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Crawford, William Harris

CRAWFORD, WILLIAM HARRIS (1772-1834), American statesman, was born in Amherst county, Virginia, on the 24th of February 1772. When he was seven his parents moved into Edgefield district, South Carolina, and four years later into Columbus county, Georgia. The death of his father in 1788 left the family in reduced circumstances, and William made what he could by teaching school for six years. He then studied at Carmel Academy for two years, was principal, for a time, of one of the largest schools in Augusta, and in 1798 was admitted to the bar. From 1800 to 1802, with Horatio Marbury, he prepared a digest of the laws of Georgia from 1755 to 1800. From 1803 to 1807 he was a member of the State House of Representatives, becoming during this period the leader of one of two personal-political factions in the state that long continued in bitter strife, occasioning his fighting two duels, in one of which he killed his antagonist, and in the other was wounded in his wrist. From 1807 to 1813 he was a member of the United States Senate, of which he was president pro tempore from March 1812 to March 1813. In 1813 he declined the offer of the post of secretary of war, but from that year until 1815 was minister to the court of France. He was then secretary of war in 1815-1816, and secretary of the treasury from 1816 to 1825. In 1816 in the congressional caucus which nominated James Monroe for the presidency Crawford was a strong opposing candidate, a majority being at first in his favour, but when the vote was finally cast 65 were for Monroe and 54 for Crawford. In 1824, when the congressional caucus was fast becoming extinct, Crawford, being prepared to control it, insisted that it should be held, but of 216 Republicans only 66 attended; of these, 64 voted for Crawford. Three other candidates, however, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and Henry Clay, were otherwise put in the field. During the campaign Crawford was stricken with paralysis, and when the electoral vote was cast Jackson received 99, Adams 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37. It remained for the house of representatives to choose from Jackson, Adams and Crawford, and through Clay's influence Adams became president. Crawford was invited by Adams to continue as secretary of the treasury, but declined. He recovered his health sufficiently to become (in 1827) a circuit judge in his own state, but died while on circuit, in Elberton, Georgia, on the 15th of September 1834. In his day he was undoubtedly one of the foremost political leaders of the country, but his reputation has not stood the test of time. He was of imposing presence and had great conversational powers; but his inflexible integrity was not sufficiently tempered by tact and civility to admit of his winning general popularity. Consequently, although a skilful political organizer, he incurred the bitter enmity of other leaders of his time - Jackson, Adams and Calhoun. He won the admiration of Albert Gallatin and others by his powerful support of the movement in 1811 to recharter the Bank of the United States; he earned the condemnation of posterity by his authorship in 1820 of the four-years-term law, which limited the term of service of thousands of public officials to four years, and did much to develop the "spoils system." He was a Liberal Democrat, and advised the calling of a constitutional convention as preferable to nullification or secession.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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