Father of the Constitution: James Madison, More Than Any Other Individual, Is Responsible for the U.S. Constitution. but His Legacy Extends beyond That Priceless Document of Ordered Liberty. (History -- Greatness of the Founders)

By Eddlem, Thomas R. | The New American, July 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Father of the Constitution: James Madison, More Than Any Other Individual, Is Responsible for the U.S. Constitution. but His Legacy Extends beyond That Priceless Document of Ordered Liberty. (History -- Greatness of the Founders)


Eddlem, Thomas R., The New American


James Madison is best known for the most tangible legacy he left America: the U.S. Constitution, and rightfully so. The U.S. Constitution is the oldest national constitution still in force and a model for ordered liberty to the rest of the world.

But Madison's legacy extends beyond being the "Father of the Constitution." He was also the fourth president of the United States. And he was even more than that.

He was the shrewdest politician and political organizer of his generation, More importantly, Madison stands as the greatest political theorist in American history -- and perhaps in world history. Madison left behind a timeless body of political literature unmatched in analytical depth anywhere in American history. From The Federalist Papers to his journal of the 1787 Constitutional Convention to his personal correspondence, Madison created for posterity one of the greatest and most penetrating collections of political thought.

Early Life

Madison grew up in rural Orange County, Virginia, with all the advantages of the landed Virginia aristocracy. His father, James Madison Sr., had amassed a 5,000-acre plantation at Montpelier by the time James Jr. was born. As a result, the young Madison received capable schooling at a local school run by a Scottish-educated teacher and later tutoring at the hands of Presbyterian minister Thomas Martin. The Princeton-educated Martin likely had a hand in Madison's decision to pursue his education at the College of New Jersey at Princeton rather than through the traditional Virginian route at the College of William and Mary. Princeton was founded by fiery Presbyterians but boasted religious toleration of all denominations. Yet it had exacting moral standards as well as a challenging curriculum based on a traditional liberal education. One already had to have knowledge of a substantial portion of the classics to be even accepted by Princeton. The entrance exam of the time required the applicants to be able to "re nder Virgil and Tully's orations into English and to turn English into true and grammatical Latin, and to be so well acquainted with the Greek, as to render any part of the Four Evangelists [Gospels] in that language into Latin or English ... [and master] reading English with propriety, spelling the English language, and writing it without grammatical errors."

Madison not only passed Princeton's entrance exam, but upon arrival he passed the freshman year exams as well and was allowed to skip his freshman year. The brilliant young scholar compressed the remaining three years of study into two. Though Madison managed to win a four-year degree from Princeton in just two years, the concentration on his studies -- limiting himself to a few hours of sleep per night for weeks on end -- took its toll on the already sickly Madison. After graduating in September 1771, Madison stayed on at Princeton through the winter, in part because his health made the 300-mile journey back to Montpelier too difficult. Though Madison was from an Episcopalian family, the influence of his Presbyterian tutor and university schooling gave Madison little interest in denominational squabbles. In fact, he only rarely mentioned his religious faith in public addresses or in personal correspondence. But Madison was hardly indifferent to religion. "The belief in a God, all powerful, wise, and good," M adison wrote in 1825, is "essential to the moral order of the world, and to the happiness of man."

Few would assume Madison was a strong leader based on his physical attributes. He stood approximately 5'4" tall, about average height at the time. This meant that Madison was dwarfed by Virginia's other eminent leaders such as the tall and athletic George Washington and the even taller but lanky Thomas Jefferson. More importantly, Madison had constant health problems and a frail and boyish build well into middle age. …

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Father of the Constitution: James Madison, More Than Any Other Individual, Is Responsible for the U.S. Constitution. but His Legacy Extends beyond That Priceless Document of Ordered Liberty. (History -- Greatness of the Founders)
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