American Portraits

Champion of Liberty: James Madison and Diligence

In this lesson, students will analyze James Madison’s contributions through diligence to the establishment of the United States Constitution and early republic, exploring events that earned him the title, “Father of the Constitution.”

Founding Principles

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Limited Government image

Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Representative / Republican Government image

Representative / Republican Government

Form of government in which the people are sovereign (the ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.

Narrative

The political leaders of the thirteen states, coming from the tyranny of Great Britain, were determined to create not just a new government, but a new form of government. They attempted to embody the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence in a system that could not violate the rights of the people. Though there was no government at the time which did so, the Continental Congress sought to build a regime based on the consent of the governed. They wanted to protect natural rights and create a system that prevented power from accumulating in the hands of a tyrant….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

Are you cultivating the diligence necessary to achieve worthy goals such as enhancing freedom for yourself and others?

Virtue Defined

Diligence is intrinsic energy for completing good work.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will analyze James Madison’s contributions through diligence to the establishment of the United States Constitution and early republic, exploring events that earned him the title, “Father of the Constitution.”

Objectives

  • Students will evaluate James Madison’s actions to identify examples of diligence and speculate on the possible consequences of a lack of diligence.
  • Students will understand how James Madison’s diligence resulted in lasting benefits for the nation he helped create.
  • Students will analyze their own goals and ambitions to determine how diligence contributes to achievement of worthy goals.

Background

James Madison was born in 1751, the eldest of twelve children born to James Madison, Sr. and Nelly Conway Madison. They owned a large and prosperous Virginia plantation. James, Jr. was educated at home until the age of 12 when his parents sent him to the school of Donald Robertson in a neighboring county. At Robertson’s boarding school, Madison prepared for university studies by mastering various math courses, as well as geography, Latin, Greek, and French. Late in life, Madison said of Robertson, “all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man.” At the College of New Jersey (now called Princeton University), Madison continued his studies by focusing on Hebrew, ethics, and law, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1771. A man of voracious reading appetite and intense curiosity, he owned over 4000 books during his lifetime, on topics including ancient and modern history, political philosophy, natural history, religion, poetry, agriculture, pharmacy, education, military science, law, economics, biblical studies, and many others.

As the relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain deteriorated, Madison “entered with the prevailing zeal into the American Cause,” according to his later writings. Madison was in poor health and decided after a brief time in the Virginia militia that he was not suited to military life. He pursued a political career, serving in the Orange County Committee of Safety, 1776 Virginia Convention, Continental Congress, Virginia House of Delegates, Confederation Congress, Federal Convention of 1787, United States Congress, Virginia House of Delegates, Secretary of State, and as President of the United States.  Though he relished his return to private life upon leaving the presidency in 1817, Madison participated in the 1829 convention to revise his state’s constitution.

He maintained a busy retirement, managing his large Virginia plantation, working on organizing his papers from the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and receiving many visitors at his Montpelier home. He died in 1836, the last man living of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention’s delegates. Virginia Governor James Barbour eulogized his friend and neighbor by hoping that Madison’s legacy “may become a pillar of light by which some future patriot may re-conduct his countrymen to their lost inheritance.”

Vocabulary

  • Voracious
  • Eulogized
  • Tyranny
  • Consent
  • Compact
  • Sovereign
  • Confederation
  • Magnanimous
  • Renounce
  • Auspicious
  • Inestimable
  • Proponent
  • Frenetic
  • Unremitting

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What positions had Madison held by 1787 that reflected opportunities to influence national affairs? How were his unique skills and interests related to these opportunities?
  • What important steps did Madison take beginning in 1787 that contributed to historians calling him the “Father of the Constitution?”
  • Name some of the difficulties that Madison faced in the struggle for creation and ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and explain how he exercised diligence.

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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