"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of the opportunity provided to serve self-interest when Al Gore created the internet; and we should also thank Mark Zuckerburg and Jack Dorsey for creating Facebook and Twitter out of the kindness of their big hearts and not the thinness of their small wallets."
-Ben Franklin, Autobiography (1742)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dolley Madison: She Wore the Pants

A month ago, our readers were exposed to a story that involved Dolley Madison punting a living wolf from the roof top of Monticello. We here at Lost and Founders had no way of knowing that this fascinating anecdote would lead to revolutionary breakthroughs in our perception of Madison that rival even the startling realization that Jefferson’s dining room was in fact painted yellow, and not the shade of baby blue that scholars had envisioned for nearly a century.

Until now, Dolley Madison’s name has been synonymous with the birth of Washington, D.C. as we know it. We hear of her extravagant parties, of how she cooled even the most heated of bipartisan squabbles with homemade ice cream, of her buoyant optimism, and of course, of how she saved Washington’s portrait from the fire that burned down the executive mansion. She was brave, dedicated, heroic, cheerful, and… a power-hungry monster who, restrained as she was by societal expectations and gender roles, achieved greatness by controlling her frail husband like a puppeteer does a doll. Modern scholarship will attempt to suppress reality for fear of tarnishing the founding, but in our continual efforts to portray the real truth, we will attempt to show Mrs. Madison as she really was.

Dolley was born to the Payne family of Virginia in 1768. She was raised a strict Quaker, and thus, endured a childhood that was just about as lively as a bowl of oatmeal. In 1790, she married a well-to-do lawyer and had two children. Just as everything seemed to be falling into place, and just as a simple uneventful life seemed imminent, we see the first manifestation of the TRUE Dolley Pain Payne. In 1793 a bout of “Yellow Fever” conveniently broke out in Philadelphia, conveniently killing off her husband and son, and conveniently leaving her single and ready to mingle (to use a common expression of the time) with a certain 5’ 4’’ congressman who conveniently had achieved great fame by writing a lil somthin’ somethin’ we refer to as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

According to the history books, Dolley was expelled from the Society of Friends when she married Madison, an Episcopalian. At Lost and Founders, we think that the Quakers knew what was up. Dolley, who allegedly was sick with the fever at the same time as her husband conveniently survived and recovered just in time to court the lonely Mr. Madison. Convenience aside, James was also shy, sickly, and short. Contemporaries referred to him in private as “Little Jimmy” and Henry S. once famously said of him “He’s an anchovy”. At 43, Madison was 17 years her senior, and when we consider this along with evidence that suggests that Dolley was “a total babe” we are naturally left with sinister conclusions.

Just before her wedding, Dolley Madison notoriously quoted “There is a secret in life, better than anything a fortune teller can reveal. We all have a great hand in the forming of our own destiny.” Boy did she have a hand in forming her destiny. We understand that many readers, horrified by the accusations being brought against our first real First Lady, will refuse to accept that she was both a murderer and a grave-robber. We would like to reassure you, she wasn’t just a murderer and grave-robber, she was also an arsonist.

In 1926 The Evening Independent published an article stating: “If Dolly Madison were alive today, she would have been classed as a flapper. . . . She was frivolous, used rouge, dipped snuff, and . . . played cards for high stakes. . . . Quite another sort...” Furthermore, it is crucial to consider the reality that she wore a turban. In our experience, people who wear turbans and have no legitimate religious reason to do so tend to use them as a means of hiding something way sinister within the folds of the fabric… like Lord Voldemort


During the Madison administration, Dolley would tackle the War of 1812, domestic insurrection, and a fledging economy; meanwhile James would furnish the White House, plan social gatherings, and churn the famous ice cream for which his wife received all the credit. In 1814, during one of her customary fits of rage (this time set off by her dislike of the bright velvet curtains James had chosen for the family room) Dolley set fire to the executive mansion. With just enough time to secure the portrait of colonial heartthrob George Washington, Dolley managed to escape shouting “The British Are Coming!! The British Are Coming!!” James, scared as he was of his wife, went along with the story fooling generations of scholars into believing that the British burned down the White House.

We wish this weren’t all true; however, it is our solemn duty to inform you that it is. Dolley was a woman born way ahead of her time, constrained and restricted by society’s perceptions of a woman’s place. She did what she had to do, hurdling over…hurdles..? achieving her goals, her dreams, and her full potential. And let’s be honest. She was a total badass.


  1. you really need to examine the original source material before you make a ridiculous claim that the Badass Dolley Madison set fire to the White House in a fit over the curtains, which she took with her when she fled the British invasion.

  2. Latrobe's original first floor plan of the White House of 1803

    That evening, the vanguard of the British army reached Capitol Hill. Too small in number to effectively occupy the city, their intent was merely to cause havok. British General Robert Ross accompanied a truce party to negotiate with the remaining defenders but was fired upon, and his own horse was killed. All thoughts of accomodation were laid aside. All government buildings and military storehouses were burned.

    George Gelig was part of the British force that attacked Washington. While his regiment was sacking the city, the remainder of the British force marched into the American capital as night approached. Gelig wrote:

    "When the detachment sent out to destroy Mr. Madison's house entered his dining parlor, they found a dinner table spread and covers laid for forty guests. Several kinds of wine, in handsome cut glass decanters, were cooling on the sideboard; plate holders stood by the fireplace, filled with dishes and plates; knives, forks, and spoons were arranged for immediate use; in short, everything was ready for the entertainment of a ceremonious party. Such were the arrangements in the dining room, whilst in the kitchen were others answerable to them in every respect. Spits, loaded with joints of various sorts, turned before the fire; pots, saucepans, and other culinary utensils stood upon the grate; and all the other requisites for an elegant and substantial repast were exactly in a state which indicated that they had been lately and precipitately abandoned.

    You will readily imagine that these preparations were beheld by a party of hungry soldiers with no indifferent eye. An elegant dinner, even though considerably overdressed, was a luxury to which few of them, at least for some time back, had been accustomed, and which, after the dangers and fatigues of the day, appeared peculiarly inviting. They sat down to it, therefore, not indeed in the most orderly manner, but with countenances which would not have disgraced a party of aldermen at a civic feast, and, having satisfied their appetites with fewer complaints than would have probably escaped their rival gourmands, and partaken pretty freely of the wines, they finished by setting fire to the house which had so liberally entertained them.

    ...Of the Senate house, the President's palace, the barracks, the dockyard, etc., nothing could be seen except heaps of smoking ruins."

    The Monroe bergère chair (before reupholstering)

    General Ross was killed a few days later in the battle for Baltimore, the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.

    The Reconstruction
    Despite architect Benjamin Latrobe's suggestions for changes, President James Madison pledged to restore the White House just as it was. Original architect James Hoban returned to supervise the reconstruction, and few architectural changes were made.

    When restoration was completed in 1817 under President James Monroe, it was furnished in fashionable style, some of which remains today in the Blue Room. He ordered a suite of French mahogany furniture through the American firm Russell and La Farge, with offices in Le Havre, France. However, the firm shipped gilded furniture instead, asserting that "mahogany is not generally admitted into the furniture of a Salon, even at private gentlemen's houses." Eight pieces of the original suite can be seen, including a bergère, an armchair with enclosed sides. A gilded bronze clock also remains.