The Age of Jefferson and Madison

by Peter S. Onuf

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both played important roles in the era of the American Revolution. Jefferson was the lead author of the Declaration of Independence that launched the American experiment in republican government; Madison was the prime mover at the convention that convened in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to draft a federal Constitution to create a “more perfect union,” and subsequently took the lead in pushing the Bill of Rights through the new Congress in its first session in August and September 1789. Though the two Virginians were good friends and frequent collaborators throughout these years, their alliance became still closer in the next decade. As Secretary of State Jefferson became increasingly alienated from Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the dominant figure in President George Washington’s Cabinet, Madison mobilized opposition to administration measures in Congress. Their combined efforts gave rise to the emerging Jeffersonian- or Democratic-Republican “party,” a coalition of politicians and voters determined to gain control of the federal government and return it to the first principles Jefferson had set forth in the Declaration. The Republicans’ electoral “Revolution of 1800” launched a new era in the history of the young republic with Jefferson, Madison, and their fellow Virginian James Monroe controlling the presidency for almost a quarter of a century.More »

Featured Primary Sources

A Map of the Louisiana Territory, 1814. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

A map of the Louisiana Territory, 1814

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