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James Madison Biography

4th President of the United States

Years Served as President: 1809-1817

Vice Presidents: George Clinton, Elbridge Gerry

Party: Democratic-Republican

james madison

Age at Inauguration: 57

Home State: Virginia

Date of Birth: March 16, 1751

Died: June 28, 1836

Married: Dolley Paine Todd

Children: None

Nickname: Father of the Constitution

What is James Madison known for?

James Madison is most famous for his work on the United States Constitution and its first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights.


He helped shape the U.S. government and secure the freedoms of the people.

He was the United States president during the War of 1812 against Great Britain.

James Madison was a supporter of a strong federal government. He also strongly believed in religious freedom.

Along with Thomas Jefferson, he founded the Democratic-Republican party, known as the first opposition party in U.S. history.

Founding Fathers

Early Life

James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia. His parents were James Madison Sr. and Nelly Conway Madison. James was the oldest of 12 children.

With his large family, James lived on Montpelier. Montpelier was the family plantation in Orange County, Virginia.

montpelier james madison home

When James was 18, he attended the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University).

After graduating, James became interested in the relationship between Britain and the colonies. At the time, conflict was growing over the issue of taxation.

He became a colonel in the Orange County militia. Because he was small and sickly, it wasn’t long before James gave up his military career for a political career.

James Madison military

Political Career

In 1776, James Madison joined the Virginia legislature. He helped organize a new state government that was no longer under British rule.

A few years later, in 1780, James became a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

After the colonies gained their independence from the British, the Articles of Confederation became the first United States constitution. It gave very little power to the federal government.


James Madison researched other world governments and decided that the United States needed a stronger federal government.

He also wanted the government to have checks and balances, so no branch would have more power than the others.

The Constitutional Convention was held in May of 1787. James Madison presented his ideas for a new government system.


It was his idea to have a government with three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

During the convention, James took many notes. His plan and the notes he gathered from other delegates helped to form the Constitution. This is why he’s called the Father of the Constitution.

Some people weren’t sure about the new Constitution. James wrote many essays called the Federalist Papers to help people understand why a strong federal government was needed.

US government structure

He served four terms in Congress and helped write the Bill of Rights. These are the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and they grant important freedoms to American citizens.

He was also the Secretary of State under his good friend Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson, 3rd US President

Family Life

In 1794, the 43-year-old James Madison married Dolley Payne Todd. She was a 26-year-old widow with a young son.

Dolley was outgoing and loved to attend and host parties. James was known for being quiet and reserved, so their personalities were very different. During their marriage, however, they were almost never apart.

The couple did not have any children together.

Dolley Payne Todd
Dolley Payne Todd


In 1808, James Madison defeated Federalist candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and became the fourth president of the United States.

France and Britain were at war, and Britain began seizing U.S. trade ships. James Madison asked Congress to declare war on the British, and they did.

However, the United States was not prepared for war. The U.S. army didn’t have enough funding. State militias were asked to help, but many states did not support the war and refused.

trade ship

During the War of 1812, James ran for re-election against DeWitt Clinton and won. Still, many people were not happy about the war with Britain and the difficulties Americans faced as a result.

In August 1814, the British invaded Washington D.C. and burned down the White House. The United States won the final battle of the war, the Battle of Orleans.

This victory was led by Andrew Jackson, and it helped James Madison become popular again. The Treaty of Ghent was signed, and the war was over.

Battle of Orleans

After the Presidency

After serving his two terms, James Madison retired to Montpelier with Dolley. He helped Thomas Jefferson found the University of Virginia and led the university after Jefferson’s death.

He died at the age of 85. At that time, he was the last living signer of the United States Constitution.

Fun Facts About James Madison

Although James Madison is called the Father of the Constitution, he said the Constitution “was not the offspring of a single brain, but the work of many heads.”

British burn White House

When the British burned the White House, Dolley Madison famously saved a painting of George Washington and several important documents.

James Madison was related to George Washington.

James Madison was only 5’4 and weighed 100 pounds.

Both of his vice presidents died in office.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison met during Madison’s time in the Virginia legislature and became lifelong friends.

Madison Jefferson friends

His last words were, “I talk better lying down.”

US Presidents

Obama in Oval Office
President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.

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