Knowing the Presidents: James Madison

James Madison

Fourth President, 1809-1817


As Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, James Madison inadvertently began a pattern in which this cabinet office position would lead directly to the presidency. This would continue until 1828, with the election of Andrew Jackson.

With regard to the affairs of state, wrote one contemporary, Madison “has the most knowledge…of any Man in the Union.”


James Madison struggled to keep the nation neutral in the war between Britain and France. Strong dissent, especially in New England, characterized the strife as “Mr. Madison’s War.”

Major Acts:

British seizure of American seamen pushed James Madison to ask Congress for a declaration of war in June 1812. The United States entered the conflict without a strong military. Consequently, early battle losses, including the burning of the White House and the Capitol by British troops, created strong dissent.


Victory in the Battle of New Orleans, on January 8, 1815—a battle led by Andrew Jackson—restored to the nation a sense of pride and sovereignty, which in turn enhanced the legacy of James Madison’s presidency.