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A portrait of James Madison.

Foundational Words of a Founding Father: James Madison

On March 16, we will celebrate the birthday of James Madison, who is often called the Father of the Constitution.  His theoretical and practical political beliefs and skills helped guide the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. His work laid the foundation for the United States of America today, ensuring, amongst many other things, that the Constitutional Convention produced an effective governing structure that fostered a “more perfect Union” that would last for centuries to come.  This lesson will study Madison in his own words and help students understand how his ideas continue to teach and guide us today. This lesson was written by Jessica Culver, history teacher at Ozark High School in Ozark, Arkansas.


  • Students will evaluate James Madison’s statements, studying how these ideas shaped our understanding of the role of just government, the rights of the people, and how to maintain both.
  • Students will assess how James Madison’s words and ideas continue to relate to America today.


  • Quote sheet of James Madison
  • Graphic organizer page

Warm-up Activity (5 minutes):

  • Provide students a copy of James Madison’s portrait.  These can be accessed from a number of sources.  If you have a classroom SmartBoard or other similar device, it is recommended you display Madison’s portrait this way, to facilitate a whole-class discussion.
  • Once students can see Madison’s portrait, ask students the following questions, for a whole-class warm-up discussion:
  1. a) Who is this man?
  2. b) What did this man contribute to American history?
  3. c) What did this man do in relation to the Constitution?
  4. d) What was his connection to the Bill of Rights?
  5. e) What was Madison’s legacy? Consider this as you complete the lesson.

Note: These are open-ended questions designed to encourage student participation and discussion and are to serve as 5-minute talking points to “warm-up” to the quotes activity.   Activity: 20 minutes

  • Distribute to students the James Madison Quote Sheet, provided below.
  • Distribute to students the Graphic Organizer Sheet, provided below.

Ask students to use the James Madison Quote sheet to complete the Graphic Organizer Sheet.  It is recommended you do this as a group activity, encouraging student participation and discussion.  You can put students into groups of 3-4 if you select this option.   Conclusion: 5 minutes

  • Come back together as a whole class, and ask students the following questions:

What did you learn about James Madison that you may not have known before?

  1. What was your favorite quote from James Madison, and why?
  2. Were there any quotes you did not understand? Explain and we can input our thoughts to decide what the quote might mean.
  3. What quote did you find most relevant to today’s world?
  4. How can these quotes help us understand the founding of the United States of America?
  5. Why does this matter today? Consider the question of: Why are we still studying Madison’s words?

Note: As with the “warm-up” portion, these are open-ended questions designed to encourage student participation and discussion and are to serve as 5-minute talking points to conclude the lesson.   James Madison Quote Sheet Note: These quotes are pulled from a number of online sources.  The quotes are available through a number of Internet websites and are compiled here into one location for you to use. Also note that original spelling and words usage is provided.  Instructions: Use these fifteen quotes to complete the graphic organizer you will be given. “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  Source: Library of Congress at “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Source: Yale Law School Avalon Project at “Philosophy is common sense with big words.” Source: Brainy Quote at “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” Source: Online Library of Liberty and Liberty Fund at “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Source: Bill of Rights Institute at “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” Source: Oxford Reference at “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Source: Revolutionary War and Beyond at “The means of defence agst. (against) foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” Source: Teaching at “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” Source: The Federalist Papers at “The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.” Source: Founding Father Quotes at “The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer.” Source: Constitution at “The rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted.” Source: Rotund: The University of Virginia Press, at “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time.”  Source: Teaching American at “In order to judge of the form to be given to this institution, it will be proper to take a view of the ends to be served by it. These were, – first, to protect the people against their rulers, secondly, to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.” Source: Yale Law School Avalon Project at “In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own.”  Source: Bill of Rights Institute at   Instructions: Complete this graphic organizer as you study the James Madison quotes.

The quotes I most connected with were (list at least five): a. b. c. d. e.
The ways in which these quotes relate to our government today are (list at least five): a. b. c. d. e.
These quotes helped me to understand the following about the founding of the United States (list at least five): a. b. c. d. e.
These quotes helped me to understand the following about James Madison and his role as a Founding Father (list at least five): a. b. c. d. e.