James Madison, Father of the Constitution

James Madison, Father of the Constitution


James Madison - John VanderlynJames Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia on March 16, 1751 to James Madison Sr. and Nelly (née Conway) Madison. Though born into a wealthy family, Madison faced challenges as a youth such as stress-induced seizures and other health issues. In spite of these poor health conditions, he was extremely successful in his intellectual pursuits. Madison showed a great capacity for ancient philosophy, history, languages, and law and completed his studies at Princeton in two years, then went on to become the university’s first graduate student.

In 1774, Madison became involved in the Orange County Committee of Safety, a local Patriot militia group, before being elected as a delegate to the Virginia Convention in 1776. In 1778, he was appointed to the Virginia Council of State, which oversaw state governance during the Revolution. During this period, Madison formed strong and enduring ties with fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson.

At the age of 29, Madison was the youngest member of the 1780 Continental Congress, where he argued for a more centralized government before returning to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1784. Unsatisfied with the Articles of Confederation, he led the way in calling for the Constitutional Convention of 1787, at which he presented the Virginia Plan, a precursor to the Constitution with its three branches of government, bicameral legislature, and independent judicial branch. Unsurprisingly, the “father of the Constitution” was one its biggest champions and encouraged ratification by publicly debating the antifederalists and anonymously authoring some of the most powerful Federalist Papers. In addition to his work on the original Constitution, he may be credited with compiling the Bill of Rights – Madison proposed 19 amendments from the plethora of suggestions received, of which 10 became our Bill of Rights.

Under the new constitutional government, Madison served in the House of Representatives. He broke with Washington and Hamilton over financial and foreign policies, formed the Democratic-Republican Party with Jefferson, and served as Secretary of State during the Jefferson administration. Afterwards, Madison easily won the 1808 presidential election and served two terms. Much of his time in office was consumed with foreign affairs, namely the War of 1812. The war’s outcome, while generally considered a draw, nevertheless cemented America’s place as a world power. After retirement, Madison spent his final years editing his papers, including his notes from the Constitutional Convention. He died peacefully on June 28, 1836 at his estate of Montpelier.

On the occasion of James Madison’s birthday on March 16, we’ve gathered together a collection of resources recognizing his immense impact on American political thought and the structure of our constitutional government. Take some time to remember Madison’s legacy by exploring our fellows’ articles and other resources.



Resources on James Madison:

JMC Board Member James Ceaser on James Madison as a Founder

JMC board member James Ceaser has spoken extensively on Madison’s role as not only a founder, but the founder of American founding. In this video, Professor Ceaser sits down with fellow board member, Bill Kristol on Conversations with Bill Kristol:

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Americans today refer regularly to our founders and our founding, honoring those who led the Revolution and created the Constitution. Yet did Americans at that time understand these figures to be founders? Was this idea, which we now take for granted, part of the political understanding of the day? Almost certainly not. In this talk at Texas Tech University, Professor Ceaser discusses how it took a bold step by James Madison to introduce the classical theme of the founder into American thought and ask Americans to see events of the time through the lens of founding. This simple yet powerful shift has changed how we understand our entire political heritage:

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James Madison lithographThe Madison Papers at the National Archives

The National Archives has digitized its entire collection of the Madison Papers, making them available online. The Papers include young Madison’s commonplace book, numerous pieces of correspondence, and notes on the Constitutional Convention.



Explore the Madison Papers at the National Archives >>



Dolley Madison, Gilbert Stuart, 1804Dolley Madison and the Burning of the White House

James Madison’s wife, Dolley Madison, was an intelligent, independent person in her own right. She was well-known for her political acumen and social skills that greatly aided her husband in his career. An example of Dolley’s quick-thinking occurred in August 1814 when the British were burning Washington D.C. – Dolley saved many important papers, and, most famously, Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington.



Read more about Dolley Madison at the Montpelier website and read detailed accounts of her heroism at the Smithsonian and Mount Vernon >>



A Madisonian Constitution for All

The National Constitution Center convened a bipartisan national commission comprised of top constitutional scholars, leading thought leaders, and members of Congress. A key component arising from the commission was an essay series examining the various issues and challenges presented by the unique features of the Madisonian Constitution, and proposing solutions and ways to ensure the future of American democracy while preserving Madisonian principles. The essays feature top scholars with both conservative and liberal perspectives and include pieces by JMC faculty partners Colleen Sheehan and Greg Weiner.

Visit A Madisonian Constitution for All >>



James Madison, Chester Harding, 1830sMadison’s Treasures: A Library of Congress Exhibit

The Library of Congress’s online exhibit, “Madison’s Treasures,” showcases some of Madison’s lesser-known works, including a list of objections to the Constitution (written to Thomas Jefferson in their private shorthand), a hand-drawn family tree, and “Memorial and Remonstrance,” a piece arguing for religious liberty.


View the online exhibit >>



JMC Resources:

JMC’s Resource Page on The Federalist

The FederalistThe Federalist was written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to ensure the ratification of the new Constitution and, as Hamilton stated in Federalist No. 1, “the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.” Although he was not shy in promoting his federalist viewpoint, above all, Publius’ arguments were designed to focus on truth and the very real concerns of the average antifederalist. The subsequent body of work became what Thomas Jefferson deemed “the best commentary on the principles of government, which ever was written.” Long after the ratification of the Constitution, citizens referred to The Federalist as an authority when discerning the true meaning of the Framers and even in contemporary times, scholars return to The Federalist while studying American political theory.

Read more about The Federalist >>


Passage of the Bill of Rights

Only a month after the Constitution was printed and distributed, the first ratifying convention took place in Pennsylvania. The ratification process went relatively smoothly for a couple months after that, with five state conventions approving ratification with little difficulty. In January of 1788, however, the ratifying convention in Massachusetts devolved into a bitter and even violent deadlock, largely over the question of a bill of rights. Only by promising to introduce a Bill of Rights as amendments were the Federalist supporters of the Constitution able to break the deadlock and secure ratification in Massachusetts. Without this strategy, which was subsequently adopted in other states with Federalist minorities, the Constitution could not have been ratified. Despite the reservations of many of the Federalists, who had a commanding majority in the first Congress, James Madison recognized the necessity of keeping their promise and adding a Bill of Rights quickly in order to secure the legitimacy of the new government. He submitted a proposal for seventeen amendments based on the Virginia Declaration of rights early in 1789. This proposal went through four stages of rigorous debate and revision in the House and the Senate before being approved by Congress in September of 1789. Of the twelve articles in the approved amendments, ten were ratified as by the states over the course of the next two years, becoming what is now known as our Bill of Rights. The first of these ten included the provision that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Read more about the Bill of Rights in our First Amendment Library >>


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on James Madison or his political thought, and would like your work included here, send it to us at academics@gojmc.org



Commentary and articles from JMC fellows:


James Madison, Father of the Constitution


James Madison and Constitutional Imperfection, Jeremy BaileyWilliam Allen, Let the Advice Be Good: A Defense of Madison’s Democratic Nationalism. (University Press of America, 1994)

Jeremy Bailey, James Madison and Constitutional Imperfection. (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Jeremy Bailey, Should We Venerate That Which We Cannot Love?: James Madison on Constitutional Imperfection.” (Political Research Quarterly 65.4, December 2012)

Jeremy Bailey, Was James Madison ever for the bill of rights? (Perspectives on Political Science 41.2, 2012)

Luigi Bradizza, Madison and Republican Cosmopolitanism.” (Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Globalization: Citizens without States, University Press of Kentucky, 2011)

Matthew Brogdon, Constitutional Text and Institutional Development: Contesting the Madisonian Compromise in the First Congress.” (American Political Thought 5.2, April 2, 2016)

James Ceaser, In Defense of Separation of Powers.” (Does Separation of Powers Work?, American Enterprise Institute, 1986)

God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, Jefferson, Vincent Phillip MuñozMark David Hall, Jeffersonian Walls and Madisonian Lines: The Supreme Court’s Use of History in Religion Clause Cases.” (High Court Quarterly Review 5.3, 2009)

Mark David Hall, Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance, Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Liberty, and the Creation of the First Amendment.” (American Political Thought 3.1, Spring 2014)

Mark David Hall, The Wilsonian Dilemma.” (Southeastern Political Review 25, 1997)

David Houpt, Securing a Legacy: The Publication of James Madison’s Notes from the Constitutional Convention.” (The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 118.1, 2010)

Jeffrey Morrison, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson: ‘A Friendship Which Was for Life.’” (A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)

Vincent Phillip Muñoz, God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson. (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

The Madisonian ConstitutionVincent Phillip Muñoz, James Madison’s Principle of Religious Liberty.” (American Political Science Review 97.1, February 2003)

Vincent Phillip Muñoz, Religion in the Life, Political Thought, and Presidency of James Madison.” (Religion and the American Presidency, Palgrave MacMillan, 2007)

Peter Onuf, Federalist Republican: Michael Zuckert’s James Madison.” (American Political Thought 8.2, Spring 2019)

John Ragosta, “‘Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments’ by James Madison.” (Milestone Documents in American History, 2008)

S. Adam Seagrave, Madison’s Tightrope: The Federal Union and the Madisonian Foundations of Legitimate Government.” (Polity 47.2, April 2015)

John Scott (co-author), Capitol Mobility: Madisonian Representation and the Location and Relocation of Capitals in the United States.” (American Political Science Review 107.2, May 2013)

Colleen Sheehan, “Deliberative Republicanism, Political Communication, & the Sovereignty of Public Opinion.” (A Madisonian Constitution for All, National Constitution Center)

Parchment BarriersDavid Siemers, James Madison’s Presidency: Foreign Affairs.” (A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe, Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)

David Siemers, Theories about Theory: A Typology of Theory Based Claims from the Case of James Madison.” (Presidential Studies Quarterly 38.1, March 2008)

James Stoner, A Madisonian Compromise: Term Limits for the House, But Not for the Senate.” (Policy Review, Winter 1995)

George Thomas, Madison and the Perils of Populism.” (National Affairs 29, Fall 2016)

George Thomas, The Madisonian Constitution. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)

George Thomas, The Madisonian Constitution, Political Dysfunction, and Political Polarization.” (Parchment Barriers: Political Polarization and the Limits of Constitutional Order, University Press of Kansas, 2018)

George Thomas, Recovering the Political Constitution: The Madisonian Vision.” (The Review of Politics 66.2, Spring 2004)

Madison's Metronome, Gregory WeinerGregory Weiner, James Madison and the Legitimacy of Majority Factions.” (American Political Thought 2.2, Fall 2013)

Gregory Weiner, Madison’s Metronome: The Constitution, Majority Rule and the Tempo of American Politics. (University Press of Kansas, 2012)

Gregory Weiner, Majorities and Madisonian Paradoxes.” (Extensions: Journal of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center, Summer 2014)

Gregory Weiner, Our Constitutional Emergency.” (New York Times, March 26, 2019)

Gregory Weiner, “‘The Ultimate Justice of the People’ Madison, Public Opinion and the Internet Age.” (A Madisonian Constitution for All, National Constitution Center)

Thomas West, The Economic Principles of America’s Founders: Property Rights, Free Markets, and Sound Money.” (First Principles Series Report, Heritage Foundation 32, 2010)

Keith Whittington, James Madison Has Left the Building.” (University of Chicago Law Review 72.3, Summer 2005)

History of American Political ThoughtJean Yarbrough, James Madison and Modern Federalism.” (How Federal is the Constitution?, American Enterprise Institute, 1987)

Michael Zuckert, James Madison.” (Liberal Moments, Bloomsbury Press, 2017)

Michael Zuckert, James Madison’s Political Science.” (History of American Political Thought, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003)

Michael Zuckert, Judicial Review and the Incomplete Constitution: a Madisonian Perspective on the Supreme Court and the Idea of Constitutionalism.” (The Supreme Court and the Idea of Constitutionalism, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009)


James Madison and the Federalist Papers


William Allen, The ‘Baton Rouge Lectures.'” (The Federalist Papers: A Commentary, Peter Lang, Inc., 2000)

A Companion to James Madison and James MonroeCharles Kesler (editor), The Federalist Papers. (Penguin-Putnam, 1999)

William Kristol, The Problem of the Separation of Powers: Federalist 47-51.” (Saving the Revolution: The Federalist Papers and the American Founding, The Free Press, 1987)

James Stoner, The New Constitutionalism of Publius.” (History of American Political Thought, Lexington Books, 2003)

Gregory Weiner, After Federalist No. 10.” (National Affairs, Fall 2017)

Michael Zuckert, James Madison in The Federalist.” (A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe, Wiley Blackwell, 2013)

Michael Zuckert, Who was Publius? (Enlightening Revolutions: Essays in Honor of Ralph Lerner, Lexington Books, 2006)


Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Supremacy


Clyde Ray, John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and the Construction of Constitutional Legitimacy.” (Law, Culture, and the Humanities 15.1, 2019)

Marbury versus MadisonClyde Ray, An Old Controversy: Marshall, Whitaker, and Marbury v. Madison.” (Starting Points: A Journal of American Principles & American Practices, February 27, 2019)

Keith Whittington (co-author), Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill? Marbury and the Construction of the Constitutional Canon.” (Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly 39.3, Spring 2012)

Keith Whittington, Marbury v. Madison and the Politics of Judicial Supremacy.” (Marbury v. Madison: 1803-2003 Un Dialogue Franco-Americain, Dalloz, 2003

Keith Whittington, ’To Support this Constitution’: Judicial Supremacy in the Twentieth Century.” (Marbury v. Madison: Documents and Commentary, CQ Press, 2002)


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on James Madison or his political thought, and would like your work included here, send it to us at academics@gojmc.org



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