Father of our Constitution. .
Trip Start Mar 04, 2005
253Trip End Dec 31, 2014
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James Madison's family ties to Virginia can be traced back to his great-great grandfather arrival in 1653. In 1723, his grandfather would lay claim to 4,675 acres in what is now Orange County. He had three years to make improvements on this land in order to receive legal title to it. In 1726, an inspection and appraisal of the property showed that he had not only met the requirements but also ranked him as among the wealthiest men in the Virginia Piedmont area. The family home that James Madison's grandfather resided in was called Mount Pleasant. The home and land was passed down to James Madison's father, James Sr.
James Sr. would marry Nelly Conway in 1749. In March of 1751 James Madison Jr would be born. He would be the oldest of 12 children - 7 of whom lived to adulthood. As the family grew a need for a larger home was created. James Sr. would oversee the construction of this home, located about four hundred yard up the hill from Mount Pleasant. This new home would come to be called Montpelier.
At the age of 11 James Jr was sent off to boarding school. He would return to Montpelier at the age of 16 to continue his studies at home with a private tutor. At the age of 18 he again was off to school, this time to Princeton - called the College of New Jersey at that time.
In 1776 James Madison attained his first political office when he was elected as a delegate to the Virginia Convention. Starting in 1780 Madison served as a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He was not known as a forceful speaker but rather as a powerful intellectual force. At Montpelier he embarked on a remarkable research project: studying every recorded attempt at self-government. He pored over books shipped to him from Paris by Thomas Jefferson. His research was driven by his growing awareness of the failings of the founding 1781 Articles of Confederation, under which the nation was loosely governed.
He was determined to make this nations self-government - rule by the people rather than rule by a monarch successful. As he read, he analyzed. Why had all past democracies and federations eventually failed? What would work? Why? How could the interests of individuals, states and the national authority be balanced? What was the real purpose of government?
Madison persuaded George Washington to attend the Convention in Philadelphia in May of 1787, his attendance would give the convention an importance and ensured that every state would participate. At the convention Madison's intellect, preparation, political savvy and behind-the-scenes persuasion led to many of his concepts being integrated into the U.S. Constitution. His plan gave us: representation in the House of Representatives according to population, a strong national executive, the need for checks and balances among three branches of government and a federal system that assigned certain powers to the national government and reserved others for the states & people.
James Madison would be elected to the House of Representatives in 1789, the same year that George Washington was elected our first President. He would go on to be Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson playing a critical role, along with James Monroe, in the Louisiana purchase. In 1808 he would be elected our 4Th President. After serving two terms he would retire to Montpelier with his wife Dolley. He would live out the remainder of his life here.