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James Madison

Things To Remember While Reading Excerpts From "amendments To The Constitution":, Excerpt From "amendments To The Constitution"

Excerpt from "Amendments to the Constitution"

Delivered by James Madison on June 8, 1789, to the House of Representatives

Reprinted from The Papers of James Madison, edited by Charles F. Hobson and Robert A. Rutland

Published in 1979

James Madison of colonial Virginia is considered the father of the U.S. Constitution. Madison fought hard for the recognition and protection of individual rights in the new nation's legal framework. He also supported the need for a strong central government. As a result, Madison sought a delicate balance between a strong and effective central federal government and the basic freedoms of citizens from potentially oppressive government rule.

Madison formed his beliefs on individual liberties from government actions while serving in various political roles during the American Revolution (1775–83). With war underway, Madison served in the 1776 Virginia Convention that drew up the state's declaration of rights and a new state constitution. From 1778 to 1779 he served on the Virginia Council of State that guided actions of the new governor.

"The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments."

Madison also represented Virginia in the Continental Congress from 1780 to 1783, which drafted the first constitution known as the Articles of Confederation. The Articles proved ineffective by creating a weak central government and giving most power to the states. The central government had no law enforcement powers and no central courts. Charged with creating a more effective national government, the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in 1787. Madison took the lead in drafting a new constitution. The end result provided was a constitution with a much stronger central government, but with a complex system of checks and balances between the three branches and different levels of government and an independent judicial system.

James Madison. Before becoming the fourth U.S. president, Madison was one of the writers of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. (National Archives and Records Administration)

Adoption of the new constitution required the approval of at least nine of the original thirteen states. Adoption was up in the air as considerable debate centered on the strengthened central government. Many looked back at the two centuries under dominant British rule and did not wish to see such a powerful central government. They still wanted most power to rest with the individual state governments, as in the Articles of Confederation. This group was known as the anti-Federalists; they believed the new constitution threatened individual liberties, including its criminal courts of law.

To help with the adoption process, Madison and John Jay, a future Supreme Court justice, and Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. secretary of treasury, wrote a series of eighty-five essays known collectively as The Federalist Papers. Madison and the others explained that individual liberties would best be protected by a strong central government, not the many individual state governments.

Doubts persisted and many still demanded a stronger statement on the protection of individual rights than the Constitution offered. Madison and others relented and agreed to write the first amendments to the Constitution to satisfy those concerned. Finally by the summer of 1788, Madison and the Federalists had prevailed and the new constitution was ratified by eleven states, two more than necessary.

Madison then began writing the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Madison was also elected as a Virginia delegate to the new U.S. House of Representatives. Madison described the newly developing bill to the House on June 8, 1789.

For More Information


Hobson, Charles F., and Robert A. Rutland, eds. The Papers of James Madison. Vol 12. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1979.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law