04 James Madison


  • Describe how American foreign policy differed during Madison’s presidency, compared to those before him
  • Explain the procedure for the United States declaring war
  • Identify the causes and effects of the War of 1812

Following Thomas Jefferson, another Democratic-Republican, James Madison became president.  Madison was Jefferson’s Secretary of State and right hand man.  Madison’s wife, Dolly, also had a large impact on the country as she was the First Lady to establish much of the protocol of the White House.  But Madison’s presidency was dominated by one major event during his term in office: the War of 1812.

America fought the War of 1812 against the British.  The conflict was caused by the on-going Napoleonic Wars between France and Britain.  Americans’ loyalties to the two warring powers were divided.  But when the British Navy was seizing American merchant ships and impressing American sailors—forcing them to join the British navy—the United States was forced to take action.  And when the British refused to stop despite Madison’s objections, he became the first president to ask Congress to declare war.  The United States declared war on Britain in 1812.

Unfortunately, the United States was not at all prepared for it.  The British defeated the Americans in almost every major engagement of the war.  American cities of Detroit and Washington, D.C. were invaded and torched.  It was during this war that the National Athem, “the Star Spangled Banner,” was written by Frances Scott Key.  The British blockaded the United States and severely hurt the American economy.  States in New England began to consider seceding—or leaving the Union—from the United States so that they could remove themselves from the war and resume trade with Europe.

Madison sent representatives to sue for peace.  The Treaty of Ghent was signed in late 1814 and reached the Senate for approval in February 1815.  But the treaty did not arrive before the British invaded the port of New Orleans in January 1815.  Led by General Andrew Jackson, the Americans fought back the British invasion at the Battle of New Orleans, making “Old Hickory” a national hero.  The Senate approved the treaty soon after receiving it and the war was over.

The effects of the War of 1812 were not directly tied to the causes of the war.  Many of the issues between the countries ended with the defeat of Napoleon in 1814.   The war caused a rise in nationalism that lessened the tensions between the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.  Once it was settled, it began the “Era of Good Feelings,” a period of peace and prosperity.

BEFORE: 3 – Jefferson          AFTER: 5 – Monroe

United States History & Government

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