Samford University Library Samford University Library Special Collection, Samford University Library

Special Collection Treasures feature different materials housed in the Special Collection, Samford University Library.

The Papers of James Madison

Father of the Constitution

In May of 1787, the Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to address the governing of the United States of America. Prior to the Constitution, the young country had been operating under the Articles of Confederation. The original intent of the convention was to correct problems in the existing document however many of the delegates, including James Madison proposed to create a new government rather than fix the old one.

For his contributions at the convention, James Madison became known as the “Father of the Constitution”. While waiting for the delegates to assemble, Madison mapped out a proposal for a new constitution known as The Virginia Plan. The plan proposed the idea of representation based on population for the national legislature. The plan also called for three branches of national government: legislative, executive, and judicial. Other plans for government were submitted as well including the New Jersey Plan by William Paterson. Under the New Jersey Plan the existing Continental Congress would remain the same as would the equal representation among the states. The Connecticut Compromise allowed for both plans to work together. However, other issues for debate including States Rights and a Bill of Rights developed.

Before the new constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, Benjamin Franklin asked that everyone put aside their doubts for the sake of the country and be unified in the decision to sign the instrument.

Benjamin Franklin speech

After the delegates had signed the new constitution, Benjamin Franklin remarked to those near him about the sun on George Washington's chair, "Painters [have] found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun."

Franklin's comment
George's chair showing a rising sun in woodwork

James Madison died at the age of 85 on June 28, 1836. In a letter written to President Andrew Jackson on August 20, 1836, Dolley Madison thanked him for the expressions of sympathy she had received. “The best return I can make for the sympathy of my country is to fulfill the sacred trust his confidence reposed in me, - that of placing before it and the world what his pen prepared for their use, - a legacy the importance of which is deeply impressed on my mind.”

A collection of work depicting Madison's notes on the debates, speeches and articles of the Constitutional Congress was first published in 1840 by Henry Gilpin in a 3 volume set as The Papers of James Madison, Purchased by Order of Congress; Being His Correspondence and Reports of Debates During the Congress of the Confederation and His Reports in the Federal Convention.

The Samford University Library holds an 1842 edition of the set which was given to the library during the early years of Howard College by the Philomathic Society, a student literary society in the 1850s.


Benjamin Franklin's Speech, September 17, 1787, From Project Avalon

Madison, James, and Henry D. Gilpin. The Papers of James Madison, Purchased by Order of Congress; Being His Correspondence and Reports of Debates During the Congress of the Confederation and His Reports of Debates in the Federal Convention. Mobile: A. Mygatt, 1842.

James Madison and the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787 From The Library of Congress

The Charters of Freedom From The National Archives

The Constitutional Convention From

Prologue:Pieces of History From The National Archives