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George Washington's First Cabinet
The United States President’s cabinet consists of the heads of each of the executive departments, along with the vice president. Its role is to advise the president on the issues related to each of the departments. While Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution sets up the ability of the president to select the heads of the executive departments, President George Washington established the “Cabinet” as a group of advisers who reported in private and solely to the U.S. chief executive officer. Washington also set the standards for each Cabinet member’s roles and how each would interact with the president.
Accomplishments in Office
The war in Europe dominated James Madison's Presidency. The previous policy of the Embargo Act had failed, and Madison repealed it with the Non-Intercourse Act, which allowed trade with any country except the belligerents. When this became unenforceable, the Macon Bill, stating that the United could trade with any country agreeing to respect US neutrality, replaced it. Napoleon agreed to this stipulation, the British refused, so the United States began trading with France but not with Great Britain. This led to increased tension with the British, manifested both in the continued impressment of American sailors by the British and an increasingly hostile Indian population in the Northwest supposedly incited by the British.
On June 1, 1812, Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war against the British. The United States was ill-prepared for a war. Although many of the best British troops were busy in Europe, the US army suffered several initial defeats. After the city of Washington was burned by the British, the war was brought to a standstill. Under the new command of Andrew Jackson, the United States army won a stunning victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans, bringing the war to a close. Victory in that battle and a fair peace treaty helped revive Madison's popularity.
Which cabinet is your style?
Framed cabinet construction includes a face frame on the front of the cabinet box that looks like a flat picture frame. The door is attached to the face frame, which adds dimension to the front of your cabinets.
Framed cabinets are a more commonly chosen option for those wanting a classic, American look.
Known before the 20th century simply as The Federalist, The Federalist Papers were a series of 85 essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay under the pseudonym "Publius." The essays were written between October 1787 and August 1788, and were intended to build public and political support for the newly constructed Constitution.
Interview with Joseph Ellis
Joseph Ellis, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, discusses his latest book, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789.
Washington, Jefferson, and Madison
Read about the personal and political relationships between these three founders, and how their changing relationships reflected America's changing political situation.
Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, is owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The fourth president of the United States, James Madison, Jr., was born on March 16, 1751, in King George County, Virginia. He was the eldest of twelve children born to James and Nelly Conway Madison. The elder Madison was a wealthy planter and slave owner who raised James and his surviving siblings on the family estate, Montpelier, in Orange County, Virginia. Madison would later inherit Montpelier and live on the estate until his death in 1836. Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, a widow with one son and the sister-in-law of George Steptoe Washington, George Washington's nephew and ward, on September 15, 1794. A quiet, reserved man, Madison stood in sharp contrast to the sociable Dolley. The couple had no children.
Despite graduating with an excellent education from the College of New Jersey (present-day Princeton University) in 1771, Madison lacked direction in his life once he returned to Virginia. The American Revolution, however, provided him with a necessary spark. A member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Madison served as a member of the committee that framed the state's first constitution. At the national level, he served in the Second Continental Congress and its successor, the Confederation Congress.
Madison reveled in the political atmosphere that he encountered during these years. Along with Alexander Hamilton, he orchestrated the call by the Annapolis Convention for a constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Madison worked tirelessly to ensure George Washington's presence at the Philadelphia convention. A nationalist, Madison authored the so-called Virginia Plan at the convention.
After the convention drafted a new constitution, Madison worked for its passage, particularly in Virginia and New York. Madison teamed up with New York residents Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to co-author the Federalist Papers. As a member of the First Congress, Madison would subsequently draft the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.
A close confidant of Washington, Madison helped the first president set up the new federal government by offering advice on a variety of issues, including personnel selection. Washington also frequently asked Madison to write important public addresses, including Washington's first inaugural address. Like many of Washington's close associates, Madison lobbied the president for a second term in office in 1792, even after Washington had asked Madison to prepare for him his farewell address to the country.
The working relationship between the two men deteriorated, however, as the policy conflicts and acrimony between Madison and Alexander Hamilton increased during Washington's two terms in office. When Madison sought to destroy the Senate-ratified Jay's Treaty, Washington used the minutes of the Constitutional Convention to refute Madison's arguments. The episode forever ended the close relationship between the two men, as Washington lost all trust in Madison's objectivity.
With Thomas Jefferson, Madison orchestrated the formation of the Democratic-Republican Party. The two men would later cooperate in their response to the Sedition Act of 1798, as Madison anonymously authored the Virginia Resolutions and Jefferson, the Kentucky Resolutions. Madison worked for Jefferson's election in 1800, becoming the third president's secretary of state.
Madison succeeded Jefferson as president in 1809. Foreign affairs dominated Madison's presidency, especially as the country sought to find a middle ground between warring Great Britain and France. In 1812, Madison finally asked for a declaration of war against Great Britain. Derogatorily called "Mr. Madison's War," the War of 1812 often found Madison in search of answers to numerous problems. After retiring from the presidency, Madison seldom journeyed from Montpelier. In 1829, he did travel to Richmond, where he served as a delegate to the convention revising the Virginia constitution. Madison died on June 28, 1836, and was laid to rest in the Madison family cemetery at Montpelier.
Jeffrey A. Zemler, Ph.D.
"Editorial Note: Address of the President to Congress." The Papers of James Madison, Vol. 12. Charles F. Hobson and Robert A. Rutland, eds. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979.
"Editorial Note: The General Assembly Session of October 1786." The Papers of James Madison, Vol. 9. William M.E. Rachal, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
"Editorial Note: Madison at the First Session of the First Congress, 8 April-29 September 1789." The Papers of James Madison, Vol. 12. Charles F. Hobson and Robert A. Rutland, eds.. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979.
"Editorial Note: Virginia Resolutions." The Papers of James Madison, Vol. 17. David B. Mattern et al., eds. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.
Ketcham, Ralph. James Madison: A Biography. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1971.
James Madison: A Biography in His Own Words. Merrill D. Peterson, ed. New York: Newsweek Book Division, 1974.
Salary of the Vice-President
An annual salary of $5,000 was proposed for the vice-president. White objected to any salary being appropriated to the office.
Mr. Madison. I do not concur, Mr. Speaker, in sentiment with my colleague on this subject. I conceive, sir, if the constitution is silent on this point, that it is left to the legislature to decide according to its nature, and its merits. The nature of the office will require, that the vice president shall always be in readiness to render that service which contingencies may require but I do not apprehend it to be in our power, to derive much advantage from any guides furnished by the examples of the several states because we shall find them differently provided for, by the different governments. If we consider, that the vice-president may be taken from the extremity of the continent, and be from the nature of his office obliged to reside at, or within the convenient reach of the seat of government, to take upon him the exercise of the president’s functions, in case of any accident that may deprive the union of the services of their first officer, we must see, I think it will often happen, that he will be obliged to be constantly at the seat of government no officer under the state government, can be so far removed as to make it inconvenient to be called upon when his services are required so that if they serve without a salary, it may be that they can reside at home, and pursue their domestic business therefore the application in that case does not appear to me to be conclusive.
My colleague says, that he will derive advantages from being in the line of appointment to the presidential chair if he is to be considered as the apparent successor of the president, to qualify himself the better for that office, he must withdraw from his other avocations, and direct his attention to the obtaining a perfect knowledge of his intended business.
The idea that a man ought to be paid only in proportion to his services, holds good in some cases, but not in others: It holds good in legislative business, but not in the executive or judicial departments. A judge will be at sometimes unemployed, as is the case with the vice-president, yet it is found necessary to claim the whole of his time and attention to the duties for which he is appointed: If the principle of proportioning the allowance to the quantum of services performed obtains, it will be found, that the judiciary will be as dependant on the legislative authority, as if the legislature was to declare what shall be their salary for the succeeding year because, by abridging their services at every session, we could reduce them to such a degree, as to require a very trifling compensation indeed: neither do I, Mr. Speaker, consider this as a sinecure, but that will appear from the reasons I have already given the office of a judge is liable, in some degree, to the same objection, but these kind of objections, are levelled against the institutions themselves: We are to consider his appointment as a part of the constitution, and if we mean to carry the constitution into full effect, we ought to make provision for his support, adequate to the merits and nature of the office.
Cong. Register description begins Thomas Lloyd, comp., The Congressional Register or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the First House of Representatives … (2 vols. New York, 1789 Evans 22203–4). description ends , II, 89–91 (also reported briefly in Gazette of the U.S. , 18 July 1789).
James Monroe (1758-1831) was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His family's 500-acre tobacco plantation provided the resources that enabled the eleven-year-old Monroe in 1769 to enter Campbelltown Academy, then considered the best school in the entire colony of Virginia. John Marshall and he were schoolmates, and their close friendship endured until the political rivalries of the 1790s placed them in opposite camps. Monroe must have been a good student, for his proficiency in Latin and mathematics enabled him to begin in the upper division when he entered the College of William and Mary in 1774.1
Once in Williamsburg, Monroe was distracted from his studies by political turmoil. He bought a musket and drilled with the college militia, and in June of 1775, he was the youngest member of a small band of patriots that successfully seized the arsenal of the Governor's Palace. Italian-born Philip Mazzei, Thomas Jefferson's wine-growing associate, also participated in the attack. The following spring, Monroe joined an infantry regiment.2 His rugged constitution and athletic frame recommended him for military life. In September 1776, his regiment fought with distinction in the unsuccessful defense of Manhattan Island. Monroe was later seriously wounded at the battle of Trenton, and he received a promotion to captain for his gallantry under fire. After recovering from his wound, he returned to the army in 1777 and served with Alexander Hamilton as an aide-de-camp for Lord Stirling. Monroe once again saw combat at the battle of Monmouth in 1778, but the surplus of qualified officers in the army prevented him from securing a field command of his own. His attempts to raise a volunteer unit met with no success, and he contemplated withdrawing from public life to pursue his secondary interest in farming.
At this point, Monroe unburdened himself to Thomas Jefferson, his new acquaintance and the governor of Virginia. Jefferson advised Monroe to prepare for a career in public service by studying the law. To that end, Monroe returned to William and Mary in 1780 and joined William Short in studying law under Jefferson's tutelage. In gratitude, Monroe wrote his mentor, "I feel that whatever I am at present in the opinion of others or whatever I may be in future has greatly arose from your friendship."3 Monroe's value as a military adviser induced Jefferson to appoint his protégé military commissioner for Virginia. Monroe supplied information on troop dispositions and established a military postal service for sending rapid news of enemy actions. With the end of the war, he moved from Williamsburg to his farm in King George County intending to complete his study of the law. Shortly afterwards, in the spring of 1782, he was elected as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Through 1782 and 1783, Monroe was active in state political affairs, particularly in the management of the western lands (his military service had earned him over 5,000 acres of bounty land in Kentucky). He was chosen in June 1783, along with Jefferson and three others, to represent Virginia in the Confederation Congress. The first year, in Annapolis, Jefferson and Monroe shared lodgings. The younger man availed himself of Jefferson's library and practiced his French on Jefferson's hired chef. It was during this time that Jefferson urged Monroe and James Madison to establish a closer relationship. Jefferson recommended Monroe to Madison, writing, "The scrupulousness of his honor will make you safe in the most confidential communication. A better man cannot be."4 Monroe remained on the Virginia delegation to the Congress for the next three years, an experience that convinced him of the necessity of a strong central government.
In 1786, Monroe married Elizabeth Kortright of New York. Jefferson was particularly warm in his congratulations. His marriage, however, made Monroe's chronic shortness of money a more pressing concern, and from 1786 until 1790 he divided his attention between public service and his law practice. He was again elected to the House of Delegates in 1787, but was left off the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention. After seeing the document that emerged from Philadelphia, Monroe found that he "had some strong objections to it." In 1788 he brought those objections to the ratifying convention in Richmond. After twenty days of debate, which Monroe said were "conducted generally with great order, propriety and respect of either party to the other," the ratifying convention approved the Constitution by a vote of 89 to 79. Monroe forwarded a copy to Jefferson in Paris.5 Later that year, Monroe ran for the House of Representatives intending to continue his struggle to modify the Constitution. Madison, his unlikely opponent, also advocated amendment and handily won the election. The former adversaries immediately resumed their friendly correspondence.6
In February 1789, Monroe shared some good news with Jefferson: "It has always been my wish to acquire property near Monticello. I have lately accomplish'd it by the purchase of Colo. G. Nicholas improvments in Charlotteville . "7 A few months before, Monroe had acquired 800 acres of land that would later become the site of the University of Virginia. Jefferson had been urging Madison and Monroe to settle near him in Albemarle County since the summer of 1784.8 Monroe took up residence on his property in August 1789. He declined requests from his Albemarle neighbors to run for public office, devoting himself instead to his law practice and new farms. The latter disappointed him. His efforts, he concluded later, should have been applied "to a more grateful soil."9 Jefferson returned from France in December of 1789 and reported to William Short that Monroe's presence greatly improved the neighborhood.10
Most aristocratic Virginians in this period owed their financial well-being to large scale agriculture, and James Monroe was no exception. His father's death in 1774 had left him in possession of slaves. Though opposed to the institution itself, Monroe, like Jefferson, feared the outbreak of violence that could result from immediate abolition. He therefore supported gradual solutions to this societal dilemma. As U.S. president, for example, he endorsed the American Colonization Society's efforts to settle former slaves in Liberia, which led to the capital of that nation being named Monrovia in his honor. His daily interaction with the men and women he owned was unsurprisingly governed by the unwritten standards of conduct pursued by enlightened slave-owners throughout the upper South. This paternalistic philosophy resulted in his protection of family units, a minor amount of self-determination in work assignments, and the provision of medical care. It did not oblige him to free his slaves, an action he, like Jefferson, believed to be irresponsible.11
In 1790, Monroe returned to public service as senator from Virginia and held that office until 1794. When he first arrived in Philadelphia, Madison and Jefferson invited their friend and his wife to share lodgings at their boarding house. Throughout this period, Monroe worked closely with Madison (a member of the House of Representatives) and Jefferson (secretary of state) in organizing an opposition political party and in achieving their republican goals. During recesses, these three men visited each other's estates: Madison at Montpelier, Jefferson at Monticello, and Monroe at his residence in Charlottesville. They enjoyed one another's society, but also spent time preparing legislative goals and deciding on strategies to counter the efforts of Hamilton's Federalists. In 1793, Monroe acquired 3,500 acres adjacent to Monticello. Highland, the house he constructed there, was completed in December of 1799.
Monroe's appointment in 1794 as minister to France by Washington's Federalist administration was somewhat unexpected, especially considering Monroe's prominence in the opposition party. His wide legislative experience and republican principles, however, made him the perfect agent for resolving tensions in American-French relations. By 1796 Washington's administration no longer felt comfortable with a Republican holding such an important post. Monroe bitterly resented what he perceived to be an unjustified recall his resentment was somewhat soothed by the warm reception afforded him by his fellow Republicans when he returned to America in June of 1797.
From 1797 to 1799, Madison and Monroe were frequently at Monticello to confer with Jefferson on party matters. Monroe's friends were anxious to put his talents to work in some high governmental post, and in 1799, Monroe won the governorship of Virginia. Vague reports circulated during the summer of 1800 of an impending slave revolt. When specific details reached him on August 30, Monroe promptly called up the state militia and suppressed "Gabriel's rebellion." He attempted without success to alleviate the severity of the punishments handed down to the captured conspirators. The tied presidential ballot that autumn was another source of alarm for the governor. As Madison in the House of Representatives labored to break the tie between Aaron Burr and Jefferson, Monroe prepared the state militia to resist a Federalist coup that never materialized.
Monroe completed his third gubernatorial term in the autumn of 1802 and left office intending to restore his finances by devoting his full attention to his law practice. In January 1803, however, Jefferson appointed him envoy extraordinary to France. Jefferson and Madison (now secretary of state) believed that only Monroe had the reputation and experience to complete the delicate negotiations involved in buying from France a port at the mouth of the Mississippi. "[A]ll eyes, all hopes are now fixed on you," Jefferson told his old friend.12 Within three weeks of his arrival in France, Monroe and his colleague, Robert Livingston, had completed a treaty that secured the entire Louisiana territory at the cost of $15 million (80 million francs). During the remainder of his stay in France, Monroe visited two comrades from the revolution and forwarded news of them to Jefferson: Lafayette he found recovering from a broken hip, while Thaddeus Kosciusko was involved with his garden.13
After the successful negotiations for Louisiana in the spring of 1803, Jefferson transferred Monroe to London to fill the vital post of minister to Great Britain. The two countries enjoyed a precarious peace, and Monroe's main responsibility was to seek the resolution of several issues relating to the sovereignty of the United States. During the last year of his ministry, in 1807, Monroe and William Pinkney negotiated a treaty that Jefferson and Madison could not accept because it failed to address the impressment of American sailors into British ships. Monroe's and Madison's differences of opinion on foreign policy, as well as Monroe's indignation over the perceived slight to his competence, induced him to run for the presidency in 1808 as a Republican alternative to Madison. While his friendship with Jefferson continued to thrive, Monroe and Madison remained estranged until May of 1810, at which time Jefferson's efforts to restore their former amity finally bore fruit.14 The following January, Monroe was elected once more to the governorship of Virginia, but he held the office for only three months. In March of 1811, Madison offered him the post of secretary of state.
National crisis, particularly the events of the War of 1812, marked the years of Monroe's service in Madison's cabinet. Not surprisingly, he rarely found leisure for lengthy visits in Albemarle County. His family spent the majority of its time at his Oak Hill estate in Loudoun County. With the outbreak of hostilities in 1812, Madison transferred Monroe temporarily to the post of secretary of war. Like Jefferson, Monroe believed that America's successful prosecution of the war depended on an invasion of Canada, but whereas Jefferson believed that such a conquest would be "a mere matter of marching,"15 Monroe expected a protracted campaign and drew up plans for an army of 30,000 soldiers. Anti-Virginia grumbling in the Senate prevented Monroe's confirmation as secretary of war. His successor, John Armstrong, was a disaster: the secretary of war appointed generals who bungled the invasion of Canada, and his conclusion that the poorly-trained and inadequately-equipped state militias should bear the burden of defending Washington resulted in its virtually uncontested conquest by British regulars in August of 1814. Madison responded to the crisis by once again naming Monroe secretary of war. The latter's industry and organizational skills supplied the means for resisting British thrusts at Baltimore and New Orleans. With peace in 1815, Monroe resumed his direction of international affairs as secretary of state.
Jefferson, meanwhile, had been working on plans for Central College. In 1816, Madison, Monroe, and Jefferson were all named to its first Board of Visitors. Monroe traveled to board meetings from Washington, for he had won the presidency in the election of 1816. As president, Monroe sought to narrow the country's political divisions, a policy that led some contemporaries to speak of his presidency as an "Era of Good Feelings." Not all was well, however. Monroe's administration dealt with such problems as open warfare with the Seminoles, sectional strife over slavery in the debate concerning Missouri's admission to the union, and international tension with Spain over the status of Florida.16 Monroe's appointments to various governmental positions in the summer of 1824 generated stress of a more personal nature. Jefferson had asked his old friend to give the postmastership of Richmond to one of his creditors, Bernard Peyton. At the time, Jefferson did not know that his own son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, had also applied for the post.17 Jefferson told Peyton that Monroe's appointment of a third party "sorely and deeply wounded" him.18 Even so, the two friends continued to correspond with their usual warmth. In October 1824, for example, Monroe told Jefferson:
After several postponements, presidential responsibilities forced Monroe to cancel the projected visit. The following summer, Lafayette made a last visit to Charlottesville before departing for France. Monroe accompanied Lafayette to Monticello and found Jefferson in poor health. This proved to be the last time Monroe and Jefferson saw one another.20
Monroe left the presidency in 1825 intending to rectify his personal affairs. The deplorable state of his finances led him to commiserate with Jefferson in February of 1826 over their mutual difficulties.21 After Jefferson's death, Monroe continued to direct the daily labor of the seventy-seven slaves on his Oak Hill estate. A fall from horseback in 1828 exacerbated his ill health, yet Monroe remained active intellectually. He worked from 1829 until his death on an autobiography, for instance, and refused to let attacks on his administration go unanswered. His continued infirmity combined with his wife's death in September of 1830 induced him to move from Oak Hill to New York to live with his daughter, Maria Hester, and her husband, Samuel Gouverneur. He died there on July 4, 1831.
Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene.
What can a pesticide pump, a jar full of sand, or an old calico print tell us about the Anthropocene—the age of humans? Just as paleontologists look to fossil remains to infer past conditions of life on earth, so might past and present-day objects offer clues to intertwined human and natural histories that shape our planetary futures. In this era of aggressive hydrocarbon extraction, extreme weather, and severe economic disparity, how might certain objects make visible the uneven interplay of economic, material, and social forces that shape relationships among human and nonhuman beings?
Future Remains is a thoughtful and creative meditation on these questions. The fifteen objects gathered in this book resemble more the tarots of a fortuneteller than the archaeological finds of an expedition—they speak of planetary futures. Marco Armiero, Robert S. Emmett, and Gregg Mitman have assembled a cabinet of curiosities for the Anthropocene, bringing together a mix of lively essays, creatively chosen objects, and stunning photographs by acclaimed photographer Tim Flach. The result is a book that interrogates the origins, implications, and potential dangers of the Anthropocene and makes us wonder anew about what exactly human history is made of.
When Dolley Madison Took Command of the White House
In the years leading up to America’s second war with Britain, President James Madison had been unable to stop his penny-pinching secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, from blocking Congressional resolutions to expand the country’s armed forces. The United States had begun the conflict on June 18, 1812, with no Army worth mentioning and a Navy consisting of a handful of frigates and a fleet of gunboats, most armed with a single cannon. In 1811, Congress had voted to abolish Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States, making it nearly impossible for the government to raise money. Worst of all, the British and their European allies had engaged (and would ultimately defeat) Napoleon’s France in battles across Europe in 1812 and 1813, which meant the United States would have to fight the world’s most formidable army and navy alone.
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Video: How Dolley Madison Saved George Washington
In March 1813, Gallatin told the president, “We have hardly money enough to last till the end of the month.” Along the Canadian border, American armies stumbled into ruinous defeats. A huge British naval squadron blockaded the American coast. In Congress, New Englanders sneered at “Mr. Madison’s War,” and the governor of Massachusetts refused to allow any of the state’s militiamen to join the campaign in Canada. Madison fell ill with malaria and the aged vice president, Elbridge Gerry, grew so feeble that Congress began arguing about who would become president if both men died. The only good news came from victories over lone British warships by the tiny American Navy.
Dolley Madison’s White House was one of the few places in the nation where hope and determination continued to flourish. Although she was born a Quaker, Dolley saw herself as a fighter. “I have always been an advocate for fighting when assailed,” she wrote to her cousin, Edward Coles, in a May 1813 letter discussing the possibility of a British attack on the city. Spirits had risen when news of an American victory over the British frigate Macedonian, off the Canary Islands, reached the capital during a ball given in December 1812 to celebrate Congress’ decision to enlarge the Navy at last. When a young lieutenant arrived at the ball carrying the flag of the defeated ship, senior naval officers paraded it around the floor, then laid it at Dolley’s feet.
At social events, Dolley strived, in the words of one observer, “to destroy rancorous feelings, then so bitter between Federalists and Republicans.” Members of Congress, weary of flinging curses at each other during the day, seemed to relax in her presence and were even willing to discuss compromise and conciliation. Almost all their wives and daughters were Dolley’s allies. By day Dolley was a tireless visitor, leaving her calling cards all over the city. Before the war, most of her parties attracted about 300 people. Now attendance climbed to 500, and young people began calling them “squeezes.”
Dolley undoubtedly felt the stress of presiding over these crowded rooms. “My head is dizzy!” she confessed to a friend. But she maintained what an observer called her “remorseless equanimity,” even when news was bad, as it often was. Critics heaped scorn on the president, calling him “Little Jemmy” and reviving the smear that he was impotent, underscoring the battlefield defeats over which he had presided. But Dolley seemed immune to such slander. And if the president looked as if he had one foot in the grave, Dolley bloomed. More and more people began bestowing a new title on her: first lady, the first wife of a U.S. president to be so designated. Dolley had created a semipublic office as well as a unique role for herself and those who would follow her in the White House.
She had long since moved beyond the diffidence with which she had broached politics in her letters to her husband nearly a decade before, and both had jettisoned any idea that a woman should not think about so thorny a subject. In the first summer of his presidency in 1809, Madison had been forced to rush back to Washington from a vacation at Montpelier, his Virginia estate, leaving Dolley behind. In a note he wrote to her after returning to the White House, he said he intended to bring her up to date on intelligence just received from France. And he sent her the morning newspaper, which had a story on the subject. In a letter two days later, he discussed a recent speech by the British prime minister clearly, Dolley had become the president’s political partner.
The British had been relentless in their determination to reduce Americans to obedient colonists once more. Checked by an American naval victory on Lake Erie on September 10, 1813, and the defeat of their Indian allies in the West, almost a month later, the British concentrated their assault on the coastline from Florida to Delaware Bay. Again and again their landing parties swarmed ashore to pillage homes, rape women, and burn public and private property. The commander of these operations was Sir George Cockburn, a strutting, red-faced rear admiral, widely considered to be as arrogant as he was ruthless.
Even as many Washington residents began packing up families and furniture, Dolley, in correspondence at the time, continued to insist that no British Army could get within 20 miles of the city. But the drumbeat of news about earlier landings—British troops had sacked Havre de Grace, Maryland, on May 4, 1813, and tried to take Craney Island, near Norfolk, Virginia, in June of that year—intensified criticism of the president. Some claimed that Dolley herself was planning to flee Washington if Madison attempted to abandon the city as well, critics threatened, the president and the city would “fall” together. Dolley wrote in a letter to a friend: “I am not the least alarmed at these things but entirely disgusted & determined to stay with him.”
On August 17, 1814, a large British fleet dropped anchor at the mouth of the Patuxent River, only 35 miles from the nation’s capital. Aboard were 4,000 veteran troops under the command of a tough professional soldier, Maj. Gen. Robert Ross. They soon came ashore in Maryland without a shot being fired and began a slow, cautious advance on Washington. There was not a single trained American soldier in the vicinity to oppose them. All President Madison could do was call out thousands of militia. The commander of these jittery amateurs was Brig. Gen. William Winder, whom Madison had appointed largely because his uncle, the governor of Maryland, had already raised a sizable state militia.
Winder’s incompetence became obvious, and more and more of Dolley’s friends urged her to flee the city. By now thousands of Washingtonians were crowding the roads. But Dolley, whose determination to stay with her husband was unwavering, remained. She welcomed Madison’s decision to station 100 militiamen under the command of a regular Army colonel on the White House lawn. Not only was it a gesture of protection on his part, it was also a declaration that he and Dolley intended to stand their ground. The president then decided to join the 6,000 militiamen who were marching to confront the British in Maryland. Dolley was sure his presence would stiffen their resolve.
After the president had ridden off, Dolley decided to show her own resolve by throwing a dinner party, on August 23. But after The National Intelligencer newspaper reported that the British had received 6,000 reinforcements, not a single invitee accepted her invitation. Dolley took to going up to the White House roof to scan the horizon with a spyglass, hoping to see evidence of an American victory. Meanwhile, Madison sent her two scribbled messages, written in quick succession on August 23. The first assured her that the British would easily be defeated the second warned her to be ready to flee on a moment’s notice.
Her husband had urged her, if the worst happened, to save the cabinet papers and every public document she could cram into her carriage. Late in the afternoon of August 23, Dolley began a letter to her sister Lucy, describing her situation. “My friends and acquaintances are all gone,” she wrote. The army colonel and his 100-man guard had also fled. But, she declared, “I am determined not to go myself until I see Mr. Madison safe.” She wanted to be at his side “as I hear of much hostility toward him. disaffection stalks around us.” She felt her presence might deter enemies ready to harm the president.
At dawn the next day, after a mostly sleepless night, Dolley was back on the White House roof with her spyglass. Resuming her letter to Lucy at midday, she wrote that she had spent the morning “turning my spy glass in every direction and watching with unwearied anxiety, hoping to discern the approach of my dear husband and his friends.” Instead, all she saw was “groups of military wandering in all directions, as if there were a lack of arms, or of spirit to fight for their own firesides!” She was witnessing the disintegration of the army that was supposed to confront the British at nearby Bladensburg, Maryland.
Although the boom of cannon was within earshot of the White House, the battle—five or so miles away at Bladensburg—remained beyond the range of Dolley’s spyglass, sparing her the sight of American militiamen fleeing the charging British infantry. President Madison retreated toward Washington, along with General Winder. At the White House, Dolley had packed a wagon with the red silk velvet draperies of the Oval Room, the silver service and the blue and gold Lowestoft china she had purchased for the state dining room.
Resuming her letter to Lucy on that afternoon of the 24th, Dolley wrote: “Will you believe it, my sister? We have had a battle or skirmish. and I am still here within sound of the cannon!” Gamely, she ordered the table set for a dinner for the president and his staff, and insisted that the cook and his assistant begin preparing it. “Two messengers covered with dust” arrived from the battlefield, urging her to flee. Still she refused, determined to wait for her husband. She ordered the dinner to be served. She told the servants that if she were a man, she would post a cannon in every window of the White House and fight to the bitter end.
The arrival of Maj. Charles Carroll, a close friend, finally changed Dolley’s mind. When he told her it was time to go, she glumly acquiesced. As they prepared to leave, according to John Pierre Sioussat, the Madison White House steward, Dolley noticed the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington in the state dining room. She could not abandon it to the enemy, she told Carroll, to be mocked and desecrated. As he looked anxiously on, Dolley ordered servants to take down the painting, which was screwed to the wall. Informed they lacked the proper tools, Dolley told the servants to break the frame. (The president’s enslaved White House footman, Paul Jennings, later produced a vivid account of these events see sidebar, p. 55.) About this time, two more friends—Jacob Barker, a wealthy ship owner, and Robert G. L. De Peyster—arrived at the White House to offer whatever help might be needed. Dolley would entrust the painting to the two men, saying they must conceal it from the British at all costs they would transport the portrait to safety in a wagon. Meanwhile, with remarkable self-possession, she completed her letter to Lucy: “And now, dear sister, I must leave this house. where I shall be tomorrow, I cannot tell!”
As Dolley headed for the door, according to an account she gave to her grandniece, Lucia B. Cutts, she spotted a copy of the Declaration of Independence in a display case she put it into one of her suitcases. As Dolley and Carroll reached the front door, one of the president’s servants, a free African-American named Jim Smith, arrived from the battlefield on a horse covered in sweat. “Clear out! Clear out,” he shouted. The British were only a few miles away. Dolley and Carroll climbed into her carriage and were driven away to take refuge at his comfortable family mansion, Belle Vue, in nearby Georgetown.
The British arrived in the nation’s capital a few hours later, as darkness fell. Admiral Cockburn and General Ross issued orders to burn the Capitol and the Library of Congress, then headed to the White House. According to Lt. James Scott, Cockburn’s aide-de-camp, they found the dinner Dolley had ordered still on the table in the dining room. “Several kinds of wine in handsome cut glass decanters sat on the sideboard,” Scott would later recall. The officers sampled some of the dishes and drank a toast to “Jemmy’s health.”
Soldiers roamed the house, grabbing souvenirs. According to historian Anthony Pitch, in The Burning of Washington, one man strutted around with one of President Madison’s hats on his bayonet, boasting that he would parade it through the streets of London if they failed to capture “the little president.”
Under Cockburn’s direction, 150 men smashed windows and piled White House furniture in the center of the various rooms. Outside, 50 of the marauders carrying poles with oil-soaked rags on the ends surrounded the house. At a signal from the admiral, men with torches ignited the rags, and the flaming poles were flung through the smashed windows like fiery spears. Within minutes, a huge conflagration soared into the night sky. Not far away, the Americans had set the Navy Yard on fire, destroying ships and warehouses full of ammunition and other materiel. For a time, it looked as if all Washington were ablaze.
The next day, the British continued their depredations, burning the Treasury, the State and War departments and other public buildings. An arsenal on Greenleaf’s Point, about two miles south of the Capitol, exploded while the British were preparing to destroy it. Thirty men were killed and 45 were injured. Then a freak storm suddenly erupted, with high winds and violent thunder and lightning. The shaken British commanders soon retreated to their ships the raid on the capital had ended.
Meanwhile, Dolley had received a note from Madison urging her to join him in Virginia. By the time they were finally reunited there on the night of August 25, the 63-year-old president had barely slept in several days. But he was determined to return to Washington as soon as possible. He insisted that Dolley remain in Virginia until the city was safe. By August 27, the president had re-entered Washington. In a note written hastily the next day, he told his wife: “You cannot return too soon.” The words seem to convey not only Madison’s need for her companionship but also his recognition that she was a potent symbol of his presidency.
On August 28, Dolley joined her husband in Washington. They stayed at the home of her sister Anna Payne Cutts, who had taken over the same house on F Street that the Madisons had occupied before moving to the White House. The sight of the ruined Capitol—and the charred, blackened shell of the White House—must have been almost unbearable for Dolley. For several days, according to friends, she was morose and tearful. A friend who saw President Madison at this time described him as “miserably shattered and woebegone. In short, he looks heartbroken.”
Madison also felt betrayed by General Winder—as well as by his Secretary of War, John Armstrong, who would resign within weeks—and by the ragtag army that had been routed. He blamed the retreat on low morale, the result of all the insults and denunciations of “Mr. Madison’s War,” as the citizens of New England, the center of opposition, labeled the conflict.
In the aftermath of the British rampage through the nation’s capital, many urged the president to move the government to a safer place. The Common Council of Philadelphia declared its readiness to provide housing and office space for both the president and Congress. Dolley fervently maintained that she and her husband—and Congress—should stay in Washington. The president agreed. He called for an emergency session of Congress to take place on September 19. Meanwhile, Dolley had persuaded the Federalist owner of a handsome brick dwelling on New York Avenue and 18th Street, known as the Octagon House, to let the Madisons use it as an official residence. She opened the social season there with a crowded reception on September 21.
Dolley soon found unexpected support elsewhere in the country. The White House had become a popular national symbol. People reacted with outrage when they heard that the British had burned the mansion. Next came a groundswell of admiration as newspapers reported Dolley’s refusal to retreat and her rescue of George Washington’s portrait and perhaps also a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
On September 1, President Madison issued a proclamation “exhorting all the good people” of the United States “to unite in their hearts and hands” in order “to chastise and expel the invader.” Madison’s former opponent for the presidency, DeWitt Clinton, said there was only one issue worth discussing now: Would the Americans fight back? On September 10, 1814, the Niles’ Weekly Register, a Baltimore paper with a national circulation, spoke for many. “The spirit of the nation is roused,” it editorialized.
The British fleet sailed into the port of Baltimore three days later, on September 13, determined to batter Fort McHenry into submission—which would allow the British to seize harbor ships and to loot waterfront warehouses—and force the city to pay a ransom. Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer who had gone aboard a British flagship at the request of President Madison to negotiate the release of a doctor seized by a British landing party, was all but certain that the fort would surrender to a nightlong bombardment by the British. When Key saw the American flag still flying at sunrise, he scribbled a poem that began, “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light?” Within a few days, the words, set to the music of a popular song, were being sung all over Baltimore.
Good news from more distant fronts also soon reached Washington. An American fleet on Lake Champlain won a surprise victory over a British armada on September 11, 1814. The discouraged British had fought a halfhearted battle there and retreated to Canada. In Florida, after a British fleet arrived in Pensacola Bay, an American Army commanded by Gen. Andrew Jackson seized Pensacola (under Spanish control since the late 1700s) in November 1814. Thus, the British were deprived of a place to disembark. President Madison cited these victories in a message to Congress.
But the House of Representatives remained unmoved it voted 79-37 to consider abandoning Washington. Still, Madison resisted. Dolley summoned all her social resources to persuade the congressmen to change their minds. At Octagon House, she presided over several scaled-down versions of her White House galas. For the next four months, Dolley and her allies lobbied the legislators as they continued to debate the proposal. Finally, both houses of Congress voted not only to stay in Washington but also to rebuild the Capitol and White House.
The Madisons’ worries were by no means over. After the Massachusetts legislature called for a conference of the five New England states to meet in Hartford, Connecticut, in December 1814, rumors swept the nation that the Yankees were going to secede or, at the very least, demand a semi-independence that could spell the end of the Union. A delegate leaked a “scoop” to the press: President Madison would resign.
Meanwhile, 8,000 British forces had landed in New Orleans and clashed with General Jackson’s troops. If they captured the city, they would control the Mississippi River Valley. In Hartford, the disunion convention dispatched delegates to Washington to confront the president. On the other side of the Atlantic, the British were making outrageous demands of American envoys, headed by Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, aimed at reducing the United States to subservience. “The prospect of peace appears to get darker and darker,” Dolley wrote to Gallatin’s wife, Hannah, on December 26.
On January 14, 1815, a profoundly worried Dolley wrote again to Hannah: “The fate of N Orleans will be known today—on which so much depends.” She was wrong. The rest of January trickled away with no news from New Orleans. Meanwhile, the delegates from the Hartford Convention reached Washington. They were no longer proposing secession, but they wanted amendments to the Constitution restricting the president’s power, and they vowed to call another convention in June if the war continued. There was little doubt that this second session would recommend secession.
Federalists and others predicted New Orleans would be lost there were calls for Madison’s impeachment. On Saturday, February 4, a messenger reached Washington with a letter from General Jackson reporting that he and his men had routed the British veterans, killing and wounding about 2,100 of them with a loss of only 7. New Orleans—and the Mississippi River—would remain in American hands! As night fell and the news swept through the nation’s capital, thousands of cheering celebrants marched along the streets carrying candles and torches. Dolley placed candles in every window of Octagon House. In the tumult, the Hartford Convention delegates stole out of town, never to be heard from again.
Ten days later, on February 14, came even more astonishing news: Henry Carroll, secretary to the American peace delegation, had returned from Ghent, Belgium. A buoyant Dolley urged her friends to attend a reception that evening. When they arrived, they were told that Carroll had brought a draft of a peace treaty the president was upstairs in his study, discussing it with his cabinet.
The house was jammed with representatives and senators from both parties. A reporter from The National Intelligencer marveled at the way these political adversaries were congratulating each other, thanks to the warmth of Dolley’s smile and rising hopes that the war was over. “No one. who beheld the radiance of joy which lighted up her countenance,” the reporter wrote, could doubt “that all uncertainty was at an end.” This was a good deal less than true. In fact, the president had been less than thrilled by Carroll’s document, which offered little more than an end to the fighting and dying. But he decided that accepting it on the heels of the news from New Orleans would make Americans feel they had won a second war of independence.
Dolley had shrewdly stationed her cousin, Sally Coles, outside the room where the president was making up his mind. When the door opened and Sally saw smiles on every face, she rushed to the head of the stairs and cried: “Peace, Peace.” Octagon House exploded with joy. People rushed to embrace and congratulate Dolley. The butler began filling every wineglass in sight. Even the servants were invited to drink, and according to one account, would take two days to recover from the celebration.
Overnight, James Madison had gone from being a potentially impeachable president to a national hero, thanks to Gen. Andrew Jackson’s—and Dolley Madison’s—resolve. Demobilized soldiers were soon marching past Octagon House. Dolley stood on the steps beside her husband, accepting their salutes.
Adapted from The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas Fleming. Copyright © 2009. With the permission of the publisher, Smithsonian Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Creating the United States Formation of Political Parties
Political factions or parties began to form during the struggle over ratification of the federal Constitution of 1787. Friction between them increased as attention shifted from the creation of a new federal government to the question of how powerful that federal government would be. The Federalists, led by Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, wanted a strong central government, while the Anti-Federalists, led by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, advocated states’ rights instead of centralized power. Federalists coalesced around the commercial sector of the country while their opponents drew their strength from those favoring an agrarian society. The ensuing partisan battles led George Washington to warn of &ldquothe baneful effects of the spirit of party&rdquo in his Farewell Address as president of United States.
&ldquoLet me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.&rdquo
George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796
James Madison, Father of the Constitution
James Madison (1751&ndash1838), an Orange County, Virginia, planter shown in this portrait by Charles Willson Peale (1741&ndash1827), was a strong proponent of a strong central government to replace the Articles of Confederation. Often credited with being the Father of the Constitution of 1787, Madison established the Jeffersonian-Republican Party with Thomas Jefferson and in 1809 succeeded him as president of the United States.
Charles Willson Peale. James Madison, 1783. Miniature portrait on ivory. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (107.00.00) [Digital ID# us0107]
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Development of Political Factions and Parties
Opponents (Anti-Federalists) and supporters (Federalists) of the new constitution began to coalesce into political factions. In Virginia, Anti-Federalists led by Patrick Henry (1736&ndash1799) defeated James Madisons election to the Senate and forced him into a campaign for the House of Representatives against a strong Anti-Federalist, James Monroe (1758&ndash1831), later the fifth president. The rapid evolution of political parties from factions was an inventive American response to political conflict.
Letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, December 8, 1788. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (88.00.00) [Digital ID# us0088]
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Madison Calls for Amending the Constitution
Although James Madison had opposed early amendments to the Federal Constitution, he hoped to derail the growing political demand for major constitutional changes by offering a bill of rights as a diversion of a tub for a whale, a reference to a story by Jonathan Swift in which a tub is tossed to a whale to keep it from wrecking a boat. In his June 8, 1789, speech Madison favored inserting amending phrases into the body of the Constitution.
James Madison, Speech in Congress, June 8, 1789, in New York Daily Advertiser, June 12, 1789. Serial and Government Publications Division Library of Congress (83.01.00) [Digital ID# us_int0001]
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Amending the Constitution
Roger Sherman (1721&ndash1793), a congressman from Connecticut, argued in a special congressional committee appointed on July 21, 1789, that any amendments should be appended to the Constitution. On August 19, 1789, the House of Representatives finally adopted Shermans argument that to insert them into the text would be too confusing and voted instead to add the amendments by way of a supplement.
This list of proposed amendments in Shermans writing is probably a draft of a report by a committee on which he served. It differs markedly from the amendments finally proposed and sent to the states. As such, it provides valuable insights into the creation of the Bill of Rights.
Roger Sherman. Draft Report of a Special Committee of Congress, ca. July 21, 1789. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (81.00.01) [Digital ID#s us0081_1, us0081]
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Support for Amendments as Political Diversion
Despite North Carolinas refusal to ratify the Constitution without the addition of amendments, the states governor, Samuel Johnston (1733&ndash1816), opposed any material Alterations to the Constitution but advocated for a Flourish & Dressing . . . such as a pompous Declaration of Rights. Johnston was one of the many Federalists who supported amendments for personal liberties only as a political tactic to fend off more substantive changes in federal powers.
Letter from Samuel Johnston to James Madison, July 8, 1789. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (81.01.00) [Digital ID# us0081_01p1]
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Amending the Body of the Constitution
A committee of the House of Representatives appointed by James Madison originally envisioned that amendments on individual rights would be incorporated into the body of the Constitution, not appended as a supplement. This July 28, 1789, committee report presented by John Vining (1758&ndash1802) of Delaware clearly shows the incorporation plan with the rights scattered throughout the Constitution.
Congress of the United States, in the House of Representatives, . . . [Report] from the Committee of Eleven. New York: Thomas Greenleaf, 1789. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (82.00.01) [Digital ID#s us0082_1, us0082]
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Warning of Prematurely Amending Constitution
Richard Peters (1743&ndash1828), a Pennsylvania assemblyman and former delegate to the Continental Congress, warned James Madison about offering Amendments to the Machine before it is known whether it wants any. Peters, like many supporters of the Constitution, continued to oppose the adoption of a federal bill of rights.
Letter from Richard Peters to James Madison, July 5, 1789. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (82.01.00) [Digital ID# us0082_01p1]
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Senate Treats Amendments Contemptuously
Many strong supporters of the federal Constitution saw no need to add a bill of rights, arguing that individual rights were already protected by the Constitution, common law, and state constitutions. William Maclay (1737&ndash1804), a senator from Pennsylvania reported that the proposed amendments were treated contemptuously by senators, but nevertheless the Senate agreed to consider them.
William Maclay. Journal, August 25, 1789. Manuscript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (83.00.00) [Digital ID# us0083, us0083_1, us0083_2, us0083_3, us0083_4, us0083_5]
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Locating the National Capital
In this letter to the former French minister to the United States, Marquis de la Luzerne (1741–1791), George Washington reported that despite the &ldquogood deal of warmth&rdquo that marked the Congressional debates over funding the Revolutionary War debt and the location of the national capital, a compromise had been reached. The federal government would assume all state and federal debts and, after a ten-year stay in Philadelphia, the capital would be located on the Potomac River near Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.
Letter from George Washington to Marquis de La Luzerne, August 10, 1790. Letter book. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (088.04.00) [Digital ID # us0088_04]
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Location of Capital Spurs Partisan Bickering
In July 1790, Congress decided to move the capital of the federal government from New York to a new city to be built in the District of Columbia (created from parts of Maryland and Virginia) on the Potomac River, with a ten-year interim in Philadelphia. The location of the capital was part of a critical compromise over funding of national and state debts. The Compromise of 1790 became a focal point for the emerging Federalist and Republican parties. This print satires the profit opportunities presented by the traveling capital.