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HOMAS JEFFERSON was accustomed to put the
writing of the Declaration of Independence at the head of all his performances, and believed that this deed alone was enough to keep his name forever green in the memory of his countrymen. Washington's great and beneficial services, and extraordinary influence over the American people in shaping their national destiny, attached to him the imperishable distinction of “Father of his Country.” The earnest, honorable, and influential part Mr. Madison took in the success of the Constitution and the establishment of the National Government gained for him, quite widely in the political literature of his times, the honor of being the “ Father of the Constitution.” However doubtful may be deemed the propriety of this application to any one man, there can be no disputing about the general fact touching the great importance of Mr. Madison's services in the establishment of this Government. If his influence in Virginia in leading to the adoption of the Constitution was not next to that of Washington, his unceasing, wise, and persevering efforts to that end were much greater.
While more importance must be attached to the earlier and shorter portion of Mr. Madison's public services, the great value and interest of his long subsequent political career can not for a moment be doubted. To a very wide extent, his public history, from the beginning of the struggle for independent, stable, constitutional government in this country, till after the second war with England, is the history of the country itself. Yet, after the lapse of half a century, an age in which there has been no end of writing and making books, there has been no successful effort to present to the world a complete history of the extraordinarily valuable career of this exemplary, cultured, wise, patriotic, able, and virtuous public character. Although William Cabell Rives began à voluminous biography of Mr. Madison, which he deemed a “ desideratum in the history of the country," he did not, unfortunately, live to complete his selfimposed task. Strangely enough, the busy and quiet career of this unpretending and conscientious little statesman-like politician never enlisted the attention of other competent writers. And had not the plan of this work embraced the times and public services of Mr. Madison, I would not have sought the distinction of appearing as his biographer. But, having ventured upon the vast work as a whole, no pains have been spared to make this volume in it as full as the great importance and historic merits of the case have certainly demanded.
While whitewashing may be a function peculiar to and a thing to be looked for in the family biographer, the merest suspicion of such a quality and disposition in the historian would be offensive to the lowest sense of honor. If fiction were necessary to embellish American history, it could not be so in the rich period embraced in the life and times of Mr. Madison.
In the main, perhaps, the judgment of his countrymen has been favorable to Mr. Madison, or at all events, it has rested lightly upon him. Madison's War, as the second war with England was often called, will probably ever be regarded with very mixed sentiments by the American people. How far Mr. Madison inherited from his predecessor the conditions leading to that war it has been attempted to show in this volume; and every effort has been made to tell the story of the war in its causes, mode of prosecution, and effects, as fully as could, perhaps, appear desirable. According to the plan of this entire work, it has, however, been deemed advisable or necessary to distribute events, somewhat, as the different characters were more or less prominent. Consequently some portion of the history of the War of 1812 must be sought for in other parts of this work, particularly in the seventh and ninth volumes.
The entire active part of Mr. Madison's life was devoted to what is termed the “public service.” This service has been presented in its various aspects here, and the man and his character and work held up as a study and example to his countrymen. If the result of all this effort should, to any extent, serve to straighten or reverse the common judgment of the easy-going world in reference to the man, or his part in public affairs, or his influence upon the politics of
after times; or more pointedly, in reference to the legacy of his life to the country, it may be held, perchance, as in some measure due to the constant aim to make that view the outcome of a fair and exhaustive digest of facts, upheld and propped by no inconsiderable array of documentary evidence. And while there may, perhaps, be little or nothing great or splendid in the career of Mr. Madison, yet taking it all in all, it was one in which the occasions of regret are not numerous; and the events of his times, and the great themes and principles which he was more or less concerned in crystallizing into the theories and practices of the country, must all go to render a fair and full history of him and his times matter of perpetual and extraordinary interest, especially to the people of the Great Republic, he was so deeply instrumental in establishing.