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James Madison

Fourth U.S. President

Photo: James Madison

James Madison, soft-spoken and unimposing in appearance, employed his considerable learned intellect and civility to convince a fledgling nation to accept a document — the Constitution of the United States and its Bill of Rights — that broke with established systems of power where monarchs ruled absolutely. Madison guided the creation, the passage and the implementation of a new model of rule — one where the people, not the government, were sovereign. The document began boldly, declaring "We the People," and set into place a system of checks and balances on governmental authority. Its 10 amendments spelled out uninfringible rights of the people: freedom of speech, of press, of religion; rights to peaceably assemble and to petition the government over grievances; rights to privacy in their homes and possessions; and legal rights of due process. James Madison, quiet, diminutive and intellectually powerful, changed the world.

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which Knowledge gives."