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President James Madison


James Madison was the fourth United States President (1809-1817) and is referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” He made his home on his Montpelier estate a few miles west of the town of Orange and was married in 1794 to Dolley Payne Todd.


James Madison was born in 1751 and was raised in Orange County, and he attended Princeton University. He was elected to the Virginia Assembly and participated in the framing of the Virginia Constitution in 1776, served in the Continental Congress in 1780, and was a leader in the Virginia Assembly.


In 1787, he was a member of the U.S. Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and he was instrumental in its eventual ratification by writing a number of the Federalist Papers (along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay) which called for a stronger central government and the Constitution’s ratification. Madison is probably most notably known for his role in enacting the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments) to the U.S. Constitution, which provided protections for religious liberty, free speech, a free press, and other personal liberties.


Baroness Hyde de Neuville ca. 1818

Interestingly, Madison did not win every election he stood for. During Orange County’s election for the Virginia House of Delegates in 1777, Madison refused to provide complimentary liquor to the voters as he argued that the practice corrupted the election process. His rival for the Virginia House seat, Charles Porter, provided the free drinks to the voters and subsequently defeated Madison at the polls.



James Madison was elected President of the United States in 1808, after having served as the Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson. He was in office during the United States’ second war with Great Britain (War of 1812) and was forced to flee Washington when the British Army burned the White House and several other government buildings in the summer of 1814. He concluded his second term as President and left office in 1817 and returned to his home at Montpelier in Orange County which was also home to a considerable number of enslaved individuals.


During retirement, Madison helped to found the University of Virginia in 1819 with Thomas Jefferson and served as its second rector in 1826. He was also the President of the American Colonization Society for three years, an organization that promoted the relocation of enslaved Blacks from the United States to Africa. President Madison died on June 28, 1836 at his Montpelier home.

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