The Presidents of the United States, 1789-1914/James Madison

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James Madison[edit]

Also in this chapter … Dorothy, wife


James Madison, fourth president of the United States, born in Port Conway, Va., March 16, 1751; died at Montpelier, Orange County, Va., June 28, 1836. His earliest paternal ancestor in Virginia seems to have been John Madison, who, in 1653, took out a patent for land between the North and York rivers on Chesapeake bay. There was a Capt. Isaac Madison in Virginia in 1623–'5, but his relationship to John Madison is matter of doubt. John's son, named also John, was father of Ambrose Madison, who married, August 24, 1721, Frances, daughter of James Taylor, of Orange County, Va. Frances had four brothers, one of whom, Zachary, was grandfather of Zachary Taylor, twelfth president of the United States. The eldest child of Ambrose and Frances was James Madison, born March 27, 1723, who married, September 15, 1749, Nelly Conway, of Port Conway. The eldest child of James and Nelly was James, the subject of this biography, who was the first of twelve children. His ancestors, as he says himself in a note furnished to Dr. Lyman C. Draper in 1834, "were not among the most wealthy of the country, but in independent and comfortable circumstances." James's education was begun at an excellent school kept by a Scotchman named Donald Robertson, and his studies, preparatory for college, were completed at home under the care of the Rev. Thomas Martin, clergyman of the parish. He was graduated at Princeton in 1772, and remained there another year, devoting himself to the study of Hebrew.

On returning home, he occupied himself with history, law, and theology, while teaching his brothers and sisters. Of the details of his youthful studies little is known, but his industry must have been very great; for, in spite of the early age at which he became absorbed in the duties of public life, the range and solidity of his acquirements were extraordinary. For minute and thorough knowledge of ancient and modern history and of constitutional law he was unequalled among the Americans of the Revolutionary period; only Hamilton, and perhaps Ellsworth and Marshall, approached him in this regard. For precocity of mental development he resembled Hamilton and the younger Pitt, and, like Washington, he was distinguished in youth for soundness of judgment, keenness of perception, and rare capacity for work. Along with these admirable qualities, his lofty integrity and his warm interest in public affairs were well known to the people of Orange, so that when, in the autumn of 1774, it was thought necessary to appoint a committee of safety, Madison was its youngest member. Early in 1776 he was chosen a delegate to the State convention, which met at Williamsburg in May. The first business of the convention was to instruct the Virginia delegation in the Continental congress with regard to an immediate declaration of independence.


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From the painting by Gilbert Stuart, owned by T. Jefferson Coolidge


Next came the work of making a constitution for the state, and Madison was one of the special committee appointed to deal with this problem. Here one of his first acts was highly characteristic. Religious liberty was a matter that strongly enlisted his feelings. When it was proposed that, under the new constitution, "all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience," Madison pointed out that this provision did not go to the root of the matter. The free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, is something which every man may demand as a right, not something for which he must ask as a privilege. To grant to the state the power of tolerating is implicitly to grant to it the power of prohibiting, whereas Madison would deny to it any jurisdiction whatever in the matter of religion. The clause in the bill of rights, as finally adopted at his suggestion, accordingly declares that "all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience." The incident illustrates not only Madison's liberality of spirit, but also his precision and forethought in so drawing up an instrument as to make it mean all that it was intended to mean. In his later career these qualities were especially brilliant and useful. Madison was elected a member of the first legislature under the new state constitution, but he failed of re-election because he refused to solicit votes or to furnish whiskey for thirsty voters. The new legislature then elected him a member of the governor's council, and in 1780 he was sent as delegate to the Continental congress.

The high consideration in which he was held showed itself in the number of important committees to which he was appointed. As chairman of a committee for drawing up instructions for John Jay, then minister at the court of Madrid, he insisted that, in making a treaty with Spain, our right to the free navigation of the Mississippi river should on no account be surrendered. Mr. Jay was instructed accordingly, but toward the end of 1780 the pressure of the war upon the southern states increased the desire for an alliance with Spain to such a point that they seemed ready to purchase it at any price. Virginia, therefore, proposed that the surrender of our rights upon the Mississippi should be offered to Spain as the condition of an offensive and defensive alliance. Such a proposal was no doubt ill-advised. Since Spain was already, on her own account and to the best of her ability, waging war upon Great Britain in the West Indies and Florida, to say nothing of Gibraltar, it is doubtful if she could have done much more for the United States, even if we had offered her the whole Mississippi valley. The offer of a permanent and invaluable right in exchange for a temporary and questionable advantage seemed to Mr. Madison very unwise; but as it was then generally held that in such matters representatives must be bound by the wishes of their constituents, he yielded, though under protest. But hardly had the fresh instructions been despatched to Mr. Jay when the overthrow of Cornwallis again turned the scale, and Spain was informed that, as concerned the Mississippi question, congress was immovable. The foresight and sound judgment shown by Mr. Madison in this discussion added much to his reputation.

His next prominent action related to the impost law proposed in 1783. This was, in some respects, the most important question of the day. The chief source of the weakness of the United States during the Revolutionary war had been the impossibility of raising money by means of Federal taxation. As long as money could be raised only through requisitions upon the state governments, and the different states could not be brought to agree upon any method of enforcing the requisitions, the state governments were sure to prove delinquent. Finding it impossible to obtain money for carrying on the war, congress had resorted to the issue of large quantities of inconvertible paper, with the natural results. There had been a rapid inflation of values, followed by sudden bankruptcy and the prostration of national credit. In 1783 it had become difficult to obtain foreign loans, and at home the government could not raise nearly enough money to defray its current expenses. To remedy the evil a tariff of five per cent. upon sundry imports, with a specific duty upon others, was proposed in congress and offered to the several states for approval. To weaken as much as possible the objections to such a law, its operation was limited to twenty-five years. Even in this mild form, however, it was impossible to persuade the several states to submit to Federal taxation. Virginia at first assented to the impost law, but afterward revoked her action. On this occasion Mr. Madison, feeling that the very existence of the nation was at stake, refused to be controlled by the action of his constituents. He persisted in urging the necessity of such an impost law, and eventually had the satisfaction of seeing Virginia adopt his view of the matter.

The discussion of the impost law in congress revealed the antagonism that existed between the slave-states and those states which had emancipated their slaves. In endeavoring to apportion equitably the quotas of revenue to be required of the several states, it was observed that, if taxation were to be distributed according to population, it made a great difference whether or not slaves were to be counted as population. If slaves were to be counted, the southern states would have to pay more than their equitable share into the treasury of the general government; if slaves were not to be counted, it was argued at the north that they would be paying less than their equitable share. Consequently at that time the northern states were inclined to maintain that the slaves were population, while the south preferred to regard them as chattels. The question was settled by a compromise that was proposed by Mr. Madison; according to this arrangement the slaves were rated as population, but in such wise that five of them were counted as three persons.

In 1784 Mr. Madison was again elected to the Virginia legislature, an office then scarcely inferior in dignity, and superior in influence, to that of delegate to the Continental congress. His efforts were steadfastly devoted to the preparation and advocacy of measures that were calculated to increase the strength of the Federal government. He supported the proposed amendment to the articles of confederation, giving to congress control over the foreign trade of the states; and, pending the adoption of such a measure, he secured in that body the passage of a port bill restricting the entry of foreign ships to certain specified ports. The purpose of this was to facilitate the collection of revenue, but it was partially defeated in its operation by successive amendments increasing the number of ports. While the weakness of the general government and the need for strengthening it were daily growing more apparent, the question of religious liberty was the subject of earnest discussion in the Virginia legislature. An attempt was made to lay a tax upon all the people of that state "for the support of teachers of the Christian religion." At first Madison was almost the only one to see clearly the serious danger lurking in such a tax; that it would be likely to erect a state church and curtail men's freedom of belief and worship.

Mr. Madison's position here well illustrated the remark that intelligent persistence is capable of making one person a majority. His energetic opposition resulted at first in postponing the measure. Then he wrote a "Memorial and Remonstrance," setting forth its dangerous character with wonderful clearness and cogency. He sent this paper all over the state for signatures, and in the course of a twelvemonth had so educated the people that, in the election of 1785, the question of religious freedom was made a test question, and in the ensuing session the dangerous bill was defeated, and in place thereof it was enacted "that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess and, by argument, maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." In thus abolishing religious tests Virginia came to the front among all the American states, as Massachusetts had come to the front in the abolition of negro slavery. Nearly all the states still imposed religious tests upon civil office-holders, from simply declaring a general belief in the infallibleness of the Bible, to accepting the doctrine of the Trinity. Madison's "Religious Freedom Act" was translated into French and Italian, and was widely read and commented upon in Europe. In our own history it set a most valuable precedent for other states to follow.

The attitude of Mr. Madison with regard to paper money was also very important. The several states had then the power of issuing promissory notes and making them a legal tender, and many of them shamefully abused this power. The year 1786 witnessed perhaps the most virulent craze for paper money that has ever attacked the American people. In Virginia the masterly reasoning and the resolute attitude of a few great political leaders saved the state from yielding to the delusion, and among these leaders Mr. Madison was foremost. But his most important work in the Virginia legislature was that which led directly to the Annapolis convention, and thus ultimately to the framing of the constitution of the United States. The source from which such vast results were to flow was the necessity of an agreement between Maryland and Virginia with regard to the navigation of the Potomac river, and the collection of duties at ports on its banks. Commissioners appointed by the two states to discuss this question met early in 1785 and recommended that a uniform tariff should be adopted and enforced upon both banks. But a further question, also closely connected with the navigation of the Potomac, now came up for discussion. The tide of westward migration had for some time been pouring over the Alleghanies, and, owing to complications with the Spanish power in the Mississippi valley, there was some danger that the United States might not be able to keep its hold upon the new settlements. It was necessary to strengthen the commercial ties between east and west, and to this end the Potomac company was formed for the purpose of improving the navigation of the upper waters of the Potomac and connecting them by good roads and canals with the upper waters of the Ohio at Pittsburg—an enterprise which, in due course of time, resulted in the Chesapeake and Ohio canal.

The first president of the Potomac company was George Washington, who well understood that the undertaking was quite as important in its political as in its commercial bearings. At the same time it was proposed to connect the Potomac and Delaware rivers with a canal, and a company was organized for this purpose. This made it desirable that the four states—Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania—should agree upon the laws for regulating interstate traffic through this system of water-ways. But from this it was but a short step to the conclusion that, since the whole commercial system of the United States confessedly needed overhauling, it might perhaps be as well for all the thirteen states to hold a convention for considering the matter. When such a suggestion was communicated from the legislature of Maryland to that of Virginia, it afforded Mr. Madison the opportunity for which he had been eagerly waiting. Some time before he had prepared a resolution for the appointment of commissioners to confer with commissioners from the other states concerning the trade of the country and the advisableness of entrusting its regulation to the Federal government. This resolution Mr. Madison left to be offered to the assembly by some one less conspicuously identified with federalist opinions than himself; and it was accordingly presented by Mr. Tyler, father of the future president of that name. The motion was unfavorably received and was laid upon the table, but when the message came from Maryland, the matter was reconsidered and the resolution passed. Annapolis was selected as the place for the convention, which assembled on September 11, 1786. Only five states—Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York—were represented at the meeting. Maryland, which had first suggested the convention, had seen the appointed time arrive without even taking the trouble to select commissioners. As the representation was so inadequate, the convention thought it best to defer action, and accordingly adjourned after adopting an address to the states, which was prepared by Alexander Hamilton. The address incorporated a suggestion from New Jersey, which indefinitely enlarged the business to be treated by such convention; it was to deal not only with the regulation of commerce, but with "other important matters."

Acting upon this cautious hint, the address recommended the calling of a second convention, to be held at Philadelphia on the second Monday of May, 1787. Mr. Madison was one of the commissioners at Annapolis, and was very soon appointed a delegate to the new convention, along with Washington, Randolph, Mason, and others. The avowed purpose of the new convention was to "devise such provisions as shall appear necessary to render the constitution of the Federal government adequate to the exigencies of the Union, and to report to congress such an act as, when agreed to by them and confirmed by the legislatures of every state, would effectually provide for the same." The report of the Annapolis commissioners was brought before congress in October, in the hope that congress would earnestly recommend to the several states the course of action therein suggested. At first the objections to the plan prevailed in congress, but the events of the winter went far toward persuading men in all parts of the country that the only hope of escaping anarchy lay in a thorough revision of the imperfect scheme of government under which we were then living. The paper-money craze in so many of the states, the violent proceedings in the Rhode Island legislature, the riots in Vermont and New Hampshire, the Shays rebellion in Massachusetts, the dispute with Spain about the navigation of the Mississippi, and the consequent imminent danger of separation between north and south, had all come together; and now the last ounce was laid upon the camel's back in the failure of the impost amendment. In February, 1787, just as Mr. Madison, who had been chosen a delegate to congress, arrived in New York, the legislature of that state refused its assent to the amendment, which was thus defeated. Thus, only three months before the time designated for the meeting of the Philadelphia convention, congress was decisively informed that it would not be allowed to take any effectual measures for raising a revenue. This accumulation of difficulties made congress more ready to listen to the arguments of Mr. Madison, and presently congress itself proposed a convention at Philadelphia identical with the one recommended by the Annapolis commissioners, and thus in its own way sanctioned their action.

The assembling of the convention at Philadelphia was an event to which Mr. Madison, by persistent energy and skill, had contributed more than any other man in the country, with the possible exception of Alexander Hamilton. For the noble political structure reared by the convention it was Madison that furnished the basis. Before the convention met he laid before his colleagues of the Virginia delegation the outlines of the scheme that was presented to the convention as the "Virginia plan." Of the delegates, Edmund Randolph was then governor of Virginia, and it was he that presented the plan, and made the opening speech in defence of it, but its chief author was Madison. This "Virginia plan" struck directly at the root of the evils from which our Federal government had suffered under the articles of confederation. The weakness of that government had consisted in the fact that it operated only upon states and not upon individuals. Only states, not individuals, were represented in the Continental congress, which accordingly resembled a European congress rather than an English parliament. The delegates to the Continental congress were more like envoys from sovereign states than like members of a legislative body. They might deliberate and advise, but had no means of enforcing their will upon the several state governments; and hence they could neither raise a revenue nor preserve order. In forming the new government, this fundamental difficulty was met first by the creation of a legislative body representing population instead of states, and secondly by the creation of a Federal executive and a Federal judiciary.

Thus arose that peculiar state of things so familiar to Americans, but so strange to Europeans that they find it hard to comprehend it: the state of things in which every individual lives under two complete and well-rounded systems of laws—the state law and the Federal law—each with its legislature, its executive, and its judiciary, moving one within the other. It was one of the longest reaches of constructive statesmanship ever known in the world, and the credit of it is due to Madison more than to any other one man. To him we chiefly, owe the luminous conception of the two co-existing and harmonious spheres of government, although the constitution, as actually framed, was the result of skilful compromises by which the Virginia plan was modified and improved in many important points. In its original shape that plan went further toward national consolidation than the constitution as adopted. It contemplated a national legislature to be composed of two houses, but both the upper and the lower house were to represent population instead of states. Here it encountered fierce opposition from the smaller states, under the lead of New Jersey, until the matter was settled by the famous Connecticut compromise, according to which the upper house was to represent states, while the lower house represented population. Madison's original scheme, moreover, would have allowed the national legislature to set aside at discretion such state laws as it might deem unconstitutional. It seems strange to find Madison, who afterward drafted the Virginia resolutions of 1798, now suggesting and defending a provision so destructive of state rights. It shows how strongly he was influenced at the time by the desire to put an end to the prevailing anarchy. The discussion of this matter in the convention, as we read it to-day, brings out in a very strong light the excellence of the arrangement finally adopted, by which the constitutionality of state laws is left to be determined through the decisions of the Federal supreme court.

In all the discussions in the Federal convention Mr. Madison naturally took a leading part. Besides the work of cardinal importance which he achieved as principal author of the Virginia plan, especial mention must be made of the famous compromise that adjusted the distribution of representatives between the northern and the southern states. We have seen that in the congress of 1783, when it was a question of taxation, the south was inclined to regard slaves as chattels, while the north preferred to regard them as population. Now, when it had come to be a question of the apportionment of representation, the case was reversed: it was the south that wished to count slaves as population, while the north insisted that they should be classed as chattels. Here Mr. Madison proposed the same compromise that had succeeded in congress four years before; and Mr. Rutledge, of South Carolina, who had supported him on the former occasion, could hardly do otherwise than come again to his side. It was agreed that in counting population, whether for direct taxation or for representation in the lower house of congress, five slaves should be reckoned as three individuals. In the history of the formation of our Federal Union this compromise was of cardinal importance. Without it the Union would undoubtedly have gone to pieces at the outset, and it was for this reason that the northern abolitionists, Gouverneur Morris and Rufus King, joined with Washington and Madison and with the pro-slavery Pinckneys in subscribing to it. Some of the evils resulting from this compromise have led historians, writing from the abolitionist point of view, to condemn it utterly. Nothing can be clearer, however, than that, in order to secure the adoption of the constitution, it was absolutely necessary to satisfy South Carolina. This was proved by the course of events in 1788, when there was a strong party in Virginia in favor of a separate confederacy of southern states. By South Carolina's prompt ratification of the constitution this scheme was completely defeated, and a most formidable obstacle to the formation of a more perfect union was removed. Of all the compromises in American history, this of the so-called "three-fifths rule" was probably the most important: until the beginning of the civil war there was hardly a political movement of any consequence not affected by it.

Mr. Madison's services in connection with the founding of our Federal government were thus, up to this point, of the most transcendent kind. We have seen that he played a leading part in the difficult work of getting a convention to assemble; the merit of this he shares with other eminent men, and notably with Washington and Hamilton. Then, he was chief author of the most fundamental features in the constitution, those which transformed our government from a loose confederacy of states into a Federal nation; and to him is due the principal credit for the compromise that made the adoption of the constitution possible for all the states. After the adjournment of the convention his services did not cease. Among those whose influence in bringing about the ratification of the constitution was felt all over the country, he shares with Hamilton the foremost place. The "Federalist," their joint production, is probably the greatest treatise on political science that has ever appeared in the world, at once the most practical and the most profound. The evenness with which the merits of this work are shared between Madison and Hamilton is well illustrated by the fact that it is not always easy to distinguish between the two, so that there has been considerable controversy as to the number of papers contributed by each. According to Madison's own memorandum, he was the author of twenty-nine of the papers, while fifty-one were written by Hamilton, and five by Jay. The question is not of great importance. Very probably Mr. Madison would have had a larger share in the work had he not been obliged, in March, 1788, to return to Virginia, in order to take part in the State convention for deciding upon the ratification of the constitution.

The opposition in Virginia was strong and well organized, and had for leaders such eminent patriots as Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee. The debates in the convention lasted nearly a month, and for a considerable part of this time the outlook was not promising. The discussion was conducted mainly between Madison and Henry, the former being chiefly assisted by Marshall, Wythe, Randolph, Pendleton, and Henry Lee, the latter by Mason, Monroe, Harrison, and Tyler. To Mr. Madison, more than to any one else, it was due that the constitution was at length ratified, while the narrowness of the majority—89 to 79—bore witness to the severity of the contest. It did not appear that the people of Virginia were even yet convinced by the arguments that had prevailed in the convention. The assembly that met in the following October showed a heavy majority of anti-Federalists, and under Henry's leadership it called upon congress for a second National convention to reconsider the work done by the first. Senators were now to be chosen for the first U. S. senate, and Henry, in naming Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson, both anti-Federalists, as the two men who ought to be chosen, took pains to mention James Madison as the one man who on no account whatever ought to be elected senator. Henry was successful in carrying this point. The next thing was to keep Mr. Madison out of congress, and Henry's friends sought to accomplish this by means of the device afterward known as "gerrymandering"; but the attempt failed, and Madison was elected to the first national house of representatives. His great knowledge, and the part he had played in building up the framework of the government, made him from the outset the leading member of the house. His first motion was one for raising a revenue by tariff and tonnage duties. He offered the resolution for creating the executive departments of foreign affairs, of the treasury, and of war. He proposed twelve amendments to the constitution, in order to meet the objection, urged in many quarters, that that instrument did not contain a bill of rights. The first ten of these amendments were adopted and became part of the constitution in the year 1791.


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[Fac-simile letter from James Madison to Mrs. Margaret Harrison Smith]


The first division of political parties under the constitution began to show itself in the debates upon Hamilton's financial measures as secretary of the treasury, and in this division we see Madison acting as leader of the opposition. By many writers this has been regarded as indicating a radical change of attitude on his part, and sundry explanations have been offered to account for the presumed inconsistency. He has been supposed to have succumbed to the personal influence of Jefferson, and to have yielded his own convictions to the desires and prejudices of his constituents. Such explanations are hardly borne out by what we know of Mr. Madison's career up to this point; and, moreover, they are uncalled for. If we consider carefully the circumstances of the time, the presumed inconsistency in his conduct disappears. The new Republican party, of which he soon became one of the leaders, was something quite different in its attitude from the anti-Federalist party of 1787–'90. There was ample room in it for men who in these critical years had been stanch Federalists, and as time passed this came to be more and more the case, until after a quarter of a century the entire Federalist party, with the exception of a few inflexible men in New England, had been absorbed by the Republican party. In 1790, since the Federal constitution had been actually adopted, and was going into operation, and since the extent of power that it granted to the general government must be gradually tested by the discussion of specific measures, it followed that the only natural and healthful division of parties must be the division between strict and loose constructionists.

It was to be expected that anti-Federalists would become strict constructionists, and so most of them did, though examples were not wanting of such men swinging to the opposite extreme of politics, and advocating an extension of the powers of the Federal government. But there was no reason in the world why a Federalist of 1787–'90 must thereafter, in order to preserve his consistency, become a loose constructionist. It was entirely consistent for a statesman to advocate the adoption of the constitution, while convinced that the powers specifically granted therein to the general government were ample, and that great care should be taken not to add indefinitely to such powers through rash and loose methods of interpretation. Not only is such an attitude perfectly reasonable in itself, but it is, in particular, the one that a principal author of the constitution would have been very likely to take; and no doubt it was just this attitude that Mr. Madison took in the early sessions of congress. The occasions on which be assumed it were, moreover, eminently proper, and afford an admirable illustration of the difference in temper and mental habit between himself and Hamilton. The latter had always more faith in the heroic treatment of political questions than Madison. The restoration of American credit in 1790 was a task that demanded heroic measures, and it was fortunate that we had such a man as Hamilton to undertake it. But undoubtedly the assumption of state debts by the Federal government, however admirably it met the emergency of the moment, was such a measure as might easily create a dangerous precedent, and there was certainly nothing strange or inconsistent in Madison's opposition to it. A similar explanation will cover his opposition to Hamilton's national bank; and indeed, with the considerations here given as a clew, there is little or nothing in Mr. Madison's career in congress that is not thoroughly intelligible. At the time, however, the Federalists, disappointed at losing a man of so much power, misunderstood his acts and misrepresented his motives, and the old friendship between him and Hamilton gave way to mutual distrust and dislike. Mr. Madison sympathized with the French revolutionists, though he did not go so far in this direction as Jefferson. In the debates upon Jay's treaty with Great Britain he led the opposition, and supported the resolution asking President Washington to submit to the house of representatives copies of the papers relating to the negotiations. The resolution was passed, but Washington refused on the ground that the making of treaties was intrusted by the constitution to the president and the senate, and that the lower house was not entitled to meddle with their work.

At the close of Washington's second administration Mr. Madison retired for a brief season from public life. During this difficult period the country had been fortunate in having, as leader of the opposition in congress, a man so wise in counsel, so temperate in spirit, and so courteous in demeanor. Whatever else might be said of Madison's conduct in opposition, it could never be called factious; it was calm, generous, and disinterested. About two years before the close of his career in congress he married Mrs. Dolly Payne Todd, a beautiful widow, much younger than himself; and about this time he seems to have built the house at Montpelier, which was to be his home during his later years. But retirement from public life, in any real sense of the phrase, was not yet possible for such a man. The wrath of the French government over Jay's treaty led to depredations upon American shipping, to the sending of commissioners to Paris, and to the blackmailing attempts of Talleyrand, as shown up in the X. Y. Z. despatches. In the fierce outbursts of indignation that in America greeted these disclosures, in the sudden desire for war with France, which went so far as to vent itself in actual fighting on the sea, though war was never declared, the Federalist party believed itself to be so strong that it proceeded at once to make one of the greatest blunders ever made by a political party, in passing the alien and sedition acts. This high-handed legislation caused a sudden revulsion of feeling in favor of the Republicans, and called forth vigorous remonstrance. Party feeling has, perhaps, never in this country been so bitter, except just before the civil war.


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MONTPELIER, PIEDMONT, VA., THE HOME OF JAMES MADISON, NOW OWNED BY COL. WILLIAM DUPONT


A series of resolutions, drawn up by Mr. Madison, was adopted in 1798 by the legislature of Virginia, while a similar series, still more pronounced, drawn up by Mr. Jefferson, was adopted in the same year by the legislature of Kentucky. The Virginia resolutions asserted with truth that, in adopting the Federal constitution, the states had surrendered only a limited portion of their powers; and went on to declare that, whenever the Federal government should exceed its constitutional authority, it was the business of the state governments to interfere and pronounce such action unconstitutional. Accordingly, Virginia declared the alien and sedition laws unconstitutional, and invited the other states to join in the declaration. Not meeting with a favorable response, Virginia renewed these resolutions the next year. There was nothing necessarily seditious, or tending toward secession, in the Virginia resolutions; but the attitude assumed in them was uncalled for on the part of any state, inasmuch as there existed, in the Federal supreme court, a tribunal competent to decide upon the constitutionality of acts of congress. The Kentucky resolutions went further. They declared that our Federal constitution was a compact, to which the several states were the one party and the Federal government was the other, and each party must decide for itself as to when the compact was infringed, and as to the proper remedy to be adopted. When the resolutions were repeated in 1799, a clause was added, which went still further and mentioned "nullification" as the suitable remedy, and one that any state might employ. In the Virginia resolutions there was neither mention nor intention of nullification as a remedy. Mr. Madison lived to witness South Carolina's attempt at nullification in 1832, and in a very able paper, written in the last year of his life, he conclusively refuted the idea that his resolutions of 1798 afforded any justification for such an attempt, and showed that what they really contemplated was a protest on the part of all the state governments in common. Doubtless such a remedy was clumsy and impracticable, and the suggestion of it does not deserve to be ranked along with Mr. Madison's best work in constructive statesmanship; but it certainly contained no logical basis for what its author unsparingly denounced as the "twin heresies" of nullification and secession.

In 1799 Mr. Madison was again elected a member of the Virginia assembly, and in 1801, at Mr. Jefferson's urgent desire, he became secretary of state. In accepting this appointment, he entered upon a new career, in many respects different from that which he had hitherto followed. His work as a constructive statesman, which was so great as to place him in the foremost rank among the men that have built up nations, was by this time substantially completed. During the next few years the constitutional questions that had hitherto occupied him played a part subordinate to that played by questions of foreign policy, and in this new sphere Mr. Madison was not, by nature or training, fitted to exercise such a controlling influence as he had formerly brought to bear in the framing of our Federal government. As secretary of state, he was an able lieutenant to Mr. Jefferson, but his genius was not that of an executive officer so much as that of a lawgiver. He brought his great historical and legal learning to bear in a paper entitled, "An Examination of the British Doctrine which subjects to Capture a Neutral Trade not open in the Time of Peace." But the troubled period that followed the rupture of the treaty of Amiens was not one in which legal arguments, however masterly, counted for much in bringing angry and insolent combatants to terms. In the gigantic struggle between England and Napoleon the commerce of the United States was ground to pieces as between the upper and the nether millstone, and in some respects there is no chapter in American history more painful for an American citizen to read. The outrageous affair of the "Leopard" and the "Chesapeake" was but the most flagrant of a series of wrongs and insults, against which Jefferson's embargo was doubtless an absurd and feeble protest, but perhaps at the same time pardonable as the only weapon left us in that period of national weakness.

Affairs were drawing slowly toward some kind of crisis when, at the expiration of Jefferson's second term, Mr. Madison was elected president of the United States by 122 electoral votes against 47 for Cotesworth Pinckney, and 6 for George Clinton, who received 113 votes for the vice-presidency, and was elected to that office. The opposition of the New England states to the embargo had by this time brought about its repeal, and the substitution for it of the act declaring non-intercourse with England and France. By this time many of the most intelligent Federalists, including John Quincy Adams, had gone over to the Republicans. In 1810 congress repealed the non-intercourse act, which, as a measure of intimidation, had proved ineffectual. Congress now sought to use the threat of non-intercourse as a kind of bribe, and informed England and France that if either nation would repeal its obnoxious edicts, the non-intercourse act would be revived against the other. Napoleon took prompt advantage of this, and informed Mr. Madison's government that he had revoked his Berlin and Milan decrees as far as American ships were concerned; but at the same time he gave secret orders by which the decrees were to be practically enforced as harshly as ever. The lie served its purpose, and congress revived the non-intercourse act as against Great Britain alone. In 1811 hostilities began on sea and land, in the affair of Tippecanoe and of the "President" and "Little Belt." The growing desire for war was shown in the choice of Henry Clay for speaker of the house of representatives, and Mr. Madison was nominated for a second term, on condition of adopting the war policy. On June 18, 1812, war was declared, and before the autumn election a series of remarkable naval victories had made it popular. Mr. Madison was re-elected by 128 electoral votes against 89 for DeWitt Clinton, of New York. The one absorbing event, which filled the greater part of his second term, was the war with Great Britain, which was marked by some brilliant victories and some grave disasters, including the capture of Washington by British troops, and the flight of the government from the national capital. Whatever opinion may be held as to the character of the war and its results, there is a general agreement that its management, on the part of the United States, was feeble. Mr. Madison was essentially a man of peace, and as the manager of a great war he was conspicuously out of his element. The history of that war plays a great part in the biographies of the military and naval heroes that figured in it; it is a cardinal event in the career of Andrew Jackson or Isaac Hull. In the biography of Madison it is an episode which may be passed over briefly. The greatest part of his career was finished before he held the highest offices; his renown will rest chiefly or entirely upon what he did before the beginning of the 19th century.

After the close of his second term in 1817, Mr. Madison retired to his estate at Montpelier, where he spent nearly twenty happy years with books and friends. This sweet and tranquil old age he had well earned by services to his fellow-creatures such as it is given to but few men to render. Among the founders of our nation, his place is beside that of Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Marshall; but his part was peculiar. He was pre-eminently the scholar, the profound, constructive thinker, and his limitations were such as belong to that character. He was modest, quiet, and reserved in manner, small in stature, neat and refined, courteous and amiable. In rough party strife there were many who could for the moment outshine him. He was not the sort of hero for whom people throw up their caps and shout themselves hoarse, like Andrew Jackson, for example; but his work was of a kind that will be powerful for good in the world long after the work of the men of Jackson's type shall have been forgotten. The full-page portrait of Madison in this chapter is from a painting by Gilbert Stuart.

A satisfactory biography of Madison is still to be desired. His interesting account of the Federal convention is published in Elliot's "Debates on the State Conventions" (4 vols., 8vo, Philadelphia, 1861). See also the "Madison Papers" (3 vols., Washington, 1840), and the "History of the United States by Henry Adams. Vols. V to IX, Madison's Administration, 1809–1817" (New York, 1890, 1891). A complete edition of his writings, edited by Gaillard Hunt, in 9 octavo volumes, appeared in New York in 1900–1910. For biographies there is the cumbrous work of William C. Rives (3 vols., Boston, 1859–'68), and the sketch by Sydney Howard Gay in the "American Statesmen" series (Boston, 1884).

Dorothy[edit]

His wife, Dorothy Payne, born in North Carolina, May 20, 1772; died in Washington, D. C., July 12, 1849, was a granddaughter of John Payne, an English gentleman who migrated to Virginia early in the 18th century. He married Anna Fleming, granddaughter of Sir Thomas Fleming, one of the early settlers of Jamestown. His son, the second John Payne, Dorothy's father, married Mary Coles, first cousin to Patrick Henry. Dorothy was brought up as a Quaker, and at the age of nineteen married John Todd, a Pennsylvania lawyer and member of the Society of Friends. Mr. Todd died in the dreadful yellow-fever pestilence at Philadelphia in 1793. Some time in 1794 Mrs. Todd met Mr. Madison, and in September of that year they were married, to the delight of President Washington and his wife, who felt a keen interest in both. Their married life of forty-two years was one of unclouded happiness. Mrs. Madison was a lady of extraordinary beauty and rare accomplishments. Her "Memoirs and Letters" (Boston, 1887) make a very interesting book.


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