Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

John Armstrong (1813–1814): Secretary of War

John Armstrong was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on November 25, 1758, and attended Princeton University. Armstrong began his political career in the state of Pennsylvania, first serving as secretary of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania (1783-1787) and subsequently as that state's adjutant general. After a term with the Continental Congress (1787-1788), Armstrong moved from Pennsylvania to New York and served for several years as a U.S. senator from that state (1800-1804).

He terminated his senatorial career in 1804 on account of a lack of interest, leaving his legislative duties behind to serve overseas as U.S. minister plenipotentiary to France (1804-1810). In addition, Armstrong filled in for one year as minister to Spain (1806). He returned home in 1810 with the United States embroiled in political conflict with France and Britain. With the onset of the War of 1812, Armstrong received a commission as brigadier general in the U.S. Army, marking his first stay with the Army since his service as aide-de-camp to General Horatio Gates during the Revolutionary War.

Armstrong accepted an appointment from President James Madison to become secretary of war in 1813. However, many observers blamed Armstrong for the Army's early failures in the war, practically forcing him to retire in 1814 after only one year of service. He subsequently did retire, moving to his home in New York and continuing life as a gentleman farmer and a writer. Armstrong died on April 1, 1843 in Red Hook, New York.