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William H. Crawford

William H. Crawford

American politician and judge
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American politician and judge
A.K.A. William Harris Crawford
Countries United States of America
Occupations Politician Lawyer Diplomat Judge
Gender male
Birth 24 February 1772 (Amherst County, Virginia, U.S.A.)
Death 15 September 1834 (Crawford, Oglethorpe County, Georgia, U.S.A.)
Star sign Pisces
Politics Democratic-Republican Party
The details

William Harris Crawford (February 24, 1772 – September 15, 1834) was an American politician and judge during the early 19th century. He served as United States Secretary of War and United States Secretary of the Treasury before running for president in the 1824 election.

Born in Virginia, Crawford moved to Georgia at a young age. After studying law, Crawford won election to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1803. He aligned with the Democratic-Republican Party and U.S. Senator James Jackson. In 1807, the Georgia legislature elected Crawford to the United States Senate. After the death of Vice President George Clinton, Crawford's position as president pro tempore of the Senate made him first in the presidential line of succession from April 1812 to March 1813. In 1813, President James Madison appointed Crawford as the U.S. minister to France, and Crawford held that post for the remainder of the War of 1812. After the war, Madison appointed him to the position of Secretary of War. In October 1816, Madison chose Crawford for the position of Secretary of the Treasury, and Crawford would remain in that office for the remainder of Madison's presidency and for the duration of James Monroe's presidency.

Crawford suffered a severe stroke in 1823, but nonetheless sought to succeed Monroe in the 1824 election. The Democratic-Republican Party splintered into factions as several others also sought the presidency. No candidate won a majority of the electoral vote, so the United States House of Representatives chose the president in a contingent election. Under the terms of the Constitution, the House selected from the three candidates who received the most electoral votes, leaving Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and Crawford in the running. The House selected Adams, who asked Crawford to remain at Treasury. Refusing Adams' offer, Crawford accepted appointment to the Georgia state superior court. He considered running in the 1832 presidential election, either for the presidency or the vice presidency, but ultimately chose not to run.

Early life

Crawford was born on February 24, 1772 in the portion of Amherst County, Virginia that later became Nelson County, the son of Joel Crawford and Fanny Harris, but at least one source has given his birthplace as Tusculum, a house whose site remains in Amherst County. He moved with his family to Edgefield County, South Carolina in 1779 and to Columbia County, Georgia in 1783. Crawford was educated at private schools in Georgia and at Richmond Academy in Augusta. After his father's death, Crawford became the family's main financial provider, and he worked on the Crawford family farm and taught school. He later studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1799 and began to practice in Lexington. Also in 1799, Crawford was appointed by the state legislature to prepare a digest of Georgia's statutes.

State politics

He influenced Georgia politics for decades. In 1803, Crawford was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, and he served until 1807. He allied himself with Senator James Jackson. Their enemies were the Clarkites, led by John Clark. In 1802, he shot and killed Peter Lawrence Van Alen, a Clark ally, in a duel. Four years later, on December 16, 1806, Crawford faced Clark himself in a duel, and Crawford's left wrist was shattered by a shot from Clark, but he eventually recovered.

In Congress

In 1807, Crawford joined the 10th United States Congress as the junior U.S. Senator from Georgia when the Georgia legislature elected him to replace George Jones, who had held the office for a few months after the death of Abraham Baldwin.

Crawford was elected President pro tempore of the Senate in March 1812, and then, following the April 20, 1812 death of Vice President George Clinton, Crawford, served as the permanent presiding officer of the United States Senate through March 4, 1813.

In 1811, Crawford declined to serve as Secretary of War in the Madison administration. In the Senate, he voted for several acts leading up to the War of 1812, and he supported the entry into the war, but he was ready for peace: "Let it then be the wisdom of this nation to remain at peace, as long as peace is within its option."

Minister to France

In 1813, President James Madison appointed Crawford as the US minister to France during the waning years of the First French Empire; Crawford held that ministerial post until 1815, shortly after the end of the war.


Upon Crawford's return, Madison appointed him as Secretary of War. After slightly more than a year of satisfactory service in that post and after disclaiming interest in the 1816 presidential race as the Democratic-Republican nomination, Crawford moved within the Cabinet to become Secretary of the Treasury. He remained in that position through the rest of Madison's term and James Monroe's entire administration, which ended in 1825.

1824 election

Crawford was again a leading candidate for the Democratic-Republican presidential nomination in the 1824 election. However, Crawford was put out of the running due to a paralyzing stroke he had suffered in 1823 as a result of a prescription given to him by his physician. The Democratic-Republican Party was now split, and one of the splinter groups nominated Crawford.

Despite Crawford's improved health (and the support of former Presidents Madison and Thomas Jefferson), he finished third in the electoral vote, behind Battle of New Orleans hero Andrew Jackson and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. He thus was still in the nominal running when the Presidential election ended up in the House of Representatives because the Twelfth Amendment allows the House to choose one of the top three candidates. His stroke ended whatever chance he had of winning.

Later life

Refusing Adams' request for him to remain at the Treasury, Crawford then returned to Georgia, where he was appointed as a state superior court judge. Crawford remained an active judge until his death, a decade later.

Crawford was nominated for vice president by the Georgia legislature in 1828 but withdrew after support from other states was not forthcoming. Crawford also considered running for vice president in 1832 but decided against it, in favor of Martin Van Buren. Crawford also considered running for president again in 1832 but dropped the idea when Jackson decided to seek a second term.

Crawford is buried at the site of his home, about half a mile west of the current Crawford city limit.


During the 1820s, Crawford was a member of the prestigious society Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, which had among its members former Presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams.

Crawford also served as a Vice President in the American Colonization Society from its formation in 1817 to his death.


Crawford was a descendent of John Crawford (1600–1676), who had come to Virginia in 1643 but participated and died in Bacon's Rebellion. John's son David Crawford I (1625–1698), was the father of David Crawford II (1662–1762), and the grandfather of David Crawford III (1697–1766). David Crawford III married Ann Anderson in 1727 and had 13 children, including Joel Crawford (1736–1788).

His cousin George W. Crawford served as Secretary of War under President Zachary Taylor.


Crawford depicted on United States fractional currency

In 1875, Crawford appeared on the 50 cent bill.

The following places are named in his honor:

Cities and towns

  • Crawford, Georgia
  • Crawfordville, Georgia
  • Crawfordsville, Indiana


  • Crawford County, Arkansas
  • Crawford County, Georgia
  • Crawford County, Illinois
  • Crawford County, Indiana
  • Crawford County, Iowa
  • Crawford County, Michigan
  • Crawford County, Missouri
  • Crawford County, Wisconsin
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