Tuesday, October 16, 2012

James Madison: Jefferson II, Basically

At long last, a write-up of one of my few remaining presidents!
Just chillin' with T.Jeffz and preventing "excessive democracy."
James Madison, Jr. was born to a wealthy Virginia planter (shock, shock) in 1751. He was the eldest of twelve children, but since it was old-timey times a bunch of them died as children but whatever. J-Madz, Sr. planted tobacco and his wife Nelly Conway was the daughter of yet another planter. As a young boy, "Jemmy," as the future prez was called then, had a private tutor from Scotland. Apparently Jemmy was good at Latin and was a good student. No word on whether of not he was good at the caber toss.* Eventually Madison went to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), where he was a big, big nerd and did lots of debate, and was good at languages. He studied the law, but not to be a common everyday lawyer, but for public policy reasons. He served in the Virginia State Legislature in the late 1770s and at some juncture became Thomas Jefferson's protege.

He worked with Jefferson on the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, because that's what all the cool kids were doing, and then served as the youngest delegate to the Continental Congress 1780-83. He became a delegate to the Virginia Statehouse in the mid-1780s, but became fearful of "excessive democracy" among state and local governments and was especially freaked out by Shay's Rebellion. Once a lot of people were like, "Hey this whole Articles of Confederation thing isn't working out that well," Madison was instrumental in organization what would become the Constitutional Convention. Madison was totally going to rein in those (other) rascals in the state legislatures now. His Virginia Plan became a template for the Constitution itself, though he compromised on sharing sovereignty between state and federal governments. Oh hey, thanks for the Electoral College! Haha, just kidding, everyone knows that it is officially the stupidest way to elect someone (besides caucusing, of course).

Then came the fight for ratification! And for the first and only time, Madison teamed up with Hamilton and Jay to write what would eventually be gathered together and called The Federalist Papers. At one point, Maddy debated Patrick Henry over the Constitution, who I am legally obligated to refer to as a "fiery orator," and didn't completely suck, which was surprising since Madison was usually really, really shitty at public speaking. Anyway, Madison, who by this time was managing his father's plantation Montpelier, which had lots of slaves, was totally cool with the 3/5 Compromise. Remember how he was, like, BFF with Jefferson? And then Madison wanted to be in the new federal government, but then Patrick Henry totally tried to gerrymander him out of out, but Madison beat out his future Secretary of State James Monroe for one of Virginia's seats in Congress anyway.

Dolley M. basically made up the role of First Lady.
Uh, you're welcome, Hillary Clinton.
In order to avoid calls for a new constitutional convention, now-Representative J-Madz was like, "Fine, let's make a Bill of Rights or whatever." Not exactly anti-federalism, but opposed to the Federalists, Madison helped found the first (Democratic-)Republican Party with Jefferson. Jim and Tom then were like, "Hey, this 1790s Patriot Act is bullshit, states should totally be able to declare it unconstitutional." Oh, states' rights-ers. Never too early for you to show up! But then at the ripe old age of 43, Madison got his bro Aaron Burr to introduce him to a special lady and he FINALLY got married to Dolley Payne Todd, a young widow with a son, whom Madison adopted. In 1801, Madison, Sr. finally kicked the bucket, and the future president officially inherited his plantation, along with 108 slaves. But don't worry, Jemmy never hit the slaves himself. Supposedly he didn't even have anybody else hit them. But we all know that slavery was really actually not so bad, anyway.

James Madison served as Jefferson's Secretary of State and helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase and carried out an incredibly unpopular foreign trade embargo during the Napoleonic wars. Elected to the presidency as Jefferson's handpicked successor in 1808, Madison basically wanted to stick with whatever Jefferson had going on. This included opposing the Bank of the United States, but he ended up re-authorizing it when the U.S. had another war. Did you know that wars cost money? Between various trade issues, the British kidnapping American sailors for their navy, and Britain arming Indian tribes in the Northwest Territories of the U.S. (supposedly against the French?), Madison basically had to fight them in a stupid, pointless war. The War of 1812, everybody's favorite historical footnote. But at least lots of Indians were conquered by American heroes like our friend Tippecanoe. Americans at the time claimed they won the war and got all patriotic, while Canadians still gloat over their supposed victory. Then Madison ushered in the Era of Good Feelings, where the U.S. started focusing more on emotional and spiritual violence against Native Americans (AHEM, "civilization" projects). Which has worked out super-awesome for everybody.** And Dolley Madison was beloved and was the best hostess the world has ever known, blahblahblah.

ANYWAY, most of Madison's coolest stuff happened before his presidency. After he was president, he was kind of in debt and stuff (just like Jefferson again!) and lost his mind a little bit over his terrible finances. Despite hanging onto all his slaves (one of his few actual assets), Madison thought like many others of his time that slavery should probably be ended and free blacks shipped "back" to Africa. Madison also got really paranoid about his own legacy and would go back through his records, changing information and even editing letters written by other people to reflect his version of history. Which is...sketchy, to say the least. Anyway, J-Madz died in 1836 and his plantation, Montpelier, became a big-deal historical site. He also got a lovely city in Wisconsin named for him, as well as the location that would eventually become known as New York's Madison Square, and he was on an old-timey $5000 bill, which I would not ever want to have to carry around anywhere because it would make me awfully nervous.

But so, way to go, James! Thanks for the not-so-racist parts of the Constitution!

*'Cause his teacher was Scottish, see?
**Okay, well, most things have worked out pretty well for white people, so I guess I shouldn't be so dismissive.

No comments:

Post a Comment