Madison is considered to be one of the greatest American statesman and political theorist. He is called the "Father of the Constitution" for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights. He served as a politician much of his adult life.
After the constitution had been drafted, Madison became one of the leaders in the movement to ratify it. He collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to produce the Federalist Papers in 1788, and they are still relied on as a tool for construction of the Constitution today. He was also a delegate to the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention, and was the key player in the successful ratification in Virginia.
Madison changed his political views during his life. During the drafting and ratification of the constitution, he favored a strong national government, though later he grew to favor stronger state governments. Still later in life he settled somewhere between the two extremes.
In 1789, Madison became a leader in the new House of Representatives. He showed skill as the draftsman of many laws and he is notable for drafting the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Madison worked closely with President George Washington to organize the new federal government. In 1791 he broke with Alexander Hamilton and the faction that became the Federalist Party, when Madison and Thomas Jefferson organized what they called the Republican Party (later renamed the Democratic-Republican Party).
Madison served as Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809, during which time he supervised the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the nation's size. He was elected to succeed Jefferson as President in 1809 and he presided over renewed prosperity for several years. After the failure of diplomatic protests and a trade embargo against Great Britain, he led the nation into the War of 1812 in response to British encroachments on American honor and rights. He also hoped to end the influence of the British with a number of Indian tribes whose resistance blocked United States settlement in the Great Lakes region. Madison found the war to be very difficult, because as the United States had neither a strong army nor support in all regions for war with England. As a result, he supported a stronger national government and a strong military, as well as the national bank, which he had previously opposed.
Like other Virginia politicians of his time, Madison was a slaveholder who inherited his plantation known as Montpelier, and owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime. On his plantation tobacco and other crops were grown. Madison supported the compromise that allowed three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves to be counted for representation.
When Madison left office in 1817, he retired to Montpelier. He was 65 years old. Dolley was 49. Madison left the presidency a poorer man than when he entered. Some historians believe that Madison's financial problems was the reason why he refused to allow his notes on the Constitutional Convention, or its official records to be published in his lifetime. Instead he wanted them to bring money to his estate for Dolley's use. In his later years, Madison became extremely concerned about his historic legacy. He took to modifying letters and other documents in his possession: changing days and dates, adding and deleting words and editing sentences.
Between 1834 and 1835, Madison sold 25% of his slaves to make up for financial losses on his plantation. He died at Montpelier on June 28, 1836 at the age of 85 and was buried in the Madison Family Cemetery at Montpelier.
Two recent books about Madison are Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America by David O. Stewart, and 2014's James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney, reviewed here.