Search the Encyclopedia
James Madison (5 March 1751-28 June 1836), revolutionary leader and fourth president of the United States, was born in King George County, Virginia. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson probably met in early May 1776 while serving as members of the Virginia House of Delegates. Before the year was over, both men chose the paths which led to their famous futures: Jefferson, at age 33, went to Philadelphia to become the author of the Declaration of Independence. Madison, at age 25, stayed in Williamsburg to become a member of the convention which drafted Virginia's first constitution. Their friendship became warmer in 1779, however, during Jefferson's tenure as Governor of Virginia, when Madison served as a member of his official advisory council. By the early 1780's, as their new country emerged from the chaos of revolution, their close personal ties and political collaboration were cemented.
Both men were avid readers and collected volumes on a variety of subjects--history, philosophy, agriculture, politics and economics. Madison and Jefferson often discussed books in their letters and, during his stay in France, Jefferson sent Madison over 200 books. Always scholars, they used their studies to shape their ideas on government. Both men fervently believed that an educated public was necessary for survival of the country; at Jefferson's death, Madison succeeded his friend as Rector of the University of Virginia and continued to oversee one of their most important joint ventures.
Madison and Jefferson both believed strongly that the powers of government belong ultimately to the people who are governed. Their mutual love of reading and political discussions led to their shared belief in "republican principles" of government. Both agreed on the principle of majority rule with minority rights--the idea that governmental decision-making should follow the wishes of the majority of people, while allowing for dissent of the minority. Both believed in the power of the human mind and individual conscience. These ideas are reflected in their pasmsionate support for the ideas simply delivered in the Bill of Rights--the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
The personal friendship of Madison and Jefferson was built on other interests as well. They shared a love of the Virginia countryside; the fertile lands of the Piedmont offered both men the opportunities to study and discuss practical and financial questions of gardening, agriculture and forestry. Both kept careful records of local temperatures and rainfall while they exchanged seeds and farming tips. Jefferson asked Madison and another good friend, James Monroe, to move near Monticello in order to build "a society to our taste." Monroe did take up residence nearby at Ash Lawn-Highland.
As classically educated men, both found the Greeks and Romans to be not only sources of information on principles' of government but also as an inspiration for the architecture of their homes. Both Montpelier and Monticello show classical influences: Montpelier's graceful Garden Temple, for example, resembles Jefferson's sketches for his garden buildings. The two often discussed house plans and sent sketches in their letters; they shared the services of local craftsmen as well. During the first renovations of Montpelier'(ca. 1797--1800). Madison ordered nails from Jefferson's nailery.
James Madison reassured his dying friend and reconfirmed the quality of their intertwined lives in his last letter to Jefferson: "You cannot look back to the long period of our private friendship and political harmony, with more affecting recollections that I do. If they are a source of pleasure to you, what ought they not to be to me? ... Wishing and hoping that you may yet live to increase the debt which our country owes you, and to witness the increasing gratitude, which alone can pay it, I offer you the fullest return of affectionate assurances."
- 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