Dolley’s Courageous Rescue
President Madison’s declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812 was not popular with many Americans, especially when the first year of conflict brought a series of shattering American defeats. New England was in a virtual state of secession; the governor of Vermont ordered the state militia to resign from national service; and in Massachusetts there was talk of negotiating a separate peace with the enemy.
After threatening for a year, the British actually attacked the capital in August 1814. While President Madison rode out to the battlefield in an attempt to instill confidence in the untrained troops, the citizens of Washington streamed out of the city into Virginia. Even the militia assigned to protect the White House deserted their posts. But First Lady Dolley Madison refused to budge.
Before the White House was burned, Dolley saved her husband’s papers, a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence, and a valuable portrait of George Washington. She would leave only at the last minute—and returned as soon as Madison sent word that the British had left Washington.
Dolley’s dramatic rescue of George Washington’s portrait silenced her husband’s critics and infused the once-divided nation with a new spirit. When news of the British burning of the White House spread, people who gad been denouncing the war and talking surrender abruptly changed their minds. Confronted by a united, determined people, the British were more than willing to sign a peace treaty six months later.
Dolley Madison serves to encourage all who think the odds against doing what is right are futile to keep the faith. The obstacles we think stand in our way of doing right and standing for truth and right living can never defeat a grand and glorious unity among those it seeks to impede.
The longest recorded prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ concludes with: “Neither for these (the apostles) only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:20-21).
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