So Much for the Era of Good Feelings

President James Monroe (left) and Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford (right)

President James Monroe (left) and Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford (right)

The eight years of the administration of President James Monroe (1817-1825) are known as “The Era of Good Feelings.” Not everyone got the memo, however.

Hard feelings existed between President Monroe and his Treasury Secretary, William H. Crawford. Crawford had been appointed as Secretary of the Treasury in 1816 by President James Madison, and he was thought by many to be on his way to the presidency until a stroke in 1823 derailed those plans.

When Monroe assumed the presidency, he kept Crawford in office at the Treasury, but any gratitude Crawford may have had was tempered by his illness, fatigue, and desire to retire to a simpler life. Things came to a head one day when Crawford called on the President and presented him with a list of recommendations of individuals to appoint to various political positions in the federal government.  President Monroe seemed annoyed by Crawford’s recommendations and said that he would choose his own men for the jobs. Crawford lost his temper and told the President, “Well, if you will not appoint persons well-qualified for the places, tell me whom you will appoint that I may get rid of their importunities!”

The President – a Revolutionary War veteran of George Washington’s Army who carried a bullet in his body that had nearly killed him in 1776 – was not intimidated by Crawford’s language or temperament, coldly telling his Treasury Secretary, “Sir, that is none of your damn business.”  Crawford was not easily intimidated, either.  The Treasury Secretary had killed a man in a duel years earlier and Monroe’s comment led Crawford to charge at the 67-year-old President with his cane, shaking it at Monroe while calling him a “damned infernal old scoundrel.”  Monroe quickly grabbed two red hot tongs from a nearby fireplace for self-defense and threatened to personally throw Crawford – who was 15 years younger than the President – out of the White House.

While both men calmed down before blows were struck and Crawford apologized to the President, and he remained as Secretary of the Treasury for the remainder of Monroe’s administration, the two men never spoke again.

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