"I hope this will find you...enjoying the commencement of a new year with every prospect that can make it a happy one." – James Madison
Christmas day has come and gone at Montpelier and like Christmas, New Year’s Day gave the Madisons and their contemporaries an opportunity to send holiday greetings to family and friends along with wishes for a prosperous and healthy year to come.
William Cabell Rives, in an eloquent greeting to James Madison, wrote: “I have only, therefore, after tendering to Mrs. Madison & yourself, on the eve of a new year, the wishes & felicitations which belong to the season, to beg you to accept the renewed assurances of my profound consideration & respect.”1 While in Paris in 1812, Clara Baldwin Kennedy sent Dolley greetings for the happiest year of her life “& may every succeeding one be the same.”2 An anonymous correspondent, known only as “Misfortune” wrote Madison in 1824 regarding the forthcoming Congressional vote on bankruptcy, but not before wishing Madison “the usual Compliments of this day.”3
New Year’s Day also marked a time of great festivities for James and Dolley during Madison’s presidency. Eliza S. M. Quincy described the holiday as “always a great gala-day here. The President has a levee, which every one is expected to attend. The whole house was thrown open, filled with company, and enlivened by a fine band of music.”4 On New Year’s Day 1817, Mary Bagot, wife of the English minister to the United States, arrived at the President’s House “to wish [Mrs. Madison] a happy new year according to the custom.” She discovered a great party in progress, including “a crowd beyond measure & punch drinking.”5 Even after Madison’s death, Dolley entertained on New Year’s Day. In 1839, Dolley “bade her friends welcome” at a small gathering at the Cutts-Madison House on Lafayette Square, where “every ‘happy new year’ offered came from the heart of her guests.”6 Dolley entertained senators, representatives, members of foreign legations, and private citizens with their families.7 Three years later, “many of the most distinguished of the land” came to visit Dolley on the morning of New Year’s Day.8
2012 promises to be an exciting year at Montpelier. Stay tuned for updates regarding new furnishings in Mr. Madison’s Room and the Dining Room, a Black History Month exhibit in the Grills Gallery, and much more! Happy New Year!
1. William Cabell Rives to James Madison, December 31, 1828, Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
2. Clara Baldwin Kennedy Bomford to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, January 1, 1812, Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
3. Unknown to James Madison, January 1, 1824, New York Public Library, New York, New York.
4. Eliza S. M. Quincy to Miss Storer, January 10, 1810, cited in Eliza Susan Morton Quincy, Memoir of the life of Eliza S. M. Quincy (Boston: John Wilson and Son, 1861) .
5. Mary Bagot Diary Entry, January 1, 1817, Sir Charles Bagot MSS, Levens Hall & Gardens, Cumbria, England.
6. ”New Year’s in Washington,” Daily Herald and Gazette (Cleveland), January 17, 1839.
7. The National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), January 2, 1839.
8. ”Neither House of Congress sat on Saturday.,” The National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), January 3, 1842.