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This Day in History: James Monroe, the fourth President from Virginia

On this day in 1816, James Monroe is elected as our fifth President. Did you know that four of our first five Presidents hailed from Virginia? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were all Virginians. Only our second President, John Adams, was from another state (Massachusetts).

First four Virginian Presidents, clockwise from top left: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Madison

Some people allege that the predominance of Virginians in these early elections proves that the Electoral College was created to protect southern, slaveholding states such as Virginia, but is that really so? Of the four Virginians elected during these years, one was the Father of the Country, one was the Father of the Constitution, and one was the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Wouldn’t it have been strange if those men were not also considered frontrunners for the presidency?

James Monroe was the last in this line of Virginians, and he held none of these titles. However, he'd served as Secretary of State to his predecessor. At that moment in our history, such a position set him up to be considered for the presidency, much as a Vice President might be viewed today.

Monroe’s election set at least one interesting precedent.

When it came time for Congress to count the electoral votes, a small dispute erupted over Indiana. Should its votes be counted? On December 4, when the election concluded, Indiana was technically a territory, not a state. Congress admitted Indiana to the Union a week later, on December 11. Monroe won the presidential election handily and did not need Indiana’s votes to win. Nevertheless, the matter was discussed.

Representative John Taylor broached the subject and urged that it be considered, despite the fact that Monroe’s election was a foregone conclusion. The Annals of Congress records Taylor’s thoughts on the matter: “[A]lthough the question, as regarded the present election, was of no consequence, yet the time might arrive when it would be of the greatest importance in the election of President of the United States, and that it would be better to settle it now, when its decision would not affect the election.”

In the end, Indiana’s electoral votes were included in Monroe’s total because the state had adopted its constitution prior to the presidential election.

Monroe would run uncontested four years later, during the 1820 election. Did you know that he was the only President, besides Washington, to run uncontested? In 1820, Monroe won a nearly unanimous election, but one elector voted for John Quincy Adams instead. Allegedly, that elector wanted to ensure that Washington would remain the only unanimously elected U.S. President.

Or did that elector have other reasons for casting an independent vote? Naturally, that is a story for another day.

For more on this election or other presidential elections, please see my book: The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders' Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule.

Signed copies are available HERE. Why We Need the Electoral College

(paperback version of the same book) is available HERE.



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