Another entry in the always-fascinating stories of Dolley and James Madison, showing the broad influence they had on American history.
James Madison, the “little man,” truly struck gold when he fell for and married Dolley Todd. She was politically well-informed, writes Chadwick (History and Journalism/New Jersey City Univ.; Lincoln for President: An Unlikely Candidate, An Audacious Strategy, and the Victory No One Saw Coming, 2009, etc.), and advanced his views in the social settings for which she was justly famous. She was a dazzling, iconic figure dressed to the nines but in the guise of an ordinary Washington hostess, and she was the social leader for more than 15 years, first as Thomas Jefferson’s hostess and then during Madison’s terms. Co-founder of the Republican Party in 1791, Madison was a quiet, thoughtful man not given to rash judgments. In opposition, the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, were characterized by statesman William Eustis as having an “overbearing and vindictive spirit.” The embargo against the British in response to impressment led the New England shippers to fight Madison at every turn. They railed against “Madison’s War” and even held a secession convention in Connecticut. One of the great strengths of this book is the author’s attention to the details of life in the growing new city of Washington D.C., as well as at Madison’s home in Virginia. Chadwick’s explanation of the slave economy versus the new industrial revolution taking place in the North shows how easily the large plantations came to failure. The Madisons’ losses were exacerbated by Dolley’s son, John Payne, a sociopath who gambled and drank away James Madison’s considerable fortune.
An enjoyable, gossipy book exploring the birth and the rebirth of the nation.