John Armstrong
7th United States Secretary of War
In office
January 13, 1813 – September 27, 1814
PresidentJames Madison
Preceded byWilliam Eustis
Succeeded byJames Monroe
United States Minister to France
In office
November 18, 1804 – September 14, 1810
PresidentThomas Jefferson
James Madison
Preceded byRobert Livingston
Succeeded byJonathan Russell
United States Senator
from New York
In office
February 4, 1804 – June 30, 1804
Preceded byTheodorus Bailey
Succeeded bySamuel L. Mitchill
In office
November 10, 1803 – February 4, 1804
Appointed byGeorge Clinton
Preceded byDeWitt Clinton
Succeeded byJohn Smith
In office
November 6, 1800 – February 5, 1802
Preceded byJohn Laurance
Succeeded byDeWitt Clinton
Member of the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania
In office
Personal details
Born(1758-11-25)November 25, 1758
Carlisle, Pennsylvania. British America
DiedApril 1, 1843(1843-04-01) (aged 84)
Red Hook, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Alida Livingston
(m. 1789; died 1822)
RelativesJohn Armstrong (father)
James Armstrong (brother)
EducationPrinceton University
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/serviceContinental Army
 United States Army
Years of service1775–1777, 1782–1783 (Continental Army)
1812–1813 (U.S. Army)
RankMajor (Continental Army)
Brigadier General (U.S. Army)
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War
War of 1812

John Armstrong Jr. (November 25, 1758 – April 1, 1843) was an American soldier, diplomat and statesman who was a delegate to the Continental Congress, U.S. Senator from New York, and United States Secretary of War under President James Madison.[1] A member of the Democratic-Republican Party, Armstrong was United States Minister to France from 1804 to 1810.

Early life

Further information: Livingston family

Armstrong was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the younger son of General John Armstrong Sr. and Rebecca (Lyon) Armstrong.[2] John Sr. was a renowned Pennsylvania soldier born in Ireland of Scottish descent. John Jr.'s older brother was James Armstrong, who became a physician and U.S. Congressman.[3]

After early education in Carlisle, John Jr. studied at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University.[2] He broke off his studies in Princeton in 1775 to return to Pennsylvania and join the fight in the Revolutionary War.[4]


Revolutionary War

The young Armstrong initially joined a Pennsylvania militia regiment and the following year he was appointed as aide-de-camp to General Hugh Mercer of the Continental Army.[4] In this role, he carried the wounded and dying General Mercer from the field at the Battle of Princeton. After the general died on January 12, 1777, Armstrong became an aide to General Horatio Gates. He stayed with Gates through the Battle of Saratoga then resigned due to problems with his health. In 1782 Gates asked him to return. Armstrong joined General Gates' staff as an aide with the rank of major, which he held through the rest of the war.[4]

Newburgh letters

While in camp with Gates at Newburgh, New York, Armstrong became involved in the Newburgh Conspiracy. He is generally acknowledged as the author of the two anonymous letters directed at the officers in the camp. The first, titled "An Address to the Officers" (dated March 10, 1783), called for a meeting to discuss back pay and other grievances with the Congress and form a plan of action. After George Washington ordered the meeting canceled and called for a milder meeting on March 15, a second address appeared that claimed that this showed that Washington supported their actions.[4]

Washington successfully defused this protest without a mutiny. While some of Armstrong's later correspondence acknowledged his role, there was never any official action that connected him with the anonymous letters.[3]

After the revolution

Later in 1783 Armstrong returned home to Carlisle and became an Original Member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati. He was named the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania's militia and also served as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under Presidents Dickinson and Franklin. In 1784, he led a military force of four hundred militiamen into a controversy with Connecticut settlers in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. His tactics enraged the nearby states of Vermont and Connecticut, which sent their own militia into the area. Timothy Pickering was dispatched to forge a solution to the difficulty, and the settlers were able to keep title to the land they had tamed. In 1787 and 1788 Armstrong was sent as a delegate for Pennsylvania to the Congress of the Confederation. The Congress offered to make him chief justice of the Northwest Territory. He declined this, as well as all other public offices for the next dozen years.[3]

Armstrong resumed public life after the resignation of John Laurance as U.S. Senator from New York. As a Jeffersonian Republican he was elected in November 1800 to a term ending in March 1801. He took his seat on November 6, and was re-elected on January 27 for a full term (1801–1807), but resigned on February 5, 1802. DeWitt Clinton was elected to fill the vacancy, but resigned in 1803, and Armstrong was appointed temporarily to his old seat.[4]

In February 1804, Armstrong was elected again to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Theodorus Bailey, thus moving from the Class 3 to the Class 1 seat on February 25, but served only four months before President Jefferson appointed him U.S. Minister to France.[5][6]

To Paris Armstrong brought as his private secretary the United-Irish exile, David Bailie Warden. After serving as Consul, Warden was to author the first major work of reference for the diplomatic corps; a "pioneering" contribution to "the emergence of doctrinal views and a specialist literature on international law".[7]

Armstrong served as Minister in Paris until September 1810. In 1806 he had also briefly also represented the United States at the court of Spain.[4]

When the War of 1812 broke out, Armstrong was called to military service. He was commissioned as a Brigadier General, and placed in charge of the defenses for the port of New York.[8] Then in 1813 President Madison named him Secretary of War.[5]

Henry Adams wrote of him:

In spite of Armstrong's services, abilities, and experience, something in his character always created distrust. He had every advantage of education, social and political connection, ability and self-confidence; he was only fifty-four years old, which was also the age of Monroe; but he suffered from the reputation of indolence and intrigue. So strong was the prejudice against him that he obtained only eighteen votes against fifteen in the Senate on his confirmation; and while the two senators from Virginia did not vote at all, the two from Kentucky voted in the negative. Under such circumstances, nothing but military success of the first order could secure a fair field for Monroe's rival.[9]

Armstrong made a number of valuable changes to the armed forces but was so convinced that the British would 'not' attack Washington D.C. that he did nothing to defend the city even when it became clear it was the objective of the invasion force. After the American defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg and the subsequent burning of Washington, Madison, usually a forgiving man, forced him to resign in September 1814.[10]

Later life

Armstrong returned to his farm and resumed a quiet life. He published a number of histories, biographies, and some works on agriculture. He died at La Bergerie (later renamed Rokeby), the farm estate he built in Red Hook, New York in 1843 and is buried in the cemetery in Rhinebeck. Following the death of Paine Wingate in 1838, he became the last surviving delegate to the Continental Congress, and the only one to be photographed.[3]

Personal life

Alida Livingston Armstrong and Daughter, Rembrandt Peale, ca. 1810
Daguerreotype of Armstrong in 1840. This photo is the only one of a person who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress.

In 1789, Armstrong married Alida Livingston (1761–1822), the youngest child of Judge Robert Livingston (1718–1775) and Margaret (née Beekman) Livingston. Alida was also the sister of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and Edward Livingston.[11][12] Together they had seven children:[3]

Armstrong died in Red Hook, New York on April 1, 1843. He was buried at the Rhinebeck Cemetery in Rhinebeck, New York.[5]



Armstrong's initial farm in Dutchess County, called "Altmont" (also known as "The Meadows"), was originally part of the Schuyler patent. In 1795, he purchased a part of the farm from the Van Benthuysen family, and converted an existing barn into a two-story Federal style dwelling with twelve rooms.[17] Around 1800, Armstrong sold "Almont" to Andrew and Anna Verplanck Deveaux. Deveaux died in 1812; in 1816 his widow sold "Deveaux Park" to John Stevens. The mansion burned down around 1879. In 1908, lumber rights to the white oak and chestnut forests were sold for timber for the New York market.[18]

La Bergerie

After the death of Margaret Beekman Livingston, widow of Judge Robert Livingston, much of the Clermont land was distributed among the heirs. John R. Livingston received the land that would become the "Messena" estate. His sister Alida Livingston Armstrong inherited the property just to the south. There the Armstrong's created "La Bergerie", in English "the sheepfold" – an estate where they raised Merino sheep. The Merino sheep were a gift from the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on Armstrong's departure after being Minister. The Astors purchased it for a summer home and renamed it Rokeby. Margaret Chanler Aldrich, great-granddaughter of Margaret Armstrong Astor, married Richard Aldrich. Rokeby remains in the Aldrich family.

See also


  1. ^ "John Armstrong letters 1795, 1802, 1806, 1812, 1813, 1814". The New York Public Library. Archived from the original on October 18, 2019. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Who Was Who in American History - the Military. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1975. p. 15. ISBN 0837932017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Skeen, Carl Edward (1981). John Armstrong, Jr., 1758-1843: A Biography. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815622420. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Tucker, Spencer (2009). U.S. Leadership in Wartime: Clashes, Controversy, and Compromise. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598841725. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c "ARMSTRONG, John, Jr. - Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  6. ^ Rodriguez, Junius P.; Smith, Robert W. (2002). The Louisiana Purchase: A Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781576071885. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  7. ^ Butler, William E. (2011). "David Bailie Warden and the Development of American Consular Law". Journal of the History of International Law. 13 (2): 377–424, 317. doi:10.1163/15718050-13020005. Retrieved January 16, 2021.
  8. ^ Quimby, Robert S. (1997). The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: An Operational and Command Study. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press.
  9. ^ Adams, Henry, History of the United States of America during the Administrations of James Madison. The Library of America, 1986. p. 593.
  10. ^ Pitch, Anthony, The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814. Bluejacket Books, 2000. p. 168.
  11. ^ Livingston, Edwin Brockholst (1910). The Livingstons of Livingston Manor: Being the History of that Branch of the Scottish House of Callendar which Settled in the English Province of New York During the Reign of Charles the Second; and Also Including an Account of Robert Livingston of Albany, "The Nephew," a Settler in the Same Province and His Principal Descendants. Knickerbocker Press. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Mowbray, Jay Henry (1898). Representative Men of New York: A Record of Their Achievements. New York Press. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  13. ^ "DIED". The Daily Exchange. April 9, 1858. p. 2. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  14. ^ Chisholm, Hugh (1905). The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  15. ^ Heitman, Francis Bernard (1903). Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army: From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 170. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  16. ^ Trager, James (2010). The New York Chronology: The Ultimate Compendium of Events, People, and Anecdotes from the Dutch to the Present. Zondervan. ISBN 9780062018601. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  17. ^ "Kenny, Peter M. ""The Consummation of Earthly Bliss": – Classical American Homes Preservation Trust". Classical American Homes Preservation Trust". Archived from the original on May 25, 2020. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  18. ^ Lewis, John N., "Town of Red Hook", History of Dutchess County, (Frank Hasbrouck, ed.), Higginson Book Company, 1909Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

Further reading

U.S. Senate Preceded byJohn Laurance U.S. senator (Class 3) from New York 1800–1802 Served alongside: Gouverneur Morris Succeeded byDeWitt Clinton Preceded byDeWitt Clinton U.S. senator (Class 3) from New York 1803–1804 Served alongside: Theodorus Bailey Succeeded byJohn Smith Preceded byTheodorus Bailey U.S. senator (Class 1) from New York 1804 Served alongside: John Smith Succeeded bySamuel Mitchill Diplomatic posts Preceded byRobert R. Livingston U.S. Minister to France 1804–1810 Succeeded byJoel Barlow Political offices Preceded byWilliam Eustis U.S. Secretary of WarServed under: James Madison 1813–1814 Succeeded byJames Monroe