Get to know the Madison Family
James Madison was our fourth president, serving two terms from 1809 – 1817.
He was a small, quiet intellectual man. But more importantly, he is remembered as the father of the Constitution. Mr. Madison wrote the famous document’s first draft and the foundation of the Bill of Rights. He championed freedom of speech, stood for separation of church and state; and led the way for our three-part government assuring the necessary system of checks and balances.
Like many politicians he began his career locally, serving as County Commissioner of Safety and eventually being elected as Virginia’s delegate to the Continental Congress. Later he served in fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet as Secretary of State.
Mr. Madison was born on March 16, 1751, as the oldest of 12 children, grew up on his family’s 3000-acre plantation and graduated from Princeton. Later he became known as a writer…not a fighter (though he is credited, or blamed, for the War of 1812). He inherited his family’s land and assets in 1801, which included the family home that his father began building in 1760.
And he married Dolly. At 43 years of age he met and married this young widow introduced to him by Aaron Burr. Dolly Payne Todd’s first husband, three-month-old son named Temple, and her in-laws had all died of yellow fever on the same day. The Madisons didn’t have any children of their own, but together they raised her older son from her first marriage.
Standard setter. Dolly Madison was known for her social graces. According to legend she was the first president’s wife to be dubbed “First Lady.” She took her role as President’s wife seriously and was certainly an asset to her husband.
Mrs. M is also credited with the design and décor of the first White House. And it’s because of her quick thinking that the original portrait of George Washington still exists today. Though history is unsure of who actually took it off the wall, the famous painting was quickly removed to safety when the British set the White House on fire in 1814. And she could throw a party….
Hostess with the most-est. Mrs. Madison knew how politics worked and how to best seat her guests at the dinner table to foster conversation, glean information, sway thoughts, and garner support. (Though she pretty much kept her political opinions to herself).
This savvy lady hosted weekly receptions at the White House with open doors and took it upon herself to welcome incoming legislators and their families to D.C. with a personal visit. She knew how to work a crowd, always wearing her signature turbans and imported couture. Mrs. M had even assisted the widowed, President No. 3, Thomas Jefferson, with events he hosted.
At home in Virginia she guided her staff on foods needed for entertaining that were to be grown and preserved on the property. Dolly and James hosted large cookouts in their back yard, according to the curator and guide on the home tour.
That was just thrilling to me to stand there and imagine the goings on and the famous patriots who had attended. But if I’d been Dolly, those parties would have been in the front yard where the approach to the home is nothing short of spectacular.
Credits. This lady hosted the first inaugural ball, was the very first to have a platform (the Washington, D.C. Home for Orphaned Girls), and mentored incoming first ladies. Later a ship was named in her honor and she was privileged to be the very first private citizen to send a telegram, thank you Samuel Morse.
The Madison home with its yellow front doors was possibly named after Montpellier, France. The Madisons shared the home place with his widowed mother Nellie, each living on their own “side.” The brick home went through 7 owners before the duPont family purchased it in 1901. Several additions were added and the brick was covered with stucco. The duPonts were horse people so barns, stables, and hedges for jumping were added to the property and an art deco room with chrome, mirrors and glass blocks. In 1983 the family left the property plus 10 million dollars to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to maintain and restore Montpelier to the Madison era.
And it has been, beautifully. All of it…the 22-room house (minus the art deco room and additions), the gardens, forests with 300-year-old trees, an Educational center promoting civics for school children, a visitor’s center that addresses the issues of slavery in American history, and the duPont gallery, (with recreated art deco room). DW and I’ve been twice.
There’s much more about the Madisons to be learned. So, for this President’s Day do a search and read more about this president, his wife, and his personal servant, Paul Jennings who eventually planned the largest slave escape in US history. There’s so much to our American story.