Academic journal article The Historian

James and Dolley Madison: America's First Power Couple

Academic journal article The Historian

James and Dolley Madison: America's First Power Couple

Article excerpt

James and Dolley Madison: America's First Power Couple. By Bruce Chadwick. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2014. Pp. 450. $24.95.)

There have been quite a few biographies of America's Founding Fathers over the past decade. This volume joins them with a joint biography of a president and his wife--James Madison and Dolley Payne Todd Madison. The thesis is that it took two to make the presidency of James Madison and that they were the new nation's first "power couple." Dolley Madison was indeed an important first lady. She created a model for the position that stood until Eleanor Roosevelt broke the mold 125 years later. But the real Dolley Madison was not the woman Bruce Chadwick creates in his book, and the real James Madison was a far more complex and interesting president than presented here.

Chadwick never defines what it was that Dolley did to create or support her husband's presidential power or why James needed her. He begins with the by-now-obligatory scene of the British invasion of Washington and the burning of the president's mansion. Chadwick narrates a straightforward story, without any introduction for his claims that they were, or needed to be, a "power couple." The book proceeds as a kind of a conventional dual biography, first a bit about him and then a bit about her.

This might have worked had Chadwick not overstated Dolley's importance and painted too shallow a portrait of the fourth president. …

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