Monday, November 26, 2007

First Lady Gold Coins

The US Mint has been releasing First Lady gold coins recently - you can get Abigail Adams, Martha Washington and Lady Liberty (representing Martha Jefferson, who, of course, was long dead by the time her husband was elected) so far. The Dolley Madison coin just debuted last week at the White House.

I mention this for two reasons. First of all, when I went to read the remarks and the debut, I saw the picture below. You'll see Cindy Frailly portraying Dolley Madison at the opening. She works at the National First Ladies Library in Canton and I actually know her - I never know anyone on this site personally so it made me very happy to be able to say I did!

Second, Mrs. Bush's remarks contained something interesting tidbits on Dolley's life I'll share here:
Mrs. Madison was a valuable political asset. At a time when Presidents were nominated or re-nominated by a party caucus in Congress, Dolley's popularity with legislators probably earned her husband his second term. She commanded so much respect that she even had the power to stop duels -- a popular method for settling political disputes back then -- and we thought the political climate was rough today. (Laughter.) When it came to making allies out of members of Congress, Dolley went above and beyond the call of duty -- even sharing a snuff box with Henry Clay.

Mrs. Madison also set the tone for our new nation with her impeccable taste and style. Previous First Families had decorated their new residence in Washington with personal furnishings brought with them from Massachusetts and Virginia. James Madison tasked Dolley with re-creating the White House as the official home for America -- a duty that would shape the public's image of his presidency, and our nation.

Mrs. Madison enlisted the help of famed architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and secured from Congress initial funding of $5,000. According to accounts from the time, Latrobe and Mrs. Madison spent their redecorating budget so fast "it made heads spin."

Latrobe and Mrs. Madison took their redecorating seriously. They strove to blend Republican simplicity with Federalist high style, adding enough sophistication to impress visitors from Europe. As we enjoy the tradition of elegant public entertaining at the White House, we have Latrobe and Mrs. Madison to thank.

That's not to say that they agreed on everything: When Mrs. Madison insisted on rich, red velvet draperies for what is now the Blue Room -- then decorated in muted cream, blue and gray - Latrobe was horrified. "The curtains!" Latrobe lamented, "Oh, the terrible velvet curtains! Their effect will ruin me entirely, so brilliant will they be!" Eventually, Latrobe dropped the complaint after rave reviews from visitors proved Mrs. Madison right.

Those red curtains were one of the things Mrs. Madison made sure to save when the British invaded Washington and torched the executive mansion during the War of 1812. In a few minutes, we'll hear more about Mrs. Madison's heroism -- and the famous story of how she rescued her beloved Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, which of course is still here today in the East Room. This portrait was only 14 years old when she saved it, so it was a new, modern portrait.

Mrs. Madison's bravery in the face of British troops earned her the love and respect of her fellow citizens -- and a permanent place in American history. At the end of her career in our nation's capital, Daniel Webster wrote that Dolley Madison is "the only permanent power in Washington -- all others are transient." (Laughter.)

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