American Presidents

James Madison

American Presidents Teacher Guide

James Madison and the Constitutional Convention
James Madison Week: April 5-10, 1999
Recommended Use:
Secondary or College Levels

This Teacher Guide was developed by C-SPAN Champion Teacher Kevin Sacerdote who teaches A.P. U.S. History at Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville, Fl. C-SPAN provided to his area by MediaOne.

Goal: Effective delivery and understanding of modules focusing on the following three areas: Madison and his note-taking "duties" at the Constitutional Convention; the fight for ratification of the Constitution; and Madison's bid for the House of Representatives in 1789.


Students Will:

  • understand the amount of preparation time that Madison put into his political study

  • gain insight into the tedious task of taking the Convention notes, as well as acting as a leading delegate at the Constitutional Convention

  • learn about Madison's race for the House of Representatives in 1789, and how he was able to win in a "gerrymandered" district (even before the term was invented)

Materials & Tools:

  • A computer, modem and Internet access

  • An appropriate textbook for background readings on the convention

  • James Madison: A Biography. Ketcham, Ralph. University Press of Virginia: Charlottesville, 1971. (paperback edition, ISBN 0-8139-1265-2)

  • C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits program featuring James Madison

  • C-SPAN's American Presidents web site

Key Concepts and Personalities:

Terms: Quorum, Rule of Secrecy, Gerrymander, Enumerated

Comprimises: Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, The Great Compromise, Committee of Detail

People: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, Luther Martin, Charles Pickney, Robert Sherman, James Monroe, Patrick Henry

Documents: The Continental Congress, The Federalist Essays, Bill of Rights, and The Articles of Confederation


Use some of the following background to raise students' awareness of James Madison:

a. “…he cherished the Union because only the cooperative power it released could bring the social justice necessary to fulfill the legal and moral equality of man.”
(Ketcham, p. 671)

b. Madison became a life long learner in the political science field developing a solid foundation that he would continuously draw from.

“ ( The Continental) Congress had appointed Madison to draw up a list of books which might be useful to its deliberations - that is, to establish a Library of Congress…Madison compiled a comprehensive list of 307 works, comprising fourteen hundred or more volumes….included (were) many of the new and often radical Enlightenment writers (Bayle, Voltaire, Gibbon, Barbeyrac, Mably, Hutcheson, Hume, Adam Smith, Price, and Priestly), as well as such authorities as Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hooker, Bacon, Montesquieu, Grotius, Harrington, Coke, and Blackstone...Madison and Jefferson must have spent hours savoring the contents of these books and relishing the prospect of having debates of Congress guided by them.” (Ketcham, p. 140)

c. Madison gained a solid base of political knowledge during his college days. But these few years were only the beginning of his studies.

“To better understand these basic principles and especially to learn more about the complexities of federated governments, at Montpelier in the Spring and Summer of 1786 Madison turned to the ‘literary cargo’ of books on history, politics, and commerce sent by Jefferson from Paris….(Ketcham, p. 183)….he recorded the facts and lessons about the ancient and modern confederacies in a booklet of forty-one pocket sized pages, easy to use in debate or writing. He probably referred to the notes during the federal convention and Virginia ratifying convention….he also inserted large parts of his notes almost verbatim in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth Federalist papers.”
( Ketcham, p. 184)

e. In addition to being considered one of the most respected speakers at the Philadelphia convention, he also took it upon himself to record the daily proceedings.

“Madison chose a seat in front of the presiding member, with the other members on my right and left hand. In this favorable position for hearing all that passed, I noted in terms legible and in abbreviations and marks intelligible to myself what was read from the chair or spoken by the members…I was enabled to write out my daily notes during the session or within a few finishing days.' No one asked Madison to record the debates in this way. It was the long hours of studying leading to the momentous day, and his own sense of history, that made him do it.” (Ketcham, p. 195)

Madison continued his note taking throughout the convention months and was an active speaker during floor debates as well. All of this work exhausted the man who would be labeled as the “Father of the Constitution.”

“Madison often left the convivial groups to sit hours at his desk at Mrs. House’s writing out speeches of the delegates from the cryptic notes he had taken at the convention. The task was so laborious that late in life Madison said it “almost killed” him, but he was determined, he wrote Jefferson in mid-July, “to go on with the drudgery, if no indisposition obliges me to discontinue it.” (Ketcham p. 207)

1. Constitutional Convention
Show portions of C-SPAN’S American Presidents series program features James Madison.

Examine some of the selected readings that Madison used in his preparation for the convention and beyond (Aristotle, Montesquieu, Plato, Locke, Bacon, Hume, and Voltaire). Discuss the impact that the Federalist Essay authors had on the ratification process.

Would Madison have written as many Federalist Essays as Hamilton if he did not have to return to fight for ratification in Virginia? Have students read specific portions of selected Federalist Essays. This activity can be done in the classroom using the Internet. Please refer to the Ketcham biography p. 239-253 as yet another resource.

Examine the fight for ratification within the state of Virginia. Madison is able to combat the attempts by Patrick Henry and others as they fought their anti-ratification campaign. Once again refer to Ketcham's biography for useful information in this area (p. 252-269.)

Read the appropriate text offerings regarding the background, writing, and ratification of the Constitution. Instruct a pair of students to research each one of the key eighteen delegates that Mr. Ketcham lists on page 194. When discussing the actual convention proceedings, identify certain delegate speeches from Madison's daily notes and decide if the respective delegate's idea were included in the final Constitution.

2. Congressional Election
Show portions of C-SPAN’S American Presidents programming that showcase Madison’s personal character and political career, friends and foes. Study the Congressional election of 1789 between James Madison and James Monroe.

"To humiliate Madison, (Patrick) Henry managed his rejection by the (Virginia) Assembly for a seat in the Senate, referring to him as one unworthy of the confidence of the an attempt to exclude Madison from the House of Representatives as well, Henry, a master of the "gerrymander" long before that term had been invented, placed Orange County (Madison's home area) in a Congressional district otherwise composed of counties considered heavily anti-federal." (Ketcham, p. 275).

Did the Congressional election of 1789 reinforce Madison’s belief in protection against factional problems? Write a short essay describing the events of the election and how Madison did or did not represent the beliefs of a new nation and government.

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