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tv   The Presidency Dolley Madisons Political Talents  CSPAN  April 30, 2021 11:47am-12:41pm EDT

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next on the presidency, we hear about dolley madison's political talents and the work she did with her husband james in political excitement during the white house years. kat imhoff and james montpelier co-hosted this lecture.
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>> here with us to talk about the female occupant is kat imhoff. she is the first german woman to overlook the insight. it has grown and advanced in every way imaginable. it's been quite fun to watch at a distance of the great work that's happening there. before joining montpelier in 2015, she served in the state of montana and after that the thomas jefferson foundation in monticello. she also served as education director in the state of virginia along with many important roles here in the state. she is clearly one of the great stars in the virginia community. we're so thrilled to co-sponsor
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this lecture but have her speak to you all today. please join me in welcoming kat imhoff. [ applause ] >> well, i really am thrilled to be here, and i was joking that we obviously don't have a lot of oahu fans. but any of you, if you hear anything about the score, we'll pause to see what's going on. i have to start with a quote from dolley madison, of course. i sometimes wish myself with you for a while, for i love richmond, because there is so much soul, so much real kindness in its enlightened society. we remember her as the quintessential hostess, the
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stylish lady and the figure that helped rescue george washington's portrait. but for over a century after dolley madison, american companies used her name ice cream. they really crystalized her image into this ideal woman, the epitome of gracious hospitality. i hope to prove to you this afternoon that doll li's legacy and life was so much more than that stereotype. in fact, dolley shaped this nation by using hospitality to achieve political ends. she was always loyal and very devoted to her husband and she was an invaluable support when he was a congressman, secretary of state and, of course, advanced his life into the presidency. and she were -- i believe she and james were the original power couple. she also played a really critical role in shaping the social protocol of that brand-new capital, washington,
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d.c., and thus, how we governed ourselves in our early days. and she did it with a totally unique style. bright, lively, charming, warm, a, quote, faux to dullness in every form. a good friend said of dolley. and she was also very resourceful and shrewd. as usual, i get ahead of myself. let's take a step back and answer, who was dolley before she helped define the role of the first lady. she considered herself a virginiaen but honestly, she was born in north carolina. in fact, this is her 250th birthday this year. her parents john and mary moved to a quaker community in north carolina where they lived for three years. i love the adult dolley. she described this as a brief visit to relatives. she moved back to virginia when she was 1 years old. she got that right.
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she had seven siblings that survived to adulthood but only three make it past their 20s. in 1783 her father's quaker conscious led him to a decision to free his slaves. manumition was legal and a majority of quaker freed their slaves and by 1784 you had to free your slaves in order to remain a quaker. so, her father did. looking for a way to support the family without having enslaved people, dolley's father moved all of them to philadelphia, which was the largest and most cosmopolitan city in america, the largest quaker community. dolley makes an amazing impression at the very beginning. here's a quote from quaker anthony morris. i don't know how you think about quakers, but i always think of them as pretty button-down plain people. here's the quote. she came upon our comparatively cold hearts in philadelphia
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suddenly and unexpectedly with all the delightful influences of a summer sun and soon she raised the mercury in the thermometers of the heart to fever heat. that's dolley. so, dolley made quite a different impression on some of the stricter quaker ladies. they found fault with her capes and her gowns, probably because they were a little too worldly and stylish. dolley was never the most model of quaker. as a child, for example, she treasured gifts that had come from her grandmother's old-fashioned jewelry. she kept them in a little bag around her neck, you know, lest offend anybody with her jewelry. on a walk through the woods one day the string broke and she lost all the jewelry. she talks about this be, the first heartbreak in her young childhood. after moving to philadelphia, dolley's father started up a laundry starch making business, but he really wasn't very good at it and he found himself bankrupt.
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in addition to that, you could not be in bankruptcy and remain a quaker either and he was read out of the church he so loved. this is really the first blow to dolley's young life was a plunge of her father into a deep depression. he went to bed and he died in his bed three years later at the age of 52. and dolley and her siblings, her mother, really felt the pinch of hard times. her mother maybe having a better head for business took the house and made it into a boarding house for congressmen. this is going to play an important role later in dolley's life. just remember that little tidbit. ever the dutiful daughter, or maybe not so dutiful, but on her father's death bed he really asked her to marry a young quaker lawyer named john todd, which she did. the couple had two children together. and, you know, her life looked pretty bright. young, up and coming lawyer. we would probably never have heard about dolley madison, or
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certainly not dolley, but the yellow fever epidemic swept through philadelphia in the summer of 1793. it killed first her in-laws and then it killed her husband and infant son on the same day. she was actually sick but, obviously, recovered. so, by the time dolley meets congressman james madison, she's already had a lot of grief in her life. as this young widow with a toddler son, dolley started to attract a fair share of interest in philadelphia. an acquaintance later wrote about her, her smile, her conversation, her manners are so engaing it's no wonder a young woman with fine blue eyes and large animation should, indeed, be a queen of hearts. i have some props next. she is a 26-year-old widow. he is a 43-year-old bachelor.
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i know. i couldn't help myself. she is voluptuous at 5'78". a a slender, if you like him you said he was 5'6". if you didn't like him, you said he was 5'2". on the surface they didn't have much in common but in the years ahead their marriage will be a loving union and political partnership we've never seen the likes of. madison saw dolley on the streets of philadelphia when he was walking with his buddy, aaron burr. they were colleagues from princeton. he asked aaron burr to introduce them and that started it all. dolley sends a letter to her dear friend. thou must come to me. aaron burr says the great little madison has asked him to see me this morning. that's how that all started. as the courtship progressed, katherine coles passed on this
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message to dolley from james madison. in is what -- by the way, just heads up. we are not in the repressed victorian period. now for mr. madison, he told me i might say what i please to you about him. to begin with, he thinks so much of you in the day that he has lost his tongue. at night he dreams of you and starts in the sleep, calling on you to relieve his flame where he burns to such an excess that he will surely be consumed and he hopes your heart will be callous to every other swain but himself. he has consented to everything i have wrote about him with sparkling eyes. how could you refuse that, right? by the late summer dolley accepts james' proposal and the we had is set for september 15, 1794. for the next two years dolley is a congressman's wife. with the inauguration of john adams as president in 1797, james madison and dolley retire to montpelier, there for a couple of years, only to come
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back in 1801 and he's going to be -- mod son is going to be thomas jefferson's secretary of state and finally he becomes president. with her husband's return to politics, dolley is returned to washington, d.c., the city she is going to ultimately conquer. now, dolley's role as a political wife revolved around being a hostess but it went so much further than just planning menus or guest lists. she used, i would say maybe even weaponized traditional female scales like emotional intelligence and empathy to bring political adversaries together in social settings and consequently to further her husband's career. and this was very important because, if you think back to the earliest days of our nation, you know, we were really brilliant and went long on constitution. what an amazing document. but on the more practical side of life, city of washington was in its infancy and it was literally a muddy, rural, swampy, ranshackle of a place.
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in the absence of many bureaucratic or administrative channels to get things done, social gatherings were where you could get the work and get people together to make things happen. and lest we forget, politics was fraught with conflict in this period. so much was at stake in charting the course of this new nation. so much so that there were actually fisticuffs on the floor of congress and they would fight duels, so it's a little better today. with the french revolution, with its very radical democratic ideals, had very deeply polarized the federalists and the republicans. there was not much of meeting of minds. so, when dolley starts holding gatherings, they are foremost these welcoming, neutral spaces where political differences can kind of be addressed and passions and beliefs can be sort
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of expressed without any loss of dignity. they're a safe zone. let's face it, there wasn't much else to do in washington, d.c. so, dolley had as the wife of secretary of state, she had already begun setting a tone for socializing in washington under jefferson's administration. jefferson is, of course, a widower, but even if his wife had been alive to serve as his hostess, he still strongly disapproved of lavish state receptions, dinners and balls. he thought them austen tashs and not republic. and women he thought of as both unpredictable and a corrupting influence. so, the final thing is he always liked to control the political discourse. one night he might have all federalists over and the next night he would have all republicans over but he would never mix things up. meanwhile, dolley like her husband is a practical realist. she's trying to make this theory
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of men of virtue serving the republic actually works. rather than fight people's natural tendencies, she's busy working with them. she brings people of different opinions together. she includes women because rather than seeing women as unpredictable and corrupting, she actually thought they could be very important as civilizing force. men would maybe be forced to be more polite around them, tempers would be calmed, better discussion would ensue. an example where we can see this play out, and many of you may know about this, but it was called even in its time the mary affair. so, president jefferson, when he got in office, decided to create a new style, which he called pelmel. we might say helter skelter today. it was as far away as you could get from sort of the aristocratic manners of the royal court. remember, again, no one knew what we wanted our protocol to be. no one had protocol for a republic.
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in fact, there's this great letter madison writes to jefferson just about this subject. madison says, we are in a wilderness without a single foot step to guide us. our successors will have an easier task and degrees will become smooth, short and certain. i lieu this quote because jefferson did exactly the opposite. for him the way was not smooth at the beginning. the first incident, anthony mary arrives from washington and he's representative of great britain. and jefferson meets mary for the first time. jefferson is dressed in his bathrobe and slippers. does not go over well. next jefferson decides, i'm going to host a welcoming dinner. since the marys are the guests for this dinner, elizabeth mary would have been expected to be taken to dinner first by the highests ranking man, which would have been president jefferson, and mr. mary would
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have taken the second ranking woman, mrs. dolley. and he grabs dolley's arm to escort her into the dining room and she's frantically whispering, take mrs. mary. he ignores the advice. james madison then escorts elizabeth mary in and the ambassador walks in without anybody on his arm. we think it's humorous but it was scandal louse, it was embarrassing and it was in the papers all over europe. and the worst yet the madisons hold a dinner and a similar thing happens. as a result of all these incidents which he considered tremendous snubs, ambassador mary began only going to a few gatherings and he didn't take his wives and he encouraged all the other foreign ministers to follow example, meaning there would be very little opportunities for diplomacy to go forward and for american politicians to get to know one another. it was not a good situation. so, dolley took it upon herself, really mended fences with
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mrs. mary, became her best friend, even though i don't know that she particularly liked her. dolley may have also felt things had gotten really out of hand because jefferson's opponents took him to task not only for his role in what was called the mary affair, but they also started fabricating stories that jefferson had had an affair with dolley or was pimping dolley out to the diplomatic w hoar. seriously. dolley's understanding of diplomacy went much, much deeper than just mending fences. although her sense of appropriate feminism behavior made her claim to be less interested in politics than she actually was. when she was in philadelphia for medical treatment for her knee, which was a very rare time she was separated from james. they were almost always in each other's back pockets, so she wrote him a letter inquiring, quote, some information respecting the war with spain in
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disagreement with england. as generally expected her that i am at a loss what to surmise but i'm extremely anxious to hear on the subject. i believe you would not desire your wife to be the act of partisan but, dot, dot, dot. james recognized that dolley's difidence, he recognized it for what it was, which was a bit of pretense. he replies with this thoughtful analysis of potential for war that respected dolley's intelligence, and then he closed with the statement, of the party line, that dolley could safely repeat, and this is from james. the power, however, of deciding questions of war lies with congress, and that is always our answer to news mongerers. as befitted republican wives and mothers, women from every social sphere stayed very well informed and engaged in political matters during that time period. many ladies of washington, including mrs. madison, went to
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the galleries of congress and went and listened in on the supreme court. yet dolley always remained, or at least appeared to, above the political fray. she often quoted her formula for this nonpartisan sentiment saying, i confess, i do not admire the contentions of party, political or civil. i would rather fight with my hand than my tongue. so, the white house is not the only place where dolley is practicing politics. she and her sister, anna, would obviously host sometimes at the white house when president jefferson had women in the company. but dolley is entertaining even more at the madison's home on f street and it's the new power hub. margaret byrd smith records that about this situation. after the president's house, the house of the secretary of state was the resort of most company. even party spirit, virulent and em bittered by her gentleness was disarticled of disparity.
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individuals who never visited the presidents nor met at any other ministerial houses could not resist the softening influences of her disposition. so, dolley's hospitality had a couple of prps. one, of course, she's creating the social sphere where political opponents could interact cordally and as the election of 1808 is beginning, she's beginning to smooth a pass for her husband to succeed jefferson. madison never liked to campaign for himself. and it seemed -- but social skills of dolley could put him far and ahead. congressman mitchell wrote to his wife that dolley was a secret weapon in the election of 1808. she contrasted james madison, who he said gives dinners and makes generous display to the members with another democratic republican, george clinton, who lives snug in his lodgings and keeps aloof from such
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captivating exhibitions. the secretary of state has a wife to aid his pretensions and clinton has nothing of female sucor. the great quote is when the federalist candidate lost to james madison, he said, i was beaten by mr. and mrs. madison. i might had a better chance had i faced mr. madison alone. finally in march of 1809, dolley finds her center stage as wife of the president. of course she had experience hosting on f street and the white house. she knew how to use her social skills to use for all these causes and she knew what it was like to face unwarranted criticism simply for being in the public eye. now it's time for her to put all these lessons to good work. she accomplished all she did with this amazing, unique style. style was very important to this young nation.
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you know, what we had done was unprecedented in the world. we set up this republic, protecting the natural rights of its citizens. we had this entirely new way of working together as a political body in a world where most power was still held by very, very few people. so how we did things was going to in a way define who we become. every government needs protocol to function but the only model we were really familiar with was the european courts. we needed a new american way of how to be. and dolley got that. first of all, she understood that personal attire is actually a political message. and if it's done right, it can be a very powerful one. after james was elected president, she knew she needed to wear clothes that had grandeur but not too much. you have to hit that balance. you have to be elgants but acknowledge we're a government that's based on merit and
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ability. and so she chose the grecian lines of the empire style. stately, striking and simple. she struck the right note with her husband's attire. he would modestly wear, and he did at the inauguration, american-raised merino lamb wool and at the very first inaugural balance, which was james and dolley madison's, she own chose to wear american pearls over the more aristocratic diamonds that were not from america. so, it was impossible to please everyone. of course, dolley had her fashion critics. one relative by marriage talked about the madison family saying the madison kith and kin don't like dolley. she heard too much of her low neckline and short sleeves and her turbine and gay life in washington society. and others mocked dolley, calling her our queen dala lala, but the effects of her taste and
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judgment were usually very gratifying and her attire was frequently described in fashion by the fashion mavens of the day and sought to be intimidated by many. she was considered america's republic queen, neither too normal or too common. dolley could be the showy one of the two of them. james madison was soft-spoken, slight, always wore a little black suit and he was nowhere near the charismatic male figure which was frankly feared in the republic. they did not want someone to become the king. she could also make madison more popular by being that glittering presence. she had another area that was really important in terms of impact. that was decorating the white house. she really needed to do this because up to this point the adams had lived there but it was unfinished. abigail adams hung her laundry in what we now call the east
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room. thomas jefferson had made architectural improvements to the mansion but he furnished it with furnishings from monticello and he took those. congress did appropriate $20,000 and madison selected benjamin henry latrobe to supervise the work. sh was a time when mostly men choose household furnishings and james makes this unusual choice by that time period to delegate the project to dolley. she really understood that this was going to be a symbol of the presidency and also of the federal government. and so she decided to choose objects that would be kind of classical republican simplicity, but still be able to stand the test against european fashionable elegance. she, again, chose this grecian theme. now, this neoclassicical style is more than just a fashion statement. it's reflecting the values of the new republic by honoring those ancient republican ideals
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of civic virtue. it's also saying, look, this young america, we're just as sophisticated as old europe, and we don't have to put up with the monarchy. dolley used as the wife of the president this tone to really also build on the approaches that had been there before. you know, with washington and adams, it was pretty courtly. when you would go to meet them, they would actually be standing in the little dias and they would bow to you, you would bow to them and move on. we've heard about jefferson and helter skelter. she had this very elegant style, but she invited everybody. she dispensed with many of the formal social protocols but she avoided giving everyone offense because she treated everyone the same. it was also unusual for the woman to sit at the head of the table but this suited the madisons the best but dolley could pull off any event seamlessly and madison could sit
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at the center of the table and she could direct the conversation around him. at one point vice president the gary eldridge gary tried to sit at the head of the table. like, i'll take care of that for you, dolley. she very firmly put him in his place. afterwards he wrote, it would have been impossible for me to have equaled her in this instance. she did everything with such elegant ease. i can imagine that was an awkward moment. dolley also knew what her husband's goals and difficulties were and she could really then hone the conversation about where he wanted to go. he often said he could get more done at a table at the house than he could in the office all day. with the white house redecorated, dolley was ready to establish a new form of entertaining in washington. and these are the one-state evening drawing rooms which became called squeezes. march that jefferson had had very formal events for ladies
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only where each woman came in, was very ceremoniously presented. and thomas jefferson had only ever held two public receptions a year. and dolley thought one was too formal and the other not enough, so she started greeting guests every wednesday evening in the white house any time congress was in session. people would wander in, they would be greeted bhi the madisons and then they would roam around the rooms, or you might be called on to entertain, read something or perform some music. the guests would often be 400 people or more, hence, they would literally be squeezing into the white house. so, with few notable exceptions, almost everyone enjoyed the drawing rooms, but the point was that absolutely everyone was welcome, whether they were members of madison's democratic republican party or they were the opposing federalist party, whether you were for dignitary
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or just a local citizen. and dolley was in her element, really creating this social sphere where people could interact cordially, even if they were opponents. even subtly or not so subtly, building support for her husband's administration. dolley created the impression that she was above the fray of politics. i've mentioned this a lot. she writes about it a lot. in reality, she understood exactly where everyone stood in relationship to her husband. in a letter she wrote to her sister anna, which she wrote on, please burn this letter, thank goodness anna didn't, she noticed during the election of 1812 the federalists refused to come or dine. but after they saw so many people flocking to the white house, there was such a rallying of our party, it has alarmed them into a return. i love that. dolley could also act as her husband's surrogate. for example, when the new warhawk congressman had, like
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henry clay, were talking about the war and madison still sitting on the fence, this is before the war of 1812, dolley could find this apolitical way of getting to bond with clay. in this case, they both liked to dip snuff. it was said her snuff box had a magic influence. so just as dolley forged political and social connections to support her husband's agenda, people connected with dolley in order that she could put their agenda in front of the president. and dolley's female friends often asked her to wield her influence with their sons, husbands, neighbors, relatives, anybody who was looking for a government job. she was the go-to go-through gal of washington, d.c. for political patronage. one of my interesting ones was that abigail adams, who never liked dolley, never liked dolley, still writes dolley asking dolley to get her
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grandson a diplomatic mission. and dolley gets it done. that's pretty amazing. now, the war of 1812, it's funny to say that somebody really shines in a war, but it was such an unpopular war. dolley was so wildly popular that many historians give her a fair bit of credit for madison's second term in office. and the war of 1812 also created this amazing opportunity for the people of the nation to krael take dolley to their hearts. it earned her a place in our american legend. she became, as i like to say, the brave face of the nation. in her social events and her behavior that she exhibits during the war years, she's the symbol of calm optimism and support. she's celebrating the victories, she's ceremonially receiving colors there captured ships and from battles won. this whole time she's telegraphing out to the public,
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hey, this is just what happened. this is what it means for us as a nation in a way that really sustains support for the war effort. and her letters during this time period are just amazing. they're just filled with spirit. writing one of her couches as they're beginning to put up tents, erecting them on the lawn of the white house. already looks well to my eyes for i've always been add advocate though it sailed for a quaker, i therefore keep an old tuinei shan saber within my reach. she literally slept with a sword under the bed. referring to rumors that the arrogant add myrrh cochran had threatened to set fire to the president's house, she added, i do not tremble at this, but feel affronted that the admiral should send me notice that he should make my bow in my drawing room soon. of course we know what happens. the morning before the british invasion of washington, dolley reported her husband asked her whether i had the courage or
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firmness to remain in the president's house until his return, and on my assurance that i had no fear but for him and our country, he left me. so, dolley's drawing room evenings and her strategic approach to hostessing are probably her most significant contribution to the madison era political scene. but her one moment in time in the white house eclipses all others for its symbolism. and you know what i'm talking about. that's the rescue of george washington's portrait when the british were invading washington in 1814. as dolley told the story in a letter to her sister, lucy, she remained at the white house waiting for james to return from the battle of bladens berg where the militia are not successful he keeping them out of d.c. she directing servants to fill up wagons with valuables that
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belong in the white house. one part that gets overlooked, but they save the cabinet papers and madison's papers. to me, that becomes almost in some ways something so important that we should not lose sight of. we know so much about the founding period because those papers were not burned in the white house. dolley does order that general washington's portrait be saved and not left to be vandalized. and it's been actually nailed in a wooden frame to the wall, so they have to break the frame, pull out the nails, roll the portrait up and she puts it in good hands for safekeeping and only then does she agree to evacuate. her pluck during these perilous moments did earn the ever-lasting gratitude of a country. in the months following the burning of the white house in d.c., dolley shared her loss
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with someone who treel appreciated the beautifully appointed rooms she had helped create and that was her old friend and decorating partner, mary latrobe, wife to benjamin latrobe. she writes to her, two hours before the enemy left the city, i left the house where mr. latrobe's elegant taste had been justly admired and where you and i had so often wandered together. on that very day i sent out all the silver, the velvet curtains and general washington's picture and a small clock and a few books and left everything else belonging to the public, our own valuables of every description, a part of my clothes, all of the servants' clothes, et cetera, et cetera, in short, it would fatigue you to read the list of my losses. so, it was a sad moment. in the wake of the burning of washington's public buildings, there was a lot of talk that the capitol might relocate to another city.
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philadelphia, new york, wanted the capitol back. the rebuilding began, in part, because dolley led the rallying cry for washington, d.c. by the fall of 1814, she's already in the drawing rooms, now in the octagon house, which is their temporary residence. she's the one who actually announces that the treaty of gent has been signed and signals the end of mr. madison's war. you know, today we expect a first lady to champion particular causes. we had ross lynn carter in mental health. nancy reagan, just say no to drugs. barbara bush and childhood literacy. but that was not an expectation in dolley's time. the idea of women organizing to create change was very, very novel. so, again, dolley is a trendsetter. when she's wife and secretary of state, she's very interested in the lewis and clark expedition. she knows they're not adequately
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provisioned so she gets all of the other ladies of the cabinet to gather money together and help outfit this. this is sad for her because she's fairly convinced they will never come back. when they do, she's overjoyed. they bring her cookware to share with her and let her have. more importantly, they share all these stories and she recites them, her nieces talk about later in her life. then also after the war of 1812, dolley championed the washington orphan asylum. washington is still in the rack and ruin in the aftermath of the war. it's a very desperate place. she becomes the first directress of the orphan assay lum asylum. she helps cut dress patterns are for the young orphan girls and women who are there. this might seem trivial or small
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to us, but this early effort is historically significant because it shows her actively involved in this broader 19th century reform where women are beginning to organize themselves to create institutions to help other women and girls. sadly, the madison administration comes to an end in 1817. now, james madison, after his second term, he could not have been happier. a friend described him as a school boy on a long vacation when he left washington. very happy to be going home to montpelier. dolley, on the other hand, is much more reluctant. . right before they leave d.c. they have their portraits painted. she gives a copy to her friend. james' portrait almost breathes. but as a good friend, she notes
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that dolley's portrait, there's an absence of expression in your eye. it doesn't have that sparkle. dolley had, let's face it, just spent 16 years in d.c. exerting tremendous influence. it was going to be very hard for her to leave her friends and retire to the sleepy countryside of orange, virginia. but dolley did, indeed, follow james faithfully back to montpelier where she would largely reside for the next 19 years. she would continue to be a hostess at montpelier. many people flocked to montpelier because james madison remained in politics almost until the day he died. it was filled with family, friends, international visitors like lafayette, and dolley with the help of enslavement of women might think of nothing having 30 people stay overnight night after night after night. sometimes on rainy days, she and
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james would race each other under the front portico and visitors reported seeing dolley give james madison. iggy back rides. they were having fun. and then polythe parrot who would swoop through the hallways of montpelier, swearing in french and terrorizing the young madison clan. you can tell. it was this lively, lively country place. while dolley clearly missed d.c., she had her hands full and took on decorating montpelier as well. they had some examples, for example, the university of virginia where madison was the second rector or monticello but mostly she was at montpelier. i'll give you a hint into the sadder part of her life, and that revolved around her son, payne todd. he's the son from her first marriage. he's in his 30s. he never settled in his life. he was called by some the snake
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in the garden of eden, which is a sad thing to say. he had bouts of drinking and gambling. we know he did help madison some because we see his land writing on some of the transcribed notes but he did have these huge binges. he would disappear. they sometimes wouldn't know where he was for months, sometimes in debtor's prison. he wrote in his journal, i can never temp things properly. it was underlined several times. there was a lot of anxiety around him. and james paid for some of payne's debt. he told dolley about it, about $20,000. then there was a whole other amount of debt he paid for and he never told dolley but he said, once i'm dead, tell dolley this happened. this added up to more than $1 million in terms of current numbers. so, when not worrying about payne or managing the plantation or seeing all of these guests and extended family members, dolley had another big job. and that was caretaker and
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secretary for james madison. she was really at his side every step of the way, editing and copying the papers, which were very important to madison. in part, because he really hoped they were going to help dolley with paying for debt, which they were deeply in. not just because of payne todd, but a whole series of events. so, madison dies on june 28th of 1836. dolley is devastated. in his will he entrusts the papers to his dear wife, having entire confidence in her discreet and proper use of them. but he put a real special emphasis on the notes from the constitutional convention. and i am so glad for that. that is how we know how we got to the point we are with the form of government we have here. and he made in his will a very big emphasis that everything should be under her authority and discretion. and dolley took to heart this role of literary agent as a dear and sacred trust. she writes about it in every
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letter, especially the year after madison dies, year and year about this pressure. one, it's not an easy task. they're hoping there would be a lot of money. publishing was a mess at that time period. and dolley wasn't set up well to negotiate getting these papers published. she's a novice. she may have offended people a little by asking for money, got bad advice and worst of all, she commissioned her son to do some of the negotiation. one of her friends wrote confidently to another. if you're acquainted with him, you need not be told, he's the last man in the world to compss this business. henry clay steps in. he gets congress to help buy the papers. it comes in two installments and really ensured dolley some money at the end of her life. they put the second payment in a trust to payne can't have access to the funds. at the end of the day, dolley helped her husband secure his legacy in so many, many ways.
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i'm eternally grateful for all of the work on his correspondence and notes. it's one of the greatest gifts to all of us. dolley did move back to washington in 1844 and she left montpelier behind. it was a difficult decision, but she went to so many friends. she's invited by every president that is seated there, tyler, polk, zachary taylor, to come to the white house. she's back in the thick of things and she's back in the city that she loved. she dies in her sleep in july -- on july 12, 1849. and her funeral procession was the largest ever seen in washington up to that point. there were marines carrying her casket, there were 48 horse-drawn carriages taking her to congressional cemetery. and thousands of of people lined the street and the bells all tolled. so, what is dolley madison's legacy? well, she was her husband's
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architect vis. i also think a big part of her legacy is her engagement in these political events. despite being in a time period when women weren't expected to do anything outside the house. she spent her long marriage to madison really engaged in deep political thinking and work. she also kind of brought all these political wives to the galleries of congress and of the supreme court. and she was even, after madison's death, acknowledged for her role and given an honorary seat in the house of representatives. she was late one day, and she arrived at the house of representatives is and she made them go back and read what she missed in the first part. can you imagine that? and she was given invitation to lay the first cornerstone to the washington monument, she sent the first telegraph in the country. amazing span of life. and i think more than anything
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else, she really created this new kind of social protocol and setting a place where people could be together. mend tensions, find common ground, all in her unique style. she was a facilitator, she was the queen of society, and in her latter years, a no less commentator daniel webster said of her, she's the only permanent power in washington. all others are transient. soon after dolley madison died, a newspaper obituary noted, as mistress of the white house, she was regarded as the first lady of the land. and this is one of the earliest instances where we hear that term, first lady used as the title for the president's wife. and how fitting that the term should be applied to dolley, who was the first president's wife to fully embrace the social and political dimensions of the first lady role. henry clay may have described her best. he said to her one day,
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everybody loves mrs. madison, and she replied, mr. clay, i love everybody. and if everybody believed that, then dolley madison had done her job well. thank you. [ applause ] i have to take a little survey. i have a couple of pictures of montpelier. who's been to montpelier? who's been to montpelier in the last year? not bad. thank you. i do want to remind folks. we do have 2,700 acres. it's filled with walking trails. we have the madison house and temple to jim crow train station to a temple. we have eight miles of trail, if your dog-friendly, bring your dog and walk on it. we have an old growth forest. if you have not been in the house for a while, you'll be
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really surprised. this is madison's bedroom. we added a lot of the carpets. it's very bright and bold. someone said to me, this might be the biggest transformation of the house since the initial restoration. and this is the entrance hall where we have put up 34 oil paintings, which madison had. again see that lively carpet. if you did not know this, montpelier does have one of the most unique public archaeology programs in the country. it's why we know so much about not only madison but the people who were enslaved at montpelier. you can come for a dig. we have weekend and week-long programs. so, if you're interested in archaeology or know someone who it does. i would be remiss that in june we launched a permanent new exhibition called a mere distinction of color. this is telling the story of the 300 people who were enslaved at montpelier who made montpelier possible. it's been an amazing process. partly unique because of our work with descendents from the
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enslaved community. we look at the legacy of slavery through the lens of the constitution and what it means to us today as americans. and we also run the robert h. smith center for constitution. we teach teachers and cops and international people, we've had 60,000 folks through the program, we also do a public programming for citizens like you and me. so, if you're interested in the constitution and what it means to all of us today, i hope you'll look at the website. and finally, since spring is almost upon us, i hope we can lure you there, of course, for the history and all of our shared american dna, but also to come smell the flowers. with that, i have all of five minutes and be happy to take a few questions if you like. we do have a mic. and please enjoy your magazine.
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i'm doing my moment here. >> thank you so much for today. >> oh, thank you. >> my question is, dolley's exposure to yellow fever, did that leave her sterile or was payne enough reason for birth control? >> that is a great question. i used to say -- i always thought that maybe the yellow fever epidemic, but i've been assured by doctors, that probably is not the case. probably the -- if fault is the right word, james madison, as far as we know, never had any children. he didn't have with dolley, he didn't have with anybody else we know of. that might have been the cause. i beg you to read the letters of dolley madison. they're quite frisky. i didn't have enough time, but i was going to read from parts of them. some of the letters when james and dolley are not with one another, i have no fear they had a lovely time with one another.
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>> kat, thanks so much. >> thanks, ted. >> did she ever say anything about what allowed her to live such a long life, make any comments about that? >> no, but when you think about back -- i think if you survive childbirth, your odds went greatly up. madison's mother and grandmother lived to be in their 90s. these are amazing women of that frontier period. and his grandmother, you know, ambrose madison, madison's grand forefather, was poisoned by people who were enslaved. so madison grows up with that and grows up with the fact that his grandmother never remarried and really ran that plantation. i like the fact that both his mother and grandmother were strong figures. i don't think it intimidated him at all to meet this beautiful black-haired, blue-eyed, 5'8" forceful woman. i think it was a perfect pair.
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>> thank you so much. >> thank you all. weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. former vice president and u.s. senator walter mondale died on april 19th at the age of 93. tonight we start a night of programs featuring mr. mondale with a conversation from 2015 with former president jimmy carter. this was part of a tribute to mr. mondale, hosted by the university of minnesota's humphrey school of public affairs. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern. and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3.
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♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ dolley was both socially adept and politically savvy. >> madison just not a lot of laughs but she was his best friend, and she compensated. >> it is aaron burr that lets
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her know


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