Miller Center

James Madison: Domestic Affairs

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During the James Madison presidency, domestic affairs took a backseat to foreign affairs, as would be expected of a nation at war. The President made this point clear in his public addresses. For example, Madison's first inauguration speech stressed his commitment to neutrality in the French-English conflict while insisting that U.S. neutrality be respected without conditions by the warring parties. His second speech, delivered on March 13, 1813, ten months into the war, accused the British of arming frontier "savages" in vicious acts of war upon the American citizenry. Indeed, almost everything else seemed trivial in comparison to the conflict with Britain.

Among the domestic issues that did stand somewhat apart from the war itself was the struggle over the rechartering of the Bank of the United States, whose charter was scheduled to terminate in 1812. The move to recharter the Bank met stiff oppositon from three sources: "old" Republicans who viewed the Bank as unconstitutional and a stronghold of Hamiltonian power, anti-British Republicans who objected to the substantial holdings of Bank stock by Britons, and state banking interests opposed to the U.S. Bank's power to control the nation's financial business. When the anti-Bank forces killed the recharter drive, the U.S. confronted the British without the means to support war loans or to easily obtain government credit. In 1816, with Madison's support, the Second Bank was chartered with a twenty-year term. Madison's critics claimed that his support for the Bank revealed his pro-Federalist sympathies.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

J.C.A. Stagg

Professor Stagg is the editor-in-chief of the Papers of James Madison Project and a history professor at the University of Virginia. In addition to the volumes of Madison’s papers, his writings include:

Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830 (Princeton University Press, 1983)