Better Know A President IV: James Madison

12 02 2009


-Elected From Virginia

-Served from 1809-1817

-A major contributor to the US Constitution. Often called “The Father of the Constitution”. His three-tiered approach to government, based on a system of checks and balances, was influenced by Charles Montesquieu, who also influenced the 1st French Constitution.

-Served as President during the War of 1812. Madison felt that the war was necessary after the British were recruiting American citizens to serve in the Royal Navy, and after the British prevented the US from trading with France. The war resulted in the capture of Washington DC, and the subsequent burning of the White House by British troops, parts of Maine, and some other areas west of the the US. Toronto was captured by the Americans, as well as other parts of Ontario and Quebec. The war was over by 1815, with both sides agreeing to cease firing and all land returned to its proper owner.

-Dolley Madison was one of the most prominent First Ladies in Presidential history. Even before her second husband James took office, she was regarded as the First Lady under Jefferson’s administration as Jefferson was a widower. During the War, she slept with a sabre to defend herself if she had to, and even called American soldiers wimps for running from the British. Before the White House was burned, Dolley went inside to retrieve the painting of George Washington. This painting is the only thing that remains from the White House before it was burned. Dolley Madison was also quite a looker.

-The state of Indiana was admitted to the Union in 1816!

-Twice during his Presidency there was no Vice-President. Both George Clinton and Elbridge Gerry died while in office and were not replaced.

-Was featured on the $5000 dollar bill.

-Last surviving signer of the Constitution and member of the Continental Congress.


One of the most active speakers at the Constitutional Convention was the learned James Madison – to whom credit is owed for many of its wiser provisions. Well aware of his tendency to become overexcited on such occasions, however, Madsion asked a friend to tug at his coattails if he appeared overly aroused. After an unusually impassioned speech one day, Madison sat down and, recoving his breath, upbraided the friend for having failed him in his time of need. “I would as soon,” the man replied, “have laid a finger on the lightning!”

Madison was a lover of anecdotes. Quite often he would tell guests at the White House his own stories about himself. One guest of the President, Margaret Bayard Smith is quoted saying that his conversation was “a stream of history…so rich in sentiments and facts, so enlivened by anecdotes and epigrammatic remarks, so frank and confidential as to opinions on men and measures, that it had an interest and charm, whoch the conversation of few men now living, could have…His little blue eyes sparkled like stars from under his bushy grey eye-brows and admist the deep wrinkles of his poor thin face.” (Boller, 47)

After his death, his family found among his papers a document titled Advice to My Country. In it he writes, “The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my conviction is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated. Let the open enemy to it be regarded as a Pandora with her box opened; and the disguised one, as the Serpent creeping with his deadly wiles into Paradise.”


A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person.

And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.




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