By Mark Bowser
In many respects, Dolly Madison is America’s forever First Lady. Her infectious personality captured her contemporaries with love and affection. Dolly has done the same thing for generations to come as she came alive to us through our history books.
Who could forget her courage and determination during the War of 1812? As the British were marching on the White House in 1814, Dolly wouldn’t leave the White House without the famous portrait of George Washington that was painted by Gilbert Stuart. Over her dead body would she allow the British to destroy the beloved first president’s image.
As nervous servants wanted the first lady to evacuate, she refused until the painting was safe. As nerves were fraying, they desperately tried to unscrew the eight-foot frame from the wall. The frame stubbornly held fast. With the British only moments away, Dolly ordered that the glass be broken and the canvas painting be taken out. She and the painting then made their escape just in the nick of time.
But, if it were not for a bum of a man she would have never met her husband James Madison and she would have never become our first lady. Some would even refer to this bum as a criminal … or even a traitor. And, who was this evil man who made such a historic introduction between lovers? That man was Aaron Burr.
Aaron Burr? The one and the same. Yes, the man who was Thomas Jefferson’s vice president who attempted to steal the presidency from under Jefferson as his running mate. Yes, the same Aaron Burr who killed Alexander Hamilton in a dual. So, how did he bring Dolly and James together?
Earlier, Burr had served in the senate as the senator from New York. At that time, Washington D. C. hadn’t been established as of yet and the nation’s capital was in Philadelphia. When he was in town, Burr often would stay at a boarding house that was run by Mary Payne.
While staying at Mary Payne’s boarding house, Burr had the opportunity to make an acquaintance with her widowed daughter Dorothea “Dolly” Payne. Just like most everyone, Burr was taken in by her infectious personality. Though Dolly and Burr never got romantically involved, they became friends. Burr then introduced Miss Dolly to his friend James Madison who was a never married, shy single man of the age of forty-two who happened to be a congressman from Virginia.
And, as the say, the rest is history …