If you do a Google search for Dolley Madison, most of the websites refer to her as a historical footnote. They will say that she is most noted for her saving the portrait of George Washington from the White House before it was burned by the English army when Washington was captured during the War of 1812.
What a disservice! Dolley Madison had much bigger impact on early American history than perhaps any other wife of a politician in early America. Dolley Madison not only greatly assisted her husband President in becoming much more effective, but she also did much of what led to the United States being perceived in a much more serious way in the world community. Mrs. Madison, for her time, was excluded from holding a formal role of power in the young nation. Nevertheless, she wielded influence and power that was greater than nearly anyone else in the country and that arguably includes her husband.
By the time Dolley met James Madison, she’d already been circulating in Washington social circles. Despite the fact that James was significantly older than her, the two fell madly in love. After revolution and the formation of the new nation, James had to work on building an off-and-on political career. Dolley Madison took it upon herself to assist Mr. Madison in becoming more effective and influential.
This was no easy task. To use a more modern day example from pop culture, the pairing of Dolley Madison and James Madison was not far from the pairing of Leonard and Bernadette from the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory. Leonard, the socially awkward but brilliant experimental physicist for time dated the socially savvy, very attractive Bernadette. Like Leonard, James Madison had significant social challenges. James Madison stood 5′-4″ tall and never weighed more than 100 pounds. Standing beside men who included the towering George Washington at over 6 foot, James Madison did not look the part of a serious world leader. James Madison had an insular, tactical brilliance that was very effective in designing a government for people that was very afraid of a strong central government.
In many organizations, there is usually a small cadre of individuals who are the legislative wonks. These people have a mode of thinking that is not unlike that of a programmer. While most of us look at a piece of legislation and naturally presume that legislation is going to do what the rationale says is going to do. A person with a programmers mind, is going to look at the exception. They look at all cases where wording can be misused or misconstrued. It is the exception that leads to unintended consequences. These kinds of lawmakers know that there are people out there who’ll look for the loopholes of every law and some will use it to their advantage. James Madison brought a programmers mentality to drafting the United States Constitution. It’s why he formulated a system where each branch of government was able to counter the other branches of government. He knew that power does not rest in a document. The US Constitution bestows power in a distributed fashion, but once bestowed, each part of the government must work hard to retain that power. This was the genius of James Madison.
But like so many programmers of our day, people who have this way of perceiving things often find themselves lacking in other areas. The stereotypical programmer in popular culture is geeky, a four eyed, socially inept nerd that is completely without social grace or ability to relate well to other people. In a nutshell, this is precisely how people saw James Madison in his day. The great task before Dolley Madison was how to make this bookish, introverted and socially awkward geek and effective politician. Politics is all about effective persuasion and savvy deal making.
By contrast, Dolley Madison was a master of etiquette, social grace, and making everybody around her feel fantastic. She threw lavish parties, was charming, and had a keen perception of how to work a room to advance her husband’s agenda. In effect, Dolley Madison was the first political consultant to a United States President — a business that thrives today. She created a forum for politicians from across the city to come together in what she called Wednesday Night Drawing Rooms, where she acted in the important role of hostess, facilitating relationship building and deal making long into the night. In so doing, she helped to facilitate the growing of relationships that are so vital to the political process.
According to the Value Zodiac, Dolly Madison is a Jester. There are many people who don’t think very highly of the set of values that make up the jester archetype. For these people I say you are doing them and yourself a great disservice. While it is true that the Jester is concerned with more superficial ideas of beauty, extravagance, and flair, the Jester knows something about influence that all of us should be cognizant of. A persuasive message is only as effect of as the vessel that carries it. If, the vessel is not credible, it becomes very easy to disregard the message. We’ve seen time and time again, particularly since the dawn of radio and later television, that any world leader who does not know the power of optics reduces his or her impact. Today, we see the vital role that optics plays in political campaigns. Presidential candidates strive to have the most prominent flag pin on the lapel. They wear “power ties” to convey a sense of command in a debate performance. It is highly unlikely that you will ever see a political campaign featuring a candidate with a lisp.
Beyond politics, the values of the Jester figure predominately in arts, entertainment, and ultimately every creative endeavor. The aim of all of these is to influence. They are aimed to create an emotional experience in the audience. Whether it is a book or a movie, it is the effective use of the value set of the Jester, that allows us to for time, put aside reality, and suspend our disbelief so we can truly enjoy the experience in an immersive fashion. Without keen sense of detail of how things look, the audience would be often distracted by things that are obviously inconsistent. This pulls us out of the experience and makes the underlying influential message muddled and less impactful.
Dolley Madison’s skill as a politician was much more savvy than her husband and was the first of her two great impacts on early America. Many of the achievements of the Madison administration are due in no small part due to the effective lobbying of his wife. Dolley Madison was the first of the presidential wise to assume a more activist position in a presidential administration. In effect, she was the first “First Lady”. She revolutionized the role that Presidential spouses have played in American politics ever since.
In addition to her role in assisting her husband, Dolley threw herself into working with the Washington community. She started putting all of her effort into charitable foundations. She played a role in efforts to make the capital of the United States much more attractive and impressive to foreign dignitaries. Ambassadors and statesmen would visit the District of Columbia and be rightfully impressed. No longer will foreigners see the United States as a rustic band of unhappy farmers and trappers, they would see the United States as having all of the same luxuries and sophistication of any of the capitals of Europe. Dolly Madison, had a lot to do with the United States assuming a position among the community of nations.
An argument can be made that the Madison’s, may have been the most important couple to ever inhabit the White House, for they both made huge impacts into our way of life and how the United States is perceived throughout the world.
He savvy in cultivating strong relationships simply by facilitating interpersonal connections in an enjoyable atmosphere should not be understated. May we never underestimate the importance of the values of the Jester.
The Value Zodiac is a conceptual model that is used to measure an individual’s worldview. It is a powerful tool to explain human motivation and behavior, which can be used for such important purposes as conflict management, effective persuasion, analyzing ethical dilemmas, etc.