As America moves to inaugurate our 45th president, we think its worth noting that Virginia is the state that has the most native sons who have served in the highest office. There are 8 in total, how many can you name before looking at the list below? What do you know about their contributions to our collective governance?
The first and probably best-known president hails from Mount Vernon, Virginia. George Washington set national precedents for in many ways, like creating a Supreme Court (originally just 6 members), creating cabinet positions and defining their roles, and established the tradition of a presidential farewell address.
Washington also shares an example of American perseverance: he lost more military battles than he won. Through hard work, sticking to his beliefs, and practicing leadership, he is remembered as one of the greatest American Generals.
School children across the Commonwealth of Virginia visit Monticello in Charlottesville, VA and learn about the history of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson not only was the author of the Declaration of Independence, but an explorer and scientist. He helped found the Library of Congress in 1815, and donated some of the original 6,700 volumes that made up the library. Jefferson’s lesson to America is about the importance of educational access, and the value of discovery.
Born in Belle Grove Plantation in King George, VA, James Madison is best-known for being the “Father of the Constitution,” and for writing the Federalist Papers which helped to describe the logic of the U.S. Constitution. Madison flexed the President’s War Powers by calling the congress to form an army prior to the War of 1812, a war that spanned 3 years. This war helped to define America as an independent economic actor on the world stage.
President Monroe was born in Westmoreland County. After his inauguration, he was hailed as the leader of an “Era of Good Feelings.” The good feelings didn’t last. Monroe’s nationalist ideals become contentious during the negotiations Missouri Compromise which allowed Maine and Missouri to join the Union, but angered states-rights advocates by outlawing future slave-owning states to join the union. The Monroe Doctrine also entangled the US military in protecting Latin America from expanding European colonialism.
William Henry Harrison
America’s shortest presidency was that of Harrison. President Harrison was born in 1773 near Richmond, but later moved to Ohio and continued a political career. Although he lost to Van Buren in 1837, he ran again in 1840 to win. Many are familiar with the story of his longest-in-history inaugural address, and refusal to wear a coat despite the wet and cold rain. This may have been a compounding part of how he contracted pneumonia and died just 4 weeks later.
Immediately following Harrison’s death, John Tyler assumed the presidency. Tyler’s political career started at just 21 years-old in the Virginia legislature. As president, he is known for the expansion of the West through the Pre-Emption Act, and for one of the first treaties with China. He also expanded the south by annexing Texas and signed Florida into becoming the 27th state.
Orange County was the birthplace of President Taylor, although he grew up in Kentucky. As President, he was both a nationalist, and a slave-owner who opposed creation of new slave-states. Contrary to some speculators, Taylor’s sudden death was disproved in 1991 as a poisoning.
President Wilson was born in 1856 in Stauton, Virginia. As president, he is often heralded as a progressive reformer who supported progressive taxation and signed the 19th Amendment, securing women’s right to vote. The same progressive reform groups who sided with Wilson on social and economic issues were against Wilson’s advocacy to join WWI which prompted his slogan that WWI would “make the world safe for democracy.”
As Virginians observe Inauguration day on Friday, we have a history of birthing leaders we can be proud of.