William Harrison Crawford
1772 – 1834
Descended from Thomas Crawford, who emigrated from Scotland
to Virginia in 1643, William Harrison Crawford was born one of eleven children
of Joel and Fannie Crawford. He was
born in Amherst County, Virginia on February 24, 1772.
During the American Revolution, the family moved to South Carolina, and
then to what is now Columbia County, Georgia.
His father died when William was sixteen, and he struggled
for an education while helping to support a large family.
He attended Carmel Academy under the talented Reverend Moses Waddell who
instilled within him, as he had in John C. Calhoun and others, a thirst for
knowledge. He studied law and began
practice at Lexington, where he married Susanna Giradin in 1804.
Crawford was engaged for seven years before he could afford to marry.
Crawford was elected to the state legislature in 1803.
Not prone to pick quarrels but prompt to resist insults he became
involved in a duel with Peter L. Van Allen, which was instigated by John Clarke,
a political opponent. He killed his antagonist and was later challenged by Clarke
who proposed that the combatants advance to a distance of five paces and
continue to exchange shots until one of them could not stand, kneel, or sit.
Crawford suffered a bullet-shattered wrist and became permanently
At thirty-five he was elected to fill a vacancy in the
United State Senate, where his gigantic stature, open countenance, diligent
endeavors, engaging affability, along with a fund of entertaining anecdotes,
marked him for immediate success. He
impressed his colleagues as having a mind of his own by opposing Henry Clay on
the question of renewal of the National Bank charter, and by his “Delphic
Oracle” speech, in which he censored President Madison for ambiguities in his
message on military preparation.
Honors crowded upon Crawford. He was elected president pro tempore of the Senate and
declined the office of Secretary of War, only to accept appointment in 1813 as
minister to France. During a
homeward voyage, he was made Secretary of War, and then upon his arrival
Secretary of the Treasury that his financial talents might be better utilized.
In 1816 Crawford was the choice of most of the
Democratic-Republicans in Washington for the Presidency, but James Monroe was
Madison’s favorite. Monroe felt
that as the last of the Revolutionary worthies he had a claim to the Presidency
and that Crawford, being young, could wait.
Crawford let it be known that his own feelings would not permit him to
oppose Monroe, who won a second term. By
1823, the Federalist Party had collapsed, and Crawford was easily the foremost
presidential aspirant, being warmly supported by Randolph, Macon, Madison, and
Van Buren. His group was often
styled “the Radicals” because they clung to the rights of the states after
most others had become nationalists.
But Crawford’s old dueling enemy, John Clarke, then
governor of Georgia, agitated opposition until the field was full of rivals,
including Adams, Clay, Jackson, and Calhoun.
However, Crawford’s prospects continued good until the fall of 1823,
when he was stricken with paralysis. For
a year and a half he lay in seclusion, almost blind, incapacitated, but slowly
improving. The election returned
Crawford as a poor third among four surviving candidates.
With no one elected, under the Constitutional provision, the choice was
thrown into the House of Representatives, and Adams was elected.
Crawford was again offered the Treasury position, which he
declined because of ill health. He
returned to Georgia, where he found little solace on the judge’s bench of the
state circuit court upon which his Georgia devotees placed him in 1827.
Crippled in body and mind, he nursed to the last a hopeless ambition for
the White House, but his following had scattered to form new alliances.
He died on September 15, 1834.