Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 118 / Number 1
"Securing a Legacy: The Publication of James Madison's Notes from the Constitutional Convention"
- David W. Houpt, pp. 4–39
When James Madison died on 28 June 1836, the young country lost the last of its Founding Fathers. But Madison had one more legacy to contribute to his country—the diligent and thorough notes he had taken during the closed-door sessions of the Constitutional Convention. In his will, he bequeathed his belongings to his wife Dolley. He hoped the publication of the notes would yield sufficient capital to pay off debts, provide for Dolley, and allow for charitable donations to such organizations as the American Colonization Society. Finding a publisher, however, proved more difficult than anticipated. Aided by her brother John Coles Payne and her reckless son John Payne Todd, Dolley labored tirelessly to get her husband's notes into print. She saw this not only as a way to solve her financial troubles but also as a way to secure James's legacy. Failing to find a private publisher, Dolley turned to the federal government. Years after her time as First Lady, she still retained influence in Washington. Within a few months Congress purchased the notes. Although Dolley's financial troubles were far from over, the publication of the notes secured her husband's status as "Father of the Constitution."