Our final president is James Monroe. He follows George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison and completes the Virginia Dynasty.
James Monroe was born in 1758 in the Northern Neck of Virginia, near the area where George Washington was born. Today, nothing remains of the house, but the land is a park with several signs and monuments.
James Monroe studied law under Thomas Jefferson’s tutelage. The relationship between the two men moved from that of mentor and student to that of close friends, and Jefferson helped Monroe establish a plantation on property adjacent to Monticello. The two houses were so close that Monroe and Jefferson could see each from their front porches.
James Monroe’s plantation was known as Highland when he lived there, but today is known as Ash Lawn-Highland. The property is now owned by Monroe’s alma mater, the College of William and Mary.
James Monroe had over fifty years of public service. According to our docent, he held the greatest number of positions in the government, many of them senior positions. Some highlights include serving as senator from Virginia, minister to France and the United Kingdom, governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Secretary of War and president from 1817-1825.
Despite being sold to pay James Monroe’s debts, his house was well-preserved and included many original pieces of furniture and artifacts, including a clock he had in his office as Secretary of State. One of the most striking things on the property was a tree next to the house that had been standing since the Monroe family lived there.
James Monroe died in New York City, on July 4, 1831 at age 73, the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. His death marked the end of an era of founding fathers as president. It is considered the first period of the American presidency and the end of First Party System.
After exploring these four presidents and their homes, I feel like I better understand the Virginia Dynasty and the lives these early presidents of the United States led. These four men played a significant role in setting the course of a nascent nation. They lived long lives and guided the founding of our nation. They came from well-established Virginian families that were generally wealthy, though all but George Washington faced financial difficulties, especially after their presidencies. I am very fortunate to live in an area with so many well-preserved and easily accessible historical sites.