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Collection Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789

James Madison

James Madison (1751-1836). Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Bust Portrait Miniature, 1783. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-4097.


Born into a respectable family of Virginia planters, Madison demonstrated intellectual gifts at an early age. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) for three years, continuing his studies even after he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1771. Returning to Virginia, Madison sank into a deep depression, longing for a vocation that would involve his passions, ideals, and intellect. He found his calling with the coming of the Revolutionary War; drawn into Virginia politics, he soon compiled an impressive record of service on both a state and national level, eventually serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780. By 1787, as a delegate in the Constitutional Convention, Madison had established himself as the intellectual leader in the struggle to create a new, stronger federal government.