William Harris Crawford Papers

MSN/EA 0511

 

Collection Summary

Title: William Harris Crawford Papers
Dates: 1804-1868
Collection No.: MSN/EA 0511
Creator: Crawford, William H. (William Harris), 1772-1834
Extent: 2 containers; 1 linear foot.
Language: Collection material in English and French
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: Political correspondence, family letters, and miscellaneous personal papers of William Harris Crawford, Republican of Georgia, who from 1807 to 1825 served as U. S. senator, U. S. minister to France, secretary of war, and secretary of the treasury. Crawford was also a candidate in the contentious presidential campaign of 1824. The collection includes around 175 manuscript letters, 1806-1868, and around 35 additional manuscripts.

Selected Search Terms

Crawford, William Harris, 1772-1834 -- Correspondence
United States -- Politics and government -- 1809-1817 -- Sources
United States -- Politics and government -- 1817-1825 -- Sources
United States -- Politics and government -- 1825-1829 -- Sources
Republican Party (U.S.: 1792-1828)
Georgia -- Political activity -- 19th century
United States -- Foreign relations -- 1812-1815
Ghent, Treaty of, 1814
United States. War Department -- History -- 19th century
Indians of North America -- Georgia
United States. Department of the Treasury
Finance, Public -- United States -- History -- 19th century
Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1824
Calhoun, John C. (John Caldwell), 1782-1850
Monroe, James, 1758-1831
Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845
Letters (correspondence)

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], William Harris Crawford Papers, [Collection and folder no.], Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The William Harris Crawford Papers were purchased by the Libraries in July 2016 from Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia (List 136, Item 8). When Chase C. Mooney was researching his 1974 biography of Crawford, these papers were in the hands of two of Crawford's great-great-grandaughters, Fanny Golding of Columbus, Mississippi and Mrs. E. E. Gross of Hattiesburg. Mooney stated that "they seem to be in the category of cherished items, they have not heretofore been available to researchers, and they bridge a number of gaps in other Crawfordiana" (William H. Crawford, Lexington KY, 1974, p. 348). In 2016 these same papers were sold by a great-great-great-great-grandson of Crawford to the Raab Collection, who sold the bulk of them to Michael Brown while retaining a few items for individual sale. Arranged and described 2017, by George Rugg. Finding aid 2017-18, by George Rugg.

Biographical Note

William Harris Crawford was born on 24 February 1772 in Amherst County (now Nelson County), Virginia, the sixth of eleven children of Joel Crawford and Fanny Harris Crawford. Joel's great-grandfather, John, Earl of Crawford, had emigrated to Virginia in 1643. During 1779-83 the family relocated several times, ultimately to Richmond County (now Columbia County), Georgia, near the present site of Appling. After several years of teaching and working on the family farm, Crawford entered Moses Waddell's Carmel Academy near Appling and remained for two years (1792-94), pursuing a curriculum that emphasized Latin, Greek, mathematics, and English grammar and literature. He first studied law during his tenure as a teacher of English at Richmond Academy in Augusta, and in 1799 moved to Lexington in Oglethorpe County to begin practice.

Around 1800 Georgia public life was dominated by the antagonism between two rival Democratic Republican party factions. That associated with John Clark of Wilkes County tended to attract small farmers and land speculators, many of North Carolina origin. That led by James Jackson of Savannah drew its strength from residents of older settled areas, many of them larger landholders moved from Virginia. As Crawford rose to public attention riding Georgia's Western Circuit, his opposition to gross land speculation earned him the enmity of Clark, culminating in several duels (including one fought with Clark himself). It also led to an assumption of leadership within the Jackson faction of the party, alongside George M. Troup.

In 1804 Crawford married Susanna Gerardin (1780-1863), daughter of a Savannah River Valley planter, with whom he would have three daughters and five sons. Around the same time he purchased a tract of land three miles from Lexington that over the years he would expand into a good-sized plantation, called "Woodlawn." At his death he held 1,300 acres and 45 slaves.

Crawford was first elected to public office in 1803, as a state representative from Oglethorpe County. In 1807 the Georgia legislature chose him to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate, a position to which he was reelected in 1811. From March 1812 to March 1813 Crawford served as president pro tempore of the Senate. His national stature is evident from the sequence of appointments that came his way over the next several years: U.S. minister to France during the War of 1812 (1813-15); secretary of war in the cabinet of James Madison (1815-16); and secretary of the treasury, a position he held for the remainder of Madison's second term and for the two terms of his successor, James Monroe. (In the March 1816 Republican congressional caucus held to select the party's presidential nominee, Crawford received 54 votes to Monroe's 65, though most today accept as genuine Crawford's disavowal of interest in contesting Monroe).

The Treasury was the largest, and perhaps most inefficient, of Washington's departments. It incorporated the customs service, the land offices, the post office, the internal revenue service, the coastal service, and many other agencies, to say nothing of its necessary relation to the newly established Second Bank of the United States (which Crawford supported). It is generally agreed that Crawford's greatest achievements as secretary were as an administrator, in overhauling and reorganizing the department bureaucracy, and in establishing a greater sense of accountability among its employees. Following the economic collapse of 1819 Crawford and his "Radical" supporters in the administration and Congress led the effort to curb the federal spending associated with the new or nationalist wing of the Republican Party. In an era of increased factionalism within the party, this made him many enemies, including Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and Gen. Andrew Jackson.

Campaigning among leading Republicans for the 1824 presidential election began almost as soon as Monroe was reelected in 1820. Crawford was a favorite, with a platform framed as a return to the virtues of Old Republicanism: strict construction of the Constitution, state sovereignty, fiscal rectitude. His chief opponents were Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Jackson, and Calhoun. In September 1823 the fifty-one year old Crawford suffered the onset of a serious illness, described by some as a stroke, whose effects were complicated by the improper ministration of medicines. The limitations imposed by this illness, together with a boycotting of the February 1824 Congressional nominating caucus (a system believed to favor Crawford) undermined his campaign, which ended with Adams's victory in a House vote. Crawford finished behind Jackson and Adams with 41 electoral votes, mostly from Virginia, Georgia, and New York (where he was supported by Martin Van Buren).

Crawford refused reappointment as treasury secretary under Adams and returned to Georgia. His health slowly improved, though he seems to have remained in some respects physically impaired. Though supporters urged him to reenter the national political scene he refrained from doing so, serving as judge of the Northern Circuit of the Superior Court of Georgia. An abiding legacy from his years in Washington was a bitterness towards Calhoun, whom he thought most responsible for keeping him from the presidency. Crawford died near Elberton, Georgia, on 15 September 1834.

Scope and Content Note

Series 1, General Correspondence, includes a total of 104 items, almost all of political or public interest. Most (89) are letters directed to William H. Crawford and retained by him. These span almost the whole of Crawford's political career, 1806 to 1833, without any obvious period emphasis. The letters were written by about 60 different correspondents. Among the more prominent public figures represented are: Robert Smith (as secretary of state); John Randolph of Roanoke; David R. Williams (as South Carolina governor); Thomas Worthington (as Ohio governor); John C. Calhoun (as secretary of war); James Barbour (as secretary of war); Thomas Hart Benton (as Missouri senator); Nathaniel Macon (as North Carolina senator); and Samuel Smith of Maryland. Among the Crawford allies and other Georgians of national repute with letters to Crawford are: George Matthews; Obadiah Jones; Charles Tait; John Forsythe; William W. Bibb; George M. Troup; John Stevens; and Thomas W. Cobb. Series 1 also includes 7 retained copies or letter drafts of Crawford's, many relating to a dispute with Calhoun in October 1821. There are also 8 letters written neither to nor by Crawford, many of them enclosures.

Series 2, Crawford Family Correspondence, includes 73 letters written either by or to (often between) members of the family, 1804 to 1868. There is one letter by William Harris Crawford (to his wife Susanna, 7 May 1833), and there are 8 directed to him. Most of the remaining letters were written by or to Crawford's children: Caroline (b. 1805); Eliza Ann (b. 1809); William Jr. (b. 1813); Susan (b. 1819); and Bibb (b. 1821).

Series 3, Miscellaneous Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, includes 35 items, mostly manuscript, totalling 169 manuscript pages. Among the more substantial items are: a file of ten documents relating to the 1806 impeachment hearings in the Georgia legislature against Crawford ally Charles Tait (35 pages); a file compiled by the U.S. minister to Portugal in 1815 on events in Brazil (60 pages); manuscripts relating to Crawford's currency report of 1820 (15 pages); and an essay (ca. 1825) on Crawford's Indian policies as secretary of war (34 pages).

Arrangement Note

The Crawford Papers comprise three series: 1) General Correspondence; 2) Crawford Family Correspondence; 3) Miscellaneous Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera. The first and third are arranged chronologically; the second is arranged by family member.

Related Material

According to Chase Mooney, a substantial collection of Crawford's personal papers was destroyed by fire in the 1860s, with the burning of the home of a son-in-law, Charles M. Dudley. Dudley had assembled Crawford's papers with the aim of writing a memoir. Surviving papers are scattered among numerous repositories. Larger collections include the William Harris Crawford Papers at the Library of Congress (around 300 items) and the William Harris Crawford Papers at the William R. Perkins Library, Duke University (around 126 items).

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