|Madison was born at the home of his maternal grandparents at Port Conway, Virginia. His father was the owner of a sizable estate. Madison was tutored privately until he entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), where he studied theology. After completing college in 1774 , Madison studied law. He was, however, never admitted to the bar.
In 1776 and 1777 Madison served as a delegate to the Virginia Convention. In 1778 and 1779 he served as a Member of the Council of the State of Virginia.
In 1780, at 29, he became the youngest member of the Continental Congress, where he served until 1783. From 1784-86 he served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
In 1787 he became a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, during which the US Constitution was written. Madison earned himself a reputation as the father of the Constitution. This was due to the key roll he played in convincing the delegates of the virtue of a strong central government. In addition, he made copious notes of all that took place during the convention. The convention was closed to the press, thus Madison's jottings became the notes of record of all the deliberations that took place.
From 1789-1797, Madison was a Virginian Representative to the House. There, his most notable achievement was the introduction of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution).
Madison was a strong supporter of the Jeffersonian view of a strict interpretation of the Constitution and argued vehemently against Hamilton's view of implied powers for the President. From 1801 to 1809, Madison served as Secretary of State to Jefferson. He was a strong supporter of both the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo Act.
The war in Europe dominated James Madison's Presidency. The previous policy of the Embargo Act had failed, and Madison repealed it with the Non-Intercourse Act, which allowed trade with any country except the belligerents. When this became unenforceable, the Macon Bill, stating that the United could trade with any country agreeing to respect US neutrality, replaced it. Napoleon agreed to this stipulation, the British refused, so the United States began trading with France but not with Great Britain. This led to increased tension with the British, manifested both in the continued impressment of American sailors by the British and an increasingly hostile Indian population in the Northwest supposedly incited by the British.
On June 1, 1812, Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war against the British. The United States was ill-prepared for a war. Although many of the best British troops were busy in Europe, the US army suffered several initial defeats. After the city of Washington was burned by the British, the war was brought to a standstill. Under the new command of Andrew Jackson, the United States army won a stunning victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans, bringing the war to a close. Victory in that battle and a fair peace treaty helped revive Madison's popularity.