Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 118 / Number 1
"'A Constant Attention': Dolley Madison and the Publication of the Papers of James Madison, 1836–1837"
- Holly C. Shulman, pp. 40–70
When James Madison died on 28 June, 1836, he left Dolley Madison a grieving and increasingly ill widow. She not only had to carry on with her daily life but also fulfill the terms of James's will, of which the most important was to sell his papers. He had spent his retirement editing them, and he believed they would fetch $100,000. After James's death, Dolley's health collapsed and continued to degrade. She was, therefore, from the beginning unable to handle any of the business at hand, whether it was finishing her husband's manuscript or chasing down a publisher for his papers. Dolley did, however, have circles of friends and family to help. After October 1836, her goal, following the advice of friends, shifted from sale to a commercial publisher to sale to the federal government. In March 1837, the U.S. Congress passed a bill permitting the government to acquire James Madison's papers from Dolley Madison for $30,000. The sale and publication of the papers thus allowed Dolley to fulfill the terms of her husband's will, to make his most important texts available to the American people, and to reclaim her health.