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Madison biographer Irving Brant described the fifty-year relationship between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as a "perfectly balanced friendship," and certainly there are many parallels in the lives of these two men - not only in their political careers, but in their private interests as well.
Like Jefferson, Madison was born into the Piedmont gentry. Born March 16, 1751 on his maternal grandparents' plantation in King George County, Madison was named for his father, James Madison Sr. As the eldest of seven siblings, he was heir to his father's plantation, which began to be called "Montpelier" in the 1780s. Rather than attending the College of William and Mary as most young Virginia gentlemen did, Madison came under the influence of his tutor, the Reverent Thomas Martin, a Scottish New Light Presbyterian, and so chose the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) for his higher education. He set out for Princeton in 1769 accompanied by his slave, Sawney, and proceeded to complete a four year course of study in only thirty months, graduating in September 1771. However, his practice of sleeping onlly five hours per night in order to pursue his studies had taken a toll on his health, and the following spring, Madison returned to his father's plantation to rest and decide upon a career. Throughout his life, Madison considered himself to be in frail health. He was small, standing 5'6", of a slight build, and has been variously described as "feeble," "pale," and "sickly," yet he lived to the age of 85 years. During this period of recuperation following his graduation, he studied law, though he never intended to practice and never qualified as a counsel-at-law.
Madison had become interested in public affairs while still a student at Princeton, and at the age of 25 was elected to serve as one of two delegates from Orange County to attend the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1776 in Williamsburg. The convention replaced the House of Burgesses during the revolution as the colony's legislative body, and it would have ben here that junior member Madison would have been introduced to Thomas Jefferson, who was returning to Williamsburg from the Continental Congress in the fall of 1776. However, the two men did not become well acquanited until 1779 when Jefferson was serving as Governor of Virginia, and Madison as a member of the Council of State. As the Governor could do little without the advice and consent of the Council, Madison and Jefferson began to come into almost daily contact, and it was then that a mutual admiration and friendship began to grow.
- Brandt, Irving. James Madison, 6 volumes. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941-61.
- Brugger, Robert J. et al, eds. The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986-.
- Hutchinson, William T. and William M.E. Rachal, eds. The Papers of James Madison. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962-.
- Ketcham, Ralph. James Madison, New York: Macmillan, 1971.
- Rutland, Robert A. et al, eds. The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1984-.
- Look for Sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal
- 1. Irving Brant, "Two of a Size," Magazine of Albemarle County History 16 (1957-58): 5.
- 2. Merrill D. Peterson, ed., James Madison: A Biography in His Own Words (New York: Newsweek, 1974), 1:14.
- 3. Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1990), chapters 1-4.
- 4. For a thorough discussion of the beginning of Madison and Jefferson's relationship, see Irving Brant, James Madison (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941), 1:272-6.