James Madison – The Father Of The Constitution
Many men had a hand in the forming and drafting of the United States Constitution, including such famous founding fathers as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson. However, James Madison is called the Father of the Constitution.
Madison earned this title by being intimately involved with formulating the ideas behind the Constitution, taking part in the debates that formed it, and promoting it to the public once it was a finished document.
Madison came from a prominent Virginia family. Before the Revolution, he served as a delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates. During the Revolution, he continued to serve in the House of Delegates and be a member of the newly formed Continental Congress.
The Constitutional Convention
The initial framework for the government of the United States wasn’t the Constitution we have now, but a document known as the Articles of Confederation. The Articles provided a perpetual union between the 13 colonies and created a very weak central government. Under the Articles, the federal government had no power to tax and only the authority that the 13 colonies recognized initially as belonging to the English King and Parliament.
While the Articles did provide a framework for the new nation, it soon became apparent that the weak and ineffective federal government could not manage the affairs of the Union. Madison quickly became unhappy with the structure set up in the Articles and became one of the driving forces behind setting up the Constitutional Convention that led to the United States Constitution.
James Madison and The Virginia Plan
The Constitutional Convention took place from May to September of 1787 in Philadelphia. Madison, a delegate for Virginia, arrived early and formulated what became known as the Virginia plan in consultation with some other delegates. This plan called for a stronger national government with the power to tax and regulate international and interstate commerce.
The Virginia Plan also called for a bicameral legislature (Senate and House of Representatives) and a chief executive (the President). It allocated representation by population, unlike the Articles of Confederation, which provided one vote for each state. It provided for three branches of government(Executive, Legislative, and Judicial) but had the other two branches named by the legislature.
Formation Of The Constitution
As the convention started, there were two competing plans. One was Madison’s Virginia plan, and the other was known as the New Jersey Plan, which called for a single-house legislature with one vote per state. The basic structure of the Federal government put forward in the Virginia Plan was quickly adopted, and the rest of the convention was spent arguing about details.
The Constitution that resulted from this Convention is Madison’s Virginia Plan at its heart, modified and refined with ideas from various sources, including some from the New Jersey Plan. Madison’s plan became the basis for the final document and is one of the main reasons he is called the father of the Constitution.
Madison kept day-by-day notes of the proceedings, which is the only complete record of the Convention.
The Federalist Papers
With the final draft of the Constitution signed by the delegates, the push for ratification came next. To advocate for ratification, Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a collection of 85 essays collectively known as the Federalist Papers. These were initially published in newspapers and later collected. Madison wrote 29 of the 85 essays.
While the impact of these papers on the debates of the time is impossible to evaluate, they have become the definitive statement of the pro-Constitution position.
The Bill Of Rights
The Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution consists of the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights is the most famous part of the United States Constitution and sets forth the rights that we as Americans consider fundamental.
Madison studied the criticisms and deficiencies of the Constitution that were raised by the Anti-Federalists and drafted articles to deal with the problems. He drew on the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights of 1689, and various state constitutions in drafting the articles. He presented his articles as a Virginia representative to the House of Representatives. They were soon sent to the states for ratification, eventually becoming the Bill Of Rights we know today.
It’s easy to see why James Madison is considered the Father of the Constitution. His work was crucial to the form, creation, and ratification of the Constitution and the later inclusion of the Bill of Rights.
For further reading you can look at James Madison quotes.