Madison gave no sign in his pre‐​presidential career that he would flourish in the chief magistracy, and he lived up to expectations.

Kevin R. C. Gutzman holds a bachelor’s degree in Plan II/​History, Cum Laude and With Special Honors in History, from the University of Texas, s Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, a J.D. from the University of Texas Law School, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia. He has appeared on C-SPAN, CNN, Fox News, BBC TV, and other television outlets, on popular podcasts such as the Dave Rubin Show and the Tom Woods Show, and on several hundred radio programs, including National Public Radio, the Michael Medved Show, the Young Turks (Air America) Show, the John Gambling Show, the Kate Daley Show, and the Janet Parshall show. He is author of four books, including James Madison and the Making of America, a Main Selection of the History Book Club; Thomas Jefferson–Revolutionary, a selection of five book clubs; and the New York Times Best‐​Seller The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution; and co‐​author of another; author of the Foreword to another, and author of essays in three edited collections. Gutzman has written three dozen essays in historical encyclopedias, over 150 book reviews, and essays in many newspapers and periodicals, scholarly and popular, in the USA and abroad.

You can follow him on Facebook or @KevinGutzman.

Editor’s Note

“Everything Wrong with the Presidents” series focuses on, as the title suggests, everything each president did wrong while in office. While many presidents enacted worthwhile, and even occasionally beneficial, policies, that’s not what these essays are about. Thus, silence regarding the good actions should not be taken as denial of their existence.

Tell them however many times one might that he was far greater a political scientist, legislator, and constitutional statesman, Americans still will think of James Madison as President (if they think of him at all). If, however, his closest friend and ally, Thomas Jefferson, left “President of the United States” off the gravestone he designed for himself, Madison had far more reason to wish for his tenure in the White House to be forgotten. Although he departed Washington, D.C. in 1817 on a wave of enthusiastic support, Madison’s presidency must be classified as the grand flop of his otherwise momentous career. [1]

The reasons begin with Madison himself. In a day and age when the ablest of despots ruled the greatest of nations, Madison was a kind of anti‐​Napoleon. Though Bonaparte’s diminutiveness is only mythical, James Madison was remarkably small. Besides that, Napoleon was known for his on‐​the‐​spot decision‐​making, most famously on the field at Austerlitz. Madison … not so much. Rather, he commonly buried himself in a library among books written in more than a handful of European languages, ancient and modern, before arriving at penetrating insights and powerful diagnoses. The most obvious example must be the year‐​long effort leading up to the Philadelphia Convention that one scholar referred to as “Jimmy Madison’s Research Project.” [2] Once this type of work left Madison committed to conclusions, he remained so—sometimes even though conditions had changed markedly.

In The Federalist #70 , Publius (Alexander Hamilton) justified the unitary Executive the Constitution would create by saying that it would combine “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch” in greater measure than a plural one. By all accounts, Napoleon’s decision to sell Louisiana came as a complete surprise to everyone else, of a sudden. It was obviously the right move.

It was not the kind of move President Madison likely would have taken. He would have required extensive Cabinet consultations. Faced with a long‐​festering difficulty in relations with Great Britain, Secretary of State Madison devoted several months to another lengthy research project. In the end, he showed—to the satisfaction of twenty‐​first‐​century historians and political scientists—that Britain had no right during the Napoleonic Era to enforce the Rule of 1756, according to which it claimed authority to interdict neutral commerce that had not been allowed to the neutral country in peacetime. [3] Ultimately, Britain’s Orders in Council of 1807 required any ship trading with virtually any part of Europe, from the eastern Baltic to the eastern Mediterranean, first to unload its cargo in a British port and pay a 25% duty. Napoleon responded with his Milan Decree, which ordered seizure of any ship that had complied with the British Orders.

Madison’s pamphlet was no match for Britain’s 900 warships. Nor was Britain disposed to change its policy at a time when economic coercion of the French Empire was effectively the only strategy available to it. Not only the paper blockade of virtually all of Europe, which is to say Napoleon’s empire and allied states, but impressment, the egregiously offensive British practice of stopping American merchant ships at sea to force British sailors into the Royal Navy, formed a cause of irritation between the Jefferson Administration and Britain.

Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin could not—could not—take the obvious steps in response to difficulties with Britain at sea. Their entire program was against it. One might have thought that they would raise taxes to pay for a significant naval force to defend America’s coastal waters, besides fortifying the chief American ports, training a professional army officer corps significantly larger than the one West Point was producing, and raising sufficient soldiers for an army that could fend off incursions from Canada or the sea. One might have thought, in other words, that they would make their policies fit the circumstances.But they never did. Secretary Gallatin’s chief goals at Treasury—cutting navy spending and paying off the national debt—remained on the front burner for the Jefferson Administration. Not war, but the Embargo would be America’s response.

Madison had contemplated economic coercion of, for example, Britain since the early 1780s, and so his advice to Jefferson to take this step came as no surprise. The three Republican leaders were joined at the hip in this regard, as in all else. Jefferson and Madison had seen such policies coerce desirable responses from Britain in the days before the Revolution, and they were sure economic coercion would make the former mother country do what they wanted even now.

The results were entirely unlike what Madison, for one, expected. Britain did not accommodate the United States. Neither did France. The only people significantly affected by the Embargo were Americans. Up and down the Atlantic seaboard, and more as one went farther north, Americans resorted to smuggling—which proved quite lucrative. New Englanders traded with Canada. Britons laughed.

When Gallatin, in charge of enforcement, detailed to the president the types of new power he would need to make the Embargo effective , Jefferson forwarded the request to Congress. The Congress complied.

Partly as a result, Madison’s 1808 margin of victory in the Electoral College did not approach Jefferson’s from 1804. Jefferson essentially abandoned his office by fleeing to Monticello and refusing to make decisions in his administration’s closing months that would (as he put it) bind his successors in the coming years. In his presidency’s last days, the Senate rejected one diplomatic appointment unanimously and Congress (with Republicans still in control of both houses) repealed the Embargo. Formerly master of American politics, Jefferson left the presidency at its lowest ebb. Then, his chief lieutenant succeeded him.

Like John Adams before him and Martin Van Buren, Andrew Johnson, Harry Truman, and George H. W. Bush since, Madison was a pale substitute for his predecessor. Incongruously, he arrived at the Capitol to give his First Inaugural Address in a fancy carriage. Madison then read an address that must have struck the large number of people in attendance who had heard, or at least read, Jefferson’s immortal speech on a similar occasion as utterly unlike it—the orchestra tuning up rather than in full voice. At that evening’s inaugural ball (an innovation from the First Lady), “Little Jemmy” was spotted standing in a corner with a small group, while Mrs. Madison made the rounds among all in attendance.

In those days of extremely few Federal Government employees even more than today, personnel were policy. Vice presidents did not count for much, which helps account for Republicans’ choices of George Clinton for Madison’s first term and Elbridge Gerry for his second. (These two former Antifederalists both died in office). If Madison had had his way, his rise from #2 (the State Department) to #1 would have been followed by Gallatin’s promotion from #3 ( the Treasury) to #2. Virginia Republican Senator Wilson Cary Nicholas told him, however, that in case Gallatin were nominated for secretary of state, he likely would be rejected by the Senate, and so Madison did not nominate him. Rather, he tabbed the brother of one of the U.S. senators who had organized opposition to Gallatin. Historians uniformly judge this fellow to have been not only less able than Gallatin (the brilliant immigrant whose finishing in Switzerland’s finest schools had prepared him to serve as Republicans’ answer to Alexander Hamilton, both in principles and in ability) but downright incompetent. By the time Secretary Robert Smith reached the end of his tenure at State, Madison was proofing all of his most important diplomatic letters to ensure that they accurately conveyed the messages the president (and Gallatin, Madison’s chief advisor) intended to convey. This was not the last time that preemptive surrender came back to bite President Madison.

What with abandonment of the Embargo, one might have thought that the president would take particular care in choosing his two military secretaries. But no. Rather, Madison selected for War a physician who had served in that capacity in the army during the Revolution and for Navy South Carolinian Paul Hamilton, whose progressively more debilitating, and ultimately embarrassing, dipsomania ultimately forced the highly resistant president to terminate him. [4] Madison did not have a fully competent Cabinet until the final months of his two terms.

Congress and the administration went through a succession of feckless alternatives to the Embargo policy during Madison’s first term. One, the Non‐​Intercourse Act, barred American trade with France and England until such time as one of those great powers agreed to trade with America on such terms as America demanded. At that point, America would trade freely with the newly friendly power while continuing to forego trade with its enemy. When this gambit failed, Congress substituted Macon’s Bill No. 2, which opened trade with both countries until one of them recognized America’s rights as a neutral party to trade with both, at which point trade with the other would be cut off.

Upon learning of this, Napoleon had his foreign minister announce that France would indeed satisfy the American stipulations. But Napoleon set a trap for American shipping: in a day when transoceanic transport was exceedingly slow, the Madison government had no way of knowing that revocation of the edicts to which America objected did not account for Napoleon’s entire restrictive commercial system. The emperor had issued an edict of which the United States were unaware. By the time Madison learned that he had been snookered, scores of American ships had already traversed the Atlantic, only to be seized by French Imperial authorities and auctioned off on the other side. Napoleon had nothing but contempt for a country that remained essentially unarmed in the middle of the gigantic world war.

Madison understood the behavior of both Britain and France as essentially tyrannical. Both habit and geopolitical reality—that the Virginia Dynasty’s important goal of obtaining title to Spanish provinces neighboring the United States would require France’s cooperation, or at least acquiescence—made Republicans more willing to tolerate French depredations. (That Britain’s aggressive acts included impressment and French offenses did not made this distinction particularly easy to justify.) The administration expected Napoleon and his foreign minister, Charles‐​Maurice de Talleyrand‐​Périgord, ultimately to let America have its way, at least in regard to the Florida territory, because an American alliance would somehow benefit France. In the end, the emperor and his foreign minister never made the same calculation—Napoleon due to his own transient considerations, and Talleyrand because, as Henry Adams would have it, he was at heart a European conservative uninterested in aiding in the rise of the North American Republic at a great European monarchy’s expense. [5]

The British found America’s position morally unacceptable, indeed infuriating. In his acid account of Madison’s presidency, Gary Wills analogizes the British attitude during the Napoleonic Wars to American opinion during the Cold War. Here the mother country was, holding out against the conqueror of all Europe in behalf of traditional European civilization, and the Americans were operatively siding with France.

In the year 1811, Madison reached the end of his rope. Seeing what likely would come and recognizing the utility of such an institution in time of war, he let Gallatin tell congressional allies that the president would be happy to see Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States given a renewal of its original twenty‐​year charter. Backstage support did not suffice, however: the Senate’s Republican majority arranged a tie vote so that Vice President Clinton, once Hamilton’s chief home‐​state opponent, could cast the vote that killed the bank, which he gleefully did.

Later in the year, the administration asked for authorization to raise a 10,000-man army. Republican senator William Branch Giles, who had been the chief organizer of the Madison for President effort in the Old Dominion in 1808, [6] substituted a bill allowing the president to recruit 25,000 regulars and as many as 50,000 volunteers. One guess is that Giles intended by this measure to alarm potential opponents of a British war with the measure’s potential price tag. Giles by this point led a loose coalition of quasi‐​opposition Republicans (“the Invisibles”) in the Senate. Giles apparently had envisioned himself as a top Cabinet member, and failing to obtain that plum post, he turned to intermittently thwarting Madison’s initiatives. We should resist the impulse to think that because the party James Madison organized in 1792 controlled Congress during his presidency, the Madison Administration bore total—or sometimes even any—responsibility for measures the government adopted. Federalist strength had waned considerably, but opposition to substantial measures made itself felt on a regular basis.

Madison’s various appointments are a mixed bag. By 1811, Madison tired of having the incompetent, unfaithful brother of a Senate “Invisible” as his secretary of state and finally decided to heed Jefferson’s pleas to make up with James Monroe. Monroe was a once‐​close friend now on the outs with both Jefferson and Madison, but the president worked hard to repair the relationship and Monroe returned to the fold. That same year, Madison had an opportunity to replace two old Federalist Supreme Court justices. Here was the moment Republicans had yearned for. For one post, Madison chose a nonentity. For the other, he first nominated and the Senate confirmed an actual former Federalist, John Quincy Adams, who declined to serve. Madison next selected Joseph Story, an isolated Republican lawyer from coastal Massachusetts and still the youngest man ever appointed, whom Jefferson described to him as “unquestionably a tory.” [7] [sic] If the goal of a Supreme Court appointment is to see the president’s constitutional philosophy reflected in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, Story may well qualify as the worst choice ever: he became John Marshall’s right‐​hand man in writing Hamiltonianism into constitutional law. Too, his glamorous post made his scholarly product as a Harvard law professor even more influential than it otherwise would have been.

Senator John Quincy Adams had judged Jefferson’s choice of John Armstrong for a European diplomatic post highly discreditable. Armstrong played a leading role in the shameful attempt of disgruntled officers at Newburgh, New York, to organize an effort by the Continental Army to intimidate the Continental Congress into paying them back wages at the Revolution’s end. Yet, his marriage to Robert R. Livingston’s sister greased the skids for him when it came time to divvy up appointed positions among key Republican Party constituencies. The Livingston faction was the leading faction in the pivotal state, New York, and so had to be rewarded. After spending most of a decade on the Old Continent, Armstrong found himself appointed in 1811 to head Madison’s War Department. Just as Senator Smith’s brother had proved a disastrous choice at State and the head of the Clinton faction in New York politics had made an unreliable vice president, so this top Livingston faction appointment would be crucial to the operation of the Madison Administration. It was not that Madison found any of these people particularly appropriate to their assigned tasks, but that internal Republican Party politics drove him to make these choices. Still, a more assertive personality might have opted to choose the best candidates, or even abler men, for at least some of these top posts. If Armstrong had tried his hand at fomenting mutiny during the Revolution, he would continue along his insubordinate path to devastating results as war secretary.

Many accounts of the message President Madison sent to Congress in June 1812 say that he asked Congress to declare war, some even that he declared war. Far from it. He considered decisions for war entirely for Congress to make. Therefore, he laid out in excruciating detail the offenses the British had committed against America since the Revolution, described the British policies that ensured such offenses would continue to proliferate, and concluded by saying that, “We behold, in fine, on the side of Great Britain a state of war against the United States; and on the side of the United States, a state of peace towards Great Britain.” Pointing to his constitutional principles, the president reasoned that, “Whether the United States shall continue passive under these progressive usurpations, and these accumulating wrongs; or, opposing force to force in defense of their national rights, shall commit a just cause into the hands of the Almighty disposer of events; avoiding all connections which might entangle it in the contests or views of other powers, and preserving a constant readiness to concur in an honorable re‐​establishment of peace and friendship, is a solemn question, which the Constitution wisely confides to the Legislative Department of the Government.”

In other words, even at what he regarded as a moment of urgent necessity, Madison could not muster an unforgettable phrase or a rallying cry, but instead offered his countrymen a persuasive but elliptical, high‐​fallutin’ climax to a lengthy war message. We have no reason to think that anyone heard Madison’s clarion call pierce the partisan darkness. If we want to pinpoint the time when Americans rallied behind President Madison, we will look for a long, long time. Congress declared war by the narrowest margins in history: 79–49 in the House and 19–13 in the Senate. [8]

No one in Washington knew that only a few days after Madison’s War Message, the British prime minister withdrew the Orders in Council. Had news of this British initiative arrived in time, it would have prevented the War of 1812—probably permanently. Not for the last time, raw geographic distance played a pivotal role in deciding the course of Madison’s presidency. When at last Madison heard the news, he decided not to declare the war at an end—because he did not have any information about the shape of the British ministry’s response to Congress’s declaration.

Like Jefferson and Monroe, Madison approached the War of 1812 with the sanguine expectation that success would be “a mere matter of marching.” [9] With Britain preoccupied in the titanic struggle unfolding in Europe, only meager British military assets would see service in North America in the coming months. America would be able to seize Canada and hold it as a bargaining chip. Britain would yield the policy concessions America demanded—recognition that neutral powers had a right to trade with whomever they wanted and abolition of the practice of impressment—in exchange for return of its North American imperial possessions.

The keystone of His Majesty’s North American possessions remained Montreal. Seize that, and the British would bargain. So the Americans believed. Yet, the strategy the Madison Administration chose was woefully inadequate to the purpose. Instead of putting his forces under a unified command and allowing the theater commander to map out preliminary objectives the obtaining which would facilitate the ultimate, though quick, capture of the chief town in Canada, Madison and his subordinates selected three points of departure for American forces: near Detroit, near Buffalo, and in northernmost New York. Having launched across into Canada, the American forces were supposed somehow to head east and take Montreal.

The western portion of the campaign ended with an incompetent general, William Hull, unnecessarily offering a disastrous surrender. When he marched his men across the Detroit River into Canada in July 1812, prospects for seizing Fort Amherstburg seemed bright. Word of small British units’ movements to his rear spooked him, however, and he eventually decided not to attack the fort at all, but instead to cross back into Michigan. After intercepting anxious communications from Hull to the secretary of war and interviewing various men who told him of Hull’s forces’ low estimate of their commander, British Major General Isaac Brock besieged Hull’s forces at Detroit.

Hull seems to have been completely overcome by the crisis he faced, particularly after Brock warned him that the Indians attached to the British force would be beyond the general’s control in the event of an assault. “My God!” Hull wailed, “what shall I do with these women and children?” Fearful for his personal safety in the face of incoming artillery shells to the point of crouching at the sound of them, Hull on August 16, 1812 ran up a white flag—despite the fact that he had consulted none of his officers. He even surrendered portions of his overall force not stationed within the fort at the time. [10]

Hull’s incompetence, though striking, was not an isolated problem for the United States Government. Rather, the war’s first campaign season saw manifestations of complete lack of preparedness, absolute ineptitude, and northern resistance to the war effort across the Canadian frontier. The central incursion, on the Niagara Peninsula, reached its climax with British capture of part of General Stephen Van Rensselaer’s army. The New York aristocrat had crossed into Canada, seeing that the battle had been won, only to find that that the balance of his militia forces would not follow him. A large portion of his troops, commanded by Winfield Scott, were captured, and the general asked to be replaced. The most easterly of the three, under Major General Henry “Granny” Dearborn, proved if anything more pathetic than the other two: units in the chief American formation ended up firing on each other while American militia units, standing on the Constitution, refused to leave American territory. [11]

Due to the Federalist naval expenditures Jefferson and Gallatin had found so noxious in the 1790s, joined to superb naval architecture, the U.S. Navy scored a handful of isolated victories at sea in the war’s early months. Federalists loudly pointed out that if President Madison and his pals had had their way, there would have been no U.S. Navy to speak of. (Jeffersonian “gunboats,” cheap 15‐​foot boats boasting one gun each that Jefferson and Gallatin had thought fit substitutes for harbor fortification and seafaring ships, proved completely impotent when the time for war came.) Once overwhelming British Admiralty resources had been redeployed to new Western Atlantic stations, sheer numbers meant an end of naval victories too. American ships remained in port for the balance of the war.

The final year of the war, 1814, saw unforgettable developments. Most significantly, the U.S. Navy, which the Republicans’ policy had been to pare back virtually to nonexistence, cleared the Great Lakes of British ships. This American success resulted in establishment of the U.S.-Canadian border as the world’s longest essentially demilitarized frontier, which it remains today.

Elsewhere, the British at last decided that their various forays up and down Chesapeake Bay ought to lead to destruction of the American capital. Madison, rightly fearing this outcome, had told Secretary Armstrong to fortify the approaches to the town. Armstrong simply insisted that Washington did not contain any significant military assets, and thus would not be a British objective. Rather, they would attack Baltimore. After several months’ passage, Madison repeated his order. Armstrong again omitted to implement it, giving the same reason. Madison did not follow up.

At last, the British debarked a force of several thousand soldiers and marines, marched across Maryland, and met a more numerous American force outside Bladensburg, Maryland, today a site off the Washington Beltway. Madison, Monroe, and Armstrong all arrived at the field. Monroe, an authentic hero of the Revolution, set about helping the American commander to improve his troop dispositions. Armstrong did not. Madison upbraided Armstrong. At last, the Jeffersonian theory that militiamen would serve in place of a professional army would have its test.

Seeing those veterans of the Napoleonic Wars in their sharp red uniforms deploying into line of battle on the other side of the field, the American militia vindicated predictions made by Federalists of old: they fled. Even today, the battle outside D.C. is known as “the Bladensburg Races” in mockery of the American citizen‐​soldiers who disproved decades of Republican claims. To add insult to Republican injury, the only portion of the American army that behaved well that day was a small band of cadets from the Washington Navy Yard, who had manhandled a couple of big guns down the road to the battlefield. Their marksmanship made their armament far more effective than the Congreve rockets the British directed the Americans’ way.

So now Washington lay undefended. The outcome of several elements of Republican policy—regarding Cabinet appointments, military spending, peacetime preparations, etc.—would be an enemy army marching into town and burning down the Capitol (which then also housed the Library of Congress), the White House, the War Department, the State Department, and other government buildings. It took the intervention of the French minister to save the Patent Office: the British commander accepted his argument that patents were for the benefit of all mankind, not only the Americans.

The complete debunking of Republican ideology was not to have its logical political effect, however.

Well southwest of Washington, the war took a completely different turn. Major General Andrew Jackson, promoted to that rank by Armstrong without Madison’s involvement (to the president’s consternation), proved highly capable both against Indians and when faced with European forces. More or less a loose cannon because well beyond communication with Washington, he headed off a British incursion into the Deep South. When the Duke of Wellington’s brother‐​in‐​law, at the head of a force of veterans of the Iberian war against Napoleon’s subordinates, inexplicably opted to attack Jackson’s dug‐​in army head‐​on across an open field outside Louisiana’s metropole, Jackson’s men more than decimated his force and killed the general in the process. The Battle of New Orleans made Jackson the outstanding figure in American politics for decades to come. By the time he won it, the Treaty of Ghent had already been signed, and America had escaped with restoration of the status quo antebellum. Soon word of this most spectacular of American victories and word of the war’s end three weeks earlier spread across the country.

James Madison and his Republican Party proved superlatively lucky in the War of 1812. Besides military victories owing essentially nothing to their longstanding policies, the war also gave occasion for the political suicide of the opposition party. New England governors refused to send their militia units to participate in the campaigns, New England bankers refused to help Gallatin finance the war (thus leaving American taxpayers with a greater debt burden than they would otherwise have borne), and New England secessionists succeeded in pushing their more moderate neighbors into the Hartford Convention of 1814. There, official delegations from the three Southern New England states and scattered unofficial delegates from elsewhere in New England met behind closed doors to formulate demands of a Republican Washington Establishment entirely on the ropes. Surely more than one Calvinist must have seen the hand of God in the coincident arrival of the Treaty of Ghent, news of the Battle of New Orleans, and the messengers from Hartford—bearing the Convention’s official demands—in Washington, D.C. Amused by their transparently partisan demands, Madison is supposed to have laughed as he read them. [12]

Talk about a near‐​run affair.

The Treaty of Ghent did nothing about impressment, the Orders in Council, or any other American grievance. Britain did return northernmost New England to the United States, which was more than the North American republic’s military effort had earned. For his part, Madison had a bit of a change of mind: America would need some kind of permanent military rather than reliance on militias, he publicly called for (and Congress chartered) a Second Bank of the United States, and the wartime tariffs established to help fund the war would not be repealed—lest American industries grown up under their protective cover collapse under the assault of free competition with European concerns. Madison explained his signature on the new Bank Bill by saying that the Constitution had now been liquidated in relation to Congress chartering banks—that is, that the precedent of the first Bank of the United States and of several Congresses’ and several presidents’ acceptance of its constitutionality must be understood to mean that such legislation had a constitutional basis. Whatever he said in the House in 1790 and the Virginia General Assembly in his Report of 1800.

Lest the people conclude Madison had simply caved in relation to all of his old positions, however, he gave them a parting gift. On his last day as president, Madison shocked his chief congressional supporters, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, by vetoing their Bonus Bill. In his Bonus Bill Veto Message, he explained that while he had indeed in two of his State of the Union Messages called on Congress to establish a national network of federal roads, he had also in one of them said that such legislation had to be preceded by a constitutional amendment. Since this bill had not been, Congress still had no authority to pass it. Veto. Score at least one for Madison, I suppose.

Calhoun told Madison he was shocked that the President had arrived at this conclusion. He thought the bill was Madison’s invention and would not have pushed it had he known he would impose this duty on Madison on his final day in office. In the old days, when Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin lived on Capitol Hill among congressional leaders, communication between the Executive Branch Republicans and their Legislative Branch counterparts had left outnumbered Federalists feeling awfully bedraggled. This parting development underscored the distinction between Jefferson’s close communication with his allies and Madison’s counterproductive aloofness, both from them and from his top Executive Branch lieutenants.

Had James Madison been a political nonentity before becoming president, his eight years in the White House would not have left a good impression. Scholars generally regard him as one of the half‐​dozen men who rank right behind General George Washington among the American Revolution’s leadership cohort, but that is despite his presidency.

Madison gave no sign in his pre‐​presidential career that he would flourish in the chief magistracy, and he lived up to expectations. The program he took into office was one largely of his devising, and in the midst of a world war more threatening to America’s future than we tend to recall, it proved maladapted. Had the British wanted some significant portion of American territory—all of New England north of Boston—the American military establishment likely could not have done much to thwart them.

South of the Rio Bravo, there is an old saying: “Poor Mexico! So far from God, and so near the United States!” The events of the Madison years gave people the idea that if their country could prosper so despite such poor administration, the United States must have some kind of in with the Almighty.

[1] The published primary materials on Jeffersonian Republicanism and on Madison’s presidency are vast. The modern editions of the papers of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Gallatin alone come to nearly 100 volumes, the papers of several minor figures of those days have also been published in modern editions, and the secondary materials continue to proliferate. Besides on them, this account generally will rely on Kevin R. C. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012). For Madison’s intellectual and political life before his presidency, see the account and works cited therein. For the presidency specifically, see also J.C.A. Stagg, The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Robert Allen Rutland, The Presidency of James Madison (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990); Garry Wills, James Madison (New York: Times Books, 2002); Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1971); and Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson (New York: Random House, 2010), 466–567.

[2] William Lee Miller, The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992).

[3] Peter S. Onuf & Nicholas Onuf, Federal Union, Modern World: The Law of Nations in an Age of Revolutions, 1776–1814 (Madison, Wisconsin: Madison House, 1993), 201–11.

[4] Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson, 521.

[5] Henry Adams, History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson (New York: The Library of America (1986), 243.

[6] Dice Robins Anderson, William Branch Giles: A Study in the Politics of Virginia and the Nation from 1790 to 1830 (Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta, 1914).

[7] Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, October 15, 1810, The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series, 2:580–81, at 581.

[8] Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (Bicentennial Edition) (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), 43.

[9] Robert Allen Rutland, The Presidency of James Madison, 110.

[10] Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: a Forgotten Conflict (Bicentennial Edition), 82–83.

[11] Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, 86–88.

[12] Robert Allen Rutland, The Presidency of James Madison, 186.