James Madison

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James Madison, starin' down the opposition
God, guns, and freedom
U.S. Politics
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James Madison (1751–1836) was the primary author of the United States Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights that was added to it. He also served as the 4th President of the United States and lead the nation during the War of 1812. Notably, Madison was the smallest president, only 5'4" and about 100 pounds.[1]

Author of the Constitution[edit]

As the Articles of Confederation began to crumble, Madison took it upon himself to draft a new constitution for the nation (commonly known as the "Virginia Plan"). He was by no means a novel political theorist. Still, in crafting the US Constitution, he drew on a long legacy of such writings in Europe, notably John Locke and Montesquieu. It called for a separation of power and checks and balances while still giving the federal government more centralism and overall control.

In the end, the Virginia Plan was not accepted wholesale but was instead, modified dramatically to win approval by all of the 13 states. Despite the modifications, James Madison still argued (along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay) for the states' ratification. Together, the three wrote the Federalist Papers to argue for a stronger government (sadly, after this, Hamilton and Madison became strong political enemies, with Hamilton wanting a much stronger federal government than Madison was comfortable with). This shows once again that the Founding Fathers were anything but a homogeneous bloc and that they had vastly different opinions on almost all issues, including the meaning of the very constitution they had agreed on.[note 1]

Initially, Madison was opposed to a separate "Bill of Rights", fearing it would be only a paper cover and would cause people to think that rights not listed did not exist. However, it became clear that it would not be accepted without some kind of additional modifications. So Madison wrote up some of the first explicit prohibitions for a government to be involved in matters of conscience. His original desire was for these to be applied to the states as well, but that had to wait until after the American Civil War. Interestingly enough, the US Bill of Rights was passed the same year as the French declaration of human rights. Neither of those made any mention of women's rights, of course.[note 2] That would just be crazy talk.

President[edit]

Madison's presidency was mostly taken up with the rivalry (and then war) with Great Britain. The War of 1812 saw some very dramatic losses for the United States, including the sacking of Washington, D.C., but the conflict was considered a clear draw by the end. Many in the US saw it as a win, as they thought it consolidated the US's status as an independent nation.

Madison had better luck in the Mediterranean than with his home country. Despite the terms of the 1805 Treaty of TripoliWikipedia (different from the one that refutes the idea of The United States as a Christian nation), pirates based in Algiers (part of modern-day Algeria) continued to attack American ships in the Mediterranean. During the War of 1812, the British even managed to get the Algerian government to formally declare war on the US for supposedly failing to pay up tribute,[2] though the effects of piracy had been limited due to the British blockade preventing American ships from actually reaching the Mediterranean in the first place. After the end of the War of 1812, Mr. Madison turned his sights to Algiers, and on May 10th, 1815, he sent forth a squadron of ships headed by William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur. After about a month of fighting, Decatur managed to secure full shipping rights, an end to tribute payments, and the release and compensation of ten American captives in exchange for releasing all the Algerian ships the Americans had captured,[3] putting an end to the Second Barbary War.Wikipedia

Advocate of religious freedom[edit]

Madison was a lifelong champion for freedom of religion and separation of church and state. In his eyes, secularity not only promoted religious liberty but also political liberty. Madison was himself a deist. For example, after the Boston Tea Party, he stood with the Sons of Liberty and argued that the reason Massachusetts could make such a bold statement was because, unlike Virginia, the colonists in Massachusetts did not have an established church and therefore had the freedom of mind to fight the Tea Act.[4]:89-90

In 1776, in the wake of several attacks on Baptist and Presbyterian ministers, Madison managed to insert an provision for "free exercise of religion" into the Virginia Declaration of Rights, though it was fairly vague and failed to address whether Virginia would still have an established church.[5] Later that year, he and Thomas Jefferson managed to pass an act repealing a religious on dissenters from the Church of England, the established religion of Virgina. In addition to explaining how to collect money for church buildings and clergy salaries under the revised system, the act argued that it made absolutely no sense for someone to pay a tax to build or maintain a church building they didn't even go to.[6]

Notes[edit]

  1. Take that Antonin Scalia
  2. The French word "homme" as in "droit de l'homme" can mean both "man" and "human" just like "man" used to include women as well

References[edit]

  1. Presidential Height, Weight, and BMI
  2. Between the Wars: America’s Presence in the Mediterranean, 1805-1812, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
  3. The Second Barbary War: The Algerine War, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
  4. These Truths by Jill Lepore (2018) W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-63524-9
  5. Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786) by John Ragosta (Last updated December 07, 2020) Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Humanities
  6. An act for exempting the different societies of Dissenters from contributing to the support and maintenance of the church as by law established, and its ministers, and for other purposes therein mentioned (1776), Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Humanities