By Neal Millikan, Series Editor, Digital Editions
During President James Monroe’s administrations, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) served alongside Secretary of the Treasury William Harris Crawford (1772–1834), one of the men against whom he would vie for the presidency in the election of 1824. Adams’s Diary offers his private musings on and feelings toward his fellow cabinet member and political opponent; it also gives tantalizing glimpses of Adams’s deteriorating opinion of Crawford.
On February 3, 1819, Adams recorded in his Diary his current view of the treasury secretary: “Crawford is not a worse man, than the usual herd of ambitious intriguers. Perhaps not so bad as many of them— I do not think him entirely unprincipled; but his ambition swallows up his principle.” However, two years later in his entry for March 3, 1821, Adams’s tone was far more cynical: “Crawford has been a worm preying upon the vitals of the Administration within its own body.” Adams also noted “the emptiness of the Treasury, and Crawford’s utter inability to devise any other source of Revenue but loan upon loan.”
Like Adams, Crawford sought to attain the presidency in the 1824 election, but a stroke in the fall of 1823 kept him out of politics for several months. Adams was elected president in February 1825 and subsequently offered the treasury secretary the opportunity to remain in his cabinet position, but Crawford declined. On December 14, President Adams learned a shocking piece of information about Crawford, which he recorded in his Diary. According to a clerk in the Treasury Department, “all personal communication between Mr Monroe and Mr Crawford had ceased” toward the end of Monroe’s presidency. Curious as to the cause of this breach, Adams asked his secretary of the Navy, Samuel Southard, “if this fact had been known to him.” Southard, who had visited the White House shortly after the argument occurred, stated that he “found Mr Monroe walking to and fro across the room in great agitation.” Crawford had recommended certain customs officials for office to whom Monroe objected. Crawford then “said petulantly; well—if you will not appoint the persons well qualified for the places, tell me whom you will appoint; that I may get rid of their importunities.” Monroe then “replied with great warmth; saying that he considered Crawford’s language as extremely improper, and unsuitable to the relations between them.” At this point, Crawford “raised his Cane, as in the attitude to strike, and said ‘you damned infernal old Scoundrel’— Mr Monroe seized the tongs at the fire-place for self-defence; applied a retaliatory epithet to Crawford and told him he would . . . turn him out of the house.” Adams then told Southard: “if I had known it at the time, I should not have invited Mr Crawford to remain in the Treasury Department.”