The bedrock of the young American Republic, there was no single person more critical to the creation and survival of the United States of America during its fledgling years.
Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, George Washington began his professional career at 19 as a surveyor exploring the wilderness to the west of English settlement. Washington and other surveyors helped pave the way for westward expansion, and this brought the English into conflict with peoples who had been there for decades (French colonists) and for millennia (Native Americans).
Tensions rose and broke out into open hostility with the beginning of the French and Indian War in 1754. Washington showed himself to be a gallant soldier and a gifted leader of men, rising through the ranks of the Virginia Militia.
More than a decade later, Washington's experience on those battlefields led to his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and his charge was to obtain victory against the most powerful military force in the world. Outmanned, out-experienced, undersupplied, underpaid, and mostly on the losing end of engagements, Washington and his troops were nevertheless able to secure enough victories to make the British resolve waiver, and they agreed to recognize the sovereignty of their former colonies by signing the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
With the cessation of hostilities, George Washington impressed many both home and abroad by resigning his command at a time when he could have forced himself upon the new nation in the role of a dictator. True to his ideals, and to the ideals for which his men had fought for six years, Washington instead put his considerable talents toward ensuring the success of the newborn republic.
When the Articles of Confederation proved insufficient as the foundation of the nation's laws, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the end result of which was the United States Constitution, still the cornerstone of the American legal system, and a document instilled with such wisdom and foresight that it has retained the bulk of its relevance over two centuries later.
Elected as the first President by the only unanimous vote in the history of the United States Electoral College, President Washington put down rebellion within the country's borders and kept the U.S. out of the conflicts in Europe, which was dealing with revolutionary fervor due in no small part to the success of the Americans.
Supporting policies that were Federalist-leaning, he nevertheless refused to join any political party, and warned against the divisiveness of partisanship and sectionalism, a warning that would prove to be prophetic in some sixty years' time. Named the "Father of our Country," Washington's role as the erstwhile President necessarily meant that he set a lot of firsts, but his legacy is such that his presidency became the benchmark for the office and he is still considered by many to be the best President to ever hold the office.
Upon the completion of his second term, Washington returned to his beloved plantation, Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potomac River. He died just two years later, and was eulogized by Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, a friend, congressman, and comrade-in-arms, who said of Washington: "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen ..."
Author, philosopher, scientist, planter, diplomat, Secretary of State, and President of the United States of America. A renaissance man whose immense talents and breadth of knowledge were indispensible to the American Revolution and the young republic, Thomas Jefferson was a product of the Age of Reason whose vision of America was one of an educated agrarian populace bound only by a limited government with the balance of its powers tipped in favor of state and local governmental institutions. Though a firm believer in "the inalienable rights of man," Jefferson was a slaveholder who owned hundreds of enslaved persons through his lifetime. He was well aware of this paradox and struggled with the issue throughout until his death.
Born at Shadwell, his family's home in Albemarle County, Jefferson showed his thirst for knowledge at an early age, studying classical languages, science, and history as a child and then attending The College of William and Mary at age 16. Jefferson befriended and was mentored by George Wythe, a law professor at the college who had a profound influence on him, and he completed his studies in two years.
His knowledge of the works of Europe's enlightenment thinkers guided his pen when he drafted the Declaration of Independence at age 33. During the American Revolution, Jefferson first represented Virginia in the Continental Congress and then served his native state as its wartime governor from 1779 to 1781.
When peace with Great Britain was secured, Jefferson served as Minister to France, and as President Washington's Secretary of State. His philosophical and political differences with the President and his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, caused Jefferson to resign from the Cabinet at the end of 1793. It was the differences between Jefferson's and Hamilton's visions for the United States that were the basis for the nation's first two significant political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. The Federalists were led by Alexander Hamilton and favored a strong national government. Thomas Jefferson was the figurehead for the Democratic-Republicans, a party that espoused limiting the reach of the national government and instead giving state governments a broader purview. This debate would become a central theme in American political debate throughout the next 70 years until it was decided at the point of a bayonet during the American Civil War.
Because the losing candidate in the presidential elections of this time became the Vice President, the Democratic-Reupblican Jefferson became the Vice President as a result of the presidential election of 1796, serving under Federalist President John Adams.
Jefferson ran for election again in 1800 and succeeded, ultimately serving two terms. As president, Jefferson severely cut back on governmental expenditures, notably greatly reducing the nation's military spending, and he reduced the national debt by a third. He was tireless in his efforts to keep the United States out of the Napoleonic wars that were ravaging Europe, despite the fact that both England and France were violating the rights afforded American shipping as a neutral party. And despite his belief in limited government and the questionable constitutionality of his power to do so, he seized upon the French offer to sell Louisiana, then stretching from present-day Louisiana in the south up to the headwaters of the Mississippi River and as far west as the current state of Montana. The "Louisiana Purchase," transferred by a treaty with France in 1803, effectively doubled the size of the United States at a price of less than 3 cents per acre.
Soon thereafter, President Jefferson sent Merriwether Lewis and George Rogers Clark to explore the nation's new territory, and the explorers kept detailed logs and made hundreds of illustrations of the flora and fauna and the multitudes of Native American peoples already populating the territory. Unbeknownst to them and without their consultation they were now living in United States territory.
Several times during his political life, Jefferson introduced legislation aimed at gradually ending slavery. Often times, his efforts were stymied by those who (like Jefferson) did not believe whites and blacks could (or should) coexist as equals, and short of a costly and logistically-infeasible mass deportation of ex-slaves, there was no viable solution acceptable enough to move his legislation forward. One hugely-significant piece of legislation that did make it to his desk for his signature during his presidency was a bill that abolished the importation of slaves into the United States in 1807. Complicating his record on slavery still further, DNA evidence now overwhelmingly supports descendants of one of Jefferson's slaves, Sally Hemings, who claim that they are also descendants of Thomas Jefferson.
A complex man of many talents, used supremely to the benefit of a gestating and growing young republic, Thomas Jefferson is rightly placed on a pedestal among the most important Founding Fathers. That "all men are created equal" wasn't subscribed to even by the primary authors of the nation's most important documents meant a missed opportunity to make the new country a land of freedom for all Americans. Though he and many of his fellow Founding Fathers are rightly admonished for their roles as slaveholders, their hand in the creation and sustenance of the United States of America is justly regarded as an accomplishment of the highest order – the first successful rebellion in the Western Hemisphere against a colonial power, and a country established on ideals of egalitarianism rather than the Old World's monarchical dogma.
Thomas Jefferson's ideals and writings would be emulated for centuries to come by other peoples who wanted to set their own course of self-determination. When he died on July 4, 1826 – the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and on the same day as his one-time Federalist adversary, now friend-again John Adams – the nation lost the preeminent intellectual force behind the American Revolution and a man whose various roles in civil service were crucial to the survival, identity, and growth of the United States of America.
A supremely-gifted orator whose diatribes against King George III helped fan the flames of dissent among the American colonists, Patrick Henry was also a politician who served in the House of Burgesses, the Virginia House of Delegates, and as Virginia's first post-colonial governor. He spent much of his political life railing against the British monarchy, and later the strong national government favored by the Federalists. The excesses of the French Revolution caused him to shift his views, however, and in the twilight of his life, he began to back the Federalist cause.
Born in 1736 at Studley in Hanover County, Virginia, he grew up attending nearby Polegreen Church. Samuel Davies, the pastor there and the first non-Anglican minister licensed to preach in Virginia, was a leading member of the Hanover Dissenters, a group who chose to worship outside of the sphere of the government-sponsored Anglican Church. By all accounts Davies was a talented speech-maker and Henry himself stated that the minister's speeches greatly influenced his own rhetorical style. Henry studied law and was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1760.
His first landmark case came in 1763, when the relatively-unknown Henry was asked to speak to the jurors during the damages phase of the case that would come to be known as the Parson's Cause. Virginia's Anglican clergy were paid in tobacco, 16,000 pounds annually. Since the passage of the bill rewarding the clergy so, the price of tobacco had remained steady at two cents per pound. In 1758, the tobacco harvest was a bad one and the price of tobacco rose to six cents per pound. That same year, the House of Burgesses passed a reactionary law called the Two Penny Act stating that debts paid in tobacco would use the two cents standard that had been in place previously. King George III vetoed Virginia's Two Penny Act and Reverend James Maury of Louisa County — who could count Thomas Jefferson among the alumni of his boarding school — sued for the difference on behalf of all of the colony's clergy.
The trial, held in Hanover County Courthouse, resulted in the court finding in Reverend Maury's favor. As the proceedings progressed and the jurors were asked to decide how much to award Maury, Patrick Henry delivered an impassioned argument on behalf of Hanover County. He proceeded to vilify Maury, and argued that the King's veto of the Two Penny Act was tyrannical and that as such it need not be heeded. Henry's argument won over the jurors. They awarded Reverend Maury a penny.
Patrick Henry had made his first of many public oratorical assaults on the British Crown and some of the arguments Henry used so successfully in this case — particularly that only a legislature elected by a people has the right to pass laws that affect those people — would come up again and again as tensions rose and hostilities with Great Britain commenced.
Two years after the Parson's Cause, Henry was elected to the House of Burgesses. The colonies were reacting to the passage of the Stamp Act, a tax that the British government was levying on the colonists to repay debts, largely incurred on the colonists' behalf in defense of the colonies during the French and Indian War. Just days after being sworn in in Williamsburg, Henry introduced the Virginia Resolves to the legislative body. After heated debate and by timing the vote when the more conservative members of the House were absent, Henry managed to get the Resolves adopted.
The wording of the Resolves echoed his arguments made in Hanover County two years earlier. They stated that only representatives chosen by the tax-bearers could tax them. The argument was based on years of established precedent in Great Britain, and the colonists, as British citizens, deserved every right afforded their countrymen on the other side of the Atlantic. Henry's most famous line during his argument for the Resolves' passage was: "Caesar has his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third . . . may he profit by their example." Cries of "treason!" came from the other delegates, and Henry apologized to his audience. But his words were effective. The Virginia Resolves passed and they sparked debate among the other colonies about the legality of "taxation without representation." The debate would devolve in some quarters into violent demonstrations and riots.
In 1771, Patrick Henry and his family moved to Scotchtown in Hanover County. His wife Sarah was suffering from mental illness and her health was deteriorating. When she became a threat to her own health and her family's, Henry decided to make her as comfortable as possible in his own house rather than send her to the state hospital in Williamsburg which was little better than a dungeon. She was confined to the basement in Scotchtown and had to wear a "Quaker Shirt" (comparable to a modern straitjacket) to avoid harming anyone, but she had two rooms with a window in each affording her views of the grounds. She was taken care of by her husband and enslaved workers. When she died in 1775, Henry buried her close to the house and planted a lilac tree to mark her grave.
On March 23, 1775 at St. John's Church in Richmond, Patrick Henry joined George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and former members of the House of Burgesses for the second Virginia Convention, a gathering of the leaders of the colony. Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, had dissolved the House of Burgesses in in response to the legislature's increasingly revolutionary actions. The convention was debating whether to arm and prepare a militia for conflict with Great Britain. Henry rose and gave his most famous speech, which concluded with:
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace - but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
When the vote came, Henry's proposals to ready the colony for war were passed.
Later that year, Henry became a trustee of Hampden-Sydney College, a post he would hold until his death. In 1783, as a member of the House of Delegates, he was instrumental in pushing the school's war-delayed charter through the Virginia legislature. Seven of his sons attended the college, which is the oldest private college in the South and one of only three male-only four-year liberal arts colleges in the United States.
The Virginia legislature elected Patrick Henry to be Virginia's first post-colonial governor, a position to which he was reelected and would hold until 1779. Following the end of his term, Henry moved to present-day Henry County and planted tobacco on a 10,000-acre plantation named Leatherwood, which was worked by close to one hundred enslaved laborers.
Ardently opposed to many of its tenets and fearing that the strong national government that it would create would be little better than the monarchy they had just replaced, Patrick Henry declined an invitation to represent Virginia at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. As a member of the Virginia Convention of 1788, he used his rhetorical skills once again, this time to convince his fellow delegates to reject adoption of the Constitution of the United States. He failed to get the votes he needed and Virginia became the tenth state of the Union, but it was close: 89 were in favor, 79 were opposed. Many of the delegates voiced their concern about the national government wielding too much power and the lack of a national Bill of Rights guaranteeing personal freedoms.
Patrick Henry was chosen as an elector for selecting the first President of the United States and his vote was counted amongst the unanimous vote for George Washington.
In 1794 Henry retired to Red Hill in Charlotte County and turned down an invitation by President Washington to become his Secretary of State a year later. Henry's decision was partly based on his disapproval of Washington's Federalist-leaning decisions as president.
But the excesses of the French Revolution were changing Henry's political views. He could see parallels to the upheavals in France with the discontent felt by many in his own young country, and he was apprehensive that the United States might take the same course. He began to support the Federalists as they pushed for a stronger national government and he vehemently argued against Jefferson's and Madison's Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and the nullification power they argued the states should have over national laws. Henry was of the mind that such power could lead to civil war, and decades later those favoring secession did often frame their arguments in the same language that Jefferson and Madison used to assert that states — and not the national government — should be the final arbiter of which laws apply to its citizens.
At the urging of George Washington, Henry ran again for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. He won the election but died on June 6, 1799 before he could take his seat. Cancer had done what King George III could not; "The Orator of the Revolution" was silent.
His tireless efforts as a public servant in both the state and national spheres did much to ensure the freedoms that United States citizens enjoy today. But he is best known for his speeches, remarkable in both their content and delivery. His rhetoric was renowned across the colonies and provided a spark for the revolutionary movement. He made arguments against the British Crown that more timid men dared not, and accusations of treason weren't enough to quiet him when he felt his cause was just. After the revolution, he worked just as hard to ensure that the new government didn't overstep its bounds and become a semblance of what so many had fought and died to replace.
If we really believed the pen is mightier than the sword, the nation's capital would be named not for the soldier who wielded the revolutionary sword, but for the thinker who was ablest with a pen. It would be Madison, D.C.
—George F. Will
"The Father of the Constitution," James Madison was the primary author — at the age of 26 — of the Constitution of the United States of America. No man did more on behalf of its formulation, ratification, and defense than Madison. The fourth President of the United States, Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson, member of the Houses of Representatives and Delegates, Madison's public service record is extensive and his accomplishments still very much shape the lives of Americans today.
James Madison was born in 1751 at Belle Grove Plantation in Port Conway, Virginia, the oldest of 12 children in an elite slaveholding family. Madison attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) where he was known for his unparalleled work ethic. He graduated in 1771.
Madison served in Virginia's wartime state legislature from 1776 until 1779 where he became a close friend and was mentored by Thomas Jefferson. The two worked closely together to craft the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which forbade the state from forcing its citizens to join or support any religion.
Madison was the youngest delegate to the Continental Congress, an office he held from 1780 to 1783. He was instrumental in creating the Northwest Ordinance by convincing Virginia to give up her claims to the territory comprising most of modern-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and a portion of Minnesota. Several other states also claimed the land as part of their territory, but with their acquiescence, the Continental Congress created the Northwest Territory out of which future states would be made.
Serving a second term in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1784-1786, Madison grew alarmed at a trend he termed "excessive democracy." Legislators should be "disinterested" in his view toward the specific wants of their constituents, and should instead make decisions based upon what's best for their state.
A national convention was called in 1787 to address the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation. Chief among the issues was the nation's dire financial situation. The Articles granted the Continental Congress no power to tax, and as such the huge debts incurred during the Revolutionary War were not being repaid. The bankruptcy and dissolution of the young country were very real concerns to its citizens.
Madison arrived early and began crafting the "Virginia Plan," a proposal that was the basis for the eventual Constitution. His proposal was used as a building block for debate at the convention, and it was altered through compromise during the convention proceedings until it became the document that was presented to the states for ratification. Madison worked tirelessly at the convention, giving over 200 speeches and pushing hard for his conviction that the national government should be sovereign over its state counterparts. His idea would have been a total role-reversal from the status quo, and he met with substantial opposition from many of the other delegates. Nevertheless, he was able to argue his point successfully enough that a compromise was reached in which the national and state governments each held degrees of sovereignty.
Once the Constitution had been completed, Madison shifted his energies towards the ratification of the document. In New York, a sizable and well-organized group of Anti-Federalists (those opposed to the ratification of the Constitution) threatened to derail the document's acceptance there. Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a series of 85 newspaper articles in the state's newspapers responding to the arguments made by the Anti-Federalists. These articles were eventually combined and published as a book and would come to be known as the Federalist Papers.
In his home state, Madison faced a comparable hurdle getting the Constitution ratified. A strong Anti-Federalist contingent led by Patrick Henry made its presence felt at the ratifying convention in Richmond. Henry, a champion for states' rights and the rights of its citizens, used his unequaled oratorical skill to debate Madison at the convention. While Madison's speech-making skills were no match for Henry's, he was successful in addressing each of Henry's arguments. As the vote drew near, Madison went to work swaying some Anti-Federalists to support the document by promising to push for a bill of rights that would address their concerns regarding protecting the rights of the citizenry. When the vote came, the Constitution was narrowly ratified 89 - 79.
Madison was elected to the new House of Representatives and started his first of two terms in 1789. He went to work on the amendments that would become the Bill of Rights — the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Madison initially thought that the concerns expressed by the Anti-Federalists regarding individuals' and states' rights needing to be explicitly protected were unnecessary because his strict-constructionist view of the Constitution meant that the national government had only the powers given to it by the document. He was also concerned that spelling out certain rights might infer exclusion of others not on the list. But he was worried that the states would call for yet another constitutional convention and he wanted amendments to protect the new national government against the evils of "excessive democracy" that he had so lamented while a member of Virginia's legislature.
Madison presented twenty amendments to the House of Representatives, requesting that they be added to the body of the Constitution itself. The House approved 17 of them, but rejected adding them directly to the Constitution. Upon reaching the Senate, the amendments were combined so that there were only eleven, the ninth being authored by that body and not by Madison. The Senate conspicuously removed Madison's amendment defining the national government as sovereign to the state governments. This omission pained Madison and contentious debate over national vs. state sovereignty would play a prominent role in the politics of the United States for the next seventy years, only practically being resolved with the end of the Civil War. As the amendments went to a vote for ratification, only the second didn't pass (though it did in 1992). And so the first ten amendments to the Constitution — the Bill of Rights — had become law.
Britain and France went to war in 1793 and the war would dominate the course of events both in Europe and in the United States for over twenty years. The United States was still bound by the alliance with France made in 1778 during the Revolutionary War. Britain, however, was the United States' largest trading partner. President Washington wanted to avoid becoming entangled in the war, despite the fact that Britain was seizing American ships found trading with French colonies. The President signed the Jay Treaty in 1794, which passed both houses of Congress despite Madison's campaign against it. Support and opposition to the treaty was one of the galvanizing issues that defined party affiliation in the First Party System, with Jefferson, Madison, and the Democratic-Republicans opposed, and Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists in support of it. The treaty ensured the continuation of profitable trading between the United States and Britain and peaceful relations between the two nations for the next decade.
The Jay Treaty greatly angered the French and the so-called Quasi War between the U.S. and France began in 1798. In response to the conflict and to increasing unrest at home, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The group of bills gave the national government new powers to deal with domestic dissent. One of the acts gave the President the right to expel foreigners who were citizens of countries with which the United States was at war. Even broader was a law which enabled the chief executive the right to deport any foreigner viewed as "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States." In a blow to freedom of the press, the Federalist-backed legislation also made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" targeted at government officials.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were appalled by the acts' passage and drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions in response. The Resolutions argued that states had the right to declare any legislation not authorized by the Constitution unconstitutional, and as such, null and void. This was a huge role-reversal for Madison, who a decade earlier was pressing for the sovereignty of the national government over that of the states during the formulation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. No other states supported the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions and the Alien and Sedition Acts were used to fine and imprison a small number of people who criticized the government. When Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, he pardoned all those found guilty of violating the legislation.
As President Jefferson's Secretary of State from 1801-1809, Madison oversaw a foreign policy dominated by the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. Both Britain and France were seizing American ships and sailors to bolster their own forces and to enforce blockades against each other. Calls for war grew strong but Jefferson wanted to avoid armed conflict. Instead, Jefferson requested that Congress pass a law prohibiting trade with any foreign nation. He was hoping that the law would hurt both belligerents enough that they would respect American neutrality. The law, called the Embargo Act of 1807, was an utter failure. Americans suffered the most as a result of it. Many merchants and farmers suddenly lost their primary markets which had a cascading economic effect on the whole U.S. economy. The law was nearly impossible to enforce and merchant ships often sailed to the same ports as they had before once out of sight of American officials. Smuggling was prevalent and widespread.
British merchants sent their ships to trade with the markets once filled with American goods; South American ports in particular now purchased British goods to fill the void left by the lack of U.S. imports. The British were happy to be rid of American competition in these markets. The Embargo Act of 1807 was hugely unpopular at home and many Americans threw their support behind the Federalists, who campaigned against the issue in the 1808 Congressional elections and gained a substantial number of seats.
On October 26, 1803, the Senate ratified the treaty that transferred the French territory of Louisiana to the United States, instantly doubling the size of the young nation. Secretary Madison had instructed his diplomats James Monroe and Robert Livingston to negotiate for the sale of New Orleans and they were authorized to offer up to 10 million dollars to the French for the port city. But with war with Britain looming once again for France, and with the successful rebellion of Haiti, Napoleon abandoned his scheme for expanding French possessions in the Western Hemisphere. Monroe and Livingston were hoping to purchase a city for 10 million dollars and were instead offered all of the Louisiana Territory for 5 million more. Debate at home raged about the constitutionality of such a purchase, and a strong push by the Federalists almost scuttled the treaty in the House of Representatives. But with the Senate's ratification, the United States gained close to 830,000 square miles of territory for about 3 cents per acre.
Madison succeeded his friend Thomas Jefferson when he ascended to the Presidency in 1809. The wars in Europe dominated his presidency just as they had during his tenure as Secretary of State. The United States had suffered under the Embargo Act of 1807 and it was repealed shortly before Madison became President. The U.S. was once again willing to trade with all nations, including Great Britain and France, if they would respect the neutrality of American shipping. But Britain continued to impress U.S. sailors to man its own warships. Furthermore, British officials in Canada were arming Native Americans and encouraging them to attack American settlers in the Northwest Territory, which had been ceded to the United States by Britain as a result of the end of the Revolutionary War.
President Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war, and it was granted. Support for the war was far from unanimous, however. Some states refused to allow their militias to fight outside their borders or were unwilling to help finance the conflict. Madison, long an opponent of a national bank, was happy to allow its charter to lapse in 1811. The lack of this institution and Jefferson's and Madison's removal of much of the taxation infrastructure instituted by the Federalists made financing the war an extremely difficult proposition. The war was fought largely to a draw and merchants on both sides petitioned their governments for a cessation of hostilities; both economies were hurt by hostile privateering and the British blockade of American ports.
When the Treaty of Ghent was signed in February 1815, neither the British nor the Americans made territorial gains. Napoleon was in exile on Elba and the British had no need to continue their policy of impressment or their blockade of France now that the war in Europe was over (or so it seemed). Thus the end of hostilities in Europe resolved the chief issues that drove the Americans to war in 1812. As a result of the difficulties Madison experienced trying to run the war, he supported an expansion of the national government's powers shortly after it ended. He approved a national bank — something he had vetoed during the war, an improved system of taxation, a professional military, and a system of internal improvements proposed by Henry Clay. This adoption of Federalist institutions came as the Federalist Party largely fell apart — largely due to their opposition of the war — and the national mood was lifted. Thus began the so-called Era of Good Feelings.
At the end of his presidency, Madison returned to Montpelier and spent much of his time trying to turn the fortunes of his plantation around. Debts had mounted in his absence, as the price of tobacco fell and his stepson's efforts at managing the plantation had proved largely ineffectual. He spent much of the latter years of his life burdened by his debts and worried about his legacy. He went so far as to edit dates, words and delete entire passages from his letters and political works in his possession. One June 28, 1836, James Madison died. He was buried at Montpelier.
The "Father of the Constitution," James Madison was the document's primary author and most vocal proponent and defender. Like many of the Founding Fathers, his politics changed over time and were often seemingly incompatible with his earlier ideals. But Madison and the Framers were put in positions where pragmatism — and not uncompromising idealism — was needed during the infancy of the young republic they had created.
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States of America. His presidency is perhaps best known for taking place in the "Era of Good Feelings" when the original two-party system of Federalists and Democratic-Republicans was effectively finished, ushered in by the end of War of 1812 under James Madison's administration. His two terms were hardly without conflict, however, as the United States grappled with a financial depression, the prospect of European intervention as fledgling nations broke free from their colonizers, and the issue of slavery, which was brought to the fore when territories applied for statehood and wished to allow slavery there.
Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia on April 28, 1758, Monroe was the son of a moderately-successful slaveholding plantation owner, Spence Monroe, and Elizabeth Monroe, who taught him at home in his early years. From age 11 to 16, he attended Campbelltown Academy, where he was a classmate of future Chief Justice John Marshall. In 1774, his father died and sixteen-year-old James inherited his father's modest plantation. That same year he enrolled at the College of William & Mary, but he dropped out a year later to join the 3rd Va. Regiment in the Continental Army. In June, he was among a group of men that raided the arsenal at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, taking 200 muskets and 300 swords which were used to supply the Williamsburg militia. During the Revolutionary War, Monroe was shot in the shoulder during the American victory at the Battle of Trenton (1776). In Emanuel Kreutze's painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, Monroe is portrayed holding the American flag just before the battle.
In 1780 Monroe left the Continental Army to study law under Thomas Jefferson. After completing his studies in 1783, he was admitted to the bar and practiced law in Fredericksburg. That same year, deciding to focus on law and politics, he sold the plantation in Westmoreland County that he had inherited from his father.
He began his career of public service in 1782 when he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. A year later he became a delegate to the Continental Congress, a position he held for three years. When Congress began meeting in New York City, he met Elizabeth Kortright and they were married February 16, 1786. The couple eventually had three children. Monroe was a member of the Virginia Ratifying Convention which was charged to ratify or reject the United States Constitution. He was concerned about the document's lack of a bill of rights and the taxation powers that were to be granted to the national government. He voted against ratifying the Constitution, as did most of his fellow Anti-Federalists. It was narrowly ratified, however, by a vote of 89-79.
In 1790, Monroe was elected to the United States Senate, and became a leading voice for the Democratic-Republicans there. Four years later he was appointed Minister to France, but his overt support for the cause of the French Revolution drew the ire of President Washington, who recalled him.
Monroe became the 12th Governor of Virginia, serving from 1799 until 1802. Gabriel's Rebellion, a failed slave revolt, occurred in 1800 during Monroe's time in office. Monroe called out the militia and although he eluded capture for a time, Gabriel and 26 other slaves were hanged for treason.
President Thomas Jefferson sent Monroe and Robert Livingston to Paris in 1802 to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans. As a result of impending war in Europe and the loss of France's most profitable western colony, St. Domingue, to a slave rebellion, Napoleon was willing to not only sell New Orleans, but all of Louisiana, which at that time encompassed an area which northern border lay in present-day Canada and which western border went through Wyoming and Montana. With the treaty's ratification on October 26, 1803, the territory of the United States doubled.
Jefferson next appointed Monroe as ambassador to Britain, where Monroe negotiated the Monroe-Pinckney Treaty. The treaty would have essentially extended the Jay Treaty of 1794, but with war with Napoleon raging, the British were unprepared to add provisions to the treaty that would prohibit their practice of impressment that so angered the Americans. Jefferson rejected the treaty and the Jay Treaty was allowed to expire.
Elected Governor of Virginia again, Monroe only held the office for four months in 1811 before becoming Secretary of State under President James Madison. As the War of 1812 raged and the British raided Washington D.C. and burned the capital in 1814, Madison relieved Secretary of War John Armstrong of his duties. On September 27, 1814, Monroe took his place but no one was appointed to fill the now-vacant Secretary of State cabinet position. As a result, Monroe effectively ran both departments until after the end of the war.
With the conclusion of the war in 1815, a groundswell of nationalism and optimism infected the American public. The Federalists, whose opposition to the war was well-founded when the conflict was going badly, were now largely discredited after General Andrew Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. The party lost nearly all of its traction on the national stage as a result.
Thanks to the collapse of the Federalist Party, Monroe won the presidential election of 1816 by a landslide, with the Electoral College tally being 183-34. His presidency coincided with the "Era of Good Feelings," during which, thanks to the decline of the Federalists, there was essentially only one party in national politics at the time. Monroe took two tours of the United States in 1817 in order to build national morale.
But the nation during Monroe's presidency suffered through its share of tribulations. Americans suffered through the Panic of 1819, a major financial downturn which saw unemployment numbers and bankruptcies skyrocket. As territories carved from the Louisiana Purchase (now named the Missouri Territory to prevent confusion after the admission of the State of Louisiana to the Union) applied for statehood, the issue of slavery came front and center. Both slaveholding and non-slaveholding states were ever-watchful of the balance of power between the two groups and the effect that new states would have on the representation in the national legislature. Neither group was prepared to be marginalized and be dictated to by the other. When Missouri applied for statehood in 1819, it started two years of debate in Congress, the result of which was the Missouri Compromise. The law admitted Missouri to the Union as a slave state, and kept the balance of power by admitting Maine as a free state. Slavery would also be prohibited in all territory north of 36°30' latitude except within the borders of the State of Missouri itself.
When the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, most of Spain's and Portugal's colonies declared independence. Spurred by this wave of new independent nations and by Russian claims to the west coast of North America southward to the fifty-first parallel, President Monroe gave a speech in Congress on December 2, 1863 that would come to be known as the Monroe Doctrine. Largely written by John Quincy Adams and with the support of Great Britain, the Doctrine stated that the Western Hemisphere was no longer open to colonization, and that American nations should be free from European interference. Further, Monroe stated that the United States would remain neutral in European wars and in wars between Europe and its colonies. Finally, Monroe asserted that any interference with the affairs of American countries or new attempts at colonization would be considered hostile acts against the United States.
After his second term, Monroe split his time between his plantations at Oak Hill and at Monroe Hill, now part of the University of Virginia. He served on the university's board of visitors until his death. Because of mounting debts, Monroe was forced to sell Highland (now Ash Lawn-Highland), another of his plantations in Albemarle County. When his wife Elizabeth died in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City to live with his daughter, Maria Gouverneur. He died there on July 4, 1831. He was the third consecutive President to die on Independence Day. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetary in Richmond, Virginia.
From the battlefields of the Revolutionary War to the courts of Paris and London and to the halls of the Capitol and the White House, James Monroe served the United States of America with distinction and achieved success that permanently shaped the fabric of the republic.
A man of revolutionary ideals rooted in his deeply-religious convictions, Samuel Davies was a key figure in a movement that would ultimately manifest itself in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, guaranteeing freedom of religion. His belief that Christians needed to not only hear but read the Word of God led him to teach hundreds of enslaved persons to read. In an era where there was government-sanctioned religion and citizens were taxed to support it, Davies became the first non-Anglican minister licensed to preach in Virginia. A poet, a songwriter, and a man of letters, Davies used his extensive knowledge of British law and custom to argue that citizens should be free to decide where and how they worship, an idea that would be codified with Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Born in Delaware to deeply-religious parents in 1723, Samuel Davies studied theology and was licensed to preach in 1746. That same year, while ministering to citizens of his home state and neighboring Pennsylvania, Davies married Sarah Kirkpatrick. In 1747, the Davies traveled south so that Samuel could preach Presbyterianism to a fledgling congregation in Hanover County, Virginia.
There he became the leading voice of the "Hanover Dissenters," a group that worshiped separately from the government-sponsored Anglican Church. Davies was licensed as the first non-Anglican minister in the colony of Virginia. A thorn in the side of many in the Virginia religious establishment, he felt deeply that individuals should follow their conscience in deciding how and where to worship. In letters and through his gifted powers of oratory, Davies espoused religious freedom for all, even for those without freedom, working under the yoke of slavery. Steadfast in his view that a Christian needed to be able to read the Word of God for him- or herself, Davies raised funds both at home and in Great Britain for the purpose of providing books to his enslaved students as they learned to read.
While suffering through the death of Sarah through miscarriage not a year after they were married and his personal struggle with Tuberculosis, Davies was ever-aware of his own mortality and was even more determined to put all of his energies into his work. He expanded the scope of his ministry, eventually serving congregations in seven counties. He remarried, wedding Jane Holt, a member of a prominent Williamsburg family, in October 1748. The couple had six children, one of whom died at childbirth.
Through his effective oratory and letter writing, the content of which appealed to the rights of British citizens and was backed by British precedent of law, Davies saw religious tolerance spread in Virginia during his lifetime, and the seeds he sowed would bear fruit after his death in the forms of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
The news of Davies' good works gained the notice of the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). They lobbied him to raise money for the young college, and Davies and Gilbert Tennent – another Presbyterian minister – traveled to Great Britain to do so. Davies preached nearly sixty times while there, and the two managed to raise £4,000 for the largely-unknown college primarily through church collections. The funds were used to build Nassau Hall. Completed in 1754, the building still stands and is the oldest on Princeton's campus.
After his return to the American colonies, Davies came home to Hanover County, and with the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Davies became Virginia's most effective recruiter as opined by Governor Dinwiddie. Davies argued that the cause of liberty was so dear that defending the colonies against the French and their allies was a just and necessary struggle.
The College of New Jersey was to call again in 1759. This time, its trustees offered the school's presidency to Davies, an honor he eventually accepted. His tenure was short-lived, as Davies died in February of 1761 of pneumonia, at the age of 37.
In addition to the lifetime of accomplishments Samuel Davies achieved in a life cut short, his renowned oratorical skills had a profound effect on one of those who came to listen to him every Sunday. Patrick Henry, who as a boy came with his family to Polegreen Church in Hanover County, would recite the sermons they had just heard back to his mother. The preeminent orator of the American Revolution stated that Davies had the "most profound influence" on him and that the minister taught him "what an orator should be." Not too many years after listening to Davies on Sundays, Henry would preach a similar message of freedom with such spellbinding effectiveness that he would be an irresistible force pushing the colonies toward revolution.
The Lee Family of Virginia produced soldiers and statesmen from the 17th to the 20th centuries. One of the First Families of Virginia, its patriarch Richard Lee I immigrated to Virginia in 1639 and amassed a fortune through tobacco farming, the slave trade, and the importation of indentured servants. His descendants include Thomas Lee, governor of Virginia and builder of Stratford Hall, William and Arthur Lee, diplomats to Europe during the American Revolution, Richard Henry Lee, an early agitator for revolution and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Francis Lightfoot Lee, a member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee III, Revolutionary War hero, Major General, and Governor of Virginia, and, most famous of the Lee Family, Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States of America's Army of Northern Virginia, one of several Lees to serve in the Confederate military.
Richard Lee I immigrated to Virginia from England in 1639 and thanks to the patronage and recommendation of Sir Francis Wyatt, a previous governor of Virginia, he was given the position of Attorney General of the Colony. He planted tobacco and amassed a fortune becoming the single largest landowner in the colony. In addition to growing tobacco, he also was an active trader of enslaved Africans and was awarded thousands of acres of land for importing indentured servants at his own expense. Lee went on to become a member of the House of Burgesses, a member of the King's Council, and then the colony's Secretary of State. At the time of his death, Lee owned approximately 13,000 acres of land.
His son, Richard Henry Lee II (1647-1715), known as "Richard the Scholar" because of his lifelong passion for learning, was a planter, colonel, and a member of the House of Burgesses and the King's Council.
One of Richard Henry Lee II's sons, Thomas Lee (1690-1750), also entered the political sphere. Like his father and grandfather, he was a member of the Virginia General Assembly, being elected to the House of Burgesses in 1723. In 1728, his home on the Machodoc plantation was burned by thieves after they ransacked the mansion. Lee's wife Hannah suffered a miscarriage after being thrown out of a second-floor window to escape the fire. Lee built Stratford Hall on land he owned in Westmoreland County and the property became the family homestead after the destruction of Machodoc. In 1747, Lee co-founded the Ohio Company of Virginia, a land speculation company which encouraged settlers to populate the Ohio Country. In 1749, a year before his death, Lee became the acting governor of Virginia when the governor, William Gooch, traveled to England.
A signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) is perhaps best known for introducing the "Lee Resolution" to the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, part of which reads:
Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
Less than a month later, the Declaration of Independence was signed.
A son of Thomas Lee, Richard Henry Lee was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1758, and was an early proponent of independence from Great Britain. After his service before and during the Revolution, Lee also was the President of the Continental Congress from 1784-1785, a member of the U.S. Senate from 1780-1792, and President pro tempore of that body in 1792.
His brother, Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-1797), had a similar record of public service. A member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, he also served Virginians in the state's wartime Senate from 1778 to 1782. He served his state as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1779. Like his brother Richard, he also signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He built his mansion Menokin in 1769 near present-day Warsaw, Virginia and he died there in 1797.
Two more of Thomas Lee's sons, William (1739-1795) and Arthur (1740-1792) served the Continental Congress as diplomats to Europe in an attempt to gain support for the American cause. Before the war, William lived in London and served as the city's sheriff and as an Alderman, using his influence to press for fairer taxation and representation policies for the American colonies. During the war, Lee was sent to Austria and Prussia in an unsuccessful attempt to gain their support for the war effort. Arthur Lee also lived in London, and while practicing law there wrote many pamphlets against what he saw as the unfair treatment of the American colonies by the British government. During the war, Lee was sent to Spain and Prussia but was unable to gain their support against the British. He was successful, however, in helping negotiate the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778 that led to the entry of that country into the conflict. In 1782, Lee was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He built his home named Landsdowne near Urbanna, Virginia, and the house still stands. He is buried on the property.
Henry "Lighthorse-Harry" Lee III (1756-1818) was a Revolutionary War hero, a representative of Virginia in the Continental Congress, a major general in the United States Army, and the ninth Governor of Virginia.
Lee was born near Dumfries, Virginia, the son of Henry Lee II and Lucy Grymes Lee. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and graduated in 1773. He began a career in law. With the commencement of the Revolutionary War, Lee was made a captain of a unit of Virginia dragoons which was attached to the 1st Continental Light Dragoons regiment. He and his troops performed well, and in 1778 Lee was promoted to the rank of major and given command of "Lee's Legion," a mixed troop of cavalry and infantry. The unit was involved in numerous actions, primarily in the southern theater, and it gained renown for its effectiveness as a fighting force. Lee was promoted to lieutenant colonel and came to be known as "Light-Horse Harry" for his horsemanship.
After the war, "Light-Horse Harry" served Virginia as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1786-1788), and then as a member of the state's General Assembly (1789-1791). He was elected the state's ninth governor, serving from 1791 until 1794. In 1794, Lee was the commander of the militia sent by President Washington to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion.
The Panic of 1796/7 hit Lee hard. He invested heavily in land speculation ventures and the market for buyers disappeared during the economic downturn. He continued his career in the military and politics, and held the rank of major general in the U.S. Army from 1798-1800. He represented Virginia in the House of Representatives from 1799-1801. With the death of President Washington on December 14, 1799, Lee was chosen to deliver the eulogy at the national funeral in Philadelphia. He famously described Washington as "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Lee struggled with debt and spent a year in debtor's prison as a result. In July of 1812, Lee suffered severe injuries at the hands of a mob which was unhappy with a Baltimore newspaper's criticisms of the ongoing war. Lee was attempting to defend his friend, the editor of "The Federal Republican" and was beaten severely, suffering internal injuries and head wounds which altered his speech and diminished his eyesight. Five years later, still ailing, and in an attempt to recover from his injuries, Lee left his family and sailed for the West Indies. On his return trip to Virginia he died while visiting the daughter of his Revolutionary War commander General Nathaniel Greene, in Georgia. He is interred in Lexington, Virginia, adjacent to his son Robert E. Lee.
Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870), son of Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee III, gained fame for his command of the Confederate States of America's Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War. Eventually becoming commander of all of the C.S.A.'s military forces, he also had a career in the United States Army, serving for 32 years prior to the dissolution of the Union.
Lee was born at Stratford Hall on the Northern Neck of Virginia, one of the many plantations owned by the Lee family. Lee enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1825 and graduated second in his class. He worked as an engineer and surveyor for the army and was a highly-decorated aide to General Winfield Schott during the Mexican-American War. He saw extensive action during the war and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec. During the conflict he earned several brevet promotions. In 1852, Lee was appointed Superintendent at West Point.
As the southern states began to secede from the Union in 1860, Lee thought it folly and wrote to his son in early 1861, "I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union." As late as March 28, Lee was promoted to colonel in the United States Army. On the advice of General Winfield Scott, President Lincoln offered Lee the rank of major general and command of the U.S. Army. But his native state had just seceded, and Lee was unprepared to raise arms against Virginia. Lee resigned from the U.S. army and after the formation of the Confederacy's army, accepted a generalship therein. Despite his defeat at the Battle of Cheat Mountain in western Virginia (in present-day West Virginia) in November 1861 and the fall of Fort Pulaski in Georgia while he was in charge of that state's defense, Lee was appointed a military adviser to President Jefferson Davis in Richmond.
With the wounding of General Joseph E. Johnston at the Battle of Seven Pines on June 1, 1862, Lee was given command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee launched a series of costly offensives against George McClellan's Army of the Potomac, and the timid Union commander retreated and his advance on Richmond was eventually abandoned. Thus began Lee's famed command of the Army of Northern Virginia. He and his men, usually substantially outnumbered, outgunned, and out-supplied, won a number of decisive victories against any commander President Lincoln sent to take the place of the previously-defeated Union general. At Second Manassas (Second Bull Run), Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, Lee won major victories over numerically-superior foes which enabled him to take the war to the North with his invasions of Maryland and Pennsylvania before being repulsed at the battles of Sharpsburg (Antietam) and Gettysburg respectively. His army's victories were made possible by a staff of excellent generals who earned the respect of the men they commanded and the reluctant admiration of their Union counterparts. Men such as J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, A.P. Hill, Jubal Early, and John Bell Hood proved to be excellent corps and division commanders and Lee trusted them to follow and adapt his orders to the changing conditions on the battlefield.
Lee met his match when President Lincoln placed command of the army in the hands of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was a commander who knew he had a numerically superior force and was prepared to use it to wear down the Army of Northern Virginia. In 1864, Grant marched towards Richmond and Lee met his advance at every turn, usually resulting in tactical draws or even Confederate victories such as at the Battle of Cold Harbor. But unlike Lee's previous adversaries, Grant pushed on, trying to outflank the Confederate forces and take the Confederate capital. While casualties were high on both sides, Lee's outnumbered army could do little more than continue their defense of Richmond. Grant's persistent war of attrition led to a long stalemate at Petersburg that lasted from June 1864 until the following April.
At Petersburg, in a campaign that was a precursor to the methods employed during World War I, both sides built huge lines of trenches and charges out of them towards the enemy were often repulsed with heavy casualties. Desertion was rampant among the Confederate forces and hunger was widespread as supplies ran low. The Union breakthrough finally came on April 2, 1865, and Lee retreated west, hoping to join forces with General Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina. But Grant tenaciously pursued the retreating army, forcing Lee to surrender on April 9, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
After the war, Lee called for reconciliation between North and South and supported President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction plan. On October 2, 1865, Lee became the president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia (now Washington and Lee University). On September 28, 1870, he suffered a stroke and he died on October 12 from pneumonia. He is buried in the crypt of Lee Chapel on Washington & Lee's campus. Later generations of Lees continued the family's tradition of service to their country both in the military and as statesmen. Many members of the family are interred alongside Robert E. Lee at the Lee Chapel.
“That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights… among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursueing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.”
-- George Mason. Virginia Declaration of Rights, May, 1776.
The words of George Mason (1725-1792) have inspired generations of Americans and others throughout the world. Mason was among the first to call for such basic American liberties as freedom of the press, religious tolerance and the right to a trial by jury.
George Mason was born in 1725 to George and Ann Thomson Mason. Their first son and a fourth generation Virginian, Mason lived with his family on a Fairfax County Plantation. His father tragically drowned in a boating accident when Mason was ten, and his mother was left to raise George and his two siblings alone.
After studying with tutors and attending a private academy in Maryland, at age 21 Mason took over his inheritance of approximately 20,000 acres spread across several counties in Virginia and Maryland. Four years later, in 1750, Mason married 16 year old Ann Eilbeck with whom he had nine surviving children. Mason adored Ann and was devastated when she died in 1773 at the age of 39. Relying on his eldest daughter to help run the domestic side of the plantation's operation, Mason remained a widower until 1780 when he married Sarah Brent.
Although highly respected by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Mason did not aspire to join his peers in public office. When he was asked to take Washington's seat in the Virginia legislature, a slot vacated when Washington was named Chief of the Continental Army, Mason reluctantly agreed. In 1776 he was Fairfax County's representative to the Virginia Convention and was appointed to the committee to draft a “Declaration of Rights” and a constitution to allow Virginia to act as an independent political body.
Complaining about the “useless Members” of the committee, Mason soon found himself authoring the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Drawing from the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, among others, Mason asserted, “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights….among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” This document was the first in America to call for freedom of the press, tolerance of religion, proscription of unreasonable searches, and the right to a fair and speedy trial.
In 1787, Mason was chosen to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where he was one of the most vocal debaters. Distressed over the amount of power being given to the federal government and the Convention's unwillingness to abolish the slave trade, Mason refused to sign the Constitution. One of three dissenters, Mason's refusal to support the new Constitution made him unpopular and destroyed his friendship with Washington, who later referred to Mason as his former friend.
Mason's defense of individual liberties reverberated throughout the colonies, however, and a public outcry ensued. As a result, at the first session of the First Congress, Madison took up the cause and introduced a bill of rights that echoed Mason's Declaration of Rights. The resultant first 10 amendments to the Constitution, also called the Bill of Rights, pleased Mason, who said, “I have received much Satisfaction from the Amendments to the federal Constitution, which have lately passed…” Invited to become one of Virginia's senators in the First US Senate, Mason declined and finally was able to retire to Gunston Hall, where he remained until his death on October 7, 1792.
Text provided by Gunston Hall, a member of the Road to Revolution Heritage Trail.
Born in Fauquier County in 1755, John Marshall was the oldest of Thomas and Mary Randolph Keith Marshall's fifteen children. He was home-schooled before attending one year at Campbell Academy in Westmoreland County. He fought in the Revolutionary War and studied law with George Wythe at William & Mary College. After his election to the state legislature in 1782, he moved to Richmond. Within ten years he had became the city's most respected appellate attorney. He served on the city council and as a magistrate. A moderate Federalist, he was influential in the ratification of the U. S. Constitution.
On the national scene Marshall served as Minister to France during the XYZ Affair and was elected to Congress. He served as Secretary of State for President John Adams before Adams appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1801.
John Marshall served on all three levels of government and in all three branches of the federal government. Raised on the frontier in modest circumstances Marshall became one of most dynamic leaders of the new republic and had a distinguished career of public service for 60 years.
John Marshall's legacy to his family was a love of books, a keen wit and a sense of humility, duty, devotion and fidelity. His judicial career is unsurpassed in the history of the United States. His legacy to the nation was a life of service. His judgments shaped the role of government and strengthened the Constitution. He was man of exemplary character, a man of Law.
John Marshall resided in Richmond from 1782-1835 during the time when the city transitioned from a small frontier village into a thriving metropolis. At monthly "lawyer dinners," Richmond's elite gathered in his home to discuss the future of the city. Whether at the helm or behind the scenes, Marshall's imprint was on Richmond's growth and development.
Historian Virginius Dabney said that John Marshall was Richmond's leading citizen for decades. He was a founder of every civic, benevolent and social organization in Richmond established during his lifetime including the volunteer fire department, the Mutual Assurance Society, and the library. He was appointed first president of the Virginia Historical Society in 1831. He was Grand Master of the Masons and made the motion in the Town Council meeting to erect Masons Hall in Shockoe Bottom. Social activities included membership in the Quoits (the ancestor of horseshoes) Club, the Richmond Assembly (dancing), and the Jockey Club (horse racing).
John Marshall had a life-long interest in agriculture. He owned and personally managed a 1,000-acre farm on the Chickahominy River in Henrico and Oak Hill in Fauquier. After Thomas, the sixth Lord Fairfax, died in 1781 Marshall formed a syndicate to purchase the Fairfax manor lands and ultimately acquired 200,000 acres in Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.
In 1799 John Marshall traveled to Kentucky to spend several weeks with his respected father. Between 1800 and 1807 he wrote the first biography of George Washington. After 1801 he continued to make Richmond his home, traveling to Washington for the annual session of the Supreme Court. He presided over the Fourth District of the Federal Circuit Court hearing cases in Richmond and Raleigh, NC.
Marshall enthusiastically supported the economic development of Richmond. He served as a superintendent for the initial sale of stock in the James River Canal and later invested in railroad stock. In 1811-12 he chaired the committee to build Monumental Church. In 1812, he was asked by the state legislature to view "certain waters of the state" to determine the best route to extend the James River Canal to the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. He led this expedition in September 1812 and wrote the final report himself. (His father, surveyor and land agent for Lord Fairfax, had taught him surveying as a youth.) Today the railroad and I-66 west of I-81 follow the route surveyed by "The Great Chief Justice of the United States."
In 1824 he was the official host for Lafayette's last visit to Virginia traveling to Yorktown and Williamsburg to welcome Lafayette to the state of Virginia and to lead the festivities. He gave speeches at all of the public functions and hosted a private dinner for Lafayette at the Eagle Tavern in Richmond. Lafayette was inducted into the Masons and attended Sunday services at Monumental Church and sat in Marshall's pew.
Text provided by The John Marshall House, a member of the Road to Revolution Heritage Trail.