James Madison Quotes

James Madison, 1751 – 1836

Born: 16 March 1751, Port Conway, Virginia
Died: 28 June 1836, Montpelier, Virginia

Madison’s father was the largest land owner in Orange County, Virginia. He was tutored from age 11 to 16 at the Innes plantation, then spent two years at Montpelier under the tutelage of Reverend Thomas Martin to prepare for college. Largely for health reasons (avoiding the lowland climate of the College of William and Mary, where most Virginians went) Madison entered the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and graduated in two years. As a lawyer he defended religious dissidents and as a Virginia legislator helped draft and pass the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, disestablishing the Anglican church. He was influential in ceding most of western Virginia to the federal government as the Northwest Territory, which later became five new states. At the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 Madison drafted the Virginia Plan for a new constitution, featuring the separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches. and his text largely became the final document. Based on his efforts, he has been referred to as the “Father of the Constitution”, but at the time he asserted it was “a credit to which I have no claim”. During the campaign for ratification a series of newspaper articles now known as the Federalist Papers were published under the name “Publius”, Madison wrote about a third of them. (Alexander Hamilton was the primary author, John Jay wrote a few.) Although he had been strongly opposed to including a list of rights for the populace at the convention, George Mason’s campaign led Hamilton to shepherd the Bill of Rights through the first congress. Although he had worked with Hamilton earlier, Madison came to oppose the strong central government that the Federalists, led by Hamilton and George Washington, were trying to establish. He teamed with Thomas Jefferson to oppose the Alien and Sedition Acts. Madison was Secretary of State under Jefferson and supervised the Louisiana Purchase. He succeeded Jefferson as president, serving from 1809 to 1817, during which the War of 1812 was fought. He retired to his tobacco plantation at Montpelier where he wrote and worked on his papers, although he did serve as the president of the University of Virginia from 1926, again taking over from Jefferson. He was the last of the Founding Fathers to die.

James Madison quotes:

A people armed and free forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition and is a bulwark for the nation against foreign invasion and domestic oppression.

James Madison
A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

James Madison

Letter to W. T. Barry (4 August 1822)
A watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest while we are building ideal monuments of Renown and Bliss here we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven.

James Madison

Letter to William Bradford (9 November 1772)
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

James Madison

Federalist #10 (22 November 1787)
All men having power ought to be mistrusted.

James Madison
Americans need never fear their government because of the advantage of (the States) being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.

James Madison
As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

James Madison
As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.

James Madison
Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.

James Madison

Federalist #46 (29 January 1788)
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

James Madison

Federalist #10 (22 November 1787)
Conscience is the most sacred of all property.

James Madison

“Property” in The National Gazette (29 March 1792)
Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man’s house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man’s conscience, which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection for which the public faith is pledged by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact.

James Madison

“Property” in The National Gazette (29 March 1792)
Crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant.

James Madison
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.

James Madison

“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785)
Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

James Madison

Federalist #10 (22 November 1787)

I always talk better lying down.

James Madison

Last words
I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the rights of the people by the gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

James Madison

Speech to the Virginia convention to ratify the constitution (6 June 1788)
I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which grants a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.

James Madison

Floor debate, House of Representatives (10 January 1794)
If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions.

James Madison

Letter to Edmund Pendleton (21 January 1792)
If man is not fit to govern himself, how can he be fit to govern someone else?

James Madison
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, [no] controls on government would be necessary.

James Madison

Federalist #51 (6 February 1788)
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

James Madison

Federalist #51 (6 February 1788)
If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

James Madison

Disputed, probably paraprased based on Federalist #46.
In framing a system, which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the changes which ages will produce.

James Madison
In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.

James Madison

Speech at Constitutional Convention (29 June 1787)
It is a settled policy of America, that as peace is better than war, war is better than tribute. The United States, while they wish for war with no nation, will buy peace with none.

James Madison
It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.

James Madison
It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

James Madison
Man, who preys both on the vegetable and animal species, is himself a prey to neither. He too possesses the reproductive principle far beyond the degree requisite for the bare continuance of his species. What becomes of the surplus of human life to which this principle is competent?

James Madison

“Population and Emigration” in The National Gazette (21 November 1791)
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.

James Madison

“Political Observations” (20 April 1795)

Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.

James Madison
Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged against provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.

James Madison

Letter to Thomas Jefferson (13 May 1798)
Religion & Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

James Madison

Letter to Edward Livingston (10 July 1822)
Resistance to tyranny is service to God.

James Madison
Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure and perpetuate it needs them not.

James Madison

“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785)
So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.

James Madison

Federalist #10 (22 November 1787)
Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing; and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It has accordingly been decided, by the practice of the states, that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits.

James Madison

Floor debate, House of Representatives (20 January 1800)
The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities to be impressed with it.

James Madison

Letter to Rev. Frederick Beasley (20 November 1825)
The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.

James Madison
The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it.

James Madison

“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785)
The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.

James Madison

Floor debate, House of Representatives (10 January 1794)
The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex.

James Madison

Federalist #48 (29 January 1788)
The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages.

James Madison

Letter to William Bradford (September 1773)
The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.

James Madison
The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.

James Madison

“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785)

The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.

James Madison
To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality toward belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an appeal to arms; to exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves and too elevated not to look down upon them in others.

James Madison

First Inaugural Address (4 March 1809)
We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”

James Madison

“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785)
We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.

James Madison

“Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785)
What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable than that of Liberty and Learning, each leaning on the other for their natural and surest support.

James Madison
Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression.

James Madison

Letter to Thomas Jefferson (17 October 1788)
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?

James Madison
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

James Madison
With respect to the words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.

James Madison

Letter to James Robertson (20 April 1831)

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