Much of what we view today as the role of First Lady was originated by Dolley Madison, but not all of her life was glittering balls in the White House.
In fact, she endured incredible hardship in her life. But through the ravages of plagues, wars, and revolutions, Dolley Madison always knew how to hold fast to the things that matter.
In particular, we remember her bravery during the War of 1812, when the British invaded Washington. Senator Ben Sasse describes her refusal to abandon the burning White House before securing several key items:
On that day, British troops burned our buildings, but they couldn’t destroy the principles that defined our country. First Lady Dolley Madison and State Department clerk Stephen Pleasonton knew the difference. “I have always been an advocate for fighting when assailed,” Dolley Madison wrote. Overriding people’s concerns for her to leave the city, she stayed to pack up important pieces of our nation’s history in the White House. Heck, her husband the president wasn’t even there.
When someone arrived to personally evacuate the First Lady, Dolley saw the 8-foot painting of George Washington still hanging on the wall. No way was she going to let the British capture that.
The painting was screwed into the wall, so Dolley ordered a gardener to break the frame, remove the canvas, and rush it to safety, doing whatever was necessary to avoid it falling into the hands of the British.
Only then did she leave.
Stephen, meanwhile, spent the morning filling wagons with important documents. Just before he left, he saw the Declaration of Independence still hanging on the wall.
It was just a piece of paper, but it was a paper that enshrined the principles of our young nation – the principles that proclaimed the dignity of every man and woman, and their rights that no leader could ever take away.
Stephen cut the document down from its frame. It was a bad day for frames, but a great day for America.
British troops destroyed a lot of buildings that day, but Dolley Madison and Stephen Pleasonton prevented them from destroying documents and symbols way more important and significant to our nation.
May we continue to be inspired by these patriots to keep our cool and fight for the most important things in our country no matter the fires around us.