14 Feb 2019

The Unlikely Romance of James and Dolley Madison

"My beloved, our hearts understand each other." ~Dolley Madison to her husband James, October 25, 1805

She was a 25-year-old widow, vivacious and irresistibly charming despite the recent loss of her husband and infant son to yellow fever. He was a 43-year-old bachelor and rising star in the Jeffersonian Republican Party. They met in Philadelphia in 1794 and were married that same year.

It may not have seemed as if Dolley Payne Todd and James Madison had much in common on the surface, yet accounts of their relationship suggest a powerful bond that was as mature as it was affectionate. Madison was a soft-spoken intellectual, while Dolley was gregarious and unreserved in her warmth. When Madison was elected as the fourth president of the fledgling United States, Dolley soon became the social pivot of the new capital. In an age of fierce partisanship, Dolley's ebullient nature and masterful social graces proved indispensable to maintaining Madison's popularity as president.

Through more than four decades of marriage, the Madisons shared victories and hardships including two terms in the White House, one during the War of 1812. So much happened in those years. He rallied American troops at the Battle of Bladensburg during the British invasion of Washington in 1814; she famously saved a portrait of George Washington from the White House during that same invasion. He drafted the U.S. Bill of Rights; she defined the role of the president’s spouse for more than a century.

Learn more about this presidential power couple in our biography of Dolley Madison.


American Battlefield Trust

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