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James Madison impacted US history in many ways. Much of the credit for the Bill of Rights’ inclusion goes to him and Thomas Jefferson. Generally, his leadership in creating the US Constitution gains him recognition as the “Father of the Constitution.” And he advocated for the Bill of Rights after the Constitutional Convention did not include it. Madison’s Bill of Rights Impact may be his most significant accomplishment. And that, despite his leadership in creating the Constitution and becoming President. By the way, here’s a link to the overview of the Presidents’ post.
Madison came from wealth inherited through his maternal grandmother. He maintained this home from his inheritance until he died in 1836. Montpelier continues to be a great example of colonial architecture and plantation ownership. In 1769, he attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He selected this institution due to its hostility to the episcopacy. Madison graduated in two years! He continued to build his political stances during college. For example, he demonstrated against England through written and stated opposition to British policies.
Following his graduation, a period of overwork and lack of personal care brought on ill-health. The health issues thwarted military service. Some thought his small stature (5’4″) and slight build contributed to his health problem. (He didn’t weigh much over 100 pounds during his lifetime.) However, he recovered and became a member of the Virginia Revolutionary Council. From there, he went to the Continental Congress in 1780. He became a soft-spoken yet forceful leader despite continuing health problems and seemingly fragile nature. He lived to the age of 85.
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Montpelier history and grounds
Madison’s political activities likely kept him from enjoying his beautiful home and plantation. The area is very well maintained and is now operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Dolly Madison sold the property in 1844. Ownership changed hands six times until the well-known DuPont family purchased Montpelier in 1901. Initially, they used the property as a residence and setting for their steeplechase horse hobby. The natural hedges form excellent training and informal racing grounds.
When Marion DuPont Scott died in 1983, she bequeathed the property to the National Trust for Preservation. A $25 million restoration project launched in October 2003 and completed in 2008 restored the property to its 1820 appearance.
James Madison’s Bill of Rights Impact & his Presidency
Colonial Times and Congress of the Confederation
James Madison became the fourth President of the US. Here’s a link to his time in the White House. Although, his most significant influence occurred during and following the Constitutional Convention. Historians know him as the “Father of the Constitution.” Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, he drafted the Federalist Papers, which had profound influences on political science in America. The Federalist Papers essays became a driving force behind the push to ratify the new Constitution.
Although Madison received prominent mention as a “Founding Father,” he did not take part in developing or signing the Declaration of Independence. However, he served in several appointed and elected offices in Virginia. The Virginia House of Delegates elected him to membership in the Continental Congress. He became a leading proponent of organizing the Constitutional Convention.
Madison’s Virginia Plan became the basis for deliberations at the Convention. And his quiet, unassuming leadership played a leading role in producing the world’s first written constitution for a nation. He continued to take a leadership role in the ratification process. Together with his friend Thomas Jefferson, he pushed through the Bill of Rights during the first session of Congress. Most of the Bill of Rights ideas were “left on the editing floor” of the initial Constitution.
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After the Constitution
Madison served in the US House of Representatives in the first Congress. He served eight years in that role. During the mid-1790s, political parties began to crystalize. Madison, Jefferson, and others created the Democratic-Republican Party. The opposition party of John Adams and others became the Federalist Party. When Jefferson failed to win the Presidency in 1797, Madison left elective office and continued to serve in party leadership roles.
When Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in the 1800 election, Madison accepted the role of Secretary of State, a role he held for all of Jefferson’s eight years as President. Although inexperienced in foreign policy, he quickly became adept at dealing with foreign governments. His largest accomplishment as Secretary of State became his work on the Louisiana Purchase.
Madison succeeded Jefferson as President in 1809 when the Federalists couldn’t mount a significant candidate. He presided over the War of 1812 and relative peace and prosperity following the war. Although historians, in general, rank him as an above-average president, some of that springs from his early work on the US constitution and as Secretary of State under Jefferson. Besides “enduring” the War of 1812, he presided over creating a National bank and creating protective tariffs for US goods. Madison’s presidency added 23 million acres to US land by treaty or war.
James Madisons Bill of Rights Impact – Enslaved people
Like other early presidents, Madison wasn’t able to reconcile his views about slavery being morally wrong with continuing to enslave people for his plantation.
The above picture shows a presentation about US Presidents and enslaved people. In the lower level of Montpelier, a history of US Presidents and their enslaving practices shows the history for all presidents from George Washington through Ulysses S. Grant. While some owned many enslaved people, others didn’t directly enslave people, but their spouses were from slave-owning families. Grant inherited one enslaved person, whom he freed in 1859. Lincoln remained an abolitionist, but he believed it to be a state, not a federal issue in the early years.
James Madisons Bill of Rights Impact – Future presidents
Overall, Madison’s work continued to impact the US for many years. His legacy remains the US constitution. While one can read the entire document in an hour or so, many lawyers make their living specializing in Constitutional Law. The Constitution, including the 27 amendments, includes 7,591 words. As decreed by the Constitution, the US Supreme Court must base its findings on the Constitution. In practice, the Constitution, the amendments, and previous decisions (precedents) drive future decisions.
But, a constitution is meant to be a framework for government, not a complete set of laws. Laws passed by Congress are tested against the Constitution when cases go to the Supreme Court.
Did the Founding Fathers have any idea of the complexities, controversies, and legal decisions since 1788? Did the framers of the Constitution overstep the bounds of the Articles of Confederation? Although all 13 original colonies eventually ratified the Constitution, the Constitutional Convention proclaimed the Constitution would take effect when nine states ratified it. The Articles of Confederation required unanimous consent, which the Constitutional Convention overrode.
Anyway, I’m not smart enough to resolve that issue. But I’m too smart to get into that debate!!!
Classic Rock Recollection
“Schoolhouse Rock” – The Preamble
Hey, do you know about the U.S.A.?
Do you know about the government?
Can you tell me about the Constitution?
Hey, learn about the U.S.A.
In 1787 I’m told
Our founding fathers did agree
To write a list of principles
For keepin’ people free.
Music and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, Kathy Mandry, George Newall, and Tom Yohe
(From the Dallas Children’s Theater productions)