Monroe Memorial


President James Monroe
April 28, 1758–July 4, 1831
Hollywood Cemetery
Richmond, Virginia

James Monroe was the fifth president of the United States. He was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, to well-to-do, but not wealthy, parents. He was privately tutored until the age of eleven, and then attended Campbelton Academy in Virginia. One of his classmates was future Chief Justice John Marshall. He then enrolled at the College of William and Mary, but was caught up in the revolutionary spirit. He enlisted and fought in the American Revolution in the Third Virginia Regiment. In 1780, he went back to school, and studied law under Thomas Jefferson.

In 1780, Monroe married seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Kortright who was a great beauty by all accounts. In 1790, Monroe was elected to the United States Senate. For the next twenty-seven years, he held a variety of high-level political offices, serving twice as governor of Virginia, as Secretary of State, and as Secretary of War. He was elected President of the United States and served two terms (1817–1825). Highlights of his presidency were the enactment of the Monroe Doctrine (that declared that the United States would regard any interference in the internal affairs of any states in the Western Hemisphere as an unfriendly act) and the Missouri Compromise (that delineated the parts of the United States where slavery would be allowed). Monroe also advocated the establishment of a refuge for freed slaves in the African nation of Liberia by supporting the efforts of a group called the American Colonization Society. That plan never came to fruition, but, in the midst of the planning, the capital city was named Monrovia, the only foreign capital named after an American president.

James and Elizabeth Monroe were the first couple to live at the newly rebuilt White House after the British burned it in 1814. Unfortunately, their tastes ran well beyond their means. At the time the presidential salary was $9,000 a year. Congress had appropriated $20,000 the first year of Monroe’s term so the couple could buy furniture for the White House, and an additional $18,000 the next year. The couple spent much of the money on French antiques and diverted at least one-third of the money for entertainment. A scandal ensued and Congress asked to be reimbursed for the money spent entertaining. Still, the couple entertained and even used the White House for the marriage of their daughter Maria. When Monroe’s term ended in 1825, he left Washington essentially broke because Congress had withheld his salary until he paid the couple’s entertainment debts. Congress eventually gave him $30,000 of the $53,000 it had withheld. Elizabeth’s health had been in decline for a number of years and she finally succumbed on September 23, 1830, at age 62. She was interred in a vault on their Oak Hill, Virginia estate. James Monroe was convinced to leave Oak Hill. He moved in with his daughter and her husband in New York City where he lived out his remaining months of life. After his death, he was buried in the Gouverneur family vault (their daughter Maria’s husband’s family) in the New York City Marble Cemetery. Rest in peace, James Monroe. Well, not yet.

James Monroe rested peacefully for over twenty years; then, in the 1850’s, in a resurgence of state’s pride, politicians in Virginia started lobbying to bring home all of the deceased presidents who were born in Virginia. The plan to bring all the fallen Virginia-born presidents home never materialized, but the Virginia General Assembly did convince Monroe’s descendants to request that Monroe’s body be brought back to Virginia, and buried in the Dignitaries Circle in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. The owners of the Hollywood Cemetery Company were enthusiastic supporters of the plan, knowing that having Monroe buried in the cemetery would boost lot sales and revenue. Monroe’s body was disinterred from the Gouverneur family vault on the morning of July 2, 1858, and placed in a mahogany coffin studded with thirteen stars in a circle to represent the thirteen original states. Other silver stars were added around the coffin. After the disinterment, a formal ceremony followed at the Church of the Annunciation where ten thousand mourners filed past the draped coffin. The coffin was loaded onto the steamer Jamestown on the East River in New York on July 3, 1858, bound for Richmond via the Atlantic Ocean and the James River. On July 5, 1858, hundreds of mourners slowly walked through the cemetery’s gates following the horse-drawn hearse carrying James Monroe’s remains. His coffin was lowered into the ground at Dignitaries Circle. In late 1859, a 12-foot tall cast-iron monument—manufactured by the Philadelphia company Wood and Perot, and labeled as a birdcage by detractors, was placed over his grave. His wife, daughter, and son-in-law were moved from their burial places and reinterred alongside James Monroe some years later.
Text and photo © Douglas Keister Visit Doug’s Author Page

[address cemetery=”Hollywood Cemetery” street=”412 S Cherry Street” city=”Richmond” state=”Virginia” zip=”23220″]

Powered by Intellibright.