Synopses & Reviews
Restored to its original splendor, Montpelier is now a nationalshrine, but before Montpelier became a place of study and tribute, it was a home.Often kept from it by the business of the young nation, James and Dolley Madisoncould finally take up permanent residence when they retired from Washington in 1817.Their lifelong friend Thomas Jefferson predicted that, at Montpelier, the retiringMadison could return to his books and farm, to tranquility, andindependence, that he would be released from incessant labors, corroding anxieties, active enemies, and interestedfriends.
As the celebrated historianRalph Ketcham shows, this would turn out to be only partly true. Although theMadisons were no longer in Washington, Dolley continued to take part in its socialscene from afar, dominating it just as she had during Jefferson's and her husband'sadministrations, commenting on people and events there and advising the multitude ofyoung people who thought of her as the creator of society life in the youngrepublic. James maintained a steady correspondence about public questions rangingfrom Native American affairs, slavery, and utopian reform to religion and education.He also took an active role at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-30, inthe defeat of nullification, and in the establishment of the University of Virginia, of which he was the rector for eight years after Jefferson's death. ExploringMadison's role in these post-presidential issues reveals a man of extraordinaryintellectual vitality and helps us to better understand Madison's political thought.His friendships with figures such as Jefferson, James Monroe, and the Marquis deLafayette--as well as his assessment of them (he outlived them all)--shed valuablelight on the nature of the republic they had all helpedfound.
In their last years, James and DolleyMadison personified the republican institutions and culture of the new nation--Jamesas the father of the Constitution and its chief propounder for nearly half acentury, and Dolley as the creator of the role of First Lady.Anything but uneventful, the retirement period at Montpelier should be seen as acrucial element in our understanding of this remarkable couple.