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The Politics of Love: Dolley Madison gained influence through kindness

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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jun-11-11 03:11 AM
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The Politics of Love: Dolley Madison gained influence through kindness
HUMANITIES, January/February 2010
Volume 31, Number 1

... Dolley became so adept that she could sit through the most vicious diatribes. One of her true foes, Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke, Virginia, had long been one of James Madisons nastiest opponents, stooping so low as to spread sexual rumors about Dolley and her sisters. In 1809, Dolleys presence in the House Gallery did not stop Randolph from launching yet another attack. As everyone watched for her reaction, Dolley did not disappoint. Her reply, It was as good as a play, at once reduced and diffused Randolphs comments to a frivolous fiction.

But Dolley went beyond merely concealing her anger. Intellectually she knew that the salvation of the system would be people working together. Emotionally she possessed the generosity of spirit to reach out and truly embrace others. This capacity might be traced to her Quaker background; for members of the Society of Friends, all human beings possess the divine fire of God and should be treated accordingly. If so, she made ironic use of this otherworldly idea, employing it for political purposes. Whatever the cause, her public manner made her seem as though, according to one admirer, she could disarm envy itself. According to observers, no matter how great a person greeted her or how comparatively unimportant a guest, her perfect dignity and her gently gracious interest were the same to all. Dolleys niece put more simply the secret behind her aunts success: You like yourself more when you are with her.

All of these qualities were genuinely Dolleys. But in her playful use of the third person in her reply to Henry ClayMrs. Madison loves everybodyshe unwittingly acknowledged the constructed nature of her persona. Dolley Madison could at once exhibit spontaneous warmth, making each guest feel like the only one in the room, while also adhering to the epigram found in her papers, one that demonstrates a detached political savvy: Be always on your guard that you become not the slave of the public nor the martyr to your friends. In her ability consciously to create and implement a public self deeply rooted in her authentic self, Dolley was a genius, an artist. She transformed personality into policy. On the most obvious level, she used her inner gifts in order to attach people to her, and by extension, to her husband and his politics. But it was more than that.

American revolutionaries had had a vocabulary for revolution, one with a long history that went back to Machiavelli, full of well-grounded concepts that all participants more or less understood. Dolleys generation had no such shared language for the practical task of governing the nation and for the political system that they were developingwhich eventually would become a powerful nation-state, ruled by a two-party democracy. In her words and deeds, the way that she behaved and treated people at her parties, Dolley brought a new language to the table of early American politics, a feminine vernacular of sentiment and feeling, with an insistence on civility ...
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