Four of the first five United States presidents were Founding Fathers from Virginia. Of the first 36 years of the United States’ existence, Virginian men served as president for 32 of them. This period became known as the Virginia Dynasty. In the last few months, I have visited all of their homes and wanted to highlight these presidents in a series of blog posts.
The Virginian presidents began with George Washington. He was succeeded by the only exception to the Virginia Dynasty: John Adams. Thomas Jefferson defeated Massachusetts-born John Adams in Adams’ run for a second term. Jefferson became the third president of the United States, the second from Virginia. After Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe complete the Virginia Dynasty. The completion of James Monroe’s second term in 1825 marked the end of the era. Monroe was the last Founding Father to serve as president and the end of his presidency marked end of the First Party System.
After the Virginia Dynasty presidents, there were four other presidents from Virginia. William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia, but became president as a resident of Ohio. When he died, his vice president, John Tyler took office. Tyler was a representative, senator, and governor of Virginia. Zachary Taylor was born in Virginia, but raised in and was a resident of Kentucky when he became president. Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia and his presidential library is there, though he was governor of New Jersey.
The first president I will highlight is James Madison. He was the fourth president of the United States and known as the “father of the Constitution” and “architect of the Bill of Rights” for his contributions to both. James Madison was a representative from Virginia, and Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson before serving as U.S. president from 1809-1817. His wife, Dolley, defined the role of first lady and is called the “1st First Lady.” She served as first lady for Thomas Jefferson while her husband was Secretary of State and then her own husband when he was president.
This fall I took a tour of James Madison’s home and learned the interesting history of the property. James Madison was born on the same property on which he was raised and later retired. It was named “Montpelier” and owned by President Madison’s grandfather and father before becoming James’ property. At the time of Madison’s ownership, Montpelier was primarily a tobacco plantation. After James married Dolley, he expanded the house and made it into a duplex so that his mother could remain in her part of the house while James and Dolley could have the other side. When his mother passed and after his presidency, Montpelier underwent construction again to combine the duplex and add a central door as the main entrance.
James Madison died in the house, on the same property as his father and grandfather, at the age of 85. He died in 1836, just before 60th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We here at the Law Library are, of course, especially fond of James Madison because the Law Library is housed in the James Madison Building in Washington, D.C.
Stay tuned for the next few installments of this series as I explore the other presidents who were part of the Virginia Dynasty.
Updated on Jan. 6, 2016: Thanks to one of our readers, a correction has been made to the sentence describing James Madison’s date of death. James Madison died on June 28th, 1836 just before the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.