“The Old Lady” Recalls the War of 1812 and the Burning of Washington.


Mother Madison, the “Old Lady”, made the journey to the James Madison Museum Sunday afternoon to lead the panel discussion commemorating the bicentennial of the burning of Washington City. “The Old Lady,” (portrayed by Ms. Jane Blair of the Orange County Historical Society) took charge as two docent/historians, Gordon Jeansonne and Tom Matthes, answered her questions about the events of August 24, 1814, the War of 1812, and the roles of her presidential son, James, and her daughter-in-law Dolley. With her bell and paddle in hand, she kept our panel to their time limits.


Among the conclusions:

  • Mr. Madison could conceivably have been impeached after the destruction of the nation’s capital, but it was always unlikely;

  • Mr. Madison’s successful conclusion of the war was a major factor in his escaping “the second term presidential jinx” ( Harvard Univ. President Lawrence Summers) as he left office with a greater national unity and prosperity (ushering in the “era of good feeling”) and also with a higher popularity than his first term in 1809;

  • While the United States technically did not win the war, Americans felt like they had won after their decisive victories at the war’s end (Lake Champlain, Fort McHenry, and New Orleans);

  • Dolley Madison played a major role in boosting national morale with her skills in parlor politics, her examples of courage after the Battle of Bladensburg, and leading the way to rebuilding and remaining in Washington;

  • Mr. Madison’s role as “Father of the Constitution” was upheld as his system of government proved it could hold up against the challenges of the great European empires of the time.


Mr. Jeansonne led a spirited discussion of the events leading to the writing of the national anthem and the audience joined in paying tribute to the 286,000 American servicemen who fought the war and the 2,260 soldiers, sailors, and marines killed in the fighting.


Future museum events will include an autumn course about the Constitution with discussions about James Madison’s Constitution.