Dolly Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar Unveiling

Dolley Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar Unveiling

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
The White House - East Room
January 11, 1999

Welcome to the East Room of the White House. This is a very special day in the history of the White House for all of us who care about this house and who are knowledgeable about its history. We are very grateful this day has arrived. Before I begin my remarks about the event, I want to say a special word of thanks about someone, and that is Master Sergeant John Lang, who is at the piano. This is his last day after 22 years in the Marines, in the Marine Band, and we will miss him. And we are grateful for all of your wonderful contributions to making this house vibrant and as musically entertaining and beautiful as its been. Thank you very much.

I want to thank all of you for being here today to join in celebrating the Dolley Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar. This is the first United States coin to feature a First Lady. Now, after doing a little research, I found out that this is not actually the first time the Treasury has honored a First Lady. I don't think any of us were alive at the time, but about 100 years ago, in the late 1890s, the Treasury issued a Silver Certificate of Deposit featuring and celebrating Martha Washington. It was worth a dollar of silver. So today we are proclaiming the first time that the Treasury has issued a national coin and the second time the Treasury has honored a woman who has made such a contribution to our country.

Ever since I was fortunate enough to move into the White House with my husband, I have read everything and listened to every story that I could about all the amazing women who have lived here before me. I admire so many of them. Many of them are really worthy of their own particular commemoration in so many ways, but there is a special feeling that I have about Dolley Madison. Her strength, her character, her skill, her sheer energy really set her apart. And on this, the 150th anniversary of her death, I cannot think of a better way to honor her remarkable life and her many contributions to our country. She will now take her rightful place among other American leaders who have graced commemorative coins, such as Robert Kennedy, Jackie Robinson, and George Washington. And with each coin bought, 10 percent of the proceeds will help preserve Montpelier, her beloved home, and with it, the pivotal chapter she and her husband co-wrote in our nation's history. Because certainly Dolley Madison was important, not only in her husband's administration, but in President Jefferson's administration.

I want to thank everyone here who has worked so hard to make this possible: Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and the entire United States Mint, especially James Ferrell and Thomas Rogers, whose wonderful sculpting and engraving have brought the image of Dolley Madison and Montpelier to life. I also want to thank Michael Kowalski, Fernanda Kellogg, and the entire Tiffany & Co. family, who donated the extraordinary design for the coin. For generations, Tiffany has created a style that expresses our national identity. In particular, I want to single out and thank Tiffany for the many contributions they have made to the White House over many decades, and now for helping to create a coin that will celebrate and safeguard an important part of our national heritage.

This past July, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful grounds of Montpelier. Dolley Madison was rightfully proud of this magnificent home. Along with 3,000 others, we were there to celebrate the opening of the exhibit “Discovering Madison,” and to recognize the people who are working to preserve Montpelier and pass it and its lessons on to every generation. I know many of them are here today. I especially want to thank Kathy Mullins, the executive director of Montpelier, and Bill Lewis, the chairman of the Montpelier Foundation. I also see Robert Stanton, the director of our National Park Service, has joined us, and I want to thank him as well.
We are fortunate to be joined by five descendants of Dolley and James Madison, and I would like to ask the Madisons' descendants to stand so that we can recognize them as well [applause]. I said at Montpelier and I repeat today, I think that James and Dolley Madison have not been given the public recognition and credit they are both due for what they did, both to create our country -- the founding documents -- and then to implement the principles of democracy. I am very grateful to them and grateful for this opportunity to thank them and their descendants in public.

I also would like to recognize Mary Regula, the founder and president of the First Ladies' Library. The Library is a special place to me, and I have worked with Mary over several years now. It is doing a lot to bring the contributions of America's first ladies to public attention.

There are members of Congress who could not be with us today that I also want to thank for their work on the legislation that made creating this coin possible: Senator Robb, Senator Warner, Congressman Bliley and Congressman Castle.

None of us would be here, I believe, had it not been for the vision, commitment, and leadership of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The leader of the National Trust, Dick Moe, and some of his staff members are here with us today. I am delighted that the Trust is the White House's private sector partner in our Millennium Program to “Save America's Treasures.” The Trust challenges every American every day to preserve the past as a living reminder of who we are and where we want to go. That is, in many ways, the purpose behind this celebration. And it is certainly the driving idea behind the White House Millennium Council that the President and I have established.

Most of us, if you are like me, are having a hard time getting used to writing the numbers 1999 and have been doing a lot of changing eights into nines in the last week or so. It is a very pertinent reminder that we are about to see the turn of a century. What that means to us, of course, is as varied as we are as a people. The President and I thought it would be a time when we could reflect on and celebrate what defines us as a nation. As we are constantly reminding ourselves, we are “e pluribus unum” -- out of many, we are one. That means we are one nation, under God. We share the same experiences, hopes, and values despite our differences, and we have gifts that we can give as Americans because of the gifts that previous generations of Americans have given to us.

The overall theme for the White House Millennium activities is “Honor the past, imagine the future.” One of the ways we are trying to do just that is through the public-private partnership to Save America's Treasures. Certainly today we are focusing on one of the most important people in our history. That is, however, not the only focus of our celebration to Save America's Treasures. We think that in every community -- indeed, in nearly every family -- there are artifacts, there are documents, there are memories that deserve to be saved for the future. Certainly in every community there are sites, places, and artifacts that are irreplaceable. If we lose them, we begin to lose our history, and we begin to lose our collective memory. We will lose, I believe, our bearings in the present and our compass to the future.

In addition to Montpelier, I have been privileged to visit many other sites of many Americans who have made real contributions -- from Thomas Edison's laboratory where he invented the motion picture camera, to the home of Harriet Tubman whose courage has inspired all lovers of freedom. I was recently at the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose poetry reflects the birth of our republic and our enduring ideals. What we want to do with “Save America's Treasures” -- with the Trust and the White House, in partnership with many members of the public and private sector -- is to challenge all communities and citizens to find ways that they could tell our nation's story. That is exactly what has happened with the Dolley Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar. Children can look at this coin and see the face of Dolley Madison and understand how so many people have contributed to our country's greatness. I hope they will imagine Dolley Madison, not only as a wonderful hostess, which indeed she was within the walls of this building, but as a skilled diplomat who could bring people together and help them work on behalf of common causes. I hope they will see her also as someone who understood the importance of saving our history even when we were a very young nation, so that future generations will appreciate what they, too, must do to save our history.

I have told the story many times -- and the reason we are here in the East Room, off on one side with the Gilbert Stuart behind us here -- is because it is one of my favorite stories about what has happened in this house. Obviously there have been many, many important and difficult and challenging times for the people who have lived here during our history. We are about to, in the year 2000, celebrate the 200th anniversary of the White House being inhabited. We would not have the White House as we know it today, and we would not have the few things that remain from the fire started by the British troops in 1814 during the war of 1812, were it not for Dolley Madison. President Madison, as you will recall, was our last Commander-in-Chief who actually was in the field leading troops against the British forces. Mrs. Madison was here in the house with the staff and a few close advisors, and she had prepared a wonderful meal for her husband and his officers to enjoy when they returned to the White House. But then her husband sent word that the British had broken through the lines and they were on their way to Washington. That meant that Mrs. Madison had to flee. In a letter she wrote to her sister at the time this was all going on, she described being within earshot of the cannons -- she could actually hear them. But she still refused to leave until she had collected what she considered the most important items in the house. I often pose the question to audiences: “What were they?” Well, they were not the account books, although they kept very good account books in those days at the White House. They were other things, and the most important was this Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. She attempted to get it out of the frame and when she could not, she had to break the frame and remove the canvas. When she had the portrait safely tucked away, she left, just in time.

When the British officers arrived, they sat down, ate the meal Mrs. Madison had prepared, and then burned the house to the ground. In the nearly 200 years since then, the White House has been refurbished and the outside repainted, because when it was rebuilt after this fire, it was painted white as it had been since its first coat of whitewash in 1798. You can still see some of the burn marks on a portion of the north facade west of the North Portico and on the south facade near the doorway to the Truman Balcony. We have left them unpainted to remind us of the vigilance it takes to safeguard this house and all it represents, and also to remind us of what happened here before.

The Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington still hangs proudly in this room today, thanks to Dolley Madison. I would like to point out that in this wonderful Journal of the White House Historical Association, Fall 1998, there is an article by William Seale, one of the most faithful historical reporters on the White House, and it talks specifically about the fire in this wonderful quote: “I must leave this house or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it.” That is one of the things that she knew would happen to her if she was not able to escape. Whether she was saving this portrait or transcribing her husband's letters and essays when he was stricken with rheumatism, she understood that none of us owns our past, but we are all the caretakers of our collective past and memory.

Because of this coin and the role it will play in saving Montpelier, more and more people will be able to travel to that very special place to learn about the contributions made by James and Dolley Madison. They will walk through the grounds and imagine James Madison's thoughts and writings that gave life to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Virginia Resolution. And they will also think about Dolley Madison.

When Zachary Taylor eulogized Dolley Madison 150 years ago, he said, “She will never be forgotten because she was truly our first lady for a half-century.” She is one of our first ladies for all time, and I thank you for helping to make that possible.

January 1999

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