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In 1814, during the British invasion of Washington, D.C., Dorthea "Dolly" Payne Madison, wife of President James Madison, busily prepares an evacuation of the White House. While packing her belongings, Dolly recalls her journey to the White House, beginning in her youth, when her father, John Payne, returned to their home in Virginia after fighting in the Revolutionary War: Fulfilling a promise he made to a dying friend and fellow soldier, Payne sells his slaves, joins the Quaker faith, moves his family to Philadelphia and arranges the marriage of his daughter Dolly to John Todd, his friend's son. Dolly, however, dislikes her new husband, and though she eventually has a son by him, she resigns herself to a loveless marriage. Tragedy strikes when first Dolly's father and then her son die from yellow fever. Dolly eventually falls in love with John, but her affections come too late, as John, too, is killed by the deadly plague. The next two years prove to be lonely and bitter ones for Dolly and her mother, who live together in a large house. Dolly's mother eventually takes in a number boarders, including Aaron Burr, a Senator from New York, and Burr's friend, James Madison, a Congressman from Virginia. Burr and Madison, though close friends, are often at odds with each other, arguing about everything from politics to their common interest in Dolly. Dolly and Burr spark a romance, but Dolly soon discovers that he is an autocrat and begins to despise his politics. She later turns to Madison for companionship, and they fall in love. When Dolly tells Burr that she intends to marry Madison, he becomes enraged and forces her to kiss him, but Dolly soon marries Madison, and they move to Virginia. One day, Madison receives a request from Presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson to come to Washington, D.C. to work on his campaign. Madison accepts the offer, and he and Dolly spend their fifth wedding anniversary in Washington. The election results in a tie between Jefferson and his Vice-Presidential running-mate, Burr, and the responsibility of choosing the next president goes to the House of Representatives. Burr, meanwhile, makes a claim to the Presidency, but later changes his mind when Dolly persuades him to drop out. After winning the presidency, Jefferson appoints Madison as his Secretary of State and puts Dolly in charge of remodeling the President's home. Resenting his powerless position in government, Burr schemes to sabotage Jefferson's re-election bid. After Burr kills his political adversary, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel, he flees to Philadelphia, where he makes a failed attempt to order government troops into a battle to take the Southern states. Burr is later charged with murder and treason and becomes the object of public scorn. When an angry mob assembles outside Burr's door demanding that he be hanged, Dolly prevents Burr's lynching by telling the mob that the unrepentant Burr does not deserve to die a martyr. As the mob disperses, Madison arrives and proudly embraces his wife.