Crawford William Harris

William Harris Crawford (1772 –1834), 2nd cousin 6x removed

William Harris Crawford (1772-1834): United States Senator from Georgia, 7th Secretary of the Treasury, 9th Secretary of War, U.S. Ambassador to France and candidate for President of the United States in 1824 – oil painting by Charles Bird King

William Harris Crawford was an American politician and judge during the early 19th century.  He served as United States Secretary of War from 1815-16 and United States Secretary of the Treasury from 1816-1825, and he was a candidate for President of the United States in 1824.

In 1803, Crawford was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party.  In 1807, Crawford joined the 10th United States Congress mid-term as the junior U.S. Senator from Georgia when the Georgia legislature elected him to replace George Jones, an appointee who had held the office for a few months after the death of Abraham Baldwin.  Crawford was elected President pro tempore in 1811.  When Vice President George Clinton died on 20 Apr 1812, Crawford, as President pro tempore, became “Acting Vice President” until 4 Mar 1813.

Generally, William Crawford was a Democratic-Republican of the Old School in as far as he believed in states rights and free trade.  When faced with unique challenges, however, he did prove flexible.  During the economic depression of 1819 he instituted an effective relief program for farmers who were falling behind in meeting their installment debts owed to the Federal government for the purchase of Federal lands because of falling farm prices.  His debt deferral program was immensely popular in the western territories where the majority of farmers purchased their land from the Federal government.  Also because of the economic state of the nation in 1819-1820, William supported a modest protective tariff on imported goods and favored re-chartering the Bank of the United States.  The most daring scheme that he proposed was for the Federal government to issue flexible paper currency that would not be convertible to hard currency.  This proposal met strong opposition in Congress, so William backed down.

The 50 cent treasury note bearing Crawford's portrait.  For a brief period in the 1870s the United States Treasury experimented with the issuance of fractional currency. This was done because in the decade following the Civil War, the demand for coinage far exceeded the availability of the metals needed to mint them.  Fractional currency proved immensely unpopular with the public and was quickly abandoned.

The 50 cent treasury note bearing Crawford’s portrait. For a brief period in the 1870s the United States Treasury experimented with the issuance of fractional currency. This was done because in the decade following the Civil War, the demand for coinage far exceeded the availability of the metals needed to mint them. Fractional currency proved immensely unpopular with the public and was quickly abandoned.

The early 1820s saw the end of the first party system, which had grown out of the rivalry between Thomas Jefferson, whose supporters made up the Democratic-Republican Party, and Alexander Hamilton, who led the Federalist Party.  The void created by the demise of the Federalists caused the remaining Republican Party to splinter during the presidential contest of 1824, with no incumbent running for reelection and four major candidates in contention for the White House.  Crawford found himself running against John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Andrew Jackson of Tennessee and Henry Clay of Kentucky.  (John C. Calhoun was in the race briefly, before withdrawing to run for the vice presidency instead.)  At that point, Crawford was as prominent as any of his rivals, but the effects of a stroke in 1823 put him at a disadvantage the following year, despite a nearly full recovery.  He ultimately finished third, behind Jackson and Adams.  Despite a substantial majority of popular votes, Jackson received less than a majority of the electoral votes, which threw the vote into the House of Representatives. In what Jackson’s supporters later labeled the “Corrupt Bargain,” Clay gave his support to Adams in exchange for appointment as his secretary of state.

Refusing Adams’s request that he 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.

William Harris Crawford was descended from John Crawford (1600-1676) who had come to Virginia in 1643.  John Crawford died taking part 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).

William Harris Crawford was born in Amherst County (later Nelson County), Virginia the sixth of eleven children born to Joel Crawford and Fanny Harris Crawford. Crawford’s family moved south to the village of Appling in Columbia County, Georgia, when he was a boy.  As a young man, he worked as a farmer and a schoolteacher for about 10 years, then began to practice law in Lexington, Georgia, in 1799.

His cousin George W. Crawford served as Secretary of War under President Zachary Taylor (my 3rd cousin 8x removed).

William H. Crawford is buried in the Crawford Family Cemetery (Crawford,
Oglethorpe County, Georgia)

William Crawford was never a member of a church.  He professed to favor the Baptists, although he maintained a high degree of suspicion towards all organized religion, believing them to be self-serving rather than committed to fostering Christianity.  Nevertheless, he did not ignore his children’s religious education.  He regularly read the Bible to them and accompanied them to church.  His friends and foes alike agreed that William led an honest and moral life.  Perhaps the proof of William’s honesty is found in the fact that when he died his estate was of little value.  He entered government service poor and left it far from wealthy, having to work until nearly the last days of his life.  William passed away on 15 Sep 1834 at the age of 62.  He spent his last days on his modest estate in Woodlawn, Georgia, four miles from Lexington, known as “Liberty Hall.”  Crawford was buried in Crawford Cemetery in Crawford, Georgia.  His wife of thirty years survived him by about thirty years, dying in Athens, Georgia at the age of 80 in 1863.

The following cities and towns are named in honor of William H. Crawford:  Crawford, Georgia; Crawfordville, Georgia and Crawfordsville, Indiana.


William Harris Crawford (1772 – 1834), 2nd cousin 6x removed – Joel Crawford (1736 – 1788) – David Crawford (1697 – 1766) – David Crawford (1662 – 1762) – Mary Crawford (1703 – 1794) – Ann Rodes (1734 – 1802) – David Thomson (1775 – 1861) – Marion Wallace Thomson (1821 – 1896) – Allen Thomson Gunnell (1848 – 1907) – Seddie Gunnell (1875 – 1946) – Elizabeth Gunnell Hamlin (1901 – 1982) – Tor Martin Hylbom (1939 – 2009) – Tor Martin (Majerus) Hylbom

I am also more distantly related through several other ancestors, including 1st cousin 8x removed  through William’s maternal grandparents – Robert Overton Harris (1696-1765) and Mourning Glenn (1702-1775).


Historical marker (Crawford, Oglethorpe County, Georgia)

Suggested Reading:

Philip Jackson Green, The Life of William Harris Crawford (Charlotte: University of North Carolina) 1965.

Chase C. Mooney, William H. Crawford, 1772-1834 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky) 1974.

J. E. D. Shipp, Giant Days, or the Life and Times of William H. Crawford (Americus, Georgia: Southern Printers) 1909.



One comment

  • Keith

    Hello, I am descended from David E. Crawford 1801-1866 of Horry, SC. David married Mary Jane Jordan 1812-1885 & they lived near Galivants Ferry, SC. I have no solid proof who his parents were, but I’ve narrowed it down to Thomas Crawford b. about 1743 & served in 6th SC Militia, Rev. War. Thomas had a younger brother (Adjutant William Crawford b. about 1746) that served in 3rd SC Militia, Rev. War from eastern SC. These names sound so familiar to my set of Crawford’s. Please contact me if you have some valuable info to share as I am willing to share what I have. Thanks!

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