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Happy 265th James Madison!

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James Madison. Between 1809 and 1817. Prints and Photographs Division.
James Madison. Between 1809 and 1817. Prints and Photographs Division.

James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution because of his pivotal role in the document’s drafting as well as its ratification. Madison also drafted the first 10 amendments — the Bill of Rights.

When the federal Constitution was approved by the states and went into effect in 1789, the absence of a Bill of Rights was the loudest and most effective criticism of it. Although he believed that individual rights were fully protected by the Constitution as it was ratified, Madison recognized that drafting a Bill of Rights was politically imperative.

His “Notes for a Speech on Constitutional Amendments,” June 8, 1789, highlights the arguments he used as a leader in the First Federal Congress to push 12 amendments to the Constitution through Congress in its first year. Ten of these amendments were ratified by the states and have been enshrined as the Bill of Rights.

The James Madison Papers are available online and consist of approximately 12,000 items that document the fourth president’s life through correspondence, personal notes, drafts of letters and legislation, an autobiography, legal and financial documents, and miscellaneous manuscripts.

For those interested in secret symbols, there is an essay on “James Madison’s Ciphers.” Madison, as a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, while he was secretary of state and in his personal correspondence with Jefferson, continually feared that unauthorized people would seek to read his private and public correspondence. To deter such intrusions, he resorted to a variety of codes and ciphers.

“The James Madison Papers” online presentation complements other online presidential papers from the Library of Congress, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and James Monroe.

Madison was also the first to propose the idea of a congressional library in 1783. He later approved an act of Congress appropriating money to buy Jefferson’s book collection after the British burned the Capitol in 1814. You can read more about it in this Library of Congress blog post.

Pulitzer-prize winning historian Jack N. Rakove discusses Madison, his work and influence in this video.

Today the Library is convening a panel of scholars to discuss the fourth president’s early life, political and personal partnerships and his role at the 1787 convention. A video of the event will be made available in the coming weeks.

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