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BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE.
ROMINENT among the names in the annals of Virginia, is that of
Madison; foremost in councils of state, in the church, and in the army. Diligent research made some years since by Conway Robinson, Esq., a member of the Historical society of Virginia, led to the finding in the state paper office in London, of a list of the Virginia colonists of 1623, in which occurs the name of Captain Isaac Madison. In the first accurate history of the colony of Virginia, written by its heroic defender, Captain John Smith, due praise is awarded Captain Madison for his brilliant achievements against the “salvages” in 1622. It is evident from the accounts given in early works, that the family were among the daring few who braved the terrors of a tedious voyage across an almost unknown sea, to meet the not less menacing dangers of the inhospitable coast. With what contending emotions must they have first set foot on land at Jamestown—joy, that they were delivered from the terrors of the deep ; fear, that they might have escaped past dangers to meet those yet more terrible from the unseen inhabitants of the forests that reached almost to the water's edge. That these fears were not without foundation is proven in the pages of history, in the wars and bloodshed that ensued ere a permanent foothold was obtained. The colonists had been educated in a stern and unyielding school. They brought with them hearts of oak and constitutions of iron, and both were required before their work was done.
As early as 1635, a large tract of land lying between the North and York rivers, and contiguous to the Chesapeake bay, was acquired by patent, by John Madison, the progenitor of the branch of the family to which belonged James Madison, the fourth President of the United States. John Madison was the father of John, and he the father of Ambrose, the paternal grandfather of James Madison, Jr. During the four generations preceding the birth of the future President, the possessions of the family largely increased, and in 1651 the landed estate of James Madison, Sr., embraced several pla:tations in Orange, and in the counties adjoining. In the care and cultivation of these, as was the custom of the day, he employed many slaves, his property by the law of the land. His position as a landed proprietor gave him a prestige in the county of Orange, where was his manor. house, and, though he is not known to have taken any active part in political matters, during the revolutionary war he was a county lieutenant, the duties of which office he performed with diligence and zeal. He lived, with his family, at Montpelier, which had also been the home of his father, Ambrose Madison, and which descended in direct line to James Madison, Jr.
James Madison was born March 16, 1751, at the residence of his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Conway, on the northern bank of the Rappahannock river, in King George county, Virginia, where his mother was visiting when that interesting event occurred. Montpelier, the estate on which his parents resided, was situated some sixty miles distant. His birth took place in the near vicinity of the homes of several men who became illustrious. Of Eleanor Conway, the mother of James Madison, little is known. She was the mother of a large family of children, seven of whom -four sons and three daughters—arrived at years of maturity. The cares of maternity, together with the duty of overseeing a large establish. ment, early undermined her constitution; her eldest son, when absent from home in early life, pursuing a course of study planned by his father and in accordance with his own desires, in his frequent letters expressed the solicitude he felt regarding her health. And during the years of his public career, he never lacked in devotion to the one who bore him, caring for her until she peacefully passed into rest, not many years before his own death. No less was his father the object of his care and attention until his death, in 1801.
Appreciating his own disadvantages, the elder James Madison determined that his children should have the privileges which his position and the means at his command could furnish. While yet very young, the boy was placed in a school conducted by a learned Scotchman, Donald Robertson, who, besides teaching some branches of an elementary education, gave him instruction in the Greek, Latin, French, and Spanish languages. He had received some earlier instruction in the vicinity of his home, but at the school of Mr. Robertson was laid the foundation of an education that in after
years developed those qualities of understanding that so well fitted him for political lcadership. For some time after leaving this school he remained at home, under the tuition of Rev. Thomas Martin, the rector of the parish, who, at that time, lived in the Madison family at Montpelier. Mr. Martin was a man of learning and piety, and to this instruction, added to that of his mother, is due the strong religious principles that through. out his life permeated the mind of Mr. Madison. These principles found frequent expression in letters written during early life, to his college intimates, and remained no less strong when in mature years he was surrounded by the cares of state.
At the age of seventeen he was prepared to enter college. Brought up in the communion of the Episcopal church, it might be expected he would attend the college of William and Mary, at Williamsburg, which was under the control of that denomination. At that time, however, the board of visitors and the faculty were not working in harmony in the management of the institution; beside, the president, Rev. Mr. Horrocks, was unpopular in his position, circumstances which had the effect of sending Madison to the popular and growing college of Princeton. This institution had one year before acquired a valuable aid in the person of Dr. Witherspoon, a gentle. man then aged forty-six years, a profound student and deep thinker, who was the contemporary of such master minds as Smith, Hume, Reid, Kames, Robertson, and Blair, from whose companionship he had imbibed deeply of philosophical ideas; in contests with the church he had acquired prin. ciples of free thought and a liberty of opinion, that led him carly to espouse the cause of liberty as manifested in the resistance of the colonies to the орр of the mother country. He stopped with no half-way measures, but took an important part in the discussions that preceded the adoption of the declaration of independence, and hesitated not a moment in signing that document. Later he was prominent in forming the confederation of states, and in the Congress, from the beginning to the close of the war, took an active part.
Fortunate, indeed, were the youth of that day who were brought into intimate companionship with one of the superior mental endowments of Dr. Witherspoon. Mr. Madison remained under his instruction three years as an undergraduate, finally completing the prescribed course in 1771, receiving the degree of bachelor of arts. During the three years passed at Princeton, the curriculum of the college had been enlarged to correspond with the learning of its president, and embraced as additions a more comprehensive course in mathematics, physical science, moral philosophy, public law and politics, history, the art of literary composition, and criticism. To the course thus arranged the student brought habits of thought and research, 'rare in so young a man. That he assimilated the good found in such a sys.
of study, is apparent in the results attested by the able and compre
hensive state papers that were the labor of his mature life, and are yet regarded as models of their kind.
The grade of scholarship in Princeton was high, and to take no inferior position was the aim of the student. That close application was required is evident when it is known that such men as Mr. Henry, of Maryland, Brockholst Livingston, of New York, William Bradford, and Hugh H. Brackenridge, of Pennsylvania, Aaron Burr, Morgan Lewis, Aaron Ogden, and Henry Lee,-all of whom at some period in life occupied high places in state and nation, -were fellow-students of Madison in Princeton.
One result of the spirit of liberty infused into the young men of that day, was the formation of a society,-the American Whig society,—which survives to this time. Mr. Madison is reputed one of its founders. The close of his college course found Madison a devoted student. He determined on yet another year of study at his alma mater, under the private instruction of Dr. Witherspoon, for whom he had formed a strong friend. ship.
In 1772 Mr. Madison returned to Montpelier, where he proposed to devote himself still further to study. He was now twenty-one years of age somewhat feeble in health, by reason of too close confinement and excessive study. Habit could not easily be broken, and he employed his time in an extensive course of reading for his own improvement, besides superintending the instruction of his younger brothers and sisters, and maintaining correspondence with young men of kindred tastes who had been his classmates and friends in college. His most intimate friend and associate had been William Bradford, of Pennsylvania, who became an officer in the revolutionary army, afterward judge of the supreme court of Pennsylvania, and attorneygeneral of the United States under President Washington. In their correspondence these young men discussed the leading political questions of the day. Their estimate of the course pursued by Great Britain in the impending conflict coincided. The attempt of the mother country to force the colonies to purchase tea shipped to America, aroused in them a spirit of indignation, and the action of Philadelphia, Boston, and other ports in refusing to receive it, met their unqualified approval.
Although nurtured in the bosom of the established church, Mr. Madison was strongly opposed to the course taken by the ecclesiastical authori. ties in the persecution of dissenters. Early in 1774 he wrote his friend Bradford in regard to the growing feeling against English oppression, in the following language: “I verily believe the frequent assaults that have been made on America (Boston especially,) will in the end prove of real advantage. If the church of England had been the established religion in all the northern colonies, as it has been among us here, and uninterrupted harmony had prevailed throughout thc continent, it is clear to me that slavery and subjection might and would have been gradually insinuated among us.
Union in religious sentiment begets a surprising confidence, and ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.” No form of tyranny is so revolting to human nature as that exercised over the mind; and no tyranny exercised over the mind of man is so abominable as that which seeks to enslave the conscience in matters of religion. That the persecution of other sects by the established church, under the sanction of law, roused the clear religious convictions of Mr. Madison, was in great part due to the principles he had developed in his college life-principles that stopped at nothing less than absolute freedom of mind, body, and estate
When the legislature of Virginia met in May, 1774, and received news of the closing of the port of Boston and the removal of the custom house to Salem, in unison with the spirit pervading the entire country at the time, that body strongly condemned the retaliatory measures of the mother country, and passed resolutions setting apart the ist of June as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. As soon as these facts came to the ear of the royal governor, Lord Dunmore, he dissolved the house of burgesses. This act did not have the effect to intimidate the members, who soon reassembled in the “Apollo," the long private room of the Raleigh tavern, and there formed themselves into a voluntary association to “deliberate on those general measures which the united interests of America may, from time to time require.” At a subsequent meeting a resolution was passed inviting the other colonies to a congress to be holden for consideration of the grave subjects then at issue. At the same time a convention was called, to meet at Williamsburg on the ist of August following, to appoint delegates to the general congress. On the 5th of September the congress met at Philadelphia, and took steps that eventually led to the declaration of independence.
While the congress was yet in session the troops of Virginia, by a hard-fought battle at Point Pleasant, conquered the Indians who had for years been committing devastation on her borders. The campaign which had been so decisive in disposing of the lurking foe in the west, was concluded none too soon. The events that had already taken place had aroused in the people a demand for war, and the work of embodying and drilling additional troops was at once begun. In each county was raised one independent company of one hundred men, making the Virginia contingent to consist of six thousand troops, armed and equipped at their own expense. The burden of raising a company in the county of Orange fell on the elder Madison, as county lieutenant. There was no lack of enthusiasm, and difficulty was experienced in limiting the company to the prescribed nuniber, men who had served as officers in previous Indian wars being eager to take place in the ranks. The committee of public safety in Orange was composed of such men as Madison, Taylor, Barbour Taliafero. James