By Bill Korach The Report Card in cooperation with Jacksonville’s First Coast Tea party presents profiles of the 39 signers of the Constitution in honor of its 224th Today James Madison, recognized as Father of the Constitution and man of strong Christian principles is profiled.
James Madison, Jr. was born at Belle Grove Plantation near Port Conway, Virginia on March 16, 1751. He grew up as the oldest of twelve children, of whom nine survived. His father, James Madison, Sr., (1723–1801) was a tobacco planter and became the largest landowner and leading citizen of Orange County. His mother, Nelly Conway Madison (1731–1829) was the daughter of a prominent tobacco planter.
At age 16, he began a two-year course of study under the Reverend Thomas Martin, who tutored Madison at Montpelier in preparation for college. In 1769 he enrolled at Princeton University, which was then a Theological Seminary
Through diligence and long hours of study that may have damaged his health, Madison graduated in 1771. His studies there included Latin, Greek, science, geography, mathematics, rhetoric, and philosophy. Great emphasis also was placed on speech and debate. After graduation, Madison remained at Princeton to study Hebrew and political philosophy under university president John Witherspoon ancestor of the movie actress Reese Witherspoon.
As a young man, Madison witnessed the persecution of Baptist preachers arrested for preaching without a license from the established Anglican Church. He worked with the preacher Elijah Craig on constitutional guarantees for religious liberty in Virginia. Working on such cases helped form his ideas about religious freedom. Madison hated the British treatment of its American colonies, he was appointed to the Orange County Committee of Safety in 1774 to help coordinate anti-British efforts, in 1776 he was elected to the Virginia Convention which voted to declare independence from Great Britain and which wrote a constititution for the new state, he served on the Council of State under governor’s Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson in 1778 and 1779. In 1779, Madison was elected to the Continental Congress where he served until 1783 Madison served in the Virginia state legislature (1776–79) and became known as a protégé of Thomas Jefferson. He attained prominence in Virginia politics, helping to draft the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
As a delegate to the Continental Congress (1780–83), Madison was considered a legislative workhorse and a master of parliamentary coalition building. He was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for a second time from 1784 to 1786.
Madison was a devout Christian, who believed that moral guidance for the Constitution could only come from “natural law’ or a belief that God is the author of Man’s moral code. He was the main force behind the Constitutional Convention of 1787 believing that the new nation was in need of adequate and fair system of government. He asked God for help: “Invoking the blessings of Heaven on our beloved country, and on all means that may be employed in vindicating its rights and advancing its welfare.” Madison knew that each state had to ratify (approve) the Constitution before it became the law of the land. So he left the ratification effort in part by co-authoring the Federalist Papers with John Jay. These first appeared in newspapers around the country. Madison expressed the overall challenge the Framers faced in this way, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”
Madison served as Secretary of State from 1801-1809 and was concerned with protecting the interests of our new nation from Great Britain and France that were at war with each other. Madison played a key role in the Louisiana Purchase where the United States acquired huge western territories from France. Madison served as America’s 4th President from 1809-1817. He defended America’s shipping and trade against British threats and boarding of United States merchant shipping that lead to the war or 1812, and ended successfully with the United States shipping no longer challenged by Great Britain. Madison died in 1836 at the age of 85. James Madison Jr. was the smallest President standing at only 5’ 4” and weighing 100 lbs, but as he is considered the “Father of the Constitution,” he must be counted among America’s greatest presidents.