» James Madison Bust

“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty is this: You must first enable the government to control the governed and next oblige it to control itself.”
- James Madison

Critical Essay by
Dr. Norma Bouchard
Executive Vice President, Provost and Chief Academic Officer
Chapman University
View Bio

James Madison (March 16, 1751 - June 28, 1836) was an American statesman and political philosopher. Alongside John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, he is considered one of the Founding Father of the United States. Madison played a crucial role in shaping the early years of the country, contributing to the drafting and ratification of the United States Constitution and serving as the fourth President of the United States (1809 – 1817).

Madison was born at Belle Grove Plantation, near Port Conway (Colony of Virginia) to a wealthy slave-owning planter family.  After receiving a solid education under Donald Robertson and Revered Thomas Martin, in 1769 he enrolled at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) to advance his studies in Classical languages, theology and philosophy.  He was well-versed in the ideals of the Age of the Enlightenment and became a passionate advocate for religious freedom, separation of powers, civil and political liberties, and individual rights.

Upon his return to Virginia, Madison began his steady rise into politics and was elected as a delegate to the “Fifth Virginia Convention”. In that role, he argued for a modification of the “Virginia Declaration of Rights”, originally drafted in 1776, to provide for an equal entitlement to the exercise of one’s religion.

On July 4, 1776, the “United States Declaration of Independence” was printed. Madison continued to participate in the debates surrounding the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” of the 13 American states.  One of his most significant contributions came during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 held in Philadelphia. Working closely with other members of the Virginia delegation (e.g., Edmund Randolph and George Mason) he proposed a new federal constitution that included three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial), a bicameral Congress comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives, and a federal Council of Revision with veto power over laws passed by Congress. Madison’s role in the drafting and promotion of the federal constitution would eventually earn him the name of the “Father of the Constitution”.

After the Philadelphia Convention ended, Madison asked that his fellow congressmen remain neutral in the debate over the ratification debate so as to allow each state to vote on the Constitution.  Two camps formed: those who supported the Constitution, or Federalists, and their opponents, or Anti-Federalists.  However, by October 1787, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and John Madison began publishing a series of pro-ratification newspaper articles, producing 85 essays known as The Federalist Papers. Divided in two parts, the essays include 36 letters against the “Articles of Confederation” and 49 letters in favor. Madison’s most significant contributions are Federalist No. 10, regarded as paradigmatic argument in favor of representative democracy, and Federalist No. 51. In it, Madison explains and justifies the separation of powers between three branches of the federal government and between state versus federal government as the establishment of a system of checks and balances to mitigate the institutional consolidation of power.

In the years that followed the Philadelphia Convention, Madison's political career continued to flourish. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives of the First Congress (defeating James Monroe in 1789) and later as Secretary of State (1801-1809) under President Thomas Jefferson. As Secretary of State, Madison played a vital role in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, in which France sold more than 827,987 square miles (2,144,480 square kilometers) of land in exchange for $15 million.  As a result of the purchase, the size of the United States doubled, enabling significant territorial expansion for the settlers of the American frontier. 

In 1808, Madison was elected as the fourth President of the United States. He served two terms from 1809 to 1817. His presidency was marked by a number of challenges, including the War of 1812 against Great Britain after sanctions failed. Madison advocated for an expansion of the army and the navy to defend American interests, which ultimately led to the “Treaty of Ghent” (1814) and the preservation of American sovereignty.

Madison left office in 1817 at the age of 65. He retired to his plantation which was experiencing a financial decline.  He occasionally participated in public affairs and served as an advisor to presidents (e.g., Andrew Jackson).  He also helped Jefferson establish the University of Virginia and, after the death of Jefferson, was appointed as the second rector of the university, retaining the position for ten years until his death in 1836.

James Madison's importance lies in his tireless efforts to shape the foundations of the American political system. His contributions to the Constitution, The Federalist Papers, and his presidency provided a framework to solidify principles of democracy and limited government. Madison also came to recognize the need to protect individual liberties and championed the passage of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. These amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, guarantee fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech, religion, and the right to a fair trial.

While Madison's belief in a federal government that protects individual rights and the sovereignty of states remains an enduring cornerstone of American governance, like many of his contemporaries, Madison held conflicted views on slavery and Native American rights and societies.

Madison was born into a plantation society and was a slave owner himself. He understood that slavery was incompatible with the principles of liberty and equality upon which the United States was founded and yet viewed slavery as essential to the Southern economy. He also played a role in negotiating the “Three-Fifths Compromise”, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of political representation.

Madison’s views of Native Americans were just as conflicted. He supported treaties for Native rights to ancestral lands and to sovereignty but also endorsed expansion for American settlements west of the Mississippi River and believed in assimilationist policies designed to integrate Native Americans into the values of British–U.S. civilization (e.g., re-education efforts for Native American children, conversion to Christianity, and the promotion of agricultural practices for nomadic tribes).

In sum, as is the case of other Founding Fathers, the legacy of Madison is a nuanced one, with crucial and enduring contributions as well as the flaws of his times and circumstances.  

Back to full collection

Collection of Historical Figures Map

View the map locations of the Collection of Historical Figures statues located throughout the Chapman campuses.

James Madison bust


William & Willa Dean Lyon

The William P. Foley, II Chair in Corporate Law and Taxation

Gene Swanson

Campus Location
Between Leatherby Libraries and Argyros Forum Orange Campus