tv The Presidency James and Dolley Madisons Partnership CSPAN June 16, 2020 11:08pm-12:00am EDT
>> up next on the presidency, a talk about the marital and political partnership between james and dolly madison. we hear from the vice president for museum programs, and curator for montpelier, she discusses their early lives, their marriage, and how dolley madison's political skills bolster the career of james madison. >> hello, again. is the sound good? ok. i'm not going to introduce myself. [laughter] i will just kind of start talking. what i am planning to do today is to talk about james and dolley madison's lives before they were james and dolley madison. then consider their partnership and how it worked to both of their great advantage, because of it being such a wonderful partnership. so these are the gilbert stuart portraits of james and dolley painted when james was secretary of state. it's actually my favorite portraits of the two of them, i think they capture the sort of
sense of personality that i see in them. and they have, i think, in large measure sort of created images that we have of them historically. dolley in her low cut, empire style cut dress with ringlet. james, sort of serious, cerebral and brainy with always a strip of hair coming down in the front and the receding spots on each side. he has that from when he was really young, actually. and of course, we know from emily's talk and many other ways that we consider him the father of the constitution. this is the charles wilson peel portrait of the series that he painted from philadelphia but it somehow got to tulsa. whenever we see him in the
paintings, he is serious, not smiling, has this faraway look, a very brainy, intellectual air. whereas dolley, i think we think of quite differently. fascinatingly, she was a major subject for advertising well into the 20th century. of course, and her name is always spelled wrong -- of course, there is the brand of ice cream. and then people about my age who were kids in the 1970's know the bizarre combination of hostess snack cakes like twinkies and hoho's marketed as being dolley madison but also the peanuts characters. i think what this is suggesting
is dolley's fame as a hostess. one thing i want to argue is just calling her a hostess, someone who throws a good party, actually demeans her achievements and astute use of the material world in the service of her and her husband's social and political ambitions. so we are now going to follow james through to a time he meets dolley and then follow dolley. this is a family tree sketched out by madison. here he is at the bottom. he is one of 12 children born to james madison senior and nelly conway madison. of the 12 children, seven survived to adulthood. he's actually the third generation of madison's to live at montpelier. so his grandparents acquire the property that will be montpelier. they are living in king and
queen county on the york river. the grandparents names are ambrose and francis taylor madison. francis taylor is the daughter of james taylor, one of the participants in the journey of the golden horseshoe, one of the first expeditions of white europeans to the blue ridge mountains. they were with governor alexander spotswood. as a result of that, he received thousands of acres of land and what is now orange county. so ambrose and francis madison are living in king and queen county. they send overseers and slaves in the early 1720's to clear the virgin forest and plant tobacco. the planting and cultivation of tobacco by the labor of people
they held in slavery will be the way the madison's made their livelihood for the next multiple generations until the time of the civil war. so ambrose and francis themselves do not move to montpelier until some 10 years later. they establish a homesite near what is now the madison family cemetery, and they call their place mount pleasant. they eventually build a little house. it is a form called the planters cottage. it is considered today to be very modest, but it is the kind of house a planter family moving from the tidewater to the piedmont in the 1730's would have built. it is a story and a half.
it is a story and a half. i will talk about the form later. the grandparents set up shop at mount pleasant near the family cemetery in the early 1730's. within six months of their settling, ambrose madison is dead of poisoning. three slaves are brought up on charges. one is hanged. two are whipped and returned to francis taylor madison, who seems to have no fear of them. they live out their natural lives and have other enslaved children named after them, poppy and dido. and francis taylor madison herself runs the tobacco business with an iron fist for 30 years, not even allowing her own son, james madison senior, to take over the business when he is of age. there is speculation that perhaps francis taylor madison was involved in her husband's
demise. francis and ambrose have two children. james madison senior of course wil inherit the plantation. he marries nelly conway madison from port conway on the rappahannock in present-day king george county. we have recently figured all this out through archaeology and architectural examination. we now know, we have sort of upgraded the chronology, we know that upon their marriage, the second generation of madison's, james madison senior and nelly conway madison, actually move up to the site of the present day brick mansion and build themselves a little planters cottage, which becomes their starter home. if you look at this handy cutaway drawing, you can see that. a little story and a half space. they would have furnished it with what we would consider to be very high style furnishings.
they are living on the piedmont, what we would think of as the frontier, but what we are actually doing, they are moving elite planter culture from the tidewater region into the piedmont. they are moving the tobacco business into land where there is more new land and bringing their elite lifestyle with them. they might start out in a small house, but we know that within about 10 or 12 years, james madison senior and nelly conway madison will build the brick mansion that we know of today as montpelier. we don't exactly know when they go from calling it mount pleasant to montpelier. so in fact, it is right at the moment francis taylor medicine dies that we know the timbers for the main house are filled
and there is perhaps correlation between frugal, business minded francis dying, and her son, james madison senior deciding he wants to have an ambitious, forward-looking major statement about his own place in the world and society here in orange county that a brick house will give him. so it is a very common sort of brick georgian box with a central passage. >> ok. no problem. so, ok. obviously, we know today from the gorgeous views of the blue ridge, the site that they chose to build their very ambitious brick house is a particularly
beautiful sort of promontory on the site with a gorgeous view of the blue ridge mountains. there's evidence actually of native american habitation on this site going back thousands of years. so we have james madison senior and nelly conway madison as premier citizens of orange county, virginia, raising their eventual seven children in a typical planter family. they would have recognized the intellect and ability of their oldest son, james madison jr. had him educated to share in the enlightenment education emily was talking about that the founding generation had in common.
they spoke the same language, had read the same things. they had this common way of looking at the world. madison would have gained that through tutors at home, attending the school of the scott and donald robertson, where his grandparents came from. because he is a small sickly guy, his father does not want to send him to the crazy party school in williamsburg where most of the sons of planters go. instead he goes to the college of new jersey in princeton in 1769 where he is close with the president of princeton, john witherspoon who will go on to become a signer of the declaration. one of our colleagues says princeton in 1769 was similar to berkeley in 1969 in that it was a hotbed of revolution. james madison in this atmosphere would have had his ideas about the way the
colonies should be governed. he would have had this common experience with a number of people who went on to be his colleagues in the founding of the nation and the creating of the constitution. emily went over this a little bit, this is a terrible boring slide, but what i wanted to suggest was the number of things madison had done by the time he had gone to the constitutional convention at age 36. he had been involved locally with a local community of safety in orange to oversee the militia. he had been to the virginia convention. he had served under patrick henry who he later comes to very much opposed. he attends the continental and confederation congress in philadelphia from 1780 to 1783. in 1783 when he is in his early
30's, 15-year-old dolley paine moves from hanover county, virginia, to philadelphia. she's a teenager and he is a grown man serving in congress. he has a long spell in the house of delegates. through which he very consciously worked towards his strong ideas about religious liberty. what he calls freedom of conscience. of course the critical time, the months he spends in 1786 studying constitutional theory, history and philosophy here at montpelier. drafting what will become the virginia plan and his study of former attempts at representative government in his notes on ancient and moderate confederacy. madison believes the most important right is what he calls freedom of conscience.
he means freedom to think and to think what you want to. he thinks from that liberty, all of the others derive. what he does is he makes a slight edit to the declaration of rights in 1776 when what it had said was religious toleration. he did not like the word toleration. it seemed begrudging. he made the change to freedom of conscience. that i think is subtle but really important then in the debates over whether or not to have an established church in the state of virginia, he writes what is known as the memorial and remonstrance against religious assessment. whether people's taxes should
have to support an established church. his great enemy in the debate is patrick henry. wonderful quotes like religious bondage shackles and debilitate the mind. unlike his bestie, thomas jefferson, it is hard to get a wonderful pithy quote out of madison. but sometimes we are able to do it. the months he spends in his father's library, remember it is his parents house at the time. he is in his father's upstairs library with his father's books, his own books, books that jefferson is sending him from paris. he studies, he reads, he no doubt gazes at the blue ridge mountains and the enslaved people working in the fields at the same time while he thinks about, what is the best system?
what way are we going to govern ourselves? the articles of confederation are not working. he creates this remarkable document. this study of ancient and moderate confederacy where he goes back to as early in time as he can and traces attempts at self-government through his contemporaries. and the swiss canton system. this page i am showing you is the lessee confederacy. it was a part of present-day turkey. he is taking notes on everything he thinks is good and bad about everysingle form of self-government. he will take that document with him to philadelphia when he gets there. emily has already given us a wonderful overview of the convention. i am not going to rehash that.
one thing to say is, madison was very, very intentional on how he wanted things to be set up. he was the one who went to mount vernon and convinced washington to come to the convention because he knew that washington's gravitas would be an important part of him being taken seriously. he also gets to philadelphia before anyone else. he waits for his fellow virginians to arrive. he talks to them in the taverns about how he went his plans to be presented. which edmund randolph does eventually, as we know. of course, after that, he is instrumental in working with his first friend and later enemy, alexander hamilton.
it is so fascinating how much people know now about hamilton. so we don't have to explain a lot anymore. of course, hamilton writes the most of the federalist essays. madison writes the second. john jay writes a few. as emily said, they are critically important in helping us to understand what the thinking was at the time about various issues that were objectionable to the antifederalists. madison is contributing his brilliance and ability to argue a point, albeit in very flowery language to these debates. so, when the first congress convenes in 1789 in new york city where washington is sworn in at federal hall, it is important to know that madison was a member of the house of representatives.
he was not a senator. - he was a member of the house. he was closely bound to george washington. so much so that he writes, washington's remarks to congress at the beginning of the sitting, he writes congress'reply back to washington and that he writes the answer back to that. he is almost being the brain to washington in addition to being his own brain. what is important to remember is how these men are literally making it up. they are making up a new way of existing in this new nation. i love this quote madison rights to jefferson. we are in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us. our successors will have an easier task. and by degrees, the way will become smooth, short, and certain. using the term wilderness is
wonderful. they are literally making up how the government is going to work, how it is going to be. in so many ways, we are still beholden to the thinking james madison is doing to how the government is going to work. of course, washington has many other brilliant people around him including hamilton and jefferson in addition to madison. hamilton and jefferson are in the cabinet. madison is not. he is upholding washington's wishes in the congress. after one year in 1790, and this is the deal -- they make the deal to move the capital to philadelphia for 10 years and then eventually to the federal city they are creating on the banks of the potomac. we think inside montpelier is the room where it happened.
philadelphia, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the new nation with the biggest most beautiful buildings, with the -- it is a densely packed around -- the deleware river. the most buildings, the most people, the most cultural things going on. this is the city that then assumes the predominance as the capital. here is congress hall in philadelphia where the u.s. congress sits between 1789 and 1797. madison is -- this whole time. madison is -- this whole time. were going to leave madison in congress. we are going to see how dolley gets to philadelphia where she meets madison.
dolley's biography is really interesting because for a long time, it was dominated by narratives written -- many of them by her friends and her nieces that she had controlled very carefully. it was not until into the 20th century that we were able to look at primary sources and see that a lot of what she communicated to her niece was not true. she tries to control her biography to make herself look better, particularly the story of her origins. dolley's parents were john paine and mary colth paine. they were quakers. they attended the cedar creek
meeting in hanover county, virginia. there is a succession of evidence that john paine is not so successful. we do not know why. for a couple of years, the family moves from hanover county down to guilford county, north carolina which is where present-day greensboro is which has a large quaker community. they become part of the new garden friends meeting. this is where dolley is born. in 1768. we do not know why they stayed there for a couple of years. they later moved back to hanover county virginia.
in dolley's telling, she was born during a visit to an uncle. that is not true. it seems that john payne is seeking out some opportunity that does not work out and they go back to virginia. she also claims later on, when they moved back, they lived at patrick henry's house in hanover county. patrick henry was a relative of her mother, but they did not stay there. and, dolley makes up false memories of things she remembers seeing in scotch town like black marble mantle pieces, which did not exist in scott's town. so she was invested in having her parents not seem like wanderers. very interesting. what ends up happening is her father goes back to being a
planter in hanover county, virginia. after the revolution, he frees his slaves and moves to philadelphia. dolley madison at age 15 moves with her family to philadelphia. for her, a quaker girl from a plantation going to the big city must have been a whirlwind of her father of course had been a planter and slaveholder. what he does in philadelphia he becomes a laundry starch merchant and he is not successful. this seems cruel to us but he is ran out of the quaker meeting for being in debt. it seems apparent that men in dolley's family had mental health struggles. his father goes into a deep
depression. he basically goes to bed and never gets up. he ends up dying in 1783. sorry, 1793. leaving his wife to do one of the only things a respectable woman can do to make money, which is to turn her home into a boardinghouse. there was a need for boarding houses in philadelphia because of the congress, which just sat for a certain number of months at a time. mary payne opens a boardinghouse in the family's home in philadelphia after the death of her husband. right before her father died, dolley married a young quaker lawyer named john todd. they live in this nice house, it part of the national park
services building in philadelphia. you can visit it. it had been furnished as the way it would have looked when john and dolley todd there. this was based on surviving inventory. you probably know there are constantly yellow fever epidemic s in the early u.s. and in the summer of 1793, there is a particularly bad one in philadelphia. in the span of a few days, dolley loses her husband, the younger of her two sons and her in-laws in a short time. here she is, a young quaker widow with a two-year-old whose name was john payne todd. because her mother runs a
boardinghouse, she had the opportunity to meet people involved in the political scene. she gets to know aaron burr. he happens to be madison's princeton buddy. he introduces her to james madison. within several months of meeting, they are engaged. so aaron burr is an important person in madison's life. he also eventually knocks off alexander hamilton, thus removing a strong political enemy. so this is dolley's wedding
ring that marion dupont scott acquired and now belongs to us. they marry at the home of one of dolley's sisters. her sister had married george steptoe washington, a nephew of george washington. this is still in the family home in west virginia. they go back and live in philadelphia. it is a lovely set of charcoal portraits by james sharples. dolley is still in her quaker bonnet. where they live on spruce street in philadelphia also
montpelier. i should have said that in their townhouse in philadelphia, they have a lot of french furnishings that have been sent to them by james monroe who at this time in the mid-1790's is the american ambassador to paris. they have things like this very fashionable french form of a bed. a lot of french decorative art in their home. they move home to montpelier with madison's parents. when we last saw millie and james senior, they are living in the rectangular georgian brickhouse, one of only two brick houses in the entire county. james realizes they need more space because they have the two of them, dolley's son and dolley's sister who she calls
her sister daughter. madison adds a wing onto the house and the grand portico but not yet the grand central entranceway. here is the elevation and the plan of it. he adds on a hallway with a dining room below the room behind it and a large and beautifully appointed bedroom above it. they have enough space to live with his parents but just for a few years. in 1801, jefferson is inaugurated. he appoints madison secretary of state and james and dolley head to washington. it is incredibly important to keep in mind that at this moment, washington is literally still rising out of the swamp. it is a tiny town on the potomac river that they are
wishing into being to make this grand new federal city. they have the ambitious plans by pierre l'enfant. the capital is only halfway finished. the buildings are in the country. it is so scantily settled. this is the time when the secretary of state and dolley and his partner in crime, they have a house on 14th street -- sorry, on f street between 13th and 14th. remember jefferson is a widower. , he mostly likes to just invite members of congress to his dinners. dolley's house becomes an important locus of entertaining.
she establishes her reputation as this person who has beautiful beautiful interiors, wonderful food, all of the people you want to talk to all in one place. she will keep doing that throughout their time in d.c. and james's career. this magnetic charm she has of pulling people together will be the secret to her success. the factions of the moment are taken literally from statues of greek goddesses. these high-wasted and often low-cut and sheer dresses come from. part of dolley's success is through her knowledge and keeping up with fashion. this is the same fashion we have on the others of the atlantic with empress josephine. this is the time of jane austin.
this is the way all of the jane austen characters dress as well. after eight years of secretary of state where they establish their own social hub at their house on f street, madison comes president. he is inaugurated in 1809. they move into the presidents house. of course, john and abigail adams lived in the white house at the very end of the presidency just for a few months. jefferson lived there, but he is a widower and does not really finish it off. when the madisons move into the
white house, they know they need to furnish the space. dolley worked with the architect of the capitol and his wife on furnishing the rooms of the white house. this is a well-informed imagining of the most spectacular of the rooms that dolley creates. we can say comfortably that dolley creates it because all of the correspondence is from dolley. in this elliptical room, latrobe has red curtains. a color scheme that would have been the height of fashion. i want you to notice the chairs people are sitting on. they are very thin, skinny, curvy legs. dolley herself wears red. she uses fashions and food to create the conditions that are so important to her husband's political life. this form of a chair is called a klimsos. i want you to look at the chair
with the deep curved legs. this is a well-informed and the tablet back. this is identical to the chairs latrobe designed for the elliptical room. this form, which comes from greek sculpture is enormously popular in the early american republic. we see it all over the place in ancient sculpture. we see it in this french painting of the same time period. they are literally channeling what we know about the material world of the ancient world and putting it in the american republic because of the way they are trying to channel ideas about civic virtue, civic responsibility, republican
forms of government from the ancient world. that is why neoclassical forms are so important. jefferson knew that. dolley madison knows that too. dolley madison takes it to the extreme almost to the point of being avant-garde. here are the chairs that latrobe designs. tragically, this room burns up in the fire during the war of 1812. the chairs have been reproduced. this is how they would have looked with this yellow paint and painted decoration. fortunately a suite of furniture, survives that was designed by latrobe and decorated and painted by the same makers. this is in the philadelphia museum of art. i want you to see how these chairs, which were up to the second incredibly fashionable, but their legs are not nearly
as curvy as the legs of a chair that dolley commissioned. dolley's commission is really avant-garde. this chair form is insanely popular all over the country and depending on who you were, you might have either a straight leg or a curvy leg. latrobe designs a sofa. here is the shape the sofa would have had. this is an incredible catalog about this form that was made in 1861. this form is still with us. it is one of the ways the founders were channeling the ancient world. it is a way to see how dolley with benjamin latrobe's help is putting herself out as a very avant-garde taste setter.
i mentioned how she is able to bring people together from all points on the political spectrum. she hosts weekly gatherings at the white house when congress is in session and everybody and anybody is welcome. snobby people look down their noses at that. people who just come to town from kentucky or elsewhere who might be really nervous and scared go to the white house. one young man reports being given a cup of coffee and then being so nervous when dolley comes up to him, he puts the cup in his pocket because he did not know what to do with it. dolley is really skilled at making people feel comfortable. she has wonderful food and looks beautiful and so does everybody else. her interiors are so interesting and beautiful and different from anywhere else in washington, she calls them her
drawing rooms. someone later calls them squeezes because they are so crowded. they become the hot place to be during this time. of course, tragically, the rooms and furniture dolley creates burn up in the fire. the famous story of the fire is of dolley madison saving a version of the portrait of george washington by gilbert stewart. we know about that from the memoirs of the enslaved young man, paul jennings. paul jennings describes how dolley asks him he is the one who takes the painting off the wall. of course, dolley is given all the credit historically for breaking the glass and yanking the portrait out of the frame and saving it. that is the vision i had before i knew more. after the fire, the madisons go
to the octagon house. this gives you a sense of how remote that would have been in 1814. they stay there six months. then they move to a row of townhouses that runs between, on pennsylvania avenue, between 19th street and 22nd street. they live in the big corner house here. the office is two houses down. dolley has to re-create an appropriately presidential space that will in some way come close to what she had at the white house in this rented townhouse where they live for the rest of the presidency. i am writing an article right now on how she does that, so stay tuned. this house survives into the 1970's. here it is into the early 1900s. it is for sale in the 1970's.
it has a people's drugstore on the ground floor. their house is demolished for this building. two of the houses on the road are still there. they have been incorporated and are part of the mexican embassy. there is a sign. they are known as the seven buildings because it is a row of seven townhouses. only the facade of two survive in the mexican embassy. at the time james becomes president, they also for the second time enlarge montpelier by adding two wings. they create these important landscape features of a grove of trees on one side and a neoclassical temple that is also an icehouse on the other side with a double row of pine trees between the north end of the house and the temple. this is an important way
madison is shaping the landscape. this is why montpelier was restored. we decided to take it back to the way it had been in the time of madison's presidency and retirement years. the south yard slave dwellings south of the house and the features on either side. here are james and dolly in retirement as they are depicted by joseph boyd for the repository of the portraits of distinguished american characters. we see that montpelier that dolley makes the same efforts to to furnish a beautiful, evocative space as she had in the presidents house. she buys a set of french chairs. like the chairs she buys with
latrobe, these have particular meaning and show how the founding generation attached significance to the ideals of the ancient world. she buys these chairs when george and martha washington are retiring to mount vernon and selling off their household goods. they are from a french maker. they have these legs that look like fluted columns and decorations that are adapted from roman relief sculpture. they are both french and neoclassical. they are not british. they are making a reference to the ancient world. it is very critical that in decorative art, the founding generation knew they wanted to suggest these ideals of self-government and citizenship from ancient democracies.
dining becomes an important part of the household activity. i'm almost done, i promise. we know that they have ordered a very large 230-some item set of porcelain from paris. we do find that i the archaeological record. things that survive are not the things that are used. what we know from archaeology is the predominate ceramic pattern in use in montpelier was a blue-and-white british transfer pattern. we find it all over the place in the main house trash piles and the sites where the enslaved workers lived inside the house and in the field quarters. we are now collecting this for
montpelier because none of the pieces survived. this would be like your everyday corel being handed down to your grandchildren. they probably would not want it. i have gone way over time. i'm going to end here by summing up to say, dolley madison was critically aware of how her own presence, her dress, the foods she served and the spaces she served in, complemented her cerebral, quiet, shy husband and her large personality, gregarious nature, friendliness and sociability created the atmosphere where he could conduct the political business he needed with her as his partner. thank you. [applause] >> bring the microphone.
>> i have two easy questions that are related. when he was secretary of state or before, did he ever go to france or england? where did their money come from to buy all of the clothes and furniture before they got into the white house? >> the question is did he leave the country? the answer is no. james madison never left the shores of this nation. where did they get their money? all of their money came from the growing, first, tobacco, and then grains and tobacco in montpelier with the slave labor. that is where the medicine money came from. >> burr was
known as a womanizer. anything there? >> what a great question. [laughter] i actually have no idea. i never heard anything about aaron burr being interested in dolley. i don't know when he got married. it is an intriguing question and i will have to look it up. anybody else know? more questions? i am sure you are hungry for lunch. get your lunch next door. we will reconvene at 2:00. feel free to ask me questions if you have individual things you what me to talk about. [applause]
wednesday night on american history tv, beginning at 8 pm eastern, a look at the life of rachel jackson. c-span in cooperation with the white house historical socially shouldn't produced a series on the first ladies examining their private lives and the public roles they played. first ladies, influence and image features individual biography use of the women who served in the role of first lady over 44 administrations. watch american history tv wednesday night and over the weekend on c-span 3.
next, a conversation for the massachusetts historical society about the relationship between father and son, presidents john adams and john quincy adams. john adams ranks 19th -- of presidential leadership. his son came in a 21st place. >> hello everybody, good evening. good evening everyone. thank you so much for braving the elements and joining us this evening. i am catherine, i'm the president of the massachusetts historical society. as our members and regular