Father of the Constitution

James & Dolley Madison

You give me a credit to which I have no claim in calling me ‘The writer of the Constitution of the U.S.’ This was not, like the fabled Goddess of Wisdom, the offspring of a single brain. It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.

-James Madison to William Cogswell, March 10, 1834

Despite James Madison’s modest assessment of his contributions, few would deny him the title “Father of the Constitution.” He arrived at the Federal Convention in May 1787, ready to seize the Convention’s agenda. His outline of a new government, which became known as the Virginia Plan, created a framework for the weeks of counterproposals and compromises that followed. Madison took detailed notes throughout the convention’s secret debates, providing future generations with an insight into the issues as the framers saw them.

When the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, Madison (along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay) wrote essays arguing in favor of the new form of government. First printed in New York newspapers, the essays were later published as The Federalist. The essays not only influenced the ratification debates, but continue to influence legal thinking today.

One of the most significant objections raised during the states’ ratification conventions was the absence of a Bill of Rights. While Madison initially rejected calls to enumerate natural rights, he was eventually persuaded to support the cause and as a member of the First Congress, Madison drafted nineteen amendments, ten of which were adopted as the Bill of Rights.


Father of the Constitution

While Madison was dubbed the "Father of the Constitution" by his contemporaries, he humbly asserted that the document was "the work of many heads and many hands."