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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
James Madison (1751–1836)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
THE WRITINGS of James Madison were designed to serve the ends of practical politics. Yet, despite the absence of a literary motive, they possess qualities which entitle them to a permanent place in American literature. Madison’s papers in the Federalist, for example, are models of political essay-writing.  1
  James Madison was the son of a wealthy planter of Orange County, Virginia, and was born at Port Conway, March 16th, 1751. He was graduated at Princeton in 1772. Two years later, at the age of twenty-three, he was appointed a member of the Committee of Public Safety for Orange County; and thenceforward, with a few unimportant interruptions, took an active part in politics until 1817, when, at the close of his second term as President of the United States, he retired permanently from public life.  2
  His first notable publication was a paper entitled ‘A Memorial and Remonstrance,’ addressed to the General Assembly of Virginia. It appeared in 1785, and was directed against a bill providing for a tax “for the support of teachers of the Christian religion,” the vote on which in the Legislature he had with difficulty been able to postpone. Copies of the paper were distributed throughout the State, with the result that in the next election religious freedom was made a test question. In the session of the Legislature which followed the election the obnoxious bill was defeated, and in place thereof was enacted the bill establishing religious freedom offered by Jefferson seven years before. The Religious Freedom Act disestablished the Episcopal Church in Virginia, and abolished religious tests for public office.  3
  Madison’s chief work both as a constructive statesman and as a publicist was done in connection with the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The epithet “Father of the Constitution,” sometimes applied to him, is not undeserved, inasmuch as he was the author of the leading features of that instrument. In common with others, he had for some time seen the impossibility of maintaining an effective government under the Articles of Confederation. With the thoroughness characteristic of his nature, he had made a study of ancient and modern confederacies,—including, as his notes show, the Lycian, the Amphictyonic, the Achæan, the Helvetic, the Belgic, and the German,—with a view to discovering the proper remedy for the defects in the Articles of Confederation. Before the convention met, he laid before his colleagues of the Virginia delegation the outlines of the scheme of government that was presented to the convention as the “Virginia plan.” This plan was introduced at the beginning of the convention by Edmund Randolph, who, by virtue of his office as governor of Virginia, was regarded as the member most fit to speak for the delegation; but its chief supporter in the debate which followed was Madison. The fundamental defect of the government created by the Articles of Confederation was that it operated on States only, not upon individuals. The delegates to the Continental Congress were envoys from sovereign States rather than members of a legislative body. They might deliberate and advise, but had no means of enforcing their decisions. Thus they were empowered to determine the share of the expenses of the general government which each State should pay, but were unable to coerce a delinquent State. The Virginia plan contemplated a government essentially the same as that created by the Constitution; with this difference, that it provided for representation according to population, both in the upper and in the lower house of the legislature. The hand of Madison is also seen in some of the provisions of the Constitution which were not contained in the Virginia plan. Thus, for instance, he was the author of the famous compromise in accordance with which, for purposes of direct taxation and of representation, five slaves were counted as three persons.  4
  During the convention Madison kept a journal of its debates, which forms the chief authority for the deliberations of that historic body. This journal, together with his notes on the proceedings of the Continental Congress from November 1782 to February 1783, was purchased by the government after his death; both have been published by order of Congress under the title of ‘The Madison Papers.’ It may here be noted also that the remainder of his writings, including his correspondence, speeches, etc., from 1769 to 1836, have been published by the government in a separate work, entitled ‘Writings of James Madison.’  5
  After the adjournment of the convention Madison devoted his energies toward securing the ratification of the Constitution. He not only successfully opposed the eloquence and prestige of Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee in the Virginia ratifying convention, but also wrote with Hamilton and Jay that series of essays, appearing originally in certain New York newspapers, which has been preserved in book form under the title of ‘The Federalist’; and which, though intended primarily to influence the action of the extremely doubtful State of New York, served to reinforce the arguments of the advocates of ratification in other States also.  6
  ‘The Federalist’ is composed of eighty-five essays; of which, according to the memorandum made by Madison, he wrote twenty-nine, Hamilton fifty-one, and Jay five,—one or two being written jointly. It discussed the utility of the proposed union, the inefficiency of the existing Confederation, the necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed, the conformity of the Constitution to the true principles of republican government, its analogy to the State constitutions, and the additional security which its adoption would give to liberty and property. Madison’s papers defined republican government, and surveyed the powers vested in the Union, the relations between the Federal and State governments, the distribution of power among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government, and the structure of the legislative department; taking up in conjunction with the last-mentioned subject most of the vital questions, both theoretical and practical, connected with representative institutions.  7
  Madison wrote in the style that prevailed at the close of the eighteenth century. His language, while occasionally involved and heavy with orotund Latin derivatives, is rhythmical, dignified, and impressive. His writings have no imagination, wit, or humor; but the absence of these qualities is atoned for by clearness, sincerity, and aptness of illustration. Possessed of depth and genuineness of feeling coupled with an extraordinary power of logical exposition, he was considered by Jefferson, some years after the adoption of the Constitution, to be the only writer in the Republican party capable of opposing Alexander Hamilton, the Federalist “colossus of debate.”  8
  At the opening of the First Congress, Madison took his seat in the House of Representatives,—the influence of Henry and the Anti-Federalists in the Virginia State Legislature having prevented his election to the Senate. In the differentiation of parties occasioned by Hamilton’s nationalizing financial policy, Madison allied himself with the Republicans and became the leader of the opposition in the House. His change of attitude from that of an extreme nationalist to that of an extreme States-rights man was no doubt due in large part to the influence of his friend and intimate Thomas Jefferson. No two documents can be more dissimilar than the Virginia plan, which would have invested Congress with a veto on State legislation, and the famous Virginia Resolutions of 1789 and 1799, of which Madison was the author. However, his inconsistency was perhaps more apparent than real; for having once given in his adhesion to the Constitution, it was perfectly logical to desire a strict construction of that instrument to preserve the balance struck in it between the State and Federal governments.  9
  On the inauguration of Jefferson as President in 1801, Madison accepted the Secretaryship of State. It was while holding this office that he wrote the pamphlet ‘An Examination of the British Doctrine which Subjects to Capture a Neutral Trade not Open in Time of Peace.’ At the close of Jefferson’s second term, March 4th, 1809, Madison became President. He had been to his predecessor an able and efficient lieutenant. He was, however, a scholar rather than a man of action; and it was his misfortune that his administration fell in a period which required more than ordinary talents of leadership, and those of a different stamp from his own. His conduct of the War of 1812 was weak and hesitating, and added nothing to the glory of his previous career. He retired at the expiration of his second term in 1817 to Montpelier, his country seat in Virginia, where he died June 28th, 1836.  10

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