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James Madison.

[Detail] James Madison.


James Madison was an inveterate note-taker and note-maker. Documents in the collection show that he made notes in advance of speeches he was planning to give; see, for example, his "Notes for Speech on Constitutional Amendments. June 8, 1789."

Madison took notes of debates at and decisions made by various public bodies of which he was a member, most notably the Constitutional Convention. In his introduction to the notes of the Convention, he writes that he "was not absent a single day, nor more than a cassual fraction of an hour in any day", something which aided his methodology.

  • Describe Madison's note-taking technique. How does this technique compare to your own method of taking notes?
  • Madison said he was helped by his familiarity "with the style and the train of observation and reasoning which characterized the principal speakers." What do you think he meant by this? Do your own experiences taking notes in class support Madison's observation?
  • Have modern technologies made note-taking skills like those that Madison practiced obsolete? Why or why not?
  • What were Madison's reasons for keeping notes at the convention? (Image 1642 of the notes describes his thinking.) Did he achieve his goals? Give evidence to support your answer.