IMPORTANT BACKGROUND INFO:
I received this book free from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. 🙂
Dolly Madison and the War of 1812 is a self-published (also known as indie published) book, written by Libby Carty McNamee. She is a veteran and co-heads the Epic Patriot camp alongside Jenny L. Cote, author of The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz and The Epic Order of the Seven series.
Dolly Madison and the War of 1812 follows the wife of James Madison during Madison’s two terms in office. Specifically, before, after and during the war of 1812. It’s an illuminating spotlight on the beginning of the 1800’s, as through Dolly you not only learn about the war, but also somewhat the culture of the time period.
Libby Carry McNamee has also written one other book, entitled Susanna’s Midnight Ride.
WHAT I LIKED:
Of all the time periods in American history, the war of 1812 is one I know the least about. Dolly Madison and the War of 1812 did a fantastic job of providing a full overview of the war, the culture of the time period, who Dolly Madison was, and the struggles of being president/president’s wife during war.
I enjoyed reading this book, which surprised me, because I didn’t have the same reaction to Susanna’s Midnight Ride. I found Dolly Madison and the War of 1812 interesting, and I think it helped that I didn’t know the story before I started to read it.
Dolly and James faced a lot of criticism as the nation’s leaders, and Dolly Madison sets a wonderful example in the way she reacts. She repeatedly reminded herself that she doesn’t know what the other person is going through, and then instead of getting angry in return, she tried to say something nice to them specifically. It was actually kind of encouraging to read about.
Dolly also dearly loves her husband, has a wonderful relationship with her sisters, and loves her son to the point of being a little blind. Though the writing wasn’t as strong as it could have been, the author did a neat job of adopting her voice and making it seem like Dolly was the one writing/speaking. She also did a good job of making it seem like it was the 1800s, rather than a modern book written about the 1800s (Dolly and her friends discuss a ‘just released’ book – Pride and Prejudice! – which made me laugh).
Dolly Madison seems like she was a larger than life woman in both her character and the things she said/did. She’s a fascinating personality. In the author’s note at the back of the book, Libby McNamee writes that Dolly was given the ability to attend Congressional sessions after her husband died (because she thought the debates were great entertainment), and if she showed up late to Congress, she’d ask that they start over – and they would.
There were recipes in the back of the book that related to the story, which was neat. I genuinely enjoyed reading Dolly Madison and the War of 1812.
CONTENT CONCERNS/THINGS TO KNOW:
Please note that I read laser focused on looking for content concerns so that I can write this review. It’s going to seem like there are a lot, but often they’re incredibly easy to gloss over or miss, and they’re not as concerning within the context of the story.
There is a definite belief in God. Characters pray, and even the ejaculations made acknowledge a God and Biblical authority (even if some of them seem to take His name in vain). James Madison announces a day of public prayer and fasting for the nation during the war.
Dolly Madison grew up Quaker (though she isn’t anymore because the church cast her out when she married James Madison – a non Quaker). Often things she does will be contrasted with what the Quaker church says/believes. Dolly still believes in God, though, and retains some Quaker beliefs.
James Madison is Dolly Madison’s second husband – her first husband (and her baby 😔) died of yellow fever. Dolly obviously adores James Madison (whom she calls Jemmy), though they do get into a short argument about where to hang a painting!
Some of the characters are scantily dressed. You don’t see anything (because it’s a book), but some characters object to Dolly’s dress because she’s “showing her bosom off to the world.” Characters also object to a character named Betsy’s outfits, with one woman complaining that she’s barely wearing anything and you can see the shape of her thigh. Dolly is bothered by the complaining more than the immodesty and finds Betsy a shawl. Betsy is also supposed to be very pretty, and with that and the clothes, a few comments are made like, “I’m sure they’ll enjoy feasting their eyes on her,” or, “the men will be so busy ogling her they’ll forget to talk politics.”
We’re told that Betsy was married to Napoleon’s younger brother, but Napoleon declared the marriage illegitimate and forced Betsy’s husband to marry someone else.
Dolly’s sister falls in love and marries Justice Todd.
Some lady who doesn’t like the Madisons tells Dolly that Cockburn stole one of her cushions to remind himself of her seat.
We’re told that the French Minister is infamous for having murdered tens of thousands of innocents in the European countryside. We’re also told that he mistreats his wife and that she has finger shaped bruises on her neck. Needless to say, no one likes him.
Since Dolly Madison and the War of 1812 is set during the war of 1812, there’s a war going on. The descriptions of the war are, for the most part, not graphic. However, there is one part where President Madison describes to Dolly some of the horrors of what he saw. While it’s not intensely graphic, hearing him mention some of the horrors of war (such as amputations or cannonballs bowling into the person next to you, etc,) could be disturbing.
We’re told that Armstrong was hung in mock effigy. Madison took delight in it because of how foolish and inept Armstrong was.
Those who don’t like James Madison call him a pygmy. Someone with a really thick accent calls Indians “Injuns” – I believe in an effort to imitate his accent. Another character with a Cajun accent uses the euphemistic term “derriere” for his behind (I think it’s supposed ot be part of his Cajun dialect).
The British swear word “bloody” is used a couple of times, the d- word is used once, and “hellish” is used to describe the fires burning Washington.
God’s name is taken in vain a couple of times (though much less than Susana’s Midnight Ride!). We’re told that people fled like Lucifer was chasing them and that what the Brits did was the work of the devil.
We’re also told that a parrot breaks into a string of awful swear words that were too awful to repeat. We aren’t told the words, however, so that’s nice. 😁
Other things to know:
Dolly’s son Payne is a bit rebellious, and though we never actually meet him, there are hints in the book that he’s a gambler and focuses on “drinking and his nightlife” instead of his ambassador duties. He’s actually a very tragic historical figure if you google him. He absolutely ruined his life. You don’t see that in the book, though.
Characters drink wine and rum or whisky, and we’re told that one character got drunk. When bemoaning the choices for his cabinet, Madison notes that some of the men are drunkards. Characters partake of snuff at a party, and Dolly Madison says that her lilac perfume is “nothing short of a miracle drug, even better than tobacco snuff for me.”
Dolly Madison comes off as a bit self-focused because of how much she loves to wear extravagant clothes and dress up. She loves attention, reveling in it whenever she gains it. She manages to offend some of the more straight-laced woman of the town, in part because she gambles (which we’re only told).
In one scene, a woman who is mad a James Madison shakes her hair loose from her bun, shears it as close to her head as she can, and declares she’ll use it to hang Madison. While not inappropriate per se, I found it disturbing.
Also not a content concern, but maybe slightly misleading historically (and I just find it interesting), Dolly and her husband are Republicans – only, the actual Republican party as we know it today wasn’t founded until the late 1800’s as the anti-slavery party. They would have been part of the Democratic-Republican party, which was called the Republican party and served as a precursor to the Democratic party (confusing I know), founded by Jefferson.
Upon Dolly and James Madison’s first arrival in Washington city, they’re startled to discover that it is an undeveloped mess – and James Madison tells Dolly to be careful in a certain part of the town because it also serves as an outhouse (and the fact that both James and Dolly have the same last name is really messing with my ability to call James Madison just Madison).
Talking about the battlefield, we’re told that it stank horribly because of the blood, vomit, urine, feces and gunpowder. Descriptions of the terror of war are really hard. We’re told that naked corpses lay strewn about.
We’re told that spies trying to steal important papers because of the war are sometimes men who dress as woman.
When I finished Dolly Madison and the War of 1812, I was surprised to discover that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Libby Carty McNamee did a good job of making Dolly Madison feel like a real person, during a real time period of history. The voice she used worked for Dolly Madison better than it did for Susanna Bolling. The book felt like it was drawing from the 1800s to write about the 1800s. I learned a lot about the war of 1812 – big details such as cause, and how the battle was won, but also smaller details such as what the political culture was like at the time, or what the cultural attitude was towards the war.
I think it would actually be a good addition to a curriculum for kids to learn about the war of 1812. The book also afforded a lot of discussion opportunities (see the discussion questions below). In fact, I had several more, but didn’t want the list to become too long!
What is the difference between the Republican party (of back then) and the Federalists? Is the Republican party back then the same as the one now? Why or why not?
Dolly Madison wonders whether or not some human vessels contain only sin. What does the Bible say about the state of humanity, and good and bad in our hearts?
Throughout the story, Dolly tries to present herself and America in a certain way. She constantly mentions her need to appear braver than she is so that those watching her feel more confident, or giving America a sense of decorum by hosting parties and balls – do you think this is important? Why or why not? Do you think it’s smart for a leader to act in a certain way to keep up appearances? How about just a regular person?
What does the Bible say about appearance?
While convincing her husband to hold a party at the presidential house, Dolly Madison says “after all, people behave as well as you treat them.” Is this true? Or false? Why or why not?
Ice cream flavors back then were certainly different from ice cream flavors today! Would you like Oyster ice cream? Or asparagus? What is the weirdest ice cream flavor you’ve ever had? What’s a weird flavor you think would taste really good?
Dolly Madison loves to eat, especially sweets, and believes food can turn tense situations around. She says “this is contrary to the Quaker belief that the purpose of food is to provide only nourishment, not pleasure.” What does the Bible say about food?
How was the position of vice president different in the 1800’s? This might require some research.
James Madison stuck very fast to the principles in the constitution and declaration of Independence, specially free speech, even when it resulted in people being rude to him. Do you think he was smart? Why or why not?
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Not included due to God’s name being taken in vain. 🙁
Taken from the author’s website, which you can find here.
“Amidst the nonstop turmoil of the War of 1812, the decisive First Lady takes action and inspires an anxious nation. Dolley Madison faces a bitterly divided Washington City when her husband, James Madison, becomes our fourth president. The prospect of war against Great Britain threatens to tear our fragile republic apart. The “Presidentess” hosts open parties in the new President’s House to unite political foes and cultivate an American identity.
When President Madison declares war with disastrous results, Dolley carries on, ignoring the threats against her. However, as British soldiers march toward Washington City, she becomes their target. Now America’s Second War of Independence hinges on her. What must she do to save the United States while also saving herself?
The true story of a woman with humble Quaker roots who rallies America during the War of 1812!”