1938 4¢ James Madison
Issue Date: July 1, 1938
First City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 905,230,500
Printing Method: Rotary press
Perforations: 11 x 10 ½
Color: Red violet
Known affectionately as the “Prexies,” the 1938 Presidential series is a favorite among stamp collectors.
The series was issued in response to public clamoring for a new Regular Issue series. The series that was current at the time had been in use for more than a decade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed, and a contest was staged. The public was asked to submit original designs for a new series picturing all deceased U.S. Presidents. Over 1,100 sketches were submitted, many from veteran stamp collectors. Elaine Rawlinson, who had little knowledge of stamps, won the contest and collected the $500 prize. Rawlinson was the first stamp designer since the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began producing U.S. stamps who was not a government employee.
James Madison, often called “The Father of the United States Constitution,” was an esteemed politician. One of America’s founding fathers, his extensive writing of the Federalist Papers has been considered the most significant commentary on the Constitution, of which he was the chief author. He served as a leader of the first Congress and drafted many basic laws as well as the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, earning him the title “Father of the Bill of Rights.”
Along with Thomas Jefferson, Madison was also one of the founding members of the Democratic-Republican political party, which eventually became the Democratic Party. As Secretary of State under Jefferson, Madison played a key role in the Louisiana Purchase. Following Jefferson’s popular administration, Madison easily won the 1808 Presidential election over Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
Madison’s administration was plagued by tension with the British over the Louisiana Territory, which led to the war of 1812. Despite the unpopular war, he was re-elected in 1812. The end of the war allowed Madison to attend to other issues that he was concerned with, such as The Bank of the United States.
Madison’s Early Life
James Madison was born on March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Virginia. James was the oldest of 12 children, although only seven would reach adulthood. His parents, Colonel James Madison Sr., and Eleanor Rose Conway, were slave owners who ran a successful tobacco plantation in Orange County, Virginia. James grew up as part of the Church of England, Virginia’s state religion at the time. He was a weak and sickly child, unable to spend much time being active, but was an avid reader.
Madison attended the College of New Jersey (which would later become Princeton University) from 1769-71, completing a four-year degree in just two years. For a year after graduating, he studied closely with the school’s president, John Witherspoon, earning the honor of being Princeton’s first graduate student (sometimes referred to as America’s first graduate student). On September 17, 1794, he married Dolley Payne Todd, an attractive and active widow nearly 17 years younger than Madison.
Following an extended illness that lasted for more than a year, Madison joined the pro-independence movement. He was appointed to a seat on Virginia’s Committee of Safety. As a member of the Virginia Convention, Madison helped create the state’s constitution in 1776. From 1776 to 1779, Madison served in the Virginia State legislature, where he developed a close relationship with Thomas Jefferson. Madison quickly became a respected figure in Virginia politics. Madison was key in the creation of the Declaration of Religious Freedoms. He drafted the document that dissolved the Church of England in the U.S. and removed the state’s power to intervene on religious issues.
In 1779, at the age of 28, Madison was elected to the Continental Congress – the country’s youngest congressman. Shy at first, his passion for politics quickly established him as a great debater and legislator. Madison advocated a stronger central government than what had been established by the Articles of Confederation. Madison left politics briefly, but returned to politics in 1784 when he was elected to the Virginia legislature.
When commerce issues came to a head between Virginia and Maryland in 1786, Madison encouraged representatives from every state to come together to work out their differences. Although only representatives from five states attended, they discovered they shared many concerns that could be resolved by mutual cooperation. It was at this time that Madison developed a strong alliance with Alexander Hamilton of New York. Following the success of this convention, a second was planned to take place the following May in Philadelphia. At last, Madison’s goal of strengthening the central government was soon to be addressed.
Father of the Constitution
In May 1787, Madison was ready to share and implement his ideas to improve to the U.S. government. He arrived at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention early and with a number of resources to share with his fellow delegates. He brought a paper on ancient and modern confederacies, and another explaining what he considered the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. His plan was to create a new central government with stronger powers, an elected chief executive with the power to veto legislation, a federal judiciary branch, and a two-chambered legislature. While each branch would have certain set responsibilities, they would each also have the opportunity to take part in checks and balances of each other’s actions.
Madison’s plan was an overwhelming success. The new Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation. In addition, his Virginia Plan, consisting of a House of Representatives (with the members from each state dependent on population) and a Senate (whose delegates would be elected by the House of Representatives) was utilized as the national hierarchy with one change. In the final plan, the number of Senators from each state would be the same, which differed slightly from Madison’s vision.
In order for the proposed constitution to take effect, at least nine out of 13 states needed to ratify it. Madison lobbied extensively to ensure the constitution’s passage. Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, Madison published a series of 85 essays called “The Federalist Papers.” They explained in detail how the Constitution would work. Madison is credited with writing 26 of these essays. Despite opposing arguments from Patrick Henry, James Monroe, and George Mason, the Constitution was ratified by a vote of 89 to 79. The U.S. Constitution was now the supreme law of America.
The House of Representatives
In 1788, Madison became one of the House of Representative’s first great legislators. One of his major tasks in this role was to create a bill of rights, which he at first opposed. He eventually gave in to the Federalists’ pleas and began working on a series of amendments, which were based on proposals he received from each state that wished to contribute. He rejected proposals calling for structural changes in the government, and kept others which created a series of amendments protecting civil rights such as free speech. The Bill of Rights was completed and ratified in December 1791.
Madison’s beliefs placed him in opposition to President Washington and his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton proposed commercial development and a national banking system, both of which were more beneficial to the Northern states. Madison, however, believed that the government should show stronger support for self-reliant farmers and artisans.
By the 1792 election, a war was brewing between England and France – which created a divide between many American politicians. The Federalists chose to side with England because they believed it would boost trade revenue. Madison and Jefferson had formed a new party opposed to the Federalists’ plans to side with England. The Anti-Federalists wished to side with France, who the U.S. had a longtime alliance with, and who also had similarly developed a republican government. The Anti-Federalists lost the election of 1796 to John Adams, but remained intact. Madison retired from Congress a year later.
Secretary of State
Following a brief time off in which he married Dolley Payne Todd, Madison once again returned to politics. He worked with the Virginia legislature until Thomas Jefferson won the Presidential election of 1800 and appointed him U.S. Secretary of State. Together, Madison and Jefferson were able to implement several important changes. They obtained the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million in 1803. They also enjoyed a victory at sea over Barbary pirates, who had demanded payment from ships traveling in the Mediterranean Sea.
Due to the popularity of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican party, Madison easily won the election of 1808 against Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Madison’s inaugural ball – the nation’s first – was an impressive event that followed his inaugural address, in which he declared that the U.S. would not be intimidated by foreign encroachment.
Despite Madison’s attempts to defend U.S. interests, England and France continued to disrupt American shipping. England often forced American sailors into their service with claims that the U.S. was weak and no longer united. When further diplomatic options seemed impossible, Madison declared war against Great Britain in June of 1812.
“Mr. Madison’s War” took its toll on America. The American military quickly proved weak, and military officers ineffective. The country was nearing bankruptcy and ill-equipped, and sessions of Congress grew increasingly sour. Few positive outcomes resulted from the War of 1812. Some highlights included gaining control over the Great Lakes, and the Ohio River. The war ended in 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. By the end of the war, neither side had gained any territory, or could claim any major victory.
America displayed a stronger national unity as a result of the War of 1812, and many consider it a victory. The young country was able to defend itself against a major international power and was still intact. America proved itself as a significant naval power capable of protecting its own borders, even against one of the world’s most powerful empires. Both Madison and America became more confident. The balance of his administration was dedicated to improving the national situation. Madison supported the creation of the Second National Bank (which he opposed prior to his presidency), he imposed small taxes on imports to better American commerce, and encouraged plans to improve roads and canals. Madison’s last two years in office were viewed by many as his most effective and by far his most popular. When he left office in 1817, America was on an upward course for improvement, expansion, and prosperity.
At the end of his term, Madison and his wife Dolley retired to Montpellier, Virginia, where he was active as a gentleman farmer. He served as an advisor to James Monroe and a rector at the University of Virginia following Thomas Jefferson’s death in 1826. Madison spent much of his retirement writing and revising papers chronicling his career, from his early days as a politician, to his turbulent but successful presidency.
Madison continued to share his political ideas in retirement. He spoke at the 1829 Virginia Convention, in an attempt to increase voters’ rights and oppose slavery. James Madison died on June 28, 1836, the last of the Founding Fathers.