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The Biography of James Madison

James Madison, Jr., was born on March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Va. He was the oldest of 7 children in his family to reach adulthood. His parents were James Madison, Sr., and Eleanor Conway.

The French and Indian War (1754–63) waged during most of his childhood, and James Madison, Jr., lived in fear of Native American attacks near his home. Young James Madison developed a prejudice against Native Americans that continued into his adulthood. Although the war created unrest among the tribes in the areas surrounding Montpelier, the Madison estate was never threatened.

Madison received his elementary teachings in reading and writing from his mother until the age of 10. From ages 11 to 16, he attended a boarding school under the teachings of Donald Robertson, a Scottish-born schoolmaster, in King and Queen County, Va. At 17 and 18 Madison studied at Montpelier by Thomas Martin, the Orange County Anglican minister.

Encouraged by Martin, Madison entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1769. He was a brilliant student and spent most of his time studying his courses, which included debate, Greek, Latin, science, literature, and philosophy. While in college Madison was intrigued by students and faculty who were opposed to British rule in the colonies. He joined the American Whig Society, an anti-British student club, and closely followed the proceedings of colonial resistance to British delegation and taxation.

After earning his bachelor's degree in 1771, Madison returned to Montpelier and studied politics, history, and law independently. He became interested in law but never pursued admission to the bar. He remained undecided about his career until his father offered him an opportunity in politics.

"Father of the Constitution"
James Madison

At the age of 23, James Madison was elected to his first public office in 1774 with the Orange County Committee of Safety, an organization his father chaired. Madison entered the Orange County militia in 1775 as a colonel at the beginning of the American Revolution. However, his poor health from a nervous disorder kept him from combat duty, and he served only a brief time in the military.

In 1776 James was elected as a delegate to the Virginia state convention where he worked alongside Thomas Jefferson in writing the state constitution, a set of laws that became the model for the United States Constitution. While drafting the Virginia constitution, Madison and Jefferson proposed modifications to educational and religious statutes in the state. These reforms set the standard for the entire nation to follow.

Both Virginia legislators sought free public education for all Virginians and state support for higher education. Working together, Madison and Jefferson formed a political alliance that continued into other state and federal offices.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 Madison and Governor Edmund Randolph presented the Virginia Plan, a set of 15 resolutions designed to establish a national government. Madison outlined the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and offered these resolutions as replacement. The federal government would include three branches, a national legislature to enact laws, an executive leader to govern the nation, and a national judiciary composed of the courts with elected representatives in each branch holding office for designated terms. New states would be admitted to the union based on population criteria. The Virginia Plan provided the basic framework for the United States Constitution.

Madison drafted a large portion of the Constitution based on his principles of a strong national government and an even distribution of authority within its branches. His dedication to these values and his diligent participation in the convention earned him the title Father of the Constitution.

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