Were Six Presidents Named James?

Key Takeaways:

  • Yes, there were six U.S. presidents with the first name James.
  • The six presidents named James were James Madison, James Monroe, James Polk, James Buchanan, James Garfield, and James “Jimmy” Carter.
  • James was a popular first name choice among early American presidents in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Four of the six presidents served consecutively from 1817 to 1857.
  • James Madison and James Monroe were Founding Fathers and Democratic-Republicans.
  • James Polk was an expansionist Democrat known for acquiring western territories.
  • James Buchanan was the president leading up to the Civil War.
  • James Garfield served only 6 months before being assassinated in 1881.
  • Jimmy Carter, elected in 1976, was the first president with James as a first name in over a century.


The U.S. presidency has seen a long line of distinguished leaders with a diversity of names. When we look closely at this list, one particular first name stands out as being frequently chosen by America’s early presidents – James.

Yes, there were six U.S. presidents who bore the common first name James. This underlines how prominently the name James featured among the upper echelons of early American politics. The fact that four presidents named James served consecutively from 1817 to 1857 is even more remarkable.

This article will explore this intriguing phenomenon and provide a comprehensive look at the six presidents named James. It will analyze their backgrounds, presidential terms, notable achievements, and legacies. Understanding the origins and impacts of these six leaders named James provides a fascinating window into key chapters of early U.S. history.

With its insightful profiles spanning nearly a century and a half, this article will enable readers to fully appreciate the six presidents who carried the name James and bore that mantle with varying degrees of distinction. The depth and breadth of these presidential journeys named James reveal key political dynamics and developments that shaped the growth of the United States from the time of its founding through the late 20th century.

The Six Presidents Named James

Who Were the Six U.S. Presidents Named James?

Yes, there were six presidents named James who served as America’s chief executive at different points in U.S. history. They were:

  • James Madison (1809-1817)
  • James Monroe (1817-1825)
  • James K. Polk (1845-1849)
  • James Buchanan (1857-1861)
  • James Garfield (1881)
  • James Earl “Jimmy” Carter (1977-1981)

Why Was James a Popular Presidential First Name?

The name James emerged as a popular choice due to several reasons:

  • James was a common biblical name taken from the Synoptic Gospels referring to two of Jesus’ disciples. This gave the name strong resonance in Christian American society.
  • The name James also honored the late 16th and early 17th century English kings James I and James II. Use of their name displayed an affinity with America’s former colonial power.
  • James was seen as a serious, scholarly name befitting learned statesmen at the highest level of governance. Its popularity endured through the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • The early presidents named James were Founding Fathers and/or from Virginia, a state producing many early presidents. Geographic clustering played a role.

Four Consecutive Presidents Named James: 1817-1857

A unique aspect was that four consecutive U.S. presidents bore the first name James from 1817 to 1857:

  • James Monroe (1817-1825)
  • James K. Polk (1845-1849)
  • James Buchanan (1857-1861)
  • James Buchanan directly succeeded James K. Polk.

Having four successive presidents carry the same first name was unprecedented. It highlighted the early American preference for the name and its political currency at the time.

Profiles of the Six Presidents Named James

Now let us look at insightful profiles of each of the six presidents named James. This will provide a deeper understanding of their backgrounds, election, governing style, achievements, and legacies.

James Madison (1809-1817)

Background: A Founding Father, Madison authored the Constitution and Bill of Rights. He served as Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State.

Election: Won 1808 and 1812 elections as a Democratic-Republican.

Presidency: Oversaw the War of 1812 with Britain and expansion westward. Strengthened the government and military.

Achievements: Orchestrated annexation of Florida from Spain. Led the country through the War of 1812.

Legacy: Considered the “Father of the Constitution”. Helped establish America’s democratic political system.

James Monroe (1817-1825)

Background: Also a Founding Father, Monroe held various government posts before the presidency. Fought in the Revolutionary War.

Election: Won 1816 and 1820 elections easily as the heir to Democratic-Republicans. Ran unopposed in 1820.

Presidency: Presided over economic growth and western expansion. Issued Monroe Doctrine opposed to European colonization in Americas.

Achievements: Acquired Florida from Spain. Expanded US naval strength. Formulated Monroe Doctrine opposing European interference in Western Hemisphere.

Legacy: Oversaw Era of Good Feelings marked by economic prosperity and strengthened international standing. The Monroe Doctrine became a landmark of U.S. foreign policy.

James K. Polk (1845-1849)

Background: Served as Speaker of the House and Governor of Tennessee. Expansionist vision for the growing nation.

Election: Elected president over Henry Clay as Democratic nominee in 1844.

Presidency: Focused on western territorial expansion. Acquired California and the Southwest in the Mexican-American War.

Achievements: Added more than one million square miles to the nation through victories in the Mexican-American War. Advanced America’s “Manifest Destiny”.

Legacy: Enormously expanded the size of the United States. Fulfilled aspirations for spreading across the continent to Pacific.

James Buchanan (1857-1861)

Background: Secretary of State under Polk. Served as minister to Russia and Britain. Politically experienced.

Election: Won 1856 election as a Democratic nominee endorsed by incumbent Pierce.

Presidency: Tensions escalated between North and South over slavery leading up to Civil War. Struggled to address slavery-related issues.

Achievements: Admitted Minnesota as free state under his administration to maintain balance between slave & free states. Wanted Kansas to enter as slave state.

Legacy: Failure to resolve slavery disputes and secession crisis tainted his legacy. Regarded as one of the worst presidents.

James Garfield (1881)

Background: Had been a college president and Union Army general during Civil War before entering politics.

Election: Elected president as Republican nominee in 1880.

Presidency: Shot by assassin four months into term. Died two months later from medical complications of the gunshot wound.

Achievements: During limited presidency, Garfield had built his cabinet and advanced civil service reform.

Legacy: While viewed positively, Garfield’s premature death derailed his agenda and cut his presidency tragically short.

James Earl “Jimmy” Carter (1977-1981)

Background: Former governor of Georgia. Positioned himself as outsider to Washington politics after Watergate scandal.

Election: Won a close 1976 election against Gerald Ford in the aftermath of the Nixon resignation.

Presidency: Faced economic woes, the 1979 energy crisis, and turbulence abroad including the Iran hostage crisis.

Achievements: Brokered peace between Israel and Egypt with the Camp David Accords. Presided over Panama Canal treaties turning canal over to Panama.

Legacy: Promoted human rights globally. Perceived as an honest and well-meaning president who struggled with multiple crises. Lost 1980 re-election bid. Remained active in humanitarian causes after presidency.

Why Did the Popularity of James as a Presidential Name Decline?

James faded as a chosen presidential first name after the mid-19th century. Several factors may explain this shift:

  • The Civil War and subsequent upheavals sparked desire for change from tradition. James evoked early American history.
  • Immigration diversified the culture. Biblical English names like James lost some dominance.
  • As the presidency modernized, James may have seemed too staid and old-fashioned compared to contemporary names.

The general population also used James much less for babies born in the 20th century. Nevertheless, Jimmy Carter’s 1976 election briefly returned the presidential name James before its long hiatus.

Significance of the Six Presidents Named James

James Madison

  • His political philosophy and crucial role in drafting the Constitution made him “The Father of the Constitution.” This established the U.S. system of federalism, checks and balances, and separation of powers.

James Monroe

  • Issuing the Monroe Doctrine opposing colonization laid foundations for U.S. leadership in the Western Hemisphere based on principles of sovereignty and non-interference.

James K. Polk

  • Polk’s territorial expansion established America as a country stretching from Atlantic to Pacific, fulfilling dreams of Manifest Destiny.

James Buchanan

  • Buchanan’s failures aggravated sectional divides and inability to resolve slavery disputes, contributing to onset of the Civil War.

James A. Garfield

  • Though short, Garfield’s presidency saw the elevation of the office with his educated background. His assassination cut short his reform agenda.

James “Jimmy” Carter

  • Carter oversaw momentous events like the Iran hostage crisis and Egypt-Israel peace. He promoted human rights and carried on public service after the presidency.


In conclusion, yes, there were six U.S. presidents who carried the first name James – Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield, and Carter. Four of these presidents named James governed consecutively in the pivotal pre-Civil War period from 1817-1857.

The profiles and analysis of the six presidents named James provided here showcase their backgrounds, elections, governing challenges and achievements, and lasting impacts on American history. While the dominance of James as a presidential name subsided after the 1850s, its earlier concentration remains an intriguing aspect of U.S. presidential history that offers insights into key eras and developments in America’s formative centuries.


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