Madison: War commander or legislator?





American History 1



When one thinks of the war of 1812, little or no significance surface upon the mind. Despite lasting only a brief amount of time, this conflict between the British and the colonial turned Americans proved to be an essential struggle for America. This war proved to the world that America should be a power to be reckoned with and respected in terms of talks of diplomacy. However, one may ask, who led us through this war and helped America gain an astounding victory over the British? This was of course none other than the “Father of the Constitution”, James Madison. Born in Port Conway, Virginia Madison was the eldest of 12 children. Entering Princeton in 1769 he studied an array of topics from history theology and law. During his time in Princeton, Madison was introduced to the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment. These included Frances Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith. Each of these influential characters had an impact in the way of his thinking, which later on impact his ideas upon the construction of the American Constitution. Returning home in 1772, at the age of 23 Madison would began his public career as a federalist politician.


Beginning in 1776 Madison was elected to the Virginia Convention. Previous to this occurrence, he was only part of the local Committee of Orange County Virginia. This promotion to the Virginia Convention raised his influencing power. The first major contribution that Madison made at the Virginia Convention was over the topic of religion. He believed it to be a fundamental right of practicing any religion they chose as opposed to a granted privilege from the government. He also was a strong advocate for the true separation between church and state. In the debates that were held over this topic, it became settled that the new Virginia Bill of rights would follow Madison’s advice of separation of church and state. This eventually became a fundamental right and was incorporated as part of the Virginia Bill of Rights. It is interesting to note that during these debates, Madison gained a life long friend, Thomas Jefferson. This would later come into play as party sides would be picked in a political fight. Later on in Madison’s career as a politician, he lost the election for the 1777 session of the House of Delegates, purportedly because he refused to provide liquor for the voters, a tradition affectionately referred to as "swilling the planters with bumbo.” This alone, showed the morals and values that Madison believed in. He thought only through truth and honesty would the true leaders emerge. This proved in essence very true when through the efforts and diligence of Madison’s remarkable work, he was elected as the Virginia representative to the Continental Congress in 1779. Madison served in Congress from March 1780, when the Revolutionary War had reached its all time lowest point ever, to December 1783, which was when America gained its independence.


Known as a “conscientious legislator” , Madison had very centralizing and unifying views for how the Congress should govern the new nation. Madison believed in stronger central authority and that these powers should be given at the expense of the individual states of America. This would later be known as a very republican type view. At that time, the Articles of Confederation existed which gave states a stronger advantage in government and the central government very weak and limited powers which Madison believed would withhold America’s true potential as a nation. After the war’s end in 1783 Madison left to rejoin the Virginia delegates and once again fought for the separation of church and state. Finally, after a long awaited triumph, the Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1785 was passed. After this accomplishment, Madison moved onto becoming a delegate from Virginia to the Constitutional convention and suggested that the Article of Confederation be scrapped and a new Constitution be created. Madison made a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution by writing, with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, through the Federalist essays. In later years, when he was referred to as the "Father of the Constitution," Madison protested that the document was not "the off-spring of a single brain," but "the work of many heads