In his biography of the 4th president of the United States, Kevin Gutzman stresses James Madison, Jr.'s birth and emergence amid privilege and slavery. Born into a family at the highest tier of planter-dominated Piedmont Virginia society, Madison received the best education possible given the era and location. First, he attended the exclusive school operated by Donald Robertson for the sons of the planter elite, next, for two years he was tutored by an Episcopal priest who was hired by his father to be a live-in teacher for young James. All during his childhood, the sickly youth read widely on his own, mastering Greek and Latin. By 18 he entered the College of New Jersey, Princeton University of today. It is believed that he attended Princeton to avoid the relatively unhealthy environment of Williamsburg where the College of William and Mary was generally the site of higher education for the Virginia planter elite. Madison's health, always a major concern with him, was even more delicate during his adolescent years than later when he was known to be unhealthy. As anti-colonial activity increased in the colony, Madison took a more active interest in politics finding the armed rebuttal of Patrick Henry to Lord Dunmore's seizure of colonial gunpowder to be inspirational.
As fighting increased between the British and Americans Madison was beset by physical woes. He recalled later in life that during this period he was often sick and had experienced "sudden attacks, somewhat resembling Epilepsy" disrupting his "intellectual functions." (8) Despite this he held the lofty status of the second-in-command as a colonel in the Virginia militia.(continued)Feature Article
The earliest memory held by Thomas Jefferson was of being handed to and carried by an African slave in the direction of the Tuckahoe region of Virginia. Jefferson's life-long dependence upon blacks included childhood play with the dozens of African American children on his father's Tuckahoe plantation. Thomas Jefferson's family had a long history of relying on bondsmen for the income that would build their wealth and social status as Jefferson's grandfather, Isham Randolph, accumulated his fortune by slavetrading. Thomas Jefferson himself was given a slave body servant as a child and had at least one for the remainder of his life. His special relationship with the Hemings family has been highlighted recently in the monumental works by Annette Gordon-Reed.
By age twenty-one Jefferson had inherited 2,500 acres and thirty slaves and would gain 2,500 acres more when his mother died. Marrying Martha Skelton, who would soon inherit one hundred thirty-five additional slaves, Jefferson's status as a large slaveholder, and, if he desired, a political leader, was secure. Despite these advantages and having hundreds of captive laborers at his disposal, for much of his life, Jefferson faced the problem of personal debt. Given to extravagance and luxury in displaying the high status he was so proud of, Jefferson relied on wringing increased profits derived from slave labor and an increasing population of slaves he claimed ownership of.