The Papers of James Madison include letters to and from James Madison, as well as other related personal and professional documents, divided into four series covering distinct periods of Madison's life: the Congressional, Secretary of State, Presidential, and Retirement Series, as detailed below.
The Papers are published in both letterpress (book) and digital editions. The letterpress editions are available in many university, college, and public libraries. The digital editions, which follow print publication by about eighteen months, are available by subscription to the American Founding Era Collection of ROTUNDA, the digital-publishing wing of the University of Virginia Press.
Letterpress volumes from all active series--Secretary of State, Presidential, and Retirement--can be purchased through the University of Virginia Press which has published the Papers since 1977. A limited number of volumes of the completed Congressional series are still available for purchase from the University of Chicago Press (volumes 6 and 7) and the University of Virginia Press (volumes 11 and 12). Other Congressional series volumes are out of print but can occasionally be found in used book stores or online.
In addition to print and digital editions, preliminary transcriptions of over 9,000 as-yet-unpublished Madison documents are available for free through the ROTUNDA Founders Early Access project. These documents were prepared and reviewed by the staff of Documents Compass, a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, but have not yet been reviewed or annotated by Papers of James Madison staff.
The National Archives Founders Online website is another source where you can freely access the published Papers of James Madison (18-24 months after publication) and the Early Access documents. Both the ROTUNDA and Founders Online digital resources allow readers to not only access the Papers of James Madison, but to review and cross reference them with the papers of other members of the founding era, including Dolley Madison, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and many more. These digital resources provide a valuable resource to scholars worldwide.
Congressional Series (1751-1801)
The first series contains seventeen volumes, published 1962-91, and presents the fullest possible record of Madison's earliest correspondence. The Congressional Series documents Madison's contributions to the creation of the U.S. federal government: his service in the Continental Congress, the Virginia General Assembly, the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788, and the first four Federal Congresses.
Secretary of State Series (1801-9)
This second series contains ten volumes to date, of a projected sixteen (1986--); the eleventh volume is currently at press. The Secretary of State Series documents Madison's diplomatic and political career during the two presidential administrations of Thomas Jefferson, in which Madison oversaw the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase and the integration of those territories into the United States, and attempted to maintain a viable neutrality for the United States vis-à-vis warring France and Great Britain. As secretary of state, Madison presided over one of the busiest offices in Washington. He was responsible for the Patent Office, issued all federal commissions, ensured the public laws were put into print, and served as official liaison between the president and the governors of states and territories. Most important for these volumes, Madison was the addressee of diplomatic pouches and letters from five ministers and over fifty consuls worldwide, as well as about a dozen commissioners.
Presidential Series (1809-17)
This series includes eight volumes published to date, of a projected eleven (1984--). The Presidential Series centers largely on Madison's record as commander-in-chief during the War of 1812, the first full-scale conflict to be waged under the U.S. Constitution of 1787. Madison's correspondence as president deals with a particularly wide range of concerns to which he responded: national politics, international diplomacy and war, Indian affairs, the development of the nation's capital, and petitions for charity and mercy from ordinary citizens.
Retirement Series (1817-36)
The final series includes three volumes to date, of a projected seven (2009--). The Retirement Series contains correspondence and other papers that provide a rich and informative commentary on the past history and future prospects of the nation Madison helped create and preserve throughout his lifetime.