Born 16 March 1751, the eldest son of the wealthiest landholder in Orange County, Virginia, James Madison was destined for a life of privilege and responsibility. The triad of land, slaves, and tobacco supported him throughout his long life, allowing him to concentrate on politics and the intellectual pursuits he loved.
In 1769, after several years of local schooling and private tutoring, Madison entered the College of New Jersey at Princeton where he was introduced to the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment: Frances Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith, among others. Madison proved a voracious student, consuming four years of coursework in two, and graduating in 1771. He returned home in 1772, after a year of graduate studies, and was soon drawn into a lifelong career in politics by the deepening imperial crisis.