|Despite diplomatic efforts, President
James Madison was unable to stave off war, and once it began, he couldn't
unite the country in favour of the conflict.
James Madison was born in 1751, the first of twelve children born into a Virginian plantation family. He was a serious young man who favoured intellectual pursuits over the frolicking and drinking of his peers.
Madison had his first taste of public service at the age of twenty-five when he was elected to the Convention which developed Virginia's first Constitution and Declaration of Rights. Madison was then elected to the newly created Virginia House of Delegates, where he began a lifelong friendship with Thomas Jefferson.
Madison soon took his intellectual and political talents to the national stage. He served as a member of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and as a major contributor to the Constitutional Convention. As a member of the newly-created House of Representatives, Madison wrote a Bill of Rights which was later ratified by three-quarters of the states.
In 1794, he married a charming Quaker widow named Dolley Payne Todd. Madison considered leaving Congress to enjoy his new family life and to care for his aging parents. Destiny however, drew him back to political life when President Thomas Jefferson asked his old friend to serve as the Secretary of State.
During the early 19th century, U.S. trading vessels were caught in the crossfire between British and French trade blockades. Americans were outraged by continuous infringements of U.S. maritime rights, so Jefferson and Madison retaliated with reciprocal embargoes.
Following the humiliating Chesapeake affair in which several American sailors were effectively abducted by the British Navy, the U.S. implemented the Embargo Act. This decree, which closed American ports to foreign trade and prevented U.S. ships from leaving those ports, was extremely unpopular because it hurt America much more than it did Britain or France. The act was soon replaced by the milder Non-Intercourse Act, which forbade American trade with France, Britain or their colonial allies until either country revoked their own embargoes.
Madison was Jefferson's chosen successor for the presidency but he was by no means a popular choice. In fact, the main reason that the Republican party supported Madison was to prevent the Federalists benefiting from a Republican split. During his first frustrating years in office, Madison had to contend with serious divisions within the Republican Party, attacks from Federalists, and the fallout from the ineffectual Non-Intercourse Act.