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A Perfect Union

A Perfect Union

Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation

Catherine Allgor

Holt Paperbacks

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"Delightful and discerning . . . In this evocative study a remarkable woman, creator of the ‘first lady' role, comes vividly to life."The New York Times


When the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation's capital. Into that unsteady atmosphere—which would soon enough erupt into another conflict with Britain—Dolley Madison arrived, alongside her husband, James. Within a few years, she had mastered both the social and political intricacies of the city, and by her death in 1849 was the most celebrated person in Washington. And yet, to most Americans, she's best known for saving a portrait from the burning White House.

Why did her contemporaries so admire a lady so little known today? In A Perfect Union, acclaimed historian Catherine Allgor reveals how Dolley manipulated the contstraints of her gender to construct an American democratic ruling style and to achieve her husband's political goals. By emphasizing cooperation over coercion—building bridges instead of bunkers—she left us with not only an important story about our past but a model for a modern form of politics.

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A Perfect Union by Catherine Allgor--Audiobook Excerpt

Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Catherine Allgor's book A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation. An extraordinary American comes to life in this vivid, incisive portrait of the early days of the republic—and the birth of modern politics. When the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of American politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation's newly minted capital.

Praise for A Perfect Union

“Where is Dolley Madison when we need her? Catherine Allgor makes clear that Mrs. Madison's skills as a hostess and politician held the country together when rabid partisanship threatened to tear it apart. This is a well-told biography of a true nineteenth-century celebrity, but a celebrity with substance, savvy and courage.” —Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation

“For some time Dolley Madison has been a beguiling ornament, flashing her femininity in the parlors of the early American republic. Here, at last, Catherine Allgor, with great style and wit, recovers a different Dolley, a full-fledged political partner with James Madison. Now, in addition to John and Abigail,we have James and Dolley.” —Joseph J. Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington

“A lively, clear-eyed account of a master politician. As first ‘Presidentess,' Dolley Madison established herself among our earliest female celebrities and left an enduring mark on American culture. Hers is a rousing tale of ambition, gossip, and policy, told with empathy and understanding by Catherine Allgor. ” —Stacy Schiff, author of A Great Improvisation

“Before Jackie Kennedy there was Dolley Madison - elegant, sophisticated and charismatic. Thanks to her inimitable style and determination, the nation's capital became more than just a swampy outpost where pigs and politicians freely roamed. In A Perfect Union Catherine… More…

“Where is Dolley Madison when we need her? Catherine Allgor makes clear that Mrs. Madison's skills as a hostess and politician held the country together when rabid partisanship threatened to tear it apart. This is a well-told biography of a true nineteenth-century celebrity, but a celebrity with substance, savvy and courage.” —Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation

“For some time Dolley Madison has been a beguiling ornament, flashing her femininity in the parlors of the early American republic. Here, at last, Catherine Allgor, with great style and wit, recovers a different Dolley, a full-fledged political partner with James Madison. Now, in addition to John and Abigail,we have James and Dolley.” —Joseph J. Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington

“A lively, clear-eyed account of a master politician. As first ‘Presidentess,' Dolley Madison established herself among our earliest female celebrities and left an enduring mark on American culture. Hers is a rousing tale of ambition, gossip, and policy, told with empathy and understanding by Catherine Allgor. ” —Stacy Schiff, author of A Great Improvisation

“Before Jackie Kennedy there was Dolley Madison - elegant, sophisticated and charismatic. Thanks to her inimitable style and determination, the nation's capital became more than just a swampy outpost where pigs and politicians freely roamed. In A Perfect Union Catherine Allgor reveals the warm and fascinating woman who dazzled Americans for more than three decades.” —Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

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Catherine Allgor

A professor of history at the University of California–Riverside, Catherine Allgor has received the George Washington Egleston Prize, the Lerner-Scott Prize, and the James H. Broussard First Book Prize for Parlor Politics. She was awarded a Bunting Fellowship for her work on Dolley Madison.

Catherine Allgor

Holt Paperbacks

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