JAMES PLEASANTS JR. was born in Goochland County, Virginia. After graduating from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, he studied law and began the practice of law in Amelia County. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates for five consecutive terms, from 1797 to 1802, and was Clerk of the House of Delegates from 1803 to 1811. He was then elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1811 until 1819, at which time he resigned to accept a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. He left that position to accept the governorship of Virginia, to which he was elected by the state legislature for three one-year terms. During his gubernatorial administration, Pleasants showed interest in educating children of the poor and improving the penitentiary system. He objected to a protective tariff as contrary to the interests of the South. He was a supporter of colonization as a solution to the slave problem and was elected vice president of an auxiliary branch of the National Colonization Society. He later served as a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829 and 1830. Although elected twice to the Supreme Court of Virginia, he declined to serve.
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