Founding Brothers

by

Joseph J. Ellis

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James Madison Character Analysis

James Madison was a member of the Founding Fathers and the fourth president of the United States, though the book does not cover his presidency. Madison was born into a wealthy slaveholding family in Virginia and went on to attend Princeton. He was small, weak, and often unwell, and predicted that he would die young, although he lived to the age of 85. Unlike many of the other Founding Fathers, Madison was calm and shy, with little rhetorical skill. However, Ellis argues that this actually helped his political career, as it made those around him trust him as a voice of reason. The pivotal role he played in the Constitutional Convention earned him the nickname “Father of the Constitution.” He coauthored The Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, but later rejected Federalism on the grounds that it was a corruption of revolutionary values. He was a talented negotiator, having helped facilitate agreements such as the Compromise of 1790.

James Madison Quotes in Founding Brothers

The Founding Brothers quotes below are all either spoken by James Madison or refer to James Madison. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Founding Brothers published in 2002.
Chapter 2 Quotes

In fact, Jefferson’s headache coincided with a veritable plague that seemed to descend on the leadership of the Virginia dynasty. Madison was laid up with dysentery, Edmund Randolph remained in Virginia to care for his wife, who had nearly died delivering a stillborn baby, and, most ominously of all, George Washington came down with the flu and developed pulmonary complications that the physicians considered life-threatening. "You cannot conceive the public alarm on this occasion," Jefferson reported to William Short, his former secretary in Paris, adding that Washington's demise would in all probability have meant the abrupt end of the whole national experiment.

Related Characters: Thomas Jefferson (speaker), George Washington, James Madison
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

The permanent residence of the capital on the Potomac institutionalized political values designed to carry the nation in a fundamentally different direction. It was also symbolic in a personal sense for Jefferson and Madison. For the Compromise of 1790 signaled the resumption of their political partnership after five years of separation. Now, “the great collaboration" was truly an alliance worthy of its name.

Related Characters: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison
Related Symbols: The Capital
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
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James Madison Character Timeline in Founding Brothers

The timeline below shows where the character James Madison appears in Founding Brothers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface: The Generation
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...the time: Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. The book focuses on a series of episodes that illustrate the characteristics... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Dinner
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According to Jefferson, at the dinner James Madison agreed that Hamilton’s proposal regarding the assumption of the state debts should be brought to... (full context)
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Ellis begins by focusing on James Madison, who at the time was 39 years old, the “favored son of Virginia,” and an... (full context)
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This was not obvious from Madison’s looks: he was small and weak, and (wrongly) predicted that he would die young. He... (full context)
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In 1790, the truly “great collaboration” was between Madison and Hamilton following their work together on The Federalist Papers. At this moment in time,... (full context)
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The House voted against Madison’s suggestion of an alternative plan, which was his first legislative failure after so much success.... (full context)
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The assumption debate became increasingly heated, with Madison as a calm presence in the midst of the warring sides. Virginians were horrified by... (full context)
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Hamilton, meanwhile, was headstrong, determined, and hyper-productive during this period. He argued that Madison’s critiques of his plans were unfounded, irrelevant, and hypocritical—particularly given that not long ago, he... (full context)
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...that the “urban elite” of bankers and businessmen were the future of America. Virginians like Madison and Jefferson were suspicious of this financial class, seeing land ownership as the only true,... (full context)
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...party, admitted that he didn’t understand the issues under discussion as well as Hamilton and Madison did. Jefferson had just returned from five years in France, was dealing with other matters... (full context)
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...and was “endlessly polite and accommodating”—hence his eagerness to facilitate a discussion between Hamilton and Madison. Moreover, Jefferson’s time abroad made him aware that the United States needed to pay its... (full context)
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...under consideration, and it seemed most likely that the capital would be somewhere in Pennsylvania. Madison described the decision of choosing a location as “a labyrinth.” (full context)
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Madison himself was fighting for a location on the Potomac River. Arguments about which location would... (full context)
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...important. Likely the most important thing decided that evening concerned the recalculation of Virginia’s debt. Madison achieved his goal of “settlement before assumption,” though it is likely that Hamilton had always... (full context)
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...was challenging. People were surprised by the Potomac decision, and many were furious. Jefferson and Madison ensured that the “residency question” would never be raised in Congress, where it would be... (full context)
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...John Jay about his fears of the republic breaking apart, but did not speak to Madison as Madison’s loyalties were now uncertain. (full context)
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...executed, differences between the leaders came into focus in a rather dramatic way. Jefferson and Madison’s efforts meant that Virginia continued to have an outsize role in the ongoing discussions about... (full context)
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...business and government were separated. On a personal level, the compromise meant that Jefferson and Madison were working together again after five years. Together, they responded to Hamilton’s fiscal program by... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Silence
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Madison reassured his colleagues, saying that the Quakers’ petition would be reviewed by the committee but... (full context)
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Franklin’s support meant that Madison was wrong; the problem would not go away simply by ignoring it. Instead, the House... (full context)
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...if enslaved people knew Congress was refusing any thought of abolition, they would violently rebel. Madison, meanwhile, was adamant that Congress could not act before 1808 but that there was no... (full context)
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During the drafting of the Constitution, the problem of slavery became much more pronounced. Madison observed that the most severe division during this process was between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states.... (full context)
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Madison’s position was representative of many other Virginians. He rejected any explicit proslavery stance and expressed... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Farewell
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...Those close to Washington had presumed that this announcement was coming for around six months. Madison accurately predicted that the first contested American presidential election would be Thomas Jefferson versus John... (full context)
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Madison, meanwhile, argued that the treaty required approval from the House only for the stipulations that... (full context)
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The writing of the Farewell Address was a joint effort between Madison, Hamilton, and Washington. Madison had previously assisted Washington in writing a valedictory address in 1792,... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Collaborators
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Jefferson also had a close relationship with Madison, who tended to behave in a subordinate way to the older and more experienced Jefferson.... (full context)
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...were Republicans. Around this time, Adams developed a bipartisan plan to send either Jefferson or Madison to France to negotiate a Jay Treaty-style deal. As partisanship grew ever more intense, the... (full context)
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Madison advised that, instead of sending the letter, Jefferson leak certain parts of it to mutual... (full context)
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Madison was a staunch critic of John Adams, even going so far as to claim that... (full context)
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...had engineered a traitorous and destructive takeover of the government. During this time, Jefferson and Madison wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions together. They argued against the Alien and Sedition Acts... (full context)