James Madison had missed the Alexandria conference as he had not received word of his appointment. However, he became actively involved later and suggested including trade of the United States in the next meeting of the commissioners. Read about Madison’s active entry into political world.
Meeting of Virginia and Maryland’s Commissioners
George Washington became deeply involved in plans for the Potowmack Navigation Company, which aimed to develop the Potomac River as a major artery of American commerce. However, investment capital was not going to be forthcoming as long as the jurisdiction over the Potomac River itself lay between the two states (Virginia and Maryland) which shared it as a boundary.
Washington was able to persuade the Virginia legislature to commission four representatives to meet with a like number from the Maryland legislature to iron out the legal difficulties.
After Washington himself intervened, following the deadlock the commissioners faced, it was decided that the Potomac should be declared a common highway, with the remission of the Virginia tolls and a variety of other concessions very important to the commerce of the two states.
Learn more about George Washington’s doubts.
Recommendation by George Mason
What was more important, however, was the recommendation George Mason made to the Virginia legislature in his report of March 28, 1785, that:
It may be proper for the two legislatures, at their annual meeting in the autumn, to appoint commissioners to meet, and communicate the regulations of commerce and duties imposed by each State, and to confer on such subjects as may concern the commercial interests of both States.
The Maryland legislature was only too happy to agree, and not only appointed commissioners, but proposed inviting two other parties to Chesapeake navigation—Pennsylvania and Delaware—to the meeting.
This is a transcript from the video series America’s Founding Fathers. Watch it now, Wondrium.
James Madison’s Resolution
The Virginia Assembly agreed, and went one step further by proposing that the next meeting of the commissioners take into consideration the trade of the United States and consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations may be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony.
The man who offered that resolution to the Virginia Assembly was James Madison, who was supposed to be present at the Alexandria and Mount Vernon conferences, but who had never received word of his nomination in time.
He was now prepared to make up for that guiltless oversight, for James Madison was about to become the prime mover, not only of the next Potomac River conference, but of an entirely new governing document for the United States.
James Madison’s Background
James Madison’s great-grandfather, John, had arrived in Virginia in the 17th century, laying claim to 600 acres on the York River that he had earned by sponsoring the passage of 11 indentured servants.
The Madisons parlayed small public offices and advantageous marriages into the ownership of 4,675 acres in the Piedmont, and by the time James Madison was born in March, 1751, the Madisons were the greatest landowners in King George County.
In 1762, Madison was put in care of a clergyman schoolmaster, Donald Robertson, where he was put through the usual regimen of Latin and Greek in Horace, Ovid, Xenophon, and Homer. He was switched in 1767 to a more advanced school run by the Reverend Thomas Martin, which made for a very different experience indeed. In 1769, Madison’s father, James Sr., was persuaded to send his son James to Princeton.
Learn more about James Madison’s vices.
Madison at Princeton
John Witherspoon, the dour Scots Presbyterian president of the college, recalled that during the whole time Madison was a student at Princeton, he never knew him to do or say an improper thing.
Madison managed to complete his courses in two years, and spent a third year after his graduation in 1771 under Witherspoon’s personal tutelage. And though John Witherspoon might have been a Presbyterian true blue, his reading lists for students like Madison embraced all the great names of the Enlightenment: Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, and the sharp literary style of Joseph Addison’s celebrated magazine, The Spectator.
One thing Princeton did not do for him was confer good health. Madison, at five feet six inches, was slight of build, and frequently described as feeble, pale, or sickly, and he himself believed that he suffered from a constitutional liability to sudden attacks somewhat resembling epilepsy.
Learn more about Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy.
Madison’s Introduction to Politics
Madison went through the motions of reading law, although it seemed clear that this would never serve as more than a personal adjunct to the far larger responsibility he would one day inherit from his father as a Virginia grandee. He was commissioned in 1775 as his father’s deputy as a colonel in the county militia, but there is no evidence that his ill health ever permitted him to serve.
It came as something of a surprise when, in 1776, Madison was initiated into his public career by a county election to the Convention of Virginia which instructed the deputies of the state to propose a declaration of independence.
Four years in the Virginia legislature and on the governor’s Council of State in Williamsburg did nothing to impart gracefulness and ease to Madison’s shyness. But that experience did introduce Madison to Thomas Jefferson, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship, and in December 1779, just after Jefferson’s election as governor of Virginia, Madison was appointed a member of Virginia’s delegation to the Continental Congress.
Common Questions about James Madison’s Early Life and Initiation into Political Career
The Potowmack Navigation Company aimed to develop the Potomac River as a major artery of American commerce.
James Madison proposed that the next meeting of the commissioners take into consideration the trade of the United States and consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations may be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony.
In 1776, Madison was initiated into his public career by a county election to the Convention of Virginia which instructed the deputies of the state to propose a declaration of independence.