National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Much of the blame for Washington’s lack of defense fell on the shoulders of Secretary of War John Armstrong, who had recklessly dismissed the notion of a British attack on the capital. Although he was a Revolutionary War veteran, diplomat, and U.S. senator, Armstrong was not well liked. Despite his experience and connections, he suffered from the reputation of "indolence and intrigue." It was said that his "nature and habits forbid him to speak well of any man." In the days after the burning, Armstrong stubbornly refused to accept any responsibility for the outcome. He had a surprising confrontation with the "great little Madison," who rebuked the secretary for the city’s demise. Armstrong resigned, indignant. "It is obvious," Armstrong wrote, "that if all the troops assembled at Bladensburg had been faithful to themselves and to their country, the enemy would have been beaten and the capital saved."