John's Top Matches
About John Jordan Crittenden, Jr., Gov., Sen. & Atty. Gen.
John Jordan Crittenden (September 10, 1787 – July 26, 1863) was a politician from the U.S. state of Kentucky. He twice served as United States Attorney General – in the administrations of William Henry Harrison and Millard Fillmore. After Harrison's death, political differences prompted him to resign as attorney general rather than continue his service under Harrison's successor, John Tyler. He also refused appointment to the cabinet of Zachary Taylor out of respect for his close friend, Henry Clay. He was elected Kentucky's 17th governor in 1848, but resigned in 1850 to represent the state in one of his four non-consecutive stints in the United States Senate. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in a special election held in 1861 and was engaged in a campaign to be re-elected to that seat when he died in 1863.
John J. Crittenden was born September 10, 1787 near Versailles, Woodford County, Kentucky. He was the second child and first son of Revolutionary War veteran John Crittenden and Judith (Harris) Crittenden. On his father's side, he was of Welsh descent, while his mother's family was French Huguenot. His father had surveyed land in Kentucky with George Rogers Clark, and he settled on the land just after the end of the war. Two of Crittenden's brothers, Thomas and Robert became lawyers, while the third, Henry, was a farmer.
Crittenden began a college preparatory curriculum at Pisgah Academy in Woodford County. From there, he was sent to a boarding school in Jessamine County. Among his classmates were Thomas Alexander Marshall, John C. Breckinridge, and Francis P. Blair. Crittenden became close friends with Blair in particular, and later political differences did little to diminish their friendship. At age seventeen, Crittenden moved to the Lexington, Kentucky home of Judge George M. Bibb to study law. He began his collegiate studies at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia. During his brief tenure there, he studied mathematics and belles-lettres and befriended Hugh Lawson White. Crittenden became dissatisfied with the curriculum at Washington College and in 1804, matriculated to the College of William and Mary. There, he studied under St. George Tucker and became acquainted with John Tyler. He completed his studies in 1806 and was admitted to the bar in 1807. He briefly practiced in Woodford County, but seeing that central Kentucky was already supplied with able lawyers, he relocated to Logan County, Kentucky on the state's western frontier and commenced practice in Russellville. At age twenty-two, Governor Ninian Edwards of Illinois Territory appointed him attorney general for the Territory. The following year, Edwards gave him the added responsibility of aide-de-camp.
On May 27, 1811, Crittenden married Sarah O. Lee at her house in Versailles. Lee was a cousin of future U.S. President Zachary Taylor. Among the seven children of this union were Confederate major general George Crittenden and Union general Thomas Leonidas Crittenden. Daughter Sallie Lee "Maria" Crittenden was the mother of Rear Admiral John C. Watson. Sarah Lee-Crittenden died in mid-September 1824.
Early political career
Crittenden's career as an elected official began with his tenure in the Kentucky House of Representatives, where he represented Logan County from 1811 to 1817. After the 1811 legislative session, he volunteered as an aide to General Samuel Hopkins in an expedition against the Indians. After the outbreak of the War of 1812, Kentucky governor Charles Scott appointed him as an aide-de-camp in the First Kentucky Militia. In 1813, he became an aide-de-camp to Governor Isaac Shelby, serving with him at the Battle of the Thames. Following the war, the governor issued him a special commendation for faithfulness in carrying out his orders. He then resumed his law practice in Russellville.
In 1814, Governor Shelby appointed Crittenden to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by George M. Bibb; later, however, Shelby learned that Crittenden was only twenty-seven years old, three years shy of the constitutional age requirement for senators. Thus, he returned to the Kentucky House, where was elected speaker over John Rowan. He would retain the position from 1815 to 1817.
In his capacity as speaker, Crittenden presided over a particularly tumultuous time in the legislature. In October 1816, recently elected governor George Madison died. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Gabriel Slaughter. Slaughter immediately made two extremely unpopular appointments, and quickly fell out of favor with many Kentuckians. A group of legislators, led by John C. Breckinridge, pointed out that the Kentucky Constitution provided only that the lieutenant governor would serve as governor until a new gubernatorial election was held and a qualified successor was chosen. Slaughter, they claimed, was only the "acting governor." The group presented a bill to the House that called for new elections. The bill was defeated, but Crittenden supported it.
Crittenden's support of a new election was both popular and politically expedient. When the Senate term of Martin D. Hardin, one of Slaughter's unpopular nominees, expired in 1817, the Kentucky General Assembly chose Crittenden to fill the vacancy. Though he was the youngest member of the body, he served as the second-ever chairman of the newly created U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary. He was also a member of the Committee on Naval Affairs. During his term, he introduced legislation to reimburse and indemnify persons who were fined under the 1798 Sedition Act. He found state politics more interesting, however. This fact, coupled with increased financial responsibilities incurred by the birth of his third and fourth children, prompted his decision to resign his seat on March 3, 1819.
Return to legal practice
After leaving Congress, Crittenden moved to Frankfort, Kentucky to attract more legal clients and be nearer the center of the state's political activity. Among his clients after moving to Frankfort were former Presidents Madison and Monroe, future Vice-President Richard Mentor Johnson, and future governors James T. Morehead, John Breathitt, and Robert P. Letcher. During this period, he collaborated with Henry Clay in defending Charles Wickliffe, son of Robert C. Wickliffe. Wickliffe was charged with the murder of the editor of the Kentucky Gazette. Crittenden argued that the slaying was self-defense, and Clay delivered a passionate closing argument. The jury returned a verdict of "not guilty" only minutes after the case was submitted to them.
In January 1820, Crittenden and John Rowan were chosen to help resolve Kentucky's boundary dispute with Tennessee. The boundary was supposed to run along the line at 36 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude, but when Dr. Thomas Walker surveyed it, he erroneously marked the line farther south. Crittenden and Rowan proposed either that the "Walker Line" remain the boundary from the Cumberland Mountains to the Tennessee River and Tennessee would compensate for the error west of the Tennessee River, or that the boundary be reset at 36 degrees, 30 minutes throughout. Tennessee's commissioners rejected both proposals, asking instead that the Walker Line be accepted east of the Tennessee River and a more southerly line west of it, with reciprocal agreements between the states to honor existing land grants. Crittenden was inclined to accept the offer, but Rowan was not. The Kentucky commissioners proposed that the matter be submitted to arbitration, but Tennessee refused. In a report to the General Assembly, Crittenden recommended that Kentucky accept the Tennessee proposal. The legislators were swayed by Crittenden's report, and the articles of agreement were signed on February 2, 1820.
Crittenden was elected to the board of trustees for Transylvania University in 1823, possibly due to lobbying by Henry Clay. A year later, the faculty of the university awarded him an honorary doctor of laws. Crittenden also served as a trustee and attorney for the Kentucky Seminary in Frankfort. Crittenden supported Clay in the 1824 presidential election until Clay was eliminated from contention. He then threw his support to Andrew Jackson until he learned that John Quincy Adams, if elected, would likely make Clay Secretary of State. Critics termed Adams' alleged promise to Clay the "corrupt bargain", but it resulted in Adams' election. Upon his appointment as Secretary of State, Clay was prepared to recommend Crittenden to replace him as chief counsel in Kentucky for the Second Bank of the United States, but the bank chose not to hire a replacement.
Return to state politics
Crittenden was drawn back into public service by the Old Court-New Court controversy. Though he had served as president of the Bank of the Commonwealth since its formation in 1820, Crittenden publicly identified himself with the Old Court supporters in April 1825. In the legislative election of 1825, friends called on Crittenden to seek election to the state House of Representatives. Many believed that he was the only Old Court supporter that commanded enough respect to win one of the two seats allotted to Franklin County, a bastion of the New Court. When Crittenden conceded to run, New Court supporters nominated the state's Attorney General Solomon P. Sharp and Lewis Sanders, a prominent lawyer. Crittenden and Sharp were elected to the two seats.
In the early hours of the morning of November 7, 1825, the very morning the legislature was to convene, Sharp was assassinated. Charges were made that Old Court supporters had instigated the murder. Crittenden tried to blunt these charges by introducing a resolution condemning Sharp's murder and offering $3,000 for the murderer's capture. When assassin Jereboam O. Beauchamp was apprehended, it became clear that the motivation for the killing was personal, not political. (Beauchamp's wife had married him on the condition that he kill Sharp, who had refused to claim the child he had fathered with her previously.) Despite this, Crittenden refused a request to represent Beauchamp in his murder trial because he wanted to avoid any implication in the matter.
The court controversy dominated the legislative session. Crittenden joined the Old Court majority in the House in passing a measure to abolish the New Court. The bill was killed in the Senate however, by the tie-breaking vote of Lieutenant Governor Robert B. McAfee. Crittenden later served on a committee of six to resolve the conflict, but to no avail. He was unwilling to accept a solution whereby all the justices resigned from both courts, and the governor would appoint a reorganized court made up equally of Old Court and New Court supporters. This position cost him the support of some New Court partisans that had voted for him in the previous election, and he was not returned to the House in 1826. As a result of the Old Court-New Court controversy, Kentucky's politicians became divided between the Democrats and the National Republicans. Crittenden's alliance with Henry Clay and his own personal political views put him squarely in the National Republican Party.
On November 15, 1826, Crittenden married Maria Knox Todd, a widow and daughter of Judge Harry Innes. Crittenden took Todd's three children as his own. In addition, the couple had two more children – John and Eugene.Todd's daughter Catherine married her step-brother Thomas, and their son, John Jordan Crittenden III, was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Maria Knox Todd Crittenden died on September 8, 1851 of an unknown illness.
Association with the National Republicans
Because of Crittenden's support of his presidential bid, President Adams appointed him United States district attorney for the district of Kentucky in 1827. In 1828, Adams nominated him to replace Kentuckian Robert Trimble as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, but Jackson supporters in the Senate refused to confirm him. When Jackson defeated Adams in the 1828 presidential election, he removed Crittenden from his post as district attorney because of his association with Clay and his opposition to Jackson's financial policies.
Crittenden supporters sought to make him the National Republican nominee for governor in the election of 1828. Though his nomination was all but certain, Crittenden declined the opportunity, fearing that his association with Clay, who was losing popularity in the state, would cost his party the election. Instead, he threw his support behind Thomas Metcalfe, who went on to carry a very close election over Democrat William T. Barry. Crittenden instead sought another term in the Kentucky House, but was again denied the seat.
In 1829, Crittenden was elected to the Kentucky House via a special election. He served as Speaker of the House for his entire term. In 1830, he was the Whig nominee to replace John Rowan in the Senate. Secretly, the party wished to nominate Henry Clay, giving him a springboard from which to launch another presidential campaign, but it was unknown whether he would be able to secure enough votes for confirmation; it was decided that Crittenden would be the nominee, and if the voting favored the Whigs by a large enough margin, Crittenden would withdraw and allow them to confirm Clay instead. The Democrats countered successively with Richard Mentor Johnson, John Rowan, Charles A. Wickliffe, and John Breathitt. None of them polled more than sixty-four of the sixty-nine votes needed for confirmation. Crittenden garnered sixty-eight votes on fourteen different ballots, but he refused to vote for himself because he wanted Clay to be the nominee. Some of Crittenden's supporters, however, refused to vote for Clay, and the seat was left vacant.
The following year, a clear majority of the House of Representatives were pledged to Crittenden for the open Senate seat. However, Clay allies pressured Crittenden to step aside and allow Clay to be the Whig nominee. Crittenden obliged, and Clay was elected by a margin of nine votes over Richard M. Johnson. Crittenden went on to manage both the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of Richard Aylett Buckner and the campaign to help Clay win Kentucky in the 1832 presidential election. After Clay's defeat in 1832, he offered to resign his Senate seat and allow Crittenden to succeed him, but Crittenden refused the offer. Later that year, Crittenden retired from the General Assembly.
Opposition to Jackson and Van Buren
Crittenden was active in organizing the Whig Party from the remnants of the defunct National Republican Party in 1834. On July 4, 1834, he called to order the first organizational meeting of the party at Cove Spring, Kentucky. He was chosen as chair of the committee on resolutions and in a speech on July 5, bitterly condemned President Jackson. Later in 1834, Kentucky governor James T. Morehead appointed Crittenden Secretary of State. In the August elections, Whigs won a majority in both houses of the General Assembly. When the Assembly convened, they elected Crittenden to the Senate over Democrat James Guthrie by a vote of 94—40. He served from March 4, 1835, to March 3, 1841.
Immediately upon taking his seat in the Senate, Crittenden was named to the Committee on Public Lands and the Committee on the Judiciary, probably due to Clay's influence. During his term, Crittenden was an outspoken critic of President Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren. He supported Henry Clay's plan for distributing proceeds from the sale of public lands among the states, and also joined Clay in opposing the administration-backed Second Seminole War. One of the few administration proposals he supported was the recognition of the new Republic of Texas.
Crittenden vociferously opposed Senator Thomas H. Benton's proposal to spend the federal budget surplus on public land graduation and military fortifications along the eastern seaboard. He also blasted the Jackson administration for issuing the Specie Circular, requiring that all payment for government land be made in gold or silver. He pointed out that the principles of the circular had been presented in a resolution on the Senate floor, but had been tabled by a large majority. Crittenden maintained that the tabling of the resolution was a condemnation by the Senate, yet the administration issued the circular only months later, overstepping, as Crittenden saw it, the bounds of the executive branch's authority. Crittenden debated the issue at length with Senator Benton, and Congress ultimately passed a bill requiring the government to accept the notes of specie-paying banks for the purchase of government lands, but President Jackson employed his pocket veto to prevent it from becoming law.
It was also during this period of Crittenden's service in the Senate that the issue of slavery became more prominent. Crittenden was regarded as a moderate on the issue, seeking to keep it out of politics altogether. In 1836, he resisted petitions by the Quakers to abolish slavery in Washington, D. C., but he also opposed radical pro-slavery measures such as John C. Calhoun's proposal to ban abolitionist literature from being delivered by mail in the Southern states.
In contrast to his usually conciliatory nature, Crittenden was drawn into a disagreement between congressmen Jonathan Cilley and William J. Graves that ended in a duel. On the floor of the House, Cilley had attacked the integrity of Whig newspaper editor James Watson Webb. Webb demanded a retraction of Cilley's comments through his friend, Congressman Graves. When Cilley refused to receive the communication from Graves, Graves charged that Cilley was questioning Webb's honor and challenged him to a duel. Graves, accompanied by Kentucky Congressman Richard Menefee and Virginia Congressman Richard Wise asked Crittenden to serve as a second for Graves in the duel; Crittenden initially protested, but finally agreed. After two misses by both combatants, Cilley was killed on the third exchange. The House proposed the expulsion of Graves and the censure of the other participants (excluding Crittenden, who was a senator and not subject to House censure). The resolutions of expulsion and censure were eventually tabled, but Crittenden personally felt the sting of what he considered an indirect censure and later regretted his actions.
Harrison and Tyler administrations
As the 1840 presidential election, Crittenden again encouraged Kentucky Whigs to support the nomination of Henry Clay. After Clay lost the nomination, Crittenden supported eventual victor William Henry Harrison. Crittenden was re-elected to the Senate in 1840 even though he was a virtual lock for a position in Harrison's presidential cabinet. He was apparently given his choice of cabinet positions, and chose that of Attorney General. He resigned his Senate seat to take this post.
In his capacity as attorney general, Crittenden issued only one notable opinion. The plaintiff in the case was an individual whose property had been damaged during Andrew Jackson's invasion of what would become the Florida Territory in 1818. The case was still being adjudicated in 1841. A Florida court found in favor of the plaintiff and order the federal government to compensate him for the damages and to pay him interest on his claim from the time the damages were incurred. Treasury Secretary Thomas Ewing asked Crittenden whether the court had the authority to award interest and whether or not it should be paid. Crittenden opined that it did not, and Ewing did not pay the interest. Crittenden's opinion was used as a precedent in similar cases by future attorneys general.
Only a week after being appointed by Harrison, Crittenden was dispatched to New York to mediate tensions with Great Britain over the sinking of the steamboat Caroline by a group of Canadaian rebels. In this diplomatic endeavor, Crittenden was acting separately from his official duties as attorney general. He spoke with New York Governor William H. Seward and secured his promise to pardon Alexander McLeod, who had seized and burned the Caroline, if he were convicted of a crime in New York. Ultimately, McLeod was acquitted.
Shortly after the Caroline affair, President Harrison died and Vice-President John Tyler ascended to the presidency. Tyler bucked Clay's attempts to set the Whig agenda, and vetoed two bank bills against Crittenden's advice. Crittenden joined the other Whigs in Tyler's cabinet – excepting Daniel Webster – resigning in protest. Crittenden's resignation was effective September 11, 1841. He returned to Kentucky with no political office and very little money. A group of his friends in Woodford County purchased Crittenden's boyhood home and presented it to him as a gift.
Crittenden was appointed to the United States Senate in 1842, filling the vacancy caused by Clay's resignation. In January 1843, he was elected to a full term over Richard Mentor Johnson. The Whigs' feud with President Tyler continued unabated, and some even talked of impeaching him, but Crittenden condemned that course of action. During the 27th and 28th Congresses, he served on the U.S. Senate Committee on Military Affairs. He was an advocate of moderate protective tariffs and federal internal improvements. He opposed giving states the option to forgo apportionment, allowing them to elect their congressmen at large.
Crittenden again supported Clay's presidential bid in 1844. Clay was widely considered the favorite not only for the Whig nomination, but to win the general election. None of the traditional campaign issues – Tyler's "executive usurpation", Clay's "corrupt bargain" with John Quincy Adams, and the protective tariff – seemed to excite the electorate. However, when the issue of the annexation of Texas arose, it changed the entire campaign. Clay made a tour of the South just before the Whig nominating convention and determined that the sentiment in favor of annexation in this part of the country was not as strong as had been assumed in Washington, D.C. Acting on this belief, and against Crittenden's advice, Clay sent a letter opposing annexation to Crittenden, asking him to have it published in the National Intelligencer.
Clay believed the Democrats would again nominate Martin Van Buren, who was ardently opposed to annexation, and that this would keep annexation from becoming an issue in the campaign. Clay was nominated by acclamation at the Whig convention in Baltimore a week later. At the Democratic nominating convention a month later, however, Van Buren was unable to secure his party's nomination, and the Democrats instead nominated James K. Polk, who strongly favored annexation. Clay then tried to moderate his views on annexation, but any movement one to one side or the other drew opposition from the other side. Polk went on to win the election in a close race. This was the last time Clay would be nominated for president, and many Whigs believed Crittenden was the new leader of their party.
In 1845, the Senate took up the question of ending the joint occupancy of the Oregon Territory with Great Britain. Lewis Cass, a senator from Michigan, supported an immediate termination of the joint occupation agreement and maintained that a war with the British over the matter was inevitable. Crittenden disagreed, and insisted that Britain be given two years notice before the joint occupation of the territory was ended in order to allow time for a diplomatic resolution. Ultimately, Crittenden's position prevailed, and a compromise with Britain was effected, setting the dividing line between the two nations' claims at the 49th parallel north.
Though Crittenden personally favored the annexation of Texas, he opposed it during the Tyler administration for political reasons, insisting that it be postponed until the Polk administration. The congressional Whigs' obstructionism failed, and the United States entered the Mexican-American War in an attempt to gain control of Texas. Crittenden did not support the war, and after war was declared, he insisted that commissioners accompany the U.S. armies and attempt to broker peace at every opportunity. Throughout the war, he corresponded regularly with Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. Crittenden's sons, George and Thomas, both served in the war; Thomas served on Scott's staff. Polk consulted Crittenden regarding the terms of peace that should be accepted to end the war. Crittenden insisted that the terms of peace should not include the acquisition of territory to which the United States did not have a "just claim", but the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo submitted to Congress in 1848 called for Mexico to give up not only its claims to Texas, but also to New Mexico, California, and all the territory in between. A few Whigs joined the Democratic majority in Congress to ratify the treaty and defeat the Wilmot Proviso, which would have banned slavery in the newly-acquired territory.
Friends encouraged Crittenden to run for president in the 1848 election. A Nashville newspaper declared its support for him as early as 1846. A Democratic senator from Rhode Island opined that Crittenden could win support from a sizable number of Democrats in addition to the support of his own party. George B. Kinkead desired to have the Kentucky General Assembly nominate him for president in 1847. Crittenden was not favorable to these overtures. "For Heaven's sake don't talk to me about the Presidency," he said, rebuffing one early offer. Clay hoped Crittenden would again support him, but Crittenden concluded that he was no longer a viable candidate and threw his support behind Kentuckian Zachary Taylor. This decision caused a rift between the two friends, and they were not reconciled until Clay lay on his deathbed.
Campaigns of 1848
The Whig Party was also divided in Kentucky, not only between Clay and Taylor, but between gubernatorial candidates. William J. Graves, out of politics since his fatal shooting of Representative Cilley, had the backing of sitting Whig governor William Owsley, while Archibald Dixon had secured support from former Whig governor Robert P. Letcher. Letcher wrote to Crittenden that a Whig split and Democratic victory in the gubernatorial election would have an injurious effect on Whig hopes of carrying Kentucky in the 1848 presidential election; another former Whig governor, Thomas Metcalfe, concurred. At the Whig nominating convention, both Graves and Dixon withdrew their names and a delegate from Logan County put forward Crittenden's name without his consent. The nomination easily carried before Crittenden's friends could block it. The governorship was less prestigious and paid less than Crittenden's position in the Senate. He would also have to abandon his growing legal practice before the Supreme Court and would lose input on national issues of importance to him such as the territorial questions that grew out of the Mexican War. Nevertheless, he believed that his candidacy would unite the Whigs and help Taylor win Kentucky's electoral votes in the general election. He accepted the nomination a week after it was made.
Elijah Hise, Chief Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, was the leading candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, but after the Whig nomination of Crittenden, Hise withdrew from consideration. The Democratic state convention then nominated Congressman Linn Boyd, but Boyd also declined the nomination. The Democrats were finally able to nominate Henderson lawyer Lazarus W. Powell. As Crittenden canvassed the state, his opponents charged him with disloyalty to Clay because he refused to support him in the 1848 election. Crittenden maintained that he supported Clay for the presidency over anyone else, but he had believed that Clay did not intend to seek the Whig nomination in 1848. After Clay announced his candidacy, Crittenden said, he remained neutral in the Whigs' choice. In the gubernatorial election, Crittenden defeated Powell by a vote of 65,860 to 57,397. He resigned his Senate seat to assume the governorship.
With his own campaign at a close, Crittenden resumed direction of Taylor's presidential campaign, dispatching accomplished Whig speakers to all parts of the country. After Taylor was elected, he offered Crittenden the post of Secretary of State. Appeals came in from both Whig and Democratic leaders across the country urging him to serve in the cabinet; Taylor was inexperienced, and many felt that without Crittenden to guide him, his administration would fail. Taylor personally visited Crittenden in Frankfort on February 15, 1849 in hopes of persuading him to accept the appointment. Crittenden refused Taylor's overtures, and Taylor similarly rejected Crittenden's appeals to appoint his friend, Robert P. Letcher, as Postmaster General. Crittenden's input is believed to have contributed significantly to the appointments of John M. Clayton as Secretary of State and Orlando Brown as Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
Crittenden's reasons for refusing Taylor's appointment were many. Partially, he declined out of respect for Clay's feelings and partially he felt it would be viewed in the same way as Clay and Adams' "corrupt bargain" in 1825. Resigning the governorship also would have amounted to admitting to the Democrats' charges that he only sought the office to help Taylor win the presidency. Finally, he had not been able to fully heal the breach in the Whig Party, and he wanted to remedy that situation.
Governor of Kentucky
During Crittenden's term, he gave strong support to superintendent of public education, Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, who would come to be known as the "Father of public school system in Kentucky." In response to Crittenden's call for financial support for the improvement of public education, the General Assembly passed a common school law on February 26, 1849. This law established guidelines for administering the common schools for several public officials. The Assembly also reserved tolls from the Kentucky, Green, and Barren rivers for education, and passed a two percent property tax to fund the state's schools.
Crittenden ordered the refurbishing of the state penitentiary, which had been damaged by a fire, and called for an extensive state geological survey. He also advised the creation of a sinking fund to retire the state's debt. The state adopted a new constitution during Crittenden's term, though Crittenden was not a delegate to the constitutional convention and apparently had little influence on the drafting of the document. Most Whigs opposed the calling of a constitutional convention because it would necessarily involve reapportionment of the state's legislative districts and threaten Whig dominance in the General Assembly; nevertheless, Crittenden belatedly supported the call for a convention during his 1848 gubernatorial campaign.
With the question of slavery becoming even more critical following the territorial acquisitions of the Mexican-American War, John C. Calhoun delivered an inflammatory address in December 1848 urging leaders of the southern states to resist "Northern aggression", even if it meant secession from the Union. Crittenden strongly denounced secession in his annual messages to the legislature in 1848 and 1849. In response, the state senate passed a resolution calling on Kentucky's citizens to cherish the Union and resist any efforts to secede.
Second term as attorney general
Vice-President Millard Fillmore ascended to the presidency upon Taylor's death and offered Crittenden the post of Attorney General. Believing the rift in the Whig Party was now much improved, he accepted the offer and resigned the governorship in 1850. As Congress passed the separate bills of the Compromise of 1850, Fillmore, an opponent of slavery, asked Crittenden for his opinion on the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law, one of the bills involved in the Compromise. Specifically, he asked if the law suspended the writ of habeus corpus. Crittenden opined that it did not, claiming that it discharged a duty placed on Congress by the Constitution to return runaway slaves. Crittenden's opinion was probably motivated by a desire to see the Compromise pass and avert further sectional tension. Fillmore, his misgivings assuaged, signed the bill, keeping the Compromise intact.
Questions regarding claims in Florida, some already considered by Crittenden during his first term as attorney general, continued during his second term. Specifically, some of the claimants objected to a legal provision, passed by Congress years after the Adams–Onís Treaty that ceded Florida to the United States, that allowed the Secretary of the Treasury to refuse to pay claims awarded by Florida courts that he found not to be "just and equitable". The claimants contended that this allowed an executive officer to overrule a judicial decision. Crittenden held that the secretary's ruling was just as much a judicial action as that of the Florida judges. Further, he reiterated his 1841 decision that no interest could be paid on claims arising from damages resulting from Jackson's invasion. Despite this opinion, a Florida judge awarded interest to one of the claimants, and the government appealed the case to the Supreme Court, with Crittenden serving as the government's counsel. The Court upheld Crittenden's entire opinion in its ruling.
Crittenden was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard University in 1851. Later that year, he acted as Secretary of State during the illness of Daniel Webster. In this capacity, he wrote a vigorous warning to both Britain and France about interfering in the question of Cuban independence. He also encouraged adherence to the United States' traditional policy of non-interference in Europe during the celebrated visit of Hungarian revolutionary Louis Kossuth to the United States in 1851.
In November 1851, the General Assembly convened to elect a successor to Senator Joseph R. Underwood in the Senate. Underwood, whose term would expire in 1853, desired re-election, and Whigs Charles S. Morehead and George Robertson had also announced their candidacy. Crittenden, whose term as attorney general also expired in 1853, had publicly announced that he wished to return to the Senate after his service in President Fillmore's cabinet, and upon learning this, Underwood and Morehead both withdrew from the race. Robertson was not expected to seriously challenge Crittenden, but following the withdrawals of the other candidates, Archibald Dixon entered the race. Historically an ally of Crittenden, Dixon's entrance into the race after Crittenden's announcement showed that he had switched his allegiance to Clay. Democrats, desirous to defeat Crittenden and embarrass the Whigs, pledged to vote against him at all costs, even if it meant electing Dixon. Crittenden's friends, therefore, held back his name from nomination to spare him almost certain defeat. Balloting deadlocked for several days, with Clay supporters throwing their support to Dixon, Robertson, and Lieutenant Governor John B. Thompson, a compromise candidate. Another compromise was proposed whereby Clay, his health failing, would resign his Senate seat, creating two Senate vacancies and allowing both Dixon and Crittenden to be elected, but Clay refused to cooperate. Finally, on the night of December 11, 1851, the Whigs met in caucus and agreed to withdraw both Dixon and Crittenden and elect Thompson.
A week after the election, Clay resigned, but Crittenden now declined the appointment to fill his unexpired term. Instead, the legislature elected Dixon to the remainder of Clay's term, set to expire in March 1855. Three weeks before Clay's death in 1852, he sent for Crittenden, and the two were reconciled; Critteden delivered a eulogy for Clay in September 1852, publicly dispelling the feud. After Clay's death, Crittenden became the most prominent Whig leader in Kentucky. He encouraged the party to support the nomination of Millard Fillmore for the presidency in 1852, but the nomination ultimately went to Winfield Scott. Crittenden was proposed as the nominee for vice-president, but he declined. Democrat Franklin Pierce carried the state by 2,700 votes in the general election and Democrats also captured the governorship that year; both were harbingers of the demise of the Whig Party in Kentucky.
Third marriage, reconciliation with Clay, and the trial of Matthew Ward
On February 27, 1853, the twice-widower Crittenden married his third wife, Elizabeth Moss. Moss was twice-widowed, most recently to General William Henry Ashley. She was his wife until his death. Crittenden served as attorney general until the expiration of Fillmore's term 1853. Following his service as attorney general, Crittenden returned to private life. He made a substantial amount of money establishing mining claims for his clients in the former Mexican territory.
In 1853, the legislature was to elect a successor to Senator Dixon. Now satisfied that the feud between Clay and Crittenden had ended, Dixon did not seek re-election, leaving Crittenden with no Whig opposition. On a joint vote of the two houses of the General Assembly, Crittenden was elected 78–59 over governor Lazarus Powell.
In the period between his election and his taking office, Crittenden was the lead defense counsel in the murder trial of one Matt F. Ward, the son of one of Crittenden's lifelong friends. Ward's younger brother had been disciplined by the principal at Louisville Male High School the preceding November, and the elder Ward went to argue on behalf of his brother. In the ensuing encounter, Ward shot and killed the principal with a pistol. Public sentiment was heavily against Ward, and the trial was moved to Hardin County.
During the week-long trial, which began in April 1854, Crittenden emphasized inconsistencies in the accounts of eyewitnesses and called prominent character witnesses such as Louisville mayor James Speed, Congressman William Preston, and Courier-Journal editor George D. Prentice. He presented a case that Ward had acted in self-defense and urged the jury to find for the defendant if they had any doubts. Because the prosecution sought the death penalty, Crittenden asserted that if the jury rendered an erroneous conviction, they would have no peace of mind knowing they had sentenced an innocent man to hang. There was a tremendous public outcry when Ward was found not guilty. Newspapers across the nation condemned the verdict and Crittenden for his role in securing it. Only Prentice, in the Courier-Journal, defended Crittenden and the Ward family. Several public meetings passed resolutions calling for Crittenden's resignation from the Senate. After one such meeting a mob gathered and Crittenden, Prentice, the Wards, and the twelve jurors were burned in effigy.
Return to the Senate
When he assumed his Senate seat in 1855, Crittenden was sixty-nine years old, the eldest member of that body. In the early part of his term, he was concerned with settling the "Bleeding Kansas" issue. An opponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, he opposed repealing the Missouri Compromise unless the North agreed to substitute popular sovereignty for the exclusion of slavery north of the 36°30' line. In early 1856, he proposed sending General Winfield Scott to the Kansas Territory to ensure the fair elections were held there, but the proposal was blocked by the Pierce administration. Though he did not agree with all of the act proposed by Robert Toombs to allow for a constitutional convention in the territory, he nonetheless supported it as a step to bring peace there. He regarded both the Topeka Constitution and the Lecompton Constitution as invalid, and made one of the most highly-regarded speeches of his career in opposition to the latter.
So great was Crittenden's influence after his actions on the Kansas question that Abraham Lincoln felt that Crittenden's endorsement of Stephen Douglas cost Lincoln the Illinois senatorial election in 1856. After the breakup of the Whig Party in the 1850s, Crittenden joined many of his fellow Kentuckians in associating with the Know Nothing Party. Though he did not agree with all of the party's principles, it was the only option for him, since he could not associate with the Democrats, the party he spent much of his career denouncing, nor could he associate with the new Republican Party because of their stance against slavery. Though the Know Nothing Party was short lived, Crittenden nevertheless campaigned on behalf of Millard Fillmore, the party's candidate in the 1856 presidential election.
From 1858 to 1860, Crittenden sought out moderates from all sections of the country to effect compromise on the territorial and slavery issues, thus averting war. He was named chair of the National Union Executive Committee – a collection of congressmen and journalists who feared that sectional differences would destroy the Union – in 1860. His efforts helped form the Constitutional Union Party later that year. Chosen as the keynote speaker at the party's national convention on May 9, 1860, many urged him to become their nominee for president. At age seventy-three, however, Crittenden was already contemplating retirement and instead orchestrated the nomination of John Bell, whom he actively supported in the 1860 presidential race.
Even after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860, Crittenden rejected the idea that secession was inevitable and continued to work for the preservation of the Union. To that end, he proposed the Crittenden Compromise – a package of six constitutional amendments and four congressional resolutions – in December 1860. Among the resolutions were a condemnation of Northern personal liberty laws and an assertion of the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law. The amendments would have restored the Missouri Compromise line and extend it to California as a line of demarcation between slave and free territories. It would have further guaranteed that slavery would remain legal indefinitely in Washington, D. C. and that slaveholders would be reimbursed for runaway slaves. Also, it denied Congress any power to interfere with the interstate slave trade or with slavery in the existing Southern states and made perpetual the fugitive slave law and three-fifths compromise to the Constitution. The compromise proposal was referred to a special committee, and the Republicans on the committee blocked it from coming to the floor for a vote. Crittenden then tried to salvage his plan by recommending to the full Senate that it be submitted to the people in referendum, but a majority of the Republicans in the Senate again voted against the measure.
Having failed to secure compromise at the federal level, Crittenden returned to Kentucky in early 1861, attempting to persuade his home state to reject the overtures of fellow southern states and remain in the Union. He was a member of the May 10, 1861 conference to decide the Kentucky's course in the war. The conference failed to produced a united course of action, but adopted the policy of armed neutrality. On May 27, 1861, Crittenden was chosen chair of a convention of border states in Frankfort, Kentucky that ultimately called on the southern states to reconsider their secession and on the northern states to moderate their demands.
Pressured to continue the pursuit of compromise at the federal level, Crittenden was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in a special election in June of that year over a secessionist opponent. His next compromise, the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution, was adopted by Congress on July 22, 1861, immediately after the disastrous First Battle of Bull Run. The resolution gave an official definition to the object of the war: the war was prosecuted on the part of the federal government not to conquer or subjugate the Southern States, that is, not to reduce them to provinces, nor to interfere with slavery in those states; but to preserve the Union and to defend and maintain the Constitution and the laws, "with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several states unimpaired, and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease." [Congressional Globe, July 22, 1861] The resolutions were repealed in December.
Throughout his term, Crittenden opposed the war, generally, but specifically made stands against the Emancipation Proclamation, the military campaign in Kentucky, the use of slaves as soldiers in the war, and statehood for West Virginia. He was a candidate for reelection to the House at the time of his death in Frankfort, Kentucky on July 26, 1863. His last words were "Let all the ends thou aimest at be thy country's, thy God's, and truth's" He is interred at the State Cemetery in Frankfort.
Crittenden was torn by loyalties during the Civil War, with one son, Thomas, leaving to join the Union and the other, George, enlisting with the Confederate States of America. He was also uncle of Congressman Thomas Theodore Crittenden of Missouri and of Union General Thomas Turpin Crittenden. The town of Crittenden, Kentucky and Crittenden County, Kentucky are named for him.
John Jordan Crittenden (September 10, 1787 – July 26, 1863) was a politician from the U.S. state of Kentucky. He represented the state in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and twice served as United States Attorney General in the administrations of William Henry Harrison and Millard Fillmore. He was also the 17th governor of Kentucky and served in the state legislature. Although frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for the U.S. presidency, he never consented to run for the office.
John Jordan Crittenden, US Atty Gen.'s Timeline
September 10, 1787
Woodford, Kentucky, USA
March 20, 1812
March 4, 1817
- March 4, 1819
Washington, D. C., United States
May 15, 1819
January 8, 1821
March 4, 1835
- March 4, 1841
Washington, D. C., United States
March 5, 1841
- September 12, 1841
Washington, D.C., United States
March 31, 1842
- June 12, 1848
Washington, D. C., United States
September 6, 1848
- July 22, 1850
Kentucky, United States