Study Guide

James Madison in The Federalist Papers 10 and 51

By James Madison

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James Madison

James Madison, part of that pantheon we call the Founding Fathers, lend truth to that famous old phrase, "Great things come in 5'4" packages."

What kind of great things? Um, how about the United States as we know it?

The author of Federalist papers 10 and 51, Madison's biggest strength was his eye for nation-building. Many of the ideas that he discusses in the two Federalist papers, such as the three-branch government, were his own ideas from the Virginia Plan he introduced at the Constitutional Convention.

While Madison was firmly on the side of the Federalists at the time of the Federalist paper jam session, Alexander Hamilton's push to keep increasing federal power finally pushed Madison away. And he came to side with the Democratic-Republican Party to bring the successes of the revolution back down to the common man.

His ability to change his party alignment based on what he felt was the common good spoke to his ability to avoid the pull of faction politics, showing that he was able to practice what he preached.

Basically, J-Mad was a stand-up sort of guy. Can Lin Manuel Miranda write his next musical based on this guy's life, please?

X-Men Origins: Madison

James Madison had a relatively smooth path to political success. He was born to fabulously wealthy Virginia planters, given a top-notch education, and just so happened to be born just in time to get in on the ground floor of the booming business that was the formation of the United States of America.

While he might have rolled a twenty for starting gold, at best he rolled a two for constitution. No, not that Constitution.

He was a short, sickly, and epileptic man, known for being shy and soft spoken. Nevertheless, in that unassuming package was a savvy political mind, and a natural talent for statescraft. He was appointed as a Colonel of the Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary War, although his poor health put a quick stop to his military career and pushed him further towards a political one.

During the down-time while they waited for enough delegates to show up at the Constitutional Convention, he drafted alongside the rest of the Virginia delegation the "Virginia Plan," which proposed a three-branch Government with a bicameral legislature.

Which, as you've probably have picked up on, is the plan he proposes in Federalist Paper 51 as well as the Government under which we currently reside. (All we can manage to do before an important meeting is doodle on a napkin.)

Madison started out his career as a firmly Federalist fella. After all, he was not only a prominent drafter of the Constitution but also its public defender through the Federalist papers.

As a compromise with the rest of the States to get the Constitution ratified, he wrote the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which would collectively be known as the Bill of Rights. Having done a lot of the heavy lifting for the federal government, it's no surprise that he was a supporter of it.

Faction Flipping

However, as George Washington started to cozy up to Alexander Hamilton's ideas on an even stronger federal government and a centralized economy, Madison pulled a 180 on his previous political position and tag-teamed with his buddy Thomas Jefferson to form the Democratic-Republican party, which advocated for strong state governments instead. (For more details on Madison's faction swap, check this out.)

Madison and Jefferson worked fast to try and crush the Federalists as soon as Jefferson withdrew from Washington's cabinet, and after Adams and Hamilton's infighting smashed the Federalist Party, Madison smoothed the pathway for Jefferson to get control of the Fed. He'd go on to serve as Jefferson's Secretary of State for both terms of his presidency, then immediately afterwards he got to have a presidency all his own.

He got to preside over a period of relative calm, before the situation between England and France got decidedly un-calm, and he reluctantly entered the United States into the War of 1812.

With the weaker federal government in play during the war, he had a nightmare trying to administer the U.S. during wartime. His experiences steering the severely-downsized ship of state sent him right back to the Federalists' arms, and as such went back to being an advocate for a strong national government, a strong military, and a centralized bank.

Sometimes life's strange like that.

Then again, his willingness to change showed that Madison was able to put party lines aside to do what he thought the nation needed at the time—which earns him some brownie points for practicing what he preached.

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