She requests that her husband’s biographer return Madison’s papers, which he had been editing in the hopes of their publication.
Soon after her husband’s death, Dolley Madison’s health collapsed. She had spent the last years of James’s life as his constant companion and caretaker, rarely leaving his bedside, and then it was over. “Mrs. Madison was broken hearted,” one of Thomas Jefferson’s grand-daughters recalled. “The House seemed utterly deserted.” Condolence calls...
Soon after her husband’s death, Dolley Madison’s health collapsed. She had spent the last years of James’s life as his constant companion and caretaker, rarely leaving his bedside, and then it was over. “Mrs. Madison was broken hearted,” one of Thomas Jefferson’s grand-daughters recalled. “The House seemed utterly deserted.” Condolence calls were made, visitors came and went, but in the end she was left with her brother, John Coles Payne, and his daughter, Annie Payne. Dolley was burdened with the tasks her husband had conferred on her: to finish editing his papers, to locate a publisher, to sell the papers for as much money as possible, and to pay all the bequests he had made in his will. One of those to whom Mrs. Madison turned at this time was James Kirke Paulding, a prominent political and literary figure from 1807 until 1850.
President Madison had appointed him Secretary to the Board of Navy Commissioners, starting him on a career that led to his service as President Van Buren’s Secretary of the Navy. Paulding also wrote a very early sketch of Madison’s life, making him possibly Madison’s first biographer.
Autograph Letter Signed, Montpelier, February 22, 1841, to Paulding, who was then completing his term as Navy Secretary. “It was with deep sorrow my dear friend that I heard of Mrs. Paulding’s illness…I cannot express the fullness of my regard for you both and my wishes for your happiness and useful lives. I have been cheered, however, of late by assurances from Washington of her recovery, and especially by your acceptable letter of the 14th wherein I find hope that her family and tender sister will be rewarded for their cares. This consoles me in a measure for my disappointment in not seeing you both during the past year, the last seven months of which I have devoted to my sister Todd, who is on a visit to me, and who has been the subject of many afflictions during the interval of ten years since we met. I beg you to be assured of my best thanks for your goodness in offering to forward the publication of those precious papers which I once placed in your hands when you as well as I expected soon to see them out, followed by others. I shall avail myself of this valued offer when I see you and find your occupations will permit me to profit by it, which I trust will be soon, though so various are the spells which confine me to Montpelier that my emancipation may be distant, as they differ from that attenuated web which binds the careless world together…” The address panel in her hand with postal stamp is still present.
Though ailing, Mrs. Madison still had another eight years to live. Paulding retired from politics and returned to literary pursuits. Congress purchased from Mrs. Madison her husband’s “Notes on Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787” but not the rest of his papers. The project of comprehensively publishing his papers would languish for another century.
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