James Madison was born on March 16, 1751 in Port Conway, Virginia. His parents, James and Eleanor, owned a tobacco plantation with slaves and had eleven other children. His parents were quite wealthy and, as a result, James was home-schooled and lived an easy life in his childhood.
In 1769, he departed the plantation in order to move to New Jersey. There, he enrolled in classes at the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). Although he was in a four year program, he managed to complete all of his coursework in only two years. The stress from rushing through classes left him exhausted and he had to spend some time recovering before returning to normal life.
After he finished school, he attempted to join the American military during the American Revolution. However, his poor health left him unable to fulfill the physical requirements of military service and he was forced to sit out the war. Nonetheless, he supported the revolutionaries and detested the rule of the British oppressors.
In 1776, he was elected to the state legislature in Virginia and served until 1979. While in office, he met Thomas Jefferson, who became a close friend. He also managed to convince Virginia to give up much of its territories (parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) to the new Continental Congress.
In 1780, he was chosen to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress and he served in this capacity through 1783. There, he worked to develop a new constitution and attended the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In support of the constitution, he co-authored 85 articles with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. The articles became known as the Federalist Papers and greatly helped to gain support for the constitution.
In 1788, he returned to Virginia to lobby state legislators to ratify the constitution. He engaged in many vocal duels with the opposition, including the great orator Patrick Henry. The constitution was eventually ratified in Virginia and all of the other states and Madison earned the nickname "Father of the Constitution" for his tremendous efforts in gaining support for it.
After the ratification of the constitution, Madison was elected to the United States House of Representatives, representing the state of Virginia. He served for four terms and co-founded the Republican political party with Thomas Jefferson. On June 8, 1789, Madison proposed a package of twelve amendments be added to the constitution. They were whittled down to ten amendments, all of which were ratified on December 15, 1791.
In 1794, Madison married a woman named Dolley Payne Todd. In 1797, he left Congress and worked with Thomas Jefferson to create the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which declared that states had the right to block unconstitutional federal laws. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson was elected president of the United States and he chose Madison to serve as his Secretary of State.
In 1803, Madison worked closely with Jefferson to gain support from congress for the Louisiana Purchase. After the United States received negative attention from Great Britain, Madison worked with Thomas Jefferson to enact a trade embargo that made foreign trade illegal. Unfortunately, the embargo did not have the desired effect and caused more harm than good.
In the election of 1808, Madison ran for president on the Republican ticket and defeated his opponent Charles Pinckney by a wide margin. After taking office, he directed his attention to the problem of the British Navy forcefully seizing merchant ships and forcing sailors to join the British Navy. After numerous protests, he began arguing for military action, including the invasion of Canada.
In 1812, war was declared by the United States Congress and Madison managed to win the election that year as well. The British managed to capture Detroit and Washington DC, forcing Madison to flee the city while they burned the White House. The British also gave firearms to Indians in the west to help their war effort, but the American forces were able to push the British back into Canada. In the naval campaign, the United States managed to gain control of the Great Lakes, but was forced to helplessly endure a sea blockade along the entire Atlantic Coast.
In 1814, the Treaty of Ghent was established, ending the war. The treaty called for restoring territorial control to the same state as before the war and an end to all hostilities between Britain and the United States. Both countries readily signed the treaty and were relieved to finally end the long and exhaustive war.
Madison's last act before leaving office was to veto a bill that would allow for numerous internal improvements in the country. The bill would have financed the construction of numerous roadways, bridges, and canals, but Madison saw it as a violation of state rights. This action was a strong statement against federalism and reinforced his conviction that state rights overruled the rights of the federal government.
After leaving the presidency, Madison moved back to his tobacco plantation in Virginia. There, he served numerous civic functions, including the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia. In 1826, he was chosen to serve as Rector of the University and served for ten years. On June 28, 1836, he died from heart failure.