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James Alexander

Union or Secession
James Alexander (1804–1887)
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JAMES ALEXANDER (1804–1887)

James Alexander (4 March 1804–20 October 1887), journalist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the eldest of three children, all sons, of James Alexander, a prominent cabinetmaker, and Elizabeth Williston Alexander. He attended public school until the age of thirteen, when he went to work in the first of several Boston shops where he learned the trade of printing. In 1820 he began an apprenticeship with the Boston firm of Wells and Lilly and completed his service on 4 March 1825. In December 1826 he accepted a position as superintendent in the offices of the Brooklyn Journal and Windham County Advertiser in Brooklyn, Connecticut.

Alexander moved to Charlottesville in November 1828 and began work as one of the printers of Thomas Jefferson Randolph's pioneering edition of the Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, which Charlottesville publisher Frank Carr issued in four volumes in 1829. Jefferson's political views profoundly influenced Alexander, and except for the years 1830 to 1835, when he edited and published the Virginia Republican in Abingdon, he lived the remainder of his life in Jefferson's hometown of Charlottesville. On 20 December 1832 he married Rebecca Ann Wills, of Albemarle County. They had three sons and three daughters.

Alexander returned to Charlottesville in May 1835 and started the Jeffersonian Republican in opposition to Charlottesville's Whig newspaper, the Advocate. Solidly Democratic from the beginning, Alexander's paper frequently included articles by such party supporters as Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Frank G. Ruffin, Shelton F. Leake, and William Henry Brockenbrough. It just as often attacked the rival Advocate and local Whig politicians, most notably Alexander Rives. The Jeffersonian Republican was a highly partisan newspaper that increasingly took a strong position in favor of southern rights during the antebellum years.

In 1860 Alexander served as secretary of the local Breckenridge Club in support of the southern Democratic Party presidential nominee, John C. Breckenridge. Alexander supported secession in 1861 and championed the Confederacy during the Civil War. The war forced him to suspend publication of the Jeffersonian Republican in 1862. He may have written subsequently for other newspapers. Dispatches about Charlottesville published in the Lynchburg Daily Republican over the pseudonym "Monticello" have been convincingly attributed to him. He continued to work as a job printer during the war and also served from 1862 to 1866 as an alderman of Charlottesville and as an overseer of the poor. In his capacity as alderman, Alexander was one of the city officials who surrendered Charlottesville to the Union army on 3 March 1865. Although he took great pride in his New England ancestry, he was not easily reconciled to the Union. When news of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln reached Charlottesville, Alexander expressed his delight to a celebrating crowd, jumping up and down with excitement and repeating John Wilkes Booth's words (and Virginia's motto) "sic semper tyrannis."

Following the Civil War, Alexander continued printing for local businesses and for the University of Virginia, but he sold the Jeffersonian Republican before it resumed publication in 1873. He was editor of the paper in 1873 and 1874 and later contributed occasional articles, including a series of personal recollections of life in Charlottesville during his early years there that are a rich source of local color and anecdote. James Alexander died in Charlottesville on 20 October 1887 and was buried in Maplewood Cemetery.

Contributed by R. H. F. Lindemann

Quotation in Helen R. Duke, ed., "Recollections of Judge R. T. W. Duke, Jr.," Papers of the Albemarle County Historical Society 3 (1942–1943): 49.

This biography, with a bibliographical note, appears in John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: The Library of Virginia, 1998– ), 1:60–61.

Copyright 1998 by the Library of Virginia. All rights reserved.