 1812 caused Madison to appreciate the need for a strong central government to aid national defense. At the time, he began to support a national bank, a stronger navy, and a standing army.
Madison was 43 when he married for the first time, which was considered late in that era. On September 15th, 1794, James Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, a young widow, at Harewood, in what is now Jefferson County, West Virginia. Madison adopted Todd's one surviving son, John Payne Todd (known as Payne), after the marriage. Dolley Payne was born May 20th, 1768, at the New Garden Quaker settlement in North Carolina, where her parents, John Payne and Mary Coles Payne, lived briefly. Dolley's sister, Lucy Payne, had recently married George Steptoe Washington, a nephew of President Washington.
As a member of Congress, Madison had doubtless met the widow Todd at social functions in Philadelphia, then the nation's capital. She had been living there with her late husband. In May 1794, Madison asked their mutual friend Aaron Burr to arrange a meeting. The encounter apparently went smoothly, for a brisk courtship followed and, by August, she had accepted his proposal of marriage. For marrying Madison, a non-Quaker, she was expelled from the Society of Friends.
They were known to have a happy marriage. Dolley Madison put her social gifts to use when the couple lived in Washington, beginning when he was Secretary of State. With the White House still under construction, she advised as to its furnishings and sometimes served as First Lady for ceremonial functions for President Thomas Jefferson, a widower and their friend. When her husband was president, she created the role of First Lady, using her social talents to advance his program. She is credited with adding to his popularity in office. Madison's father died in 1801 and at age 50, Madison inherited the large plantation of Montpelier and other holdings, and his father's 108 slaves. He had begun to act as a steward of his father's properties by 1780, but this completed his takeover.
When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as president in 1801, he named Madison to be his secretary of state. At the start of his term, Madison was a party to the United States Supreme Court case Marbury vs. Madison (1803), in which the doctrine of judicial review was asserted by the high Court, much to the annoyance of the Jeffersonians who did not want a powerful federalist judiciary. The main challenge to the Jefferson Administration was maintaining neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars. Throughout Jefferson's presidency, much of Europe was at war, at first between France and Austria.. After the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, where France decisively defeated the Austrian Hapsburgs, the conflict transformed into a grinding war between France and Britain.
Many contemporaries and later historians, such as Ron Chernow, noted that Madison and President Jefferson ignored their strict construction view of the Constitution to take advantage of the purchase opportunity. Jefferson would have preferred to have a constitutional amendment authorizing the purchase, but did not have time nor was he required to do so. The Senate quickly ratified the treaty that completed the purchase. The House, with equal alacrity, passed enabling legislation. With the wars raging in Europe, Madison tried to maintain American neutrality, and insisted on the legal rights of the U.S. as a neutral under international law.
Neither London nor Paris showed much respect, however, and the situation deteriorated during Jefferson's second term. After Napoleon achieved victory at Austerlitz over his enemies in continental Europe, he became more aggressive and tried to starve Britain into submission with an embargo that was economically ruinous to both sides. Madison and Jefferson had also decided on an embargo to punish Britain and France, which forbade American trade with any foreign nation. The embargo failed in the United States just as it did in France, and caused massive hardships up and down the seaboard, which depended on foreign trade. The Federalists made a comeback in the Northeast by attacking the embargo, which was allowed to expire just as Jefferson was leaving office.
With Jefferson's second term winding down, and his decision to retire widely known, Madison was the party choice for president in 1808. He was opposed by Rep. John Randolph, who had broken earlier with Jefferson and Madison. The Republican Party Congressional caucus chose the candidate and easily selected Madison over James Monroe. As the Federalist party by this time had largely collapsed outside New England, Madison easily defeated Federalist Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
Upon his Inauguration in 1809, Madison immediately had difficulty in his appointment selection of Sec. Albert Gallatin as Secretary of State. Under opposition from Sen. William B. Giles, Madison chose not to fight Congress for the nomination but kept Sec. Gallatin, a carry over from the Jefferson Administration, in the Treasury. The talented Swiss born Gallatin was Madison's primary advisor, confident, and policy planner. Madison appointed Robert Smith for Secretary of State, Jefferson's former Secretary of Navy. For his Secretary of Navy, Madison appointed Paul Hamilton. Madison's Cabinet, that included men of mediocre talent, was chosen in terms of national interest and political harmony. When Madison assumed office in 1809, the federal government had a surplus of $9,500,000 and by 1810 the national debt continued to be reduced and taxes had been cut.
When Madison left office in 1817, he retired to Montpelier, his tobacco plantation in Orange County, Virginia, not far from Jefferson's Monticello. He was 65 years old. Dolley, who thought they would finally have a chance to travel to Paris, was 49. As with both Washington and Jefferson, Madison left the presidency a poorer man than when he entered, due to the steady financial collapse of his plantation, aided by the continued low price of tobacco and his stepson's mismanagement.
In 1829, at the age of 78, Madison was chosen as a representative to the constitutional convention in Richmond for the revising of the Virginia state constitution. It was his last appearance as a legislator and constitutional drafter. The issue of greatest importance at this convention was apportionment. The western districts of Virginia complained that they were underrepresented because the state constitution apportioned voting districts by county, not population. The growing population in the Piedmont and western parts of the state were not reflected in their representation in the legislature. Western reformers also wanted to extend suffrage to all white men, in place of the historic property requirement. Madison tried to effect a compromise, but to no avail. Eventually, suffrage rights were extended to renters as well as landowners, but the eastern planters refused to adopt population apportionment. Madison was disappointed at the failure of Virginians to resolve the issue more equitably.
Madison was very concerned about the continuing issue of slavery in Virginia and the South. He believed that transportation of free American blacks to Africa offered a solution, as promoted by the American Colonization Society.
Through failing health, Madison wrote several memoranda on political subjects, including an essay against the appointment of chaplains for Congress and the armed forces. He felt it would produce religious exclusion but not political harmony. Between 1834 and 1835, Madison sold 25% of his slaves to make up for financial losses on his plantation. Madison lived until 1836, increasingly ignored by the new leaders of the American polity. He died at Montpelier on June 28th, as the last of the Founding Fathers. He was buried in the Madison Family Cemetery at Montpelier.
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