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James Barbour (June 10, 1775 June 7, 1842) was an Americanmarker lawyer, amember and speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, the 19th Governor of Virginia, the first Governor to reside in the current Virginia Governor's Mansionmarker, a U.S. Senator from 1814-1825, and the United States Secretary of War from 1825-1828.Barbour was a renowned statesman and orator. His abilities to persuade by speech were noted by several of his peers, including John Quincy Adams. Barboursville, Virginiamarker located in Orange Countymarker was named after James Barbour. The ruin of Barbour's mansion, Barboursvillemarker, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be found on the grounds o Barboursville Vineyards in the Madison-Barbour Rural Historic District in Barboursville, Virginia. The mansion was designed by James Barbour's friend, Thomas Jefferson. Barbour County, Alabamamarker is named in his honor. Barbour county in West Virginia, as well as Barboursville, West Virginia and Barbourville, Kentucky are all named in honor of James Barbour. He was the brother of Philip Pendleton Barbour, as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court as well as the first cousin of John S. Barbour and first cousin, once removed of John S. Barbour, Jr..

Early years

James Barbour was born in Barboursville, Virginiamarker in Orange Countymarker on June 10, 1775. Barbour was the son of Thomas Barbour, who held a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and Mary Pendleton Thomas, both of Orange County, Virginia. His family was one of the first to settle in Orange County, which proved to be lucrative for the family. By the time of James’s birth, the Barbour family owned over 2,000 acres (8 km²) and held several slaves. Much of that wealth, however, dissipated before James could acquire a formal education. James was educated, in part, at Gordonsville, Virginia by James Waddell. He served as deputy sheriff of Orange County, beginning in 1792. Shortly thereafter, in 1794, he was admitted to the Virginia Bar. On October 29, 1792, Barbour married Lucy Johnson, who was the daughter of Benjamin Johnson who served in the House of Burgesses. With wedding gifts from his father, James was able to slowly acquire his own personal wealth. By 1798, he owned several slaves and was prepared to begin his own plantation.

House of Delegates

Barbour was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1796. Hewas the youngest member of the House. During his tenure, Barbour wasknown for his eloquent speech. He served on many committees in theHouse and even as chairman on several committees, including theCommittee of Privileges and Elections and the Finance Committee. Heheld the role of Speaker of the House of Delegates – a seat he held formany terms.During these years, Barbour held strong to his Virginian Republicanbeliefs. He vigorously opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798and used his known skills in rhetoric to support the [[VirginiaResolutions]]. Barbour believed the Acts and their supporters to be athreat to the United States, stating “to make an expected attack fromabroad a pretext for attacking the principles of liberty at home hasdrawn aside the curtain and clearly illuminated for all who are willingto see.” Holding strong to the ideals on which the U.S. was formed,Barbour refused to support any act he believed to give the Executiveunchecked powers. Among his acts in the House of Delegates, Barbourbelieved his greatest to be the Act which provided for the LiteraryFund of Virginia. The Act, passed on February 2, 1810, provided fundingfor public education in each county in the Commonwealth. Barbourstrongly believed society would progress only through education.Barbour later requested that the only inscription on his tombstone be areference to this Act. Like many of his time, Barbour was a figure whoto the modern mind appears conflicted, if not hypocritical. Whilebelieving society could progress through education, he also believedintellectual abilities were connected with landownership.

Governor of Virginia

In 1811, Barbour declared his candidacy for the governorship. However,Barbour lost to the incumbent governor, George William Smith. On December 26, 1811, Smith died in a fire at theRichmond Theatre. On January 3, the Legislature convened and appointedBarbour governor. At the time, the country was on the verge of war withBritain. Barbour was in favor of the war, which he viewed as the onlymeans by which to end British interference with the sovereignty of theU.S. As such, he began preparing the state for war. Barbour, whosefather had trained the Orange militia, was aware of the inadequacies ofVirginia’s militia. Accordingly, he sought appropriations for trainingand arming a stronger militia on February 11, 1812. Barbour urged thecommanders of the militias from each county to prepare for defense ofthe country. He personally toured the tidewater region, which offeredsafe harbors for a British invasion. All of these acts earned Barbourthe title of “the war governor.” On June 18, 1812, Congress declaredwar. So began the War of 1812. Perhaps because of his preparationfor war, Barbour was reelected Governor in November 1812 withoutopposition. However, by 1813, Barbour was opposed by those who believedhis strong policies of national unity were detrimental. Again, Barbourwas elected governor. During this final term in 1814, Barbour finallyconvinced the Legislature to approve a plan of organizing 10,000 troopsto be selected for a militia under Federal control. However, theTreaty of Ghent brought the war to an end.Barbour’s governorship also included many other acts, includingexploration of the upper James River. He receivedfunding to improve the roads of Virginia. He was also the firstGovernor to inhabit the Virginia Governor’s Mansion, designed byAlexander Parris.His contemporaries praised Barbour for his leadership. Barbour wasviewed as an effective leader, whose executive powers, while strongerand more coherent than many of his predecessors, were adequatelyutilized to protect Virginia. Barbour also received the praise of thepeople of Virginia, who sent resolutions thanking the Governor for hisstrong and apt leadership during the war.

U.S. Senator

On December 1, 1814, the Legislature of Virginia voted to appoint Barbour as the successor to Richard Brent to the United States Senate. Barbour, who had previously opposed its formation, now voted in favor of a national Bank. Bill after bill failed to pass or survive veto. President James Madison, fearing bankruptcy, sought the assistance of his friend, James Barbour. Barbour introduced into the Senate a bill composed by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander James Dallas. This Bill, calling for $50,000,000 in capital, passed. Interestingly, Barbour served in the Senate contemporaneously with his brother Philip Pendleton Barbour, who served in the House. Often, their votes opposed each other, as Barbour began to vote in line with Senators such as John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay. Barbour’s actions during his service as Senator include:
  • Proposing a committee on roads and canals
  • Advocating of the Bonus Bill (authorizing spending the bonus from the bank on improvements)
  • Proposing a constitutional amendment granting Congress authority to appropriate money for improvements
  • Opposing efforts to reduce the national army, supporting a bill abolishing imprisonment of debtors, and introducing the Navigation Act of 1818. The Act closed U.S. ports to any ships arriving from British ports closed to U.S. ships. Barbour hoped the Act would encourage the British to open their ports, thus promoting international trade. However, these efforts failed. Finally, a compromise was reached in 1823, when the Elsewhere Act was passed allowing for reciprocal trade.

Barbour was elected President pro tempore of the Senate in 1819. The 16th Congress, over which Barbour presided, decided on the Missouri Compromise. Barbour sought to have the bill admitting Missouri combined with the bill admitting Maine in an attempt to deny the Northern Senators an opportunity to gain 4 anti-slavery Senators. Barbour’s speech focused on the rights of the people of Missouri to decide for themselves whether to be a free or slave state. Perhaps foreseeing the future or perhaps merely engaging in his verbose nature, Barbour stated, Over President Monroe’s advice, Barbour introduced his motion to combine the two bills. Thus, a compromise was met – for better or worse.

During his term of service, Barbour persuaded the Senate to pass a resolution giving an honorary sword to Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky for his efforts in the Battle of the Thamesmarker in 1813. Johnson and Barbour would become quick friends following Barbour’s efforts. This friendship proved important for Barbour, who was appointed Secretary of War by President John Quincy Adams at the behest of Johnson.

Secretary of War

Barbour was confirmed as the Secretary of War following Adams’sinauguration on March 4, 1825. The War Department’s main functions wereto oversee Indian affairs and manage the army. Barbour’s first ordealwas dealing with Governor George Troup of Georgia, who wished thegovernment to remove Creek Indians from 5 million acres (20,000 km²) ofland. Adams signed a treaty approving the removal shortly after takingoffice. Barbour, however, convinced Adams and Congress to abrogate thetreaty. Troup was irate. Following months of threats from Troup,Barbour successfully purchased most of the land from the Creeks. Troupwas not happy and threatened to invade the lands the Indians retainedin the deal. Barbour and Adams agreed the federal government would needto intervene should Georgia intervene. To avoid war, Barbour purchasedthe remaining lands and prepared the Creek Indians for removal to landswest of the Mississippi. Barbour proposed setting aside lands west ofthe Mississippi for an Indian Territory. Those Indians who refused tomove onto these lands were to be assimilated into white society. Hehoped the tribal structure would dissipate, thus facilitating theincorporation of the territory into the U.S. as a state. His proposal,based on a misunderstanding of Indian culture and undoubtedly Westernbeliefs on the progress of civilization, failed.

Final years of service

In 1826, Barbour was considered for the vice-presidential nomination inthe upcoming 1828 elections. Barbour quickly opposed this. Instead,Barbour sought an appointment as Minister to England. Critics claimedBarbour was seeking a “harbor in the storm” from the approachingelection. Andrew Jackson, who was anti-nationalist, opposed theideals which Barbour supported. Barbour’s ministry was marked byacceptance into European intellectual circles. On July 1, 1828, Barbourwas awarded the degree of LL.D. from the University of Oxford. Afterhis ministry, Barbour returned to Virginia, where he announced hiscandidacy for the General Assembly. However, Barbour’s nationalisticpolicies made him unfavorable to the Virginian Republicans. Theelection, in which his opponent was an illiterate man, was extremelyclose. Barbour narrowly escaped defeat. However, after he was declaredwinner, the election was contested. Barbour promised to retire shouldit prove that he in fact had lost the election. Although no such proofwas ever found, Barbour retired on February 16, 1831 due to thehostility in the Assembly against him.


After his retirement from the Assembly, Barbour sought refuge in hisfamily home at Barboursville. Barbour remained somewhat active inpolitical life, making appearances and giving speeches to support hispolitical friends. One such speech led an observer to declare “Gov.Barbour presented an imposing appearance, with striking face, long,shaggy eyebrows, and head covered with silvery flowing locks; with amajestic and sonorous voice, he filled one’s conception of a RomanSenator in the last days of the Republic.” Shortly thereafter,Barbour’s health began to decline. His last months of life were spentat Barboursville. However, on June 7, 1842, surrounded by his wife andnumerous children, Barbour died.

Further reading

  • Lowery, Charles; James Barbour, a Jeffersonian Republican; 1984, University of Alabama Press; (2004 paperback: ISBN 0-8173-5076-4)
  • Long, William Stapleton; "James Barbour"

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