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James Madison (1751 - 1809)

Madison, James

James Madison was born on March 16th, 1751 in Port Conway, Virginia. The eldest son of a wealthy landholder, Madison lived a life of privilege. In 1769, after being educated at home by private tutors, Madison began the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), studying history and government and forming a political club called the American Whig Society. He graduated after only two years and returned home.

"What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." (from Federalist No. 51).

In 1776, Madison helped write the Virginia Constitution and was elected to both the Virginia legislature and the Continental Congress. His notes on the Constitutional Convention have been used to piece together the series of events that led to the signing of the United States Constitution. During 1788, Madison, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, wrote The Federalist Papers, a series of eighty-five political essays which illustrated the problems of the Republican government, asserting that federalism would preserve the individual's freedom. Madison served in the Virginia House of Representatives from 1789 until 1797.

Madison married Dorothea (Dolley) Payne Todd on September 15th, 1794. He was appointed Secretary of State by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. The fourth President of the United States, Madison served through the War of 1812 until 1817. Upon leaving office, he and Dolley moved to Montpelier, but Madison still found the time to help Thomas Jefferson found the University of Virginia and to take part in the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829. He died on June 28th, 1836.

Famous quotations by James Madison:

  • A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person.

  • A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the best most natural defense of a free country.

  • Democracy is the most vile form of government... democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

  • If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

  • It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.

  • It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.

  • Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

  • Such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

  • The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.

  • The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.

  • The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.

  • What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?

  • Suggested sites for James Madison:

    Encyclopedia article about James Madison
    Texts by Madison
    Federalist Papers Authored by James Madison
    A series of articles written to gain support for the Constitution. Contributed to by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison.

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