Why remember Madison? Simplistically, we can say "Father of the Constitution," author of the Bill of Rights and his written political essays; as well as many behind the scenes writings and efforts for his contemporaries. Further, while he was unable to end slavery in the country through the Constitution, he laid the ground work for the future efforts and for the first time, had the enslaved noted as "people" rather than "property."
The Library of Congress opened the Madison Building -- Madison's memorial on Capitol Hill on May 28, 1980.
In conjunction with the inaugural exhibition, November 17, 1981 - May 31, 1982, they published the book James Madison and the Search for Nationhood, edited by Robert Rutland in which they neatly summed up why James Madison, Jr. is remembered:
James Madison has stood so long in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson [George Washington, John Adams and others] that he has become one of the most underestimated figures of our nation's history. Rich in private virtues needed for a great public man, Madison was adept at enlisting his eminent contemporaries. He was not greedy for fame. His combination of qualities were rare even in a generation of versatile men. How many other statesmen have so brilliantly combined political effectiveness with philosophic clarity and polemic eloquence? He negotiated crucial compromises in the Constitutional Convention, and yet in 'The Federalist' he bequeathed us a classic of political theory. No one was more persuasive in advocating the Constitution for a strong central government, or more effective in demanding bulwarks to the rights of citizens in its first ten amendments.
James Madison, Jr., was the quiet scholarly man of unimpressive physical attributes, who, who was the "chief architect and advocate" of the U.S. Constitution; who at the 1788 Virginia Ratifying Convention, debated the greatest orator of the time, Patrick Henry, and won the day; Author of The Quartet, John Ellis, spoke of Madison during an interview at George Washington's Mount Vernon. In this segment of the interview, John Marshall had said that "yes, Henry is the greatest at the ability to persuade; but, Madison is the greatest of the ability to convince." It was Madison alone who authored the Bill of Rights. Ellis is talks about Hamilton and Madison. (Madison begins at 4:26) "If God were in the details; Madison would be there to great you on arrival. "
In 1790, James Madison had already impressed a man of sophistication and learning whose standards were high; a man who had just returned from Europe, "where he met and conversed with philosophers and statesmen, rubbed elbows with fellow minister John Adams in London, and held a loose grip on some bright young Americans who were making the grand tour from his Paris Base." (Rutland) Thomas Jefferson. When pressed by Benjamin Rush for an opinion of Americans he had known from 1774 to that time, Jefferson stated that James Madison was "the greatest man in the world." This at a time when "George Washington was president and the world was peopled by the likes of Goethe, Lafayette, Mozart, Napoleon, Nelson, Haydn" (Rutland) and Jefferson himself.
Let's step back in time. Madison could have studied for the law, but he did not. In 1775, Madison's "unsettled health" prevented his service in the Orange County or other Virginia militia. However, the loss to the Virginia Minutemen was a gain for the 1776 Virginia Convention and eventually to all people in the former colonies through modern day.
There are countless great quotations from Madison's essays (The Federalist), yet, this one seems to resonate perpetually:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external or internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.
James Madison, Federalist 51, February 6, 1788.
Lincoln's famous "Gettysburg Address" is not exactly accurate in the opening statement:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation...87 years earlier on July 2, 1776, the majority of signers had signed the Declaration of Independence. At that point, our forefathers created a confederation of separate (independent) sovereign states. Throughout the American Revolution beyond war's end, each state was an independent sovereign entity; self-governing. The "united states" referred to the cooperative efforts against Great Britain. We have James Madison, Jr. to thank for the creation of the union known as the United States of America. Upon the ratification of the Constitution on June 21, 1788 when the 9th state, New Hampshire, voted to ratify, the United States of America was created. The Commonwealth of Virginia ratified the Constitution on the 26th of June, 1788.
On September 17th, the day the Convention delegates signed the Constitution, spare a thought for James Madison.