On April 12, 1823, former First Lady Dolley Madison closed a newsy letter to her son John Payne Todd with this comment:

"we see & hear so much  of the Prel candidates that I am as tired of them as I was of Monroes Tour"

Since Dolley did not even have a television set, what was she complaining about?

The election of 1824 was more than a year and a half away, but the field was already crowded with candidates:  Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, Senator and military hero Andrew Jackson, and House Speaker Henry Clay.  Two other cabinet members (Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson) joined the race but withdrew before the election. Since no candidate received a majority of votes in the Electoral College in 1824, the Twelfth Amendment required the House of Representatives to select from the top three candidates: Jackson, Adams, and Crawford. The House chose John Quincy Adams.

Even though Montpelier was far from the capital city, Dolley stayed informed about politics. James Madison subscribed to several newspapers and corresponded actively with political figures. Visitors streamed to Montpelier to engage the former president in discussion. James Monroe himself planned to stop at Montpelier in April 1823. Dolley’s comment about President Monroe’s goodwill tour of the United States (to the mid-Atlantic and New England in 1817 and southern and western states in 1819) may suggest that she saw the run-up to the 1824 election as just another endless round of speech-making and pontificating.

It is rare to find such frank political comments in Dolley’s surviving letters. She was wary of putting potentially embarrassing statements on paper, and she asked her nieces to destroy much of her correspondence after her death. In this letter, however, Dolley reveals a hint of cynicism that today’s voters, weary of months of media coverage and political ads, can well understand.

Curatorial Department