Tag Archives: american history

Hello Dolly!

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 …

Subscribe Now to Mark’s popular podcast at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, and other podcast platforms. This article, “Hello Dolly” is Episode 62 in the audio podcast.

Tear Down This Wall

By Mark Bowser

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The words are famous and they made history. But, those words were almost never spoken. In his wonderful history book, Rick Beyer shares how that line stayed in the speech and impacted the world.

So, how did it come about that President Ronald Reagan on June 12, 1987 said those historic words at the Berlin wall?

It all started at a dinner party. Ingeborg Elz from Berlin hosted a dinner party for White House speechwriter Peter Robinson. At the time, Robinson was researching the speech that he was assigned to write for President Reagan’s address in Berlin.

In the midst of the conversation that evening, Ingeborg mentioned to Robinson that if Gorbachev really wanted to show that he cared about perestroika than he should just get rid of the wall separating East Berlin from West Berlin.

Perestroika is a term that literally means “restructuring” but usually refers to political reform that was taking place in the Soviet Union during the 1980’s.

Ingeborg’s words gave Robinson some ideas. But all the words that he put together as he wrote President Reagan’s speech didn’t seem to fit. He had writer’s block. After trying different word combinations, it finally came to him. He decided to be straightforward, blunt, and to the point. The result was the immortal words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Robinson had felt that he had hit the right tone for the speech. Unfortunately, he was about the only one in the West Wing who felt that way. Secretary of State George Schultz hated the line and National Security Advisor, General Colin Powell felt that the line had too much of an edge to it. Powell’s fear was that it could provoke the Soviets into making a rash decision. But, there was one other person in the West Wing who loved the line. That person was Ronald Reagan.

President Reagan’s inner circle began to work on him to change his mind. They told the President that it could cause tensions and hurt relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. But, President Reagan understood that change usually won’t happen without some form of tension. Tension doesn’t have to be a negative thing. He also understood that sometimes you have to take a hard stand.

The debate about that sentence went on for days. Finally, the president had an exchange with Deputy White House Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein.

The President said, “I’m the President, aren’t I?”

“Yes sir, Mr. President,” said Duberstein.” We’re clear about that.”

“So I get to decide whether the line about turning down the wall stays in?” said Reagan in more of a statement than a question.

“That’s right, sir. It’s your decision.”

“Then it stays in,” said Reagan.

So, the President stood firm for his beliefs and convictions. What does history show? That he was right. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin wall came down. And finally once again Germany began to unite West and East into peaceful unity. Thanks for reading today.

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