President James Madison
James Madison (1751-1836), American statesman, called the father of the Constitution, fourth President of the United States, born in Port Conway, Virginia, and educated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He early became one of the leading exponents of the independence of the American colonies, and in 1776, upon the outbreak of the American Revolution, was elected a member of the convention which drew up the Virginia Constitution. He made a notable contribution to that document in the form of a clause allowing for the free exercise of religion, one of the earliest provisions for religious freedom in American law. In 1870 he was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, in which during the ensuing three years he distinguished himself by his firm advocacy of the establishment of a central government. Elected a member of the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, James Madison drew up an outline for a proposal Constitution which expanded into the Virginia Plan, was submitted to the Convention. Among the features of this plan later incorporated into the United States Constitution were the concept of a balanced system of government in which the national authority would be limited by the reservation of certain powers to the local governments and to the people; the creation of a national chief executive (later the office of the President); and the establishment of a bicameral national legislature endowed with certain coercive powers. The adoption of these and other provisions of James Madison's plan earned for him the title "father of the Constitution"
After the submission of the Constitution to the States for ratification, James Madison collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in the writing of a series of papers, published between 1778 and 1788 under the title The Federalist, setting forth the need for a strong central government as proposed in the new Constitution, and urging its ratification. In 1789, the votes necessary for ratification having been cast, James Madison was elected a Virginia delegate to the first session of the United States House of Representatives, in which he served until 1797. In the conflict which subsequently developed between Thomas Jefferson, then secretary of state, and Hamilton, then secretary of treasury, over the question of increasing authority of the national government, James Madison sided with Jefferson, viewing the Hamiltonian proposals for strengthening the central authority as a threat to the democratic rights of people. Thus James Madison, previously a leading advocate of centralization of governmental power, recognized the dangers of too much centralization, and urged the placing of certain limitations on Federal authority in the interest of States' rights. Madison and Jefferson organized and became leaders of the Democratic-Republican Party, which became the major force opposing the Federalist Party led by Hamilton. In 1798, following the enactment by the Federalists-dominated Congress of the Alien and Sedition Acts, James Madison collaborated with Jefferson in drafting the Virginia Resolutions, denouncing the new laws as a violation of civil liberties and upholding the right of the States to interfere with any unjust and unconstitutional exercise of power by the Federal government.
The policies of the Federalists were finally repudiated by the electorate in 1801; Jefferson was elected President, and appointed James Madison secretary of state. During the ensuing eight years Madison was faced with the increasingly serious problem of the seizure of American vessels and the imprisonment of American seamen by England and France, then engaged in war. By 1809, when James Madison was elected President, the problem had become acute; nevertheless, President James Madison attempted for three additional years to solve it through diplomatic negotiations, and only agreed to a declaration of war in June, 1812, after all peaceful measures had been exhausted. The War of 1812 was concluded in 1814 by the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, and three years later President James Madison retired from the Presidency. Subsequently he was relatively inactive in politics; the only notable public position he held was that of rector of the University of Virginia, in which capacity he served from 1826 until his death.