On this day in history, James Monroe – the last president called a Founding Father of the United States – was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
Monroe studied law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, and became a lifelong disciple of Jefferson. An anti-federalist, while acting as a delegate to the Virginia convention, he opposed ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
In 1790 Monroe was elected to the Senate of the first U.S. Congress, replacing a deceased delegate. He was reelected in 1791, but resigned in 1794 after President George Washington appointed him Minister Plenipotentiary to France. In 1799 Monroe became Governor of Virginia, facing a slave insurrection in his first year.
Gabriel Prosser was a skilled slave who was hired out as a blacksmith to other masters in and around Richmond. Prosser became exposed to the freedom rhetoric of the American Revolution, and heard news of the uprising of slaves in Saint Domingue. He came to believe that if American slaves rose and fought for their rights, poor whites and Native Americans would join them.
Prosser began to recruit others, and by August of 1800 had formed an “army.” They were betrayed however, and Governor James Monroe was alerted. He sent out white patrols to round up the rebels. The arrested were tried and convicted, and 26 slaves were executed by hanging; one more died by hanging while in custody. Of those not hanged, some were transported to other states, some were found not guilty, and a few were pardoned. But after this incident, Virginia under Monroe’s administration toughened existing slave codes, including an act to ban hiring out of slaves.
Monroe was elected to two additional one-year terms as governor, and then in 1803 was once again appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France, this time by President Thomas Jefferson. He also served as Minister Plenipotentiary to England from 1803 until 1807. Monroe returned to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1810 and was again elected Governor on January 19, 1811 but resigned to serve as Secretary of State and then Secretary of War for President James Madison.
He won election as the fifth President of the United States in 1816 was handily reelected four years later. In 1823, he announced the United States’ opposition to any European intervention in the recently independent countries of the Americas with the Monroe Doctrine (largely penned by his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams), which became a landmark in American foreign policy.
When his presidency ended on March 4, 1825, Monroe returned to live in Virginia until his wife’s death in 1830. He then moved to New York City into the house of his daughter and son-in-law. Monroe died there from heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831, becoming the third president to die on Independence Day. His death came 55 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and five years after the death of two other Founding Fathers who became Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.