James Madison was the fourth President of the United States. He is historically recognized as the “Father of the Constitution.” He was born in 1751 to an aristocratic family in Port Conway, Virginia (Orange County) and was the eldest of 12 children. In 1771 he completed a four-year degree in two years while he was a student at the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton University. Madison studied theology, history, and law, both at college and on his own. He believed that education was the best defense against tyranny. “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Madison’s public career began in 1774 when he was appointed a member of the King George County Committee for Public Safety in Virginia at the age of 23. He spent the rest of his life in service to his nation. In 1776 he was a member of the Virginia Constitutional Committee and helped draft Virginia’s first constitution and Bill of Rights, which later became a model for the Bill of Rights amended to the U. S. Constitution. During these years he actively supported religious toleration and separation of church and state and found a life-long partner and friend in Thomas Jefferson. Madison stated, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
In 1779 Madison was elected to represent the state of Virginia to the Continental Congress. Here he established himself as a leader and tireless advocate for a federal structure. With his respect and influence he helped organized the Alexandria Conference and settled a commercial dispute between Virginia and Maryland over the use of the Potomac River. Madison used the success of this conference and suggested a larger conference to include all the states. The Annapolis Convention met in 1786, but only five states attended and there was much arguing and little result. He and Alexander Hamilton then launched a general call for a constitutional convention for the purpose of modifying the Articles of Confederation of 1776.
The Constitutional Convention opened on May 25th, 1787, with James Madison as its leader. In the entire proceeding only 55 men attended. Madison immediately set the tone for the convention by introducing a document that he wrote called The Virginia Plan. The Virginia Plan called for a strong central government “consisting of a supreme Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary.” It provided for two legislative houses: one elected by the people and one appointed by state legislatures. Representation was based on population. Concerned that smaller states needed protection states’ rights supporters presented an alternative based on “one state, one vote.” Benjamin Franklin was appointed to chair the Grand Committee to debate this issue and a compromise was reached. The upper house (the Senate) would be based on equal representation for each of the states and the lower house (House of Representatives) would be based on proportional representation. Throughout that summer they worked out the specifics of the Executive and the Judiciary and how the power would be balanced between the three branches.
On September 17, 1787 the US Constitution was ratified.