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August 24-25, 1814, were black days for the United States military as British forces handily defeated American militiamen at Bladensburg, Maryland, captured Washington, and put the United States Capitol, President's House, and other prominent public buildings to the torch.

Even as the British invasion of southern Maryland and march to Washington in August 1814 threatened to bring war to her doorstep, Dolley Madison determinedly went about business as usual and showed impressive courage awaiting her husband's return from the Bladensburg, Maryland, battlefield where he had gone to observe the troops.

In 1809, James and Dolley Madison had moved into the completed President's House that contained worn furnishings from previous administrations. President Madison commissioned architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who had been responsible for many White House design improvements under President Jefferson, to refurbish the state floor. The elegant parlors created a stage for the Madison weekly "drawing rooms" or "squeezes," and became a valuable political tool for President Madison as he looked for support in a Congress bitterly divided over the conduct of the war.

"Never was nectar more grateful to the palates of the gods than the crystal goblet of Madeira and water I quaffed off at Mr. Madison's expense."

Cockburn's aide-de-camp Lt. James Scott on the dinner and drinks he and fellow officers enjoyed at the deserted President's House on August 24, 1814

The Burning of the White House. Tom Freeman (2004).

© White House Historical Association

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