Happy birthday, Jemmy! On this day in 1751, James Madison, Jr.—founder, patriot, “father of the Constitution,” and fourth president of the United States—was born at his mother’s family home in Port Conway, a hamlet on the Rappahannock River in Virginia’s northern neck.
His parents, James, Sr. and Nellie, took him home to their 5,000-acre tobacco plantation in Orange County, where he grew up the oldest of 12 children. (Montpelier, the Madison estate, was built down the road a piece during the 1760s.)
Madison first came to Williamsburg as a 25-year old representative to the Fifth Virginia Convention in 1776. The mild-mannered Jemmy was prone to bouts of illness, but he achieved power and influence through the sheer power of his intellect.
Since we can’t give you a cake, we instead offer a Tavern Debate featuring an imagined conversation between Mr. Madison and Abigail Adams on a subject that has perennial relevance: loyalty in politics.
You see, while Madison did much to contribute to the Revolutionary cause, and to help frame the Constitution, and then to secure a Bill of Rights, he proved to be a bit of a thorn in the side to the Washington and Adams administrations.
Madison quietly aided the creation of the United States’ first opposition party, the Democratic-Republicans in the 1790s. This was accomplished in part by supporting a media network of sorts, a chain of newspapers run by like-minded editors who rallied arguments against, for example, the much-hated Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798.
So that’s what’s on Abigail’s mind as the two discuss current affairs in Williamsburg’s Shields Tavern. Why, she wonders, are people like Madison and Thomas Jefferson encouraging faction? Where is their loyalty, and what will happen to the nation if we undermine our chosen leaders?
See how Jemmy answers, and weigh in on what you think about the parallels to today’s political battles.
Happy 265th, Mr. Madison!