James Madison, fourth president of the United States, born at King George, Va., March 16, 1751, died at his seat of Montpelier, near Orange Court House, Va., June 28, 1836. His father was James Madison of Orange, a planter of ample means and high standing, descended from John Madison, an Englishman who settled in Virginia about the year 1653. The maiden name of his mother was Eleanor Conway. He was the eldest of seven children. After receiving a good preliminary education, he was sent in 1769 to the college at Princeton, N. J., where he graduated in 1771; but he remained there until the spring of 1772, pursuing a course of reading under Dr. Witherspoon, the president. His habits of application were so close at this period, that his health became seriously affected, and seems never to have been fully restored. In 1772 he returned to Virginia, and commenced a course of legal study, with which he mingled a large amount of miscellaneous reading and study in theology, philosophy, and belles-lettres. His attention was particularly directed to the first, and he thoroughly explored all the evidences of the Christian religion. From these pursuits he was soon diverted by public affairs.
In the local contest for religious toleration, Madison distinguished himself by his zeal and activity in defence of the Baptists particularly, who with other nonconformists had been subjected to violent persecutions. In the spring of 1776 he was elected a member of the Virginia convention from the county of Orange, and procured the passage of the substance of an amendment to the declaration of rights by George Mason, which struck out the old term toleration and inserted a broader exposition of religious rights. In the same year he was a member of the general assembly, but lost his election in 1777, from his refusal to treat the voters, and the general want of confidence in his powers of oratory. The legislature, however, on meeting in November of the same year, elected him a member of the council of state; and in the winter of 1779 he was chosen by the assembly a delegate to congress. He took his seat in March, 1780, and remained in that body for three years. He strongly opposed the issue of paper money by the states, and was in favor of a formal recommendation on the part of congress against the continuance of the system.
As chairman of the committee to prepare instructions to the ministers at Versailles and Madrid, in support of the claims of the confederacy to western territory and the free navigation of the Mississippi, he drew up an elaborate and able paper, which was unanimously adopted by congress. He zealously advocated in 1783 the measures proposed to establish a system of general revenue to pay the expenses of the war, and as chairman of the committee to which the subject was referred prepared an able address to the state in support of the plan, which was adopted by congress, and received the warm approval of Washington. A striking proof of the value which the people of Virginia attached to his services is exhibited by the fact that the law rendering him ineligible after three years' service in congress was repealed, in order that he might sit during a fourth. On his return to Virginia he was elected to the legislature, and took his seat in 1784. In this body he inaugurated the measures relating to a thorough revision of the old statutes, and supported the bills introduced by the revisers, Jefferson, Wythe, and Pendleton, on the subject of entails, primogeniture, and religious freedom.
He aided in the separation of Kentucky from Virginia and the formation of the new state, opposed the further issue of paper money, and favored the payment of debts due to British creditors. His greatest service at this time was the preparation, after the adjournment of the assembly, of a " Memorial and Remonstrance " against the project of a general assessment for the support of religion, which caused the complete defeat of the measure against which it was directed. In January, 1786, he obtained the passage of a resolution by the general assembly, inviting the other states to appoint commissioners to meet at Annapolis, and devise a new system of commercial regulations. He was chosen one of the commissioners, and attended at Annapolis in September of the same year. Five states only were represented, and the commissioners recommended a convention of delegates from all the states to be held at Philadelphia in May, 1787. The recommendation was generally adopted, and Madison was chosen one of the delegates from Virginia. The convention assembled, and the result was the abrogation of the old articles, and the formation of the constitution of the United States. Madison was prominent in advocating the constitution, and took a leading part in the debates, of which he kept private notes, since published by order of congress.
His views in regard to the federal government are set forth at length in a paper still extant in the handwriting of Washington, which contains the substance of a letter written to Washington by Madison before the meeting of the convention, proposing a scheme of thorough centralization. The writer declares that he is equally opposed to " the individual independence of the states" and to "the consolidation of the whole into one simple republic." He is nevertheless in favor of investing congress with power to exercise "a negative in all cases whatever on the legislative acts of the states, as heretofore exercised by the kingly prerogative." He says further that " the right of coercion should be expressly declared; . . . but the difficulty and awkwardness of operating by force on the collective will of a state, render it particularly desirable that the necessity of it should be precluded." From these extreme views Madison afterward conscientiously departed, but in the convention he supported them with zeal and vigor. The scheme known as the " Virginia plan" was adopted instead, and the convention adjourned.
The subsequent adoption of the constitution was in large measure brought about by a series of essays now familiar, in their collected form, as "The Federalist." They were commenced in a New York newspaper soon after the adjournment of the convention, and continued to appear until June, 1788. The public journals everywhere republished them, and it was soon known that they were the work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay. The volume remains the most forcible exposition upon the side which it espoused. The whole ground is surveyed generally and in detail; the various points at issue are discussed with the utmost acuteness, and the advantages of the adoption of the instrument urged with a logical force and eloquence which place the "Federalist" beside the most famous political writings of the old English worthies. The Virginia convention assembled in June, and Madison was a member of it. He had completely overcome his natural diffidence, and, although deficient as an orator, exerted a powerful influence over his associates, and contributed to the final triumph of the constitution as much as any one in the body. The instrument was adopted by a vote of 89 to 79, and the convention rose.
The part which he had taken in its deliberations very greatly increased Madison's reputation; and he was brought forward as a candidate for United States senator, but was defeated. He was however chosen a representative in congress, and took his seat in that body in April, 1789. Alexander Hamilton was at the head of the treasury department, and Madison was obliged either to support the great series of financial measures initiated by the secretary, or distinctly abandon his former associate, and range himself on the side of the republican opposition. He adopted the latter course. Although he had warmly espoused the adoption of the constitution, he was now convinced of the necessity of a strict construction of the powers which it conferred upon the general government. He accordingly opposed the funding bill, the national bank, and Hamilton's system of finance generally. His affection for "Washington and long friendship for Hamilton rendered such a step peculiarly disagreeable to a man of Madison's amiable and kindly disposition. But the tone of his opposition did not alienate his friends. Occupying middle ground between the violent partisans on both sides, he labored to reconcile and harmonize the antagonism of the two parties.
He always retained the cordial regard of Washington. On Jefferson's return from France, Madison was solicited to accept the mission, and it was kept open awaiting his decision for twelve months. He declined the place, as he afterward did the office of secretary of state on the retirement of Jefferson, from a conviction that the radical antagonism of views between himself and the majority in the cabinet would render his acceptance of either office fruitful in misunderstandings and collisions. He remained in congress, became thoroughly identified with the republicans, and in 1792 was the avowed leader of the party in congress. In 1794 he gave his full support to its foreign policy by moving a series of resolutions, based upon the report of Jefferson, advocating a retaliatory policy toward Great Britain, and commercial discriminations in favor of France. These resolutions he supported in a speech of great ability. In March, 1797, his term expired, and he returned to Virginia. The insulting treatment of the American envoys to France, and the war message of President Adams, were about to be followed by the passage of the alien and sedition laws. The republicans vainly tried to stem the popular current in favor of the measures of the administration.
The passing of the alien and sedition laws in July, 1798, gave them the first opportunity to make a stand. Opposition to even these violent measures was however ineffectual in the federal legislature; and the republican leaders determined to resort to the state arenas for the decisive struggle. It commenced in Kentucky, and resulted there in the adoption of a series of resolutions, which were followed, in December, 1798, by similar resolves of the Virginia assembly. The latter, now known as "the resolutions of 1798-'9," were drawn up by James Madison, not then a member. They declared the determination of the assembly to defend the constitutions of the United States and of the states, but to resist all attempts to enlarge the authority of the federal compact by forced constructions of general clauses, as tending to consolidation, the destruction of the liberties of the states, and finally to a monarchy. In case of a " deliberate, palpable, and dangerous" exercise of powers not clearly granted to the general government, the states had a right to interpose; and as the passing of the alien and sedition laws was such an infraction of right, the assembly protested against those laws.
The seventh resolution called upon other states to join with the state of Virginia "in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid are unconstitutional, and that the necessary and proper measures will he taken by each for cooperating with this state in maintaining unimpaired the authorities, rights, and liberties reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." The resolutions passed the house by a vote of 100 to 63, and were duly communicated to the several states of the Union. They met with little favor, especially in the northern states. Massachusetts and New England generally remonstrated against them, and declared the obnoxious laws both constitutional and expedient. This drew forth, in the winter of 1799-1800, Madison's "Report" in defence of his resolutions. This elaborate paper subjected the resolves to an exhaustive analysis, and defended them with masterly vigor. It is the most famous of his political writings, and will rank with the greatest state papers written in America. Although the resolutions met with an unfavorable response from the other states, they exerted a powerful influence upon public opinion.
Virginia had shown how deeply in earnest she was by directing the establishment of two arsenals, and an armory sufficiently large to store 10,000 muskets and other arms; but a wholesome change in the sentiment of the country happily restored good feeling, and softened down all bitterness. The alien and sedition laws found few supporters ultimately, and Madison's views were fully vindicated. The revulsion against the federal party and in favor of the republicans terminated in the election of Jefferson, who entered upon the presidency in 1801. Madison was secretary of state during Jefferson's entire administration, and his opinions upon public affairs closely agreed with the views of the president. He became still more popular with and acceptable to his party, and toward the end of Jefferson's second term was generally spoken of for the presidency. A caucus was finally held of the majority of the republican members of congress, and Madison was nominated. This met with bitter opposition from a wing of the party, headed by John Randolph, who were friendly to the election of Monroe. They published a caustic "Protest" against the action of the caucus, and denounced Madison for his " want of energy," his connection with the "Federalist," and his report upon the Yazoo claims.
His friends defended him against all the charges, and retorted so strongly upon the authors of the protest that they were silenced. The action of the caucus was approved by the party generally, and Madison was elected by a vote of 122 out of 175, and took his seat as president, March 4, 1809. The members of his cabinet were: secretary of state, Robert Smith of Maryland, succeeded by James Monroe of Virginia, April 2, 1811; secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania till Feb. 9, 1814, George W. Campbell of Tennessee till Oct. 6, 1814, afterward Alexander J. Dallas of Pennsylvania; secretary of war, William Eustis of Massachusetts till Jan. 13, 1813, and William H. Crawford of Georgia from March 3, 1815, James Monroe acting in the interim; secretary of the navy, Paul Hamilton of South Carolina till Jan. 12, 1813, William Jones of Pennsylvania till Dec. 17, 1814, afterward Benjamin W. Crowninshield of Massachusetts; postmaster general, Gideon Granger of New York, succeeded by Return J. Meigs of Ohio, March 17, 1814; attorney general, Caesar A. Rodney of Delaware till Dec. 11, 1811, William Pinkney of Maryland till Feb. 10, 1814, afterward Richard Rush of Pennsylvania. - President Madison entered upon his duties at a crisis in public affairs which required the utmost foresight, resolution, and prudence.
Great Britain and the United States were on the verge of war. In 1807 the long series of wrongs inflicted by England upon the commerce of America, and the rights of her seamen, had been consummated by the affair of the Leopard and Chesapeake. This wanton insult had thrown the country into violent commotion, and occasioned the embargo, which had been succeeded by the non-intercourse act, prohibiting all commerce with France or England until the decrees of the French emperor and the British orders in council in relation to the seizure of neutrals and the impressment of seamen were repealed. The first act of the British cabinet did not encourage hopes of peace. Mr. Erskine, the English minister, in promising reparation for the affair of the Chesapeake and a repeal of the obnoxious orders in council, on condition of a renewal of intercourse on the part of the United States, was declared to have exceeded his authority, and was recalled. He was succeeded by Mr. Jackson, who was authorized to enter into negotiations for a commercial treaty, but who speedily became embroiled with the secretary of state. The president directed the secretary to receive no further communications from him, and soon afterward requested his recall.
This was complied with, but no censure was visited upon the envoy, and no other was sent in his place. In May, 1810, congress approved the course of the executive, declared the official communications of Mr. Jackson highly indecorous and insolent, and passed a new act of non-intercourse. This provided that if either France or England repealed her hostile decrees, and the other did not within three months do likewise, then intercourse should be renewed with the one, while with the other non-intercourse should be persisted in. In August the French minister for foreign affairs gave notice to the American minister that the Berlin and Milan decrees had been revoked by the emperor; and in November Madison issued his'proclamation, declaring the fact, and announcing that the act of non-intercourse would be revived as to Great Britain unless her orders in council should be revoked within three months from the date of the proclamation. The British government resisted this demand, on the ground that there was no official evidence of the repeal of the French decrees, and the act of non-intercourse was accordingly declared in full force against Great Britain. In March, 1811, the emperor Napoleon disavowed the statement of the duke of Cadore, and declared that " the decrees of Berlin and Milan were the fundamental laws of the empire." American vessels had been seized and sequestrated by France even after the president's proclamation, and every overture on the part of the American minister at Paris toward the reestablishment of friendly relations between the two countries was viewed with indifference, and completely failed.
The country was slowly but surely drifting toward a war, which no exertions on the part of the administration seemed adequate to prevent. Madison pushed his pacific views to an extent which proved displeasing to many of the most prominent of the republican party. Bills were passed for augmenting the army, repairing and equipping ships of war, organizing and arming the militia, and placing the country in an attitude to resist an enemy; for all which congress appropriated $1,000,000. Madison acquiesced in this policy with extreme reluctance, but on June 1 transmitted a special message to congress in which he reviewed the whole controversy, and spoke in strong terms of the aggressions of Great Britain upon commercial rights. The act declaring war between Great Britain and the United States speedily followed. The president gave it his approval on June 18, and promptly issued his proclamation calling upon the people to prepare for the conflict, and to support the government. A short delay would probably have defeated the policy of the war party, and reopened the old negotiations.
A decree of the French emperor had been exhibited to the United States minister to France, dated April 28, 1811, which declared the definite revocation of the Berlin and Milan decrees, from and after Nov. 1, 1810. In consequence of this, Great Britain, on June 23, within five days after the declaration of war, repealed the obnoxious orders in council in relation to the rights of neutrals, and thus removed one of the great grounds of complaint on the part of the American government. On June 26, before the course of the British cabinet was known in America, Mr. Monroe, secretary of state, wrote to Mr. Russell, proposing the terms of an armistice. These were a repeal of the orders in council, with ho illegal blockades substituted, and a discontinuance of the impressment of seamen. In the latter part of August Mr. Russell, United States charge d'affaires at London, received from the English government a definite refusal to accede to these propositions as "on various grounds absolutely inadmissible," and thereupon returned to the United States. In September Admiral Warren arrived at Halifax. In addition to his naval command, he was invested with powers to negotiate a provisional accommodation with the United States government.
A correspondence on the subject ensued between himself and Mr. Monroe, as the representatives of the two countries. The admiral proposed an immediate cessation of hostilities, with a view to the peaceful arrangement of the points at issue. Monroe replied that his government was willing to accede to this proposition, provided Warren was authorized and would agree to negotiate terms for suspending in future the impressment of American seamen. The British government refused to relinquish the claim, and nothing remained but war. - On March 4, 1813, Madison entered upon his second term of service. He had received 128 electoral votes; his opponent, De Witt Clinton, 89 votes. The congressional elections had resulted in a large majority in favor of the administration, and the war policy thus appeared to be acceptable to the great body of the people, though a strong party were opposed to it, and endeavored to obstruct the measures necessary for the prosecution of hostilities. The contest commenced in earnest with the appearance, in February, 1813, of a British fleet in the Chesapeake bay; and in March the whole coast of the United States, with the exception of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, was declared in a state of blockade.
The long series of engagements on land and water, during the war which followed, find their proper place in the general history of the country. In March, 1813, soon after the commencement of hostilities, the Russian minister to the United States communicated to the American government a proposal from the emperor Alexander to mediate between the belligerents. The proposition was accepted, and the president appointed commissioners to go to St. Petersburg, to negotiate under the mediation of the emperor. Great Britain declined the Russian mediation in September; but in November the American government was informed that that power was prepared to negotiate the terms of a treaty of peace. Steps were at once taken to meet this proposal. Mr. Clay and Mr. Russell were added to the commission previously appointed, and in January, 1814, joined their associates in Europe. In August of the same year the country was deeply aroused by the attack upon the capital. A British force of 5,000 men ascended the Chesapeake, landed on the shores of the Patuxent, and marched on Washington. The few troops hastily called together were wholly unable to offer any effective resistance, and retired before the enemy, who proceeded to the city, burned the capitol, the president's house, and other public buildings, and returned without loss to their ships.
The president and several members of his cabinet were in the American camp, but were compelled to abandon the city in order to avoid capture. The enemy gained little by their movement, and the wanton outrage only increased the bitterness of the people. Among the public occurrences of the year 1814, the meeting of the Hartford convention, in opposition to the continuance of the war, occupies a prominent place. (See Hartford Convention.) The victory at New Orleans, however, and the intelligence of the conclusion of peace, terminated the popular agitation. A treaty of peace had been signed by the United States commissioners at Ghent on Dec. 24, 1814, and being communicated by the president to the senate, was ratified by that body in February, 1815. It was silent on the paramount question of the right of impressment, and left the commercial regulations between the two countries for subsequent negotiation. But the country was tired of the war, and the treaty was hailed with acclamation. In this general joy no one shared more sincerely than Madison. He had acquiesced reluctantly in the commencement of hostilities, and had longed for the conclusion of peace.
The country came out of a war which cost her 30,000 lives and $100,000,000 stronger and more honored than before, thoroughly convinced of her own power and resources, and regarded with increased respect by all the nations of the world. In 1815 a commercial treaty was concluded with Great Britain, based upon a policy of perfect reciprocity. The subjects of impressment and blockades were not embraced in it. The return of peace disbanded the organized opposition to the administration, and the remainder of Madison's term of office was undisturbed by exciting events. In April, 1816, congress incoporated a national bank with a capital of $35,000,000, to continue for 20 years. The president had vetoed a similar bill in January of the preceding year, but now approved of it, from a conviction that the derangement of the currency made it necessary. It encountered strong opposition, but was supported by Mr. Clay and other friends of the administration, and passed both houses. In December, 1816, Madison sent in his last annual message to congress.
Its recommendations were considered liberal and judicious, and secured the general approbation of the country. - On March 4, 1817, his long official connection with the affairs of the nation terminated, and he retired to his farm of Montpelier in Virginia. In this pleasant retreat he passed his days tranquilly in agricultural pursuits. He had married in 1794 Mrs. Todd, a Virginia lady, the widow of a distinguished lawyer of Philadelphia; and though their union had not been blessed with children, this amiable and accomplished woman's faithful devotion was a source of the greatest happiness to him. She survived him, dying at Washington, July 12, 1849, at the age of 82. During these years, in spite of his infirm health, Madison still busied himself in services to his neighbors and the commonwealth, He was chosen president of the county agricultural society, and for a long time acted as visitor and rector of the university of Virginia. In 1829 he sat in the Virginia convention to reform the old constitution. When Madison rose to utter a few words, the members left their seats and crowded around the venerable figure, dressed in black, with his thin gray hair still powdered as in former times, to catch the low whisper of his voice.
This was his last appearance in public. - If not endowed with the very first order of ability, Madison's mind was symmetrical and vigorous. An unfailing accuracy and precision marked the operation of his faculties. He was naturally deficient in powers of oratory, and yet made himself one of the most effective public speakers of his time, although the epoch was illustrated in Virginia by such men as Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, and Edmund Pendleton. Jefferson's testimony on this point is strong. "Mr. Madison," he says, " came into the house in 1776, a new member and young; which circumstances, concurring with his extreme modesty, prevented his venturing himself in debate before his removal to the council of state in November, 1777. From thence he went to congress, then consisting of few members. Trained in these successive schools, he acquired a habit of self-possession, which placed at ready command the rich resources of his luminous and discriminating mind and of his extensive information, and rendered him the first of every assembly afterward of which he became a member.
Never wandering from his subject into vain declamation, but pursuing it closely, in language pure, classical, and copious, soothing always the feelings of his-adversaries by civilities and softness of expression, he rose to the eminent station which he held in the great national convention of 1787; and in that of Virginia which followed, he sustained the new constitution in all its parts, bearing off the palm against the logic of George Mason and the fervid declamation of Mr. Henry. With these consummate powers was united a pure and spotless virtue, which no calumny has ever attempted to sully." From his earliest years Madison was a hard student. His memory was singularly tenacious, and what he once clearly discerned became assimilated, and was ever after retained. He thus laid up that great store of learning which in the conventions of 1787, and 1788 especially, proved so effective. After Washington, no public man of his time was more widely respected and beloved. The public confidence in and respect for his honesty and singleness of aim toward the good of the country ripened into an affectionate attachment. His bearing and address were characterized by simplicity and modesty. He resembled a quiet student, rather than the head of a great nation.
He was somewhat taciturn in public, but when he conversed his tone was weighty and impressive. It was often naked, abstract reasoning; mild, simple, and lucid, but summing up long trains of thought. He had a strong relish for everything facetious, and told a story admirably. In his old age, when some friends came to visit him, he sank back upon his couch with the smiling words: "I always talk more easily when I lie;" and during his last illness, while the family and the doctor were at dinner, his voice was heard feebly from the adjoining chamber crying: "Doctor, are you pushing about the bottles? Do your duty, doctor, or I must cashier you." In addition to the passage already quoted, Jefferson wrote of Madison: "From three and thirty years' trial I can say conscientiously that I do not know in the world a man of purer integrity, more dispassionate, disinterested, and devoted to pure republicanism; nor could I in the whole scope of America and Europe point out an abler head." Madison/was a very voluminous writer.
His manuscripts were purchased by congress from his widow for $30,-000, and portions of them, " The Madison Papers," were published under the supervision of Henry D. Gilpin, by authority of congress (3 vols. 8vo, 1840). - See William C. Rives, " History of the Life and Times of James Madison" (3 vols., Boston, 1859, '66, and '69), and "Letters and other Writings of James Madison " (4 vols., Philadelphia, 18G5).