Monroe is remembered for a lot of things (including, endlessly, the Monroe Doctrine). But at Who2 HQ we tend to think of him as the first non-Founding Father president.
The previous four presidents — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison — all were significant leaders, in thought and deed, in the American Revolution. Monroe was only 18 when the Declaration of Independence was signed, so it’s not exactly his fault. It’s true that he rose fast — he was the youngest member of the Congress of the Confederation, which voted to ratify the Treaty of Paris and make a victorious peace with the British — but in general, his contributions came later.
However, Monroe did fight in the Continental Army, was wounded at the Battle of Trenton, and spent the winter of 1777 with Washington at Valley Forge. (Aside: 200 years later, a different James Monroe won the Congressional Medal of Honor by diving on a grenade in Vietnam.) And as president from 1817-25, Monroe was yet another Virginian in the top office.
Monroe also continued a tradition started by Jefferson and Adams: Dying on the Fourth of July. The tradition was short-lived; he was the last president to die on that day. Calvin Coolidge is the only president born on July 4th, in 1872.
Finally, about that word “semiquincentennial”: It sounds a little bogus, but it’s the real deal. A centennial is 100 years, so a quincentennial is 500 years — and the “semi” is added to make half 500, or 250 years.
And it’s vastly preferable to the alternative, bicenquinquagenary.