|James Madison, the 4th President of the United States|
1. The oldest of twelve children, James Madison was born in 1751 in Virginia, the son of a prominent and wealthy plantation owner. Called "Jemmie" by those who knew him, Madison's parents provided him with a classical education from a very young age, and Madison was fluent in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.
2. Graduating in 1771 from Princeton University, Madison studied law and theology for another year before returning to his home in Virginia and becoming active in politics. He became closely allied with Thomas Jefferson and served in the Virginia state legislature in the late 1770's, where he helped author Virginia's laws on religious freedom. He also served in the Continental Congress during the 1780's.
3. Madison was instrumental in arranging for the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and his so-called "Virginia Plan," which he wrote shortly before the start of the convention, became the basis for the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, Madison's plan called for three branches of government - executive, legislative, and judicial - two houses of congress, and a system of checks and balances among the branches.
4. Following the Constitutional Convention, Madison played a key role in ensuring its ratification by the states by helping to the author the so-called "Federalist Papers." These papers were actually a series of articles published in major newspapers addressing questions about the Constitution and how it would work if put into place.
5. After the Constitution was ratified and the new government put into place in early 1789, Madison was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served until 1797. During his first few months in office, Madison proposed a slate of amendments to the Constitution which became the Bill of Rights.
6. Madison did not marry until the mid-1790's, when he was 43 years old. His wife, Dolley Payne Todd, was a widow whose first husband and youngest son had died in a Yellow Fever epidemic. James and Dolley married in 1794. Despite the fact that Dolley was only in her early 20's at the time of the marriage, and already had given birth twice, she and James never had children. Dolley's sister was married to a nephew of George Washington.
7. Madison briefly retired from politics at the end of Washington's second term in office, returning to oversee the affairs of his plantation. When his friend and political colleague Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, however, Madison returned to Washington, D.C., and became Jefferson's Secretary of State. In that position, he was instrumental in securing the Louisiana Purchase from France and maintaining neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars that were raging in Europe.
8. Madison was the obvious choice to succeed Jefferson to the presidency in 1808. With the old Federalist Party of Washington and Adams in ruins, Madison won easily, winning nearly 65% of the popular vote. His presidency was marked primarily by a growing economy, unity in politics, and the War of 1812, in which Madison and his cabinet was forced to flee Washington from the invading British. Madison's vice-presidents did not fare well: his first, George Clinton, died in office in 1812, while his second, Elbridge Gerry, died in office in 1814.
9. Madison left office in 1817 and retired to his plantation of Montpelier. His plantation, however, was in decline and Madison suffered financial troubles for the remainder of his life. He also became obsessed with his own legacy, going so far as to edit and modify letters, papers, and diaries from earlier in his life, worried about how future generations might view him.
10. Almost 80 years old in 1829, Madison served as a representative to a Virginia convention aimed at amending Virginia's constitution. It would be his last official duty in politics, though he would continue to publish political papers and support certain causes. A slave-owner his whole life, he became a supporter of the movement to provide a homeland in Africa for former slaves. He died at age 85 in 1836, the last of the Founding Fathers.