10 Things to Know About James Madison

James Madison (1751 - 1836) was the fourth president of the United States. He was known as the Father of the Constitution and was president during the War of 1812. Following are ten key and interesting facts about him and his time as president.

Father of the Constitution

Constitutional convention in Virginia, 1830
The constitutional convention in Virginia, 1830, by George Catlin (1796-1872). James Madison was known as the Father of the Constitution. DEA PICTURE LIBRARY / Getty Images

James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution. Before the Constitutional Convention, Madison spent many hours studying government structures from around the world before coming up with the basic idea of a blended republic. While he did not personally write every part of the Constitution, he was a key player in all discussions and forcefully argued for many items that would eventually make it into the Constitution including population-based representation in Congress, the need for checks and balances, and support for a strong federal executive.

President During the War of 1812

USS Constitution
USS Constitution defeating the HMS Guerriere during the war of 1812. SuperStock / Getty Images

Madison went to Congress to ask for a declaration of war against England that started the War of 1812. This was because the British would not stop harassing American ships and impressing soldiers. The Americans struggled at the beginning, losing Detroit without a fight. The Navy fared better, with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry leading the defeat of the British on Lake Erie. However, the British were still able to march on Washington, not being stopped until they were on their way to Baltimore. The war ended in 1814 with a stalemate.

Shortest President

James Madison full length portrait
traveler1116 / Getty Images

James Madison was the shortest president. He measured 5'4" tall and is estimated to have weighed about 100 pounds.

One of Three Author of the Federalist Papers

Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton. Library of Congress

Together with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, James Madison authored the Federalist Papers. These 85 essays were printed in two New York newspapers as a way to argue for the Constitution so that New York would agree to ratify it. One of the most famous of these papers is #51, which Madison penned. It contained the famous quote: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

Key Author of the Bill of Rights

James Madison
Library of Congress

Madison was one of the main proponents ​of the passage of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights. These were ratified in 1791.

Co-Authored the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

President Thomas Jefferson
Stock Montage/Getty Images

During John Adams' presidency, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed to curtain certain forms of political speech. Madison joined forces with Thomas Jefferson to create the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in opposition to these acts.

Married Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison
First Lady Dolley Madison. Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images

Dolley Payne Todd Madison was one of the most well-loved first ladies and known as a terrific hostess. When Thomas Jefferson's wife had died while he was serving as president, she helped him at official state functions. When she married Madison, she was disowned by the Society of Friends as her husband was not a Quaker. She only had one child by a previous marriage.

Non-Intercourse Act and Macon's Bill #2

Death of Captain Lawrence
Death of Captain Lawrence in naval clash between the American frigate Chesapeake and the British ship Shannon, 1812. The war had partially been fought over the British practice of impressing American sailors into service. Charles Phelps Cushing/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Two foreign trade bills passed during his time in office: the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 and Macon's Bill No. 2. The Non-Intercourse Act was relatively unenforceable, allowing the US to trade with all nations except France and Great Britain. Madison extended the offer that if either nation worked to protect American shipping interests, they would be allowed to trade. In 1810, this act was repealed with Macon's Bill No. 2. It said that whichever nation stopped attacking American ships would be favored, and the US would stop trading with the other nation. France agreed but Britain continued to impress soldiers.

White House Burned

White House on Fire during the War of 1812
White House on Fire during the War of 1812. Engraving by William Strickland. Library of Congress

When the British marched on Washington during the War of 1812, they burned many important buildings including the Navy Yards, the unfinished US Congress Building, the Treasury Building, and the White House. Dolley Madison fled the White House taking many treasures with her when the danger of occupation was apparent. In her words, "At this late hour a wagon has been procured, and I have had it filled with plate and the most valuable portable articles, belonging to the house... Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and in a very bad humor with me, because I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall... I have ordered the frame to be broken, and the canvas taken out."

Hartford Convention Against His Actions

Hartford Convention
Political Cartoon About the Hartford Convention. Library of Congress

The Hartford Convention was a secret federalist meeting with individuals from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont who were opposed to Madison’s trade policies and the War of 1812. They came up with a number of amendments that they wished passed to address issues that they had with the War and the embargoes. When the war ended and news about the secret meeting came out, the Federalist Party was discredited and eventually fell apart.

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Kelly, Martin. "10 Things to Know About James Madison." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-james-madison-104743. Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). 10 Things to Know About James Madison. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-james-madison-104743 Kelly, Martin. "10 Things to Know About James Madison." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-james-madison-104743 (accessed June 5, 2023).