American Culture: James Madison Mini Biography
One of America’s Founding Fathers, James Madison helped build the U.S. Constitution in the late 1700s. He also created the foundation for the Bill of Rights, acted as President Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, and served two terms as president himself.
Born in 1751, Madison grew up in Orange County, Virginia. He was the oldest of 12 children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. His father, James, was a successful planter and owned more than 3,000 acres of land and dozens of slaves. He was also an influential figure in county affairs.
In 1762, Madison was sent to a boarding school run by Donald Robertson in King and Queen County, Virginia. He returned to his father’s estate in Orange County, Virginia—called Montpelier—five years later. His father had him stay home and receive private tutoring because he was concerned about Madison’s health. He would experience bouts of ill health throughout his life. After two years, Madison finally went to college in 1769, enrolling at the College of New Jersey—now known as Princeton University. There, Madison studied Latin, Greek, science and philosophy among other subjects. Graduating in 1771, he stayed on a while longer to continue his studies with the school’s president, Reverend John Witherspoon.