The James Madison Papers

James Madison Timeline 1751-1836


The American Revolution


James Madison appointed to Orange County, Virginia, Committee of Safety. Committee oversees local militias and carries on necessary functions of government in event of war for independence. Madison, a zealous patriot, heavily involved in building up strength of county militia (December).


British regular troops, sent to Concord, Massachusetts, to destroy rebel weapons depot, engage with local militia on Lexington Green. British retreat 20 miles back to Boston; engage in running battle with local militia. News galvanizes the colonies (April 18).


Elected to Virginia Convention that frames new state's constitution. Makes major contribution to constitutional law during the revision of Virginia Declaration of Rights of free exercise of religion as a right, not privilege.

Declaration of Independence adopted by Continental Congress (July 4).

Member, newly convened Virginia House of Delegates; meets Thomas Jefferson for first time (October).


Loses seat in House of Delegates for refusing to follow longstanding Virginia custom of treating voters to whiskey (seeming too much like buying votes). Elected later that year to 8-member Council of State.


Cold, sick, and hungry, the Continental Army, led by General George Washington, bivouacs at Valley Forge outside Philadelphia; France enters alliance with United States (winter).


Elected to 3-year term in Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (December).


Arrives in Philadelphia to attend Continental Congress. Keeps daily journal of its work. Most congressional work done in committees, a forum especially suited to his preferred method of problem solving. In his first years, Congress tasked with running a war with limited funds and resources, a challenge made more difficult by the states' resistance to yielding power to central government. During Congressional term, supports efforts to strengthen power of confederation government at expense of state legislatures. Many unsuccessful attempts to compromise with pro-state delegates (March).


British, under command of General Charles Cornwallis, surrender to General Washington and allied French force at Yorktown, Virginia (October 19).


Meets Catherine "Kitty" Floyd, 15-year-old daughter of New York delegate William Floyd. Becomes infatuated and courts her through spring 1783. Kitty Floyd calls off engagement, summer 1783. Madison never talks of the doomed romance and strikes out all references to it in past letters to Jefferson (winter).

Treaty of Paris signed, formally ending American Revolution (September).

Tenure in Continental Congress establishes reputation as creative, fair, and wise national leader. Makes last appearance as delegate to Congress, leaves Philadelphia, and returns to Virginia—first trip south in nearly four years (October).


Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson.
Rembrandt Peale, 1800.
White House Collection, courtesy White House Historical Association.

Surrender of Cornwallis lithograph

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon Surrender of Cornwallis: at York-Town Va. Oct. 1781
print : lithograph, hand-colored.
N. Currier. 1846
Prints and Photographs Division. Library of Congress.

A young James Madison

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon [Detail] James Madison.
Watercolor on ivory, in gold case.
Charles Willson Peale. 1783.
Prints and Photographs Division. Library of Congress.

Kitty Floyd

descriptive record icon enlarge image icon [Detail] Catherine "Kitty" Floyd.
Watercolor on ivory, in gold case.
Charles Willson Peale. 1783.
Prints and Photographs Division. Library of Congress.