The Presidency of James Madison

As a former Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, James Madison was elected President of the United States in 1808. Increased tensions with Britain dominated his reign, contributing to the outbreak of the War of 1812 in the year of his reelection.

James Madison was the fourth president of the United States. He is known as the “Father of the Constitution” because he drafted the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, often known as the Bill of Rights, which protects citizens’ rights and liberties.

American Indian Policy

In Madison’s first Inaugural Address to the nation on March 4, 1809, James Madison noted that the federal government’s primary duty was to convert the American Indians through “participation in the improvements to which the human mind and conduct are susceptible in a civilized state.”

Like his predecessor Jefferson, Madison had a paternalistic and discriminatory attitude toward American Indians, encouraging the men to give up hunting and become farmers. Madison frequently interacted with Southeastern and Western American Indians, especially the Creek and Osage, despite specifics.

As European settlers advanced west, many Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw territories were infringed upon. Madison ordered the United States of America. To the dismay of his military commander, Andrew Jackson, who refused to carry out the President’s order, the army was sent to safeguard portions of the American Indian lands from settlers. After the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, American Indians in the Northwest Territory were forced off their tribal territory and were replaced by European immigrants. By 1815, Ohio had 400,000 European-American settlers, rendering the rights of the American Indians to their lands practically null and void.

Economic Policies

In terms of economics, Madison aimed to carry on Jefferson’s plan, notably the demolition of the Federalist system established by presidents Washington and Adams. One of Madison’s most pressing concerns was the bank of the United States. The bank’s twenty-year charter was set to expire in 1811, and despite Madison’s secretary of the Treasury’s assertion that the bank was necessary, Congress failed to renew it. After the War of 1812 began, the lack of a national bank made financing the war with Britain extremely difficult; therefore, Congress approved a measure chartering a second national bank in 1814. Madison vetoed the bill, and Congress enacted another bill to accomplish the same goal in 1816. By this time, Madison had realized that, despite its Federalist roots, a national bank was vital for financing war, and he signed the law to create one.

Madison also put in place a tariff-based revenue system, a standing professional military, and the internal changes advocated by Henry Clay under his American System. On the other hand, Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817, which would have funded more internal improvements such as roads, bridges, and canals, as his final act before leaving office.

Foreign Policies

During Madison’s first year in office, the United States barred trade with both Britain and France; however, in May 1810, Congress legalized trade with both, instructing the President to forbid trade with the other nation if either accepted America’s notion of neutral rights.

When neither country responded, Congress passed Macon’s Bill No. 2, a perplexing law that removed all restrictions on American trade, including those against France and Britain, and empowered the President to reimpose them only after one of them had repealed its restrictions on American trade and the other had failed to do so within three months. The Cadore letter of August 1810 responded to the challenge, prompting Madison to adopt the provisions of Macon’s Bill No. 2 in two stages, the first in November 1810 and the second in March 1811.

The British argued that American ships would continue to be impounded until France removed all trade restrictions. In this proclamation, the merchant marine and U.S. exports were viewed as part of the British war strategy.

In April 1812, Congress approved military preparations and a ninety-day embargo. When Madison presented his list of grievances against the British to that body, which included the continued impressment of American sailors, the arming of Indians who attacked American settlers, and the trade restrictions embodied in the British Orders in Council, the House wasted no time debating the issue, voting for war on June 4. On the other hand, the Senate discussed for more than two weeks before approving war on June 17. The following day, Congress declared war on Britain in a geographically divided vote.

War of 1812

The War of 1812

Due to escalating hostility by the British Navy on the high seas, the United States entered the War of 1812. Britain deployed its naval to prohibit American ships from trading with France, which the US saw as a violation of international law. The British Royal Navy boarded American ships and impressed their crews on the high seas, forcing them to serve on Royal Navy ships. The United States viewed this as an assault on American sovereignty, similar to the British’s invasion of American territory. 

Even though Britain had ceded this land to the United States in the Treaties of 1783 and 1794, Britain armed American Indian tribes in the Northwest Territory and encouraged them to attack American settlers.

The Treaty of Ghent

Finally, exhausted from warfare, the United Kingdom and the United States agreed to arrange a cease-fire. The Treaty of Ghent was signed throughout Europe in December 1814. Before news of the peace deal reached America, a decisive victory for American troops at the Battle of New Orleans, which took place from December 1814 to January 1815, served to put the conflict in a positive light. Although the war was mismanaged, the Americans gained confidence due to critical wins. Madison was first criticized for the war’s mistakes, but he was subsequently praised for its victories.

Burning of the White House

In the late spring of 1814, events swung back against the Americans as the British attacked Napoleon. From Georgia to Maine, British ships invaded American ports, occupying half of Maine’s district in the process. In September 1814, they launched an attack along the Champlain Valley, repulsed following an American naval victory on Lake Champlain. British soldiers had a better chance of hitting the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

In retribution for the burning of the Canadian Parliament buildings in York, British troops set fire to the White House and most other federal buildings in Washington, D.C. However, their advance in Baltimore came to a halt when they could not get past Fort McHenry. This conflict inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which became the American national anthem in the 1930s.


Madison and Dolley returned to Montpelier after leaving office in 1817. Madison kept himself occupied by operating the property and sitting on a special board to help Jefferson establish the University of Virginia. The school first opened its doors in 1825, with Jefferson serving as rector. After Jefferson’s death the following year, Madison took over as President of the university.

Madison returned to public life for a brief while in 1829, serving as a delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention. Also, he was a member of the American Colonization Society, which he co-founded with Robert Finley, Andrew Jackson, and James Monroe in 1816. The goal of this group was to reintroduce freed slaves to Africa. Madison was elected President of the society in 1833.


Madison, a little, silent genius, used his depth and breadth of knowledge to invent a new form of government. His thoughts and ideas molded a nation and established privileges that Americans still enjoy today.