James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, is a crucial player in the history of the early republic. A brilliant mind, we owe much of the US Constitution to Madison’s thinking, particularly regarding the histories of failed republics in general. Madison secured the Great Compromise of the Constitutional Convention, creating a bi-cameral legislature, helping to shape the division of powers between the federal and state governments, and crafting a series of checks-and-balances among the three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial. During the Constitutional Convention, he kept extensive notes earning the sobriquet, Father of the Constitution. Though one of the authors of the FEDERALIST PAPERS, which argued for ratification of the new U.S. Constitution, Madison aligned himself with Jefferson and his followers, known at that time as Republicans, who insisted on a strict interpretation of the Constitution and believed that the states should have more power than the federal government. Once the Constitution was ratified, Madison penned the Bill of Rights.
Madison served as Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson and was embroiled in the various struggles the early United States had with the constant warfare between England and France. In 1808, he was elected President and then again in 1812. It was under Madison that the United States declared war on Great Britain over the rights of neutrals to engage in freedom of the seas. During the Chesapeake Campaign of the war, Madison was on the battlefield at Bladensburg, Maryland on August 24, 1814, where the American Army was routed by the British. Madison, and those living in Washington, fled the city, and the British captured it putting all public buildings to the torch.
After his second term was complete, Madison retired to his beloved estate, Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia where he died in 1836.