Yet Madison was one of the most influential architects of the republic that would become the United States of America. James Madison was born in 1751 in Virginia, and he grew up on his father's tobacco plantation in Orange County Virginia. He would inherit that plantation, Montpelier, not far from Jefferson's Monticello, and he would call it home until his death there in 1836.
Madison was instrumental in convening the constitutional convention of 1787. He was among the first delegates to arrive in Philadelphia, and while waiting for the convention to begin, he drafted what became known as the Virginia Plan. The Virginia Plan was introduced at the opening of the convention and served as the skeleton upon which the final Constitution eventually took shape.
With Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, Madison authored the Federalist Papers, urging the States to ratify the constitution of 1787. As a member of Congress in 1789, Madison proposed a Bill of Rights restricting the powers of the federal government, which the Congress adopted and which was ratified by the thirteen States in 1791.
That same year, Madison and Jefferson formed the Republican Party, and when Jefferson became the second President in 1801, he named James Madison as his Secretary of State. It was Madison who negotiated and finalized the Louisiana Purchase, more than doubling the size of the nascent United States.
As President in his own right from 1809 to 1817, Madison oversaw the war of 1812. Although the "Second War of Independence" saw Washington sacked and the White House and the unfinished Capitol Building burned, it also witnessed some of the most daring and laudable exploits of war in American history.
From Oliver Hazard Perry's battle of Lake Erie and William Henry Harrison's Battle of the Thames to Andrew Jackson's successful route of the British at the Battle of New Orleans, the War of 1812 established the United States as a nation to be reckoned with. It also spawned our National Anthem, penned by Francis Scott Key during the successful defense of Fort McHenry at Baltimore.
James Madison left us a rich legacy of his keen insight into what it means to be an American. "The essence of Government" he wrote, "is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse." He further warned us that, "All men having power ought to be mistrusted."
Madison was against democracy, which he saw as not only a threat to the republic, but as impracticable on a large scale. "A pure democracy" he said, "is a society consisting of a small number of citizens who assemble and administer the government in person."
He also lauded the primary requisite of a republic – an informed citizenry. He said, "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." He further admonished his countrymen that, "The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty."
Some of Madison's pronouncements seem prescient today. He seemed to have foreseen Obama's misapplication of Nixon's FDA when he wrote, "What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?" And he seemed to predict the mis-administrations of Wilson and Roosevelt II when he wrote, "The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home."
And he left us this exceedingly wise and oft-ignored advice: "We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties."