James Andrew McCauley was born on October 7, 1822 in Cecil County, Maryland to Daniel and Elizabeth McCauley. He prepared for college at the Baltimore Classical Institute in Maryland before entering Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania as a freshman in September 1844. He was elected to the Union Philosophical Society and he graduated with highest honors in 1847.
After graduation, McCauley entered the Methodist Episcopal Church and joined the Baltimore Conference in 1850. Shortly following this, he married Rachel M. Lightner on July 8, 1851, with whom he had a daughter, Fanny. He was granted a doctor of divinity degree from his alma mater in 1867 and joined the Board of Trustees in 1869. In 1872, McCauley accepted the position as the fourteenth president of the College, remaining as such for the next sixteen years.
Immediately following his acceptance of the office, in September 1872 he authorized the founding of the Dickinsonian, the College newspaper still in production. Under his presidency, the College undertook an expansion of the campus that was unprecedented in the life of the institution thus far. By 1885, due to the efforts of Charles Francis Himes, the Tome Scientific Building was already in use. Bosler Memorial Hall was completed, as was the Old Gymnasium, in 1888. Another significant development in Dickinson history occurred during the McCauley presidency, when in the autumn of 1884 Zatae Longsdorff was admitted to the class of 1887. Seven years before, in 1877, the Board had ruled that women could be admitted to the College on the same terms as men, but Longsdorff was the first female to take advantage of this policy.
In 1888, the 66 year old McCauley resigned from the presidency and returned to the pastorate. He later combined his preaching with a professorship of historical and systematic theology at Morgan College. Reverend James Andrew McCauley passed away on December 12, 1896 in Baltimore Maryland at the age of 77. On June 6, 1925, the McCauley Memorial Room in Old West was dedicated in his memory, the gift of one of his students, Lemuel T. Appold, class of 1882. The room was intended to serve the students as a recreation and study room, but also became the site for several decades of meetings of the faculty with the president of the College.