Articles of Confederation

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Events rarely take place in space and only few ideas just get into the scene without prior preparation. Using various ideas here and there, major ideas can be realized and lead to great success. James Madison is one of the people who managed to get ideas from taking notes in the Congress and Constitutional Convention and used them to shape the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution

James Madison was the fourth president of the United States and is recognized for being the father of the Constitution. He was also the author of the Bill of Rights of the United States. He is also known for being the founder of the most influential political experiment in the history of mankind. His most significant contributions in the American history of politics, however, did not surface during his presidency but way before he became the president (Sunstein 6).

James Madison was born on March 16th, 1975 at Belle Grove Plantation in Virginia. He was the eldest among his twelve siblings of whom only nine survived to adulthood. His father grew up on an estate, which he acquired as inheritance when he was mature enough. In Virginia, his father developed as a tobacco planter and later acquired more land and became the largest landowner in his county. Madison’s mother was also born to an outstanding tobacco merchant and planter in Virginia. Both of the parents had a great influence on Madison who was their most famous son (Sunstein 7).

When he was 11, Madison started his education at Innes plantation in Virginia. Donald Robertson, his instructor, taught Madison such subjects as geography, mathematics and some languages. Since Madison was interested in Latin, he then became a real expert in it. He later recognized Robertson as being the one who molded his education. Since Madison had delicate health, he decided to enrol at Princeton University (New Jersey) instead of the College of William and Mary like any other Virginian. His decision was based on the college being on the lowlands, where the climate was not conducive for his health (Sunstein 6).

In 1771, after a long period in college and a struggle with his health condition, he finally graduated. After graduation, he studied political philosophy and Hebrew, which he became fluent in. Out of his interest in politics, Madison studied law but he never considered it to become his future profession.

One day, Madison saw the arrest and persecution of Baptist preachers for speaking without a licence from the Anglican Church (Sunstein 6). This caused him to work with one of the preachers aiming at fighting for the religious rights of the people of Virginia. Working on such cases gave him knowledge about freedom in religion. In the period from 1776 to 1779, Madison worked in the legislature of Virginia. He became a prominent figure in the government of Virginia and was among those composing the Statute for Religious Freedom (Hossell 2).

James Madison was the father of the Constitution, which was significant as the first chapter of the United States law history. The assumptions that underlie it differed from the one before. In the Magna Carter, for example, the barons had to approach the king to plead with him to grant them the rights, but in the new constitution, the people already had the rights. Madison, together with other Founders, felt that they had those rights accurately from the time they were born, since they are supposed to have them just basing on the fact that they are alive. They believed that nobody had to go to a king to get such rights (Wood 14).

Madison and his mates declared that the people were the ones to make the government and determine what powers it should have and the government had no right to specify the powers. The Articles of Confederation bounded the military alliance of thirteen states fighting in the Revolution War before the Constitution came to being. It did not go as well as expected and it even became worse after the war was over (Jensen 33).

After the Revolution the Congress did not possess any powers to tax and therefore was not able to reimburse the debts. Madison together with other prominent leaders was greatly concerned about this and they feared for the unity of the alliance and a possible bankruptcy of the nation. The Articles of Confederation created a weak central government since it left most of the power with the state government. It soon became apparent that there was a need for a stronger Federal government and this led to the coming of the Constitution Convention in 1787.

During this crisis, Madison wrote expressing his feelings about the situation, that the crisis was to determine whether the American experiment was meant to be a blessing to the people of America or to kill the hopes that had been aspired by the republicans. In 1787, a national convention, where the Madison was the one who had a comprehensive plan, was called. The plan aimed at resolving the problems that the Articles had. The plan immediately became the topic of discussion in all debates and helped in the shaping of the current Constitution of the United States (Wood 24).

Having come from the Revolutionary War, which lasted for over eight years, the Framers had no interest in recreating the Constitution that had divided power hence the division of power became its key element. They therefore stuck to that and divided power between the state and federal governments. They further divided power within the federal government by forming three bodies that branched from it (Hoffert 4).

Madison wrote that both the state and the federal government were different agents for the people and had different powers and were meant for different purposes. Madison wrote about the challenges faced by the framers of the government (Wood 52). He expressed the difficulty confronted when forming a government that controls its people and obliges to control itself. Madison went to the constitutional convention fully prepared with the idea to create the Virginia Plan. He took out many books that showed every form of government used before by many countries. This led Douglas Adair, a historian, to name Madison the most fruitful scholarly researcher in America.

Madison directed the initiating of the Constitutional Convention and was a great figure in it. Madison was highly rated by his fellow delegates as he made speeches for more than two hundred times. William Pierce, one of the delegates, acknowledged Madison’s greatness and said that he took the lead in the management of every question in the Convention. He also acknowledged him for being the most informed in any debate. Clinton Rossiter categorised him above the likes of Jefferson and Adams due to his skills, intelligence and experience (Hoffert 23).

In the 1790s, Madison had intended to publish his journal of notes and therefore had started editing it accordingly. Later on, he had his sister-in-law rewrite his journal and incorporate some of the changes made in the text. Madison continually postponed the date of publication due to the fear that his political enemies would use it against him. He was also aware that it had several errors, which distorted the strict-nature approach to the Constitution. To avoid this situation he spent a lot of his time improving the journal so there were many deletions and insertions within the text and several other corrections.

Some people had already started calling him the father of the Constitution as the 50th anniversary approached. He however still feared for his reputation and that his enemies would humiliate and mock him. He feared being called controversial, just as a friend of his had been. Nevertheless, he flashed back to the road leading to the constitution during those dreadful days. His work of drafting the Virginia Declaration of Rights was a stepping-stone towards the attainment of independence and now the Constitution. In his papers, he still had the copy of the rights of Virginia. He noted that his major contribution to the Virginia Declaration of Rights was his changing of the phrase, that every man was entitled to free and full exercise of religion.

Jay and Alexander Hamilton joined him in the new plan, that Madison was the founder of. They wrote series of essays that were supposed to turn public opinions of the people into ratification. Madison was the main writer of the Federalist, which were series of newspapers and pamphlet articles. The writers of the individual articles could not be identified since Hamilton wrote over fifty articles while Madison wrote less than twenty.

The Federal Constitution was finally approved by the states in 1789 and went into effect. It was later criticised mainly due to its lack of the Bill of Rights. As much as Madison knew that the Constitution protected the rights of every person, he did not believe that drafting the Bill of Rights would go well with his position as a politician. Ten of the arguments, Madison used in his leadership position in the first Federal Congress in order to make twelve amendments to the Constitution, were converted into the Bill of Rights. Madison may have been satisfied of his position as the founding father of the federal government but he could never come to terms with the publication of the notes he took during the Constitutional Convention for as long as he lived.

Right from the days of the Revolution through the struggles of the constitution and the War of 1821, Madison was involved in the most vital issues facing the new nation. He was involved in fighting for the rights of the citizens, the fighting for religious freedom, release from slavery, attempts to change the form and nature of the government and making a place for America in the community of nations. Even when James Madison retired, he still participated in the national scene. Madison served as the president of the American colonization Society (Hoffert 47).

James Madison and Thomas Paine have many characteristics in common. Both of them used the ideas (that appeared to be of common sense) to develop theories that led to a change in the political sphere. They both wrote articles and pamphlets against the government and tried to influence the people’s way of thinking. Madison wrote notes as people discussed and debated in the Constitutional Convent and other areas and this helped him in writing and publishing his works (Roza 16).

His works were recognized and he earned the name, Father of the Constitution. He took notes of the speech made at the Congress and prepared arguments to push for the amendment of the constitution. Madison made notes of people’s speeches and converted them into important tools that would later shape the Constitution and the governance of the United States. What others referred to as common sense to him was the basis for the change of the Constitution. Thomas Paine also recorded conversations from people as they went on with their normal duties and later converted them into important pieces of work (Forner 3).

Unlike Thomas Paine, James Madison managed to influence people and saw his struggles coming to realization. He managed to convince the leaders into making the necessary amendments in the constitution and formulating the Bill of Rights. Thomas Paine, on the other hand, never established a political society or organization or made any reforms. His influence is hard to determine since all his achievements were only in his writing. Although Paine spent over ten years in France, he made very little influence on the French Revolution (Forner 3).


It is, therefore, evident that the ideas expressed in Common sense always come from somewhere. The ideas that James Madison referenced in common sense are the result of the notes he took of the conversations, debates and speeches made by other leaders in the Congress and Constitutional Convention. Through this, he was able to shape the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which were his major achievements.

Works cited

Forner, Philip. The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine. 1945. Web.

Hoffert, Robert W. A Politics of Tensions: The Articles of Confederation and American Political Ideas. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1992. Print.

Hossell, Karen. The Articles of Confederation. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2004. Print.

Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution 1774-1781. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1970. Print.

Roza, Greg. Evaluating the Articles of Confederation: Determining the Validity of Information and Arguments. New York: Rosen Pub., 2006. Print.

Sunstein, Cass. The Federalist. Cambridge: The Belknap press of Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.

Wood, Gordon. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969. Print.

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