President James Madison and his Secretary of War Strategize Future Cabinet Positions and Navigate the Tensions Between the Southern States and Indian Nations

Madison reveals his intention to nominate Clay as his Secretary of War, provides commentary on the Compensation Bill, advocates for the fair treatment of a young condemned soldier, and works with his current Secretary of War to temper southern outrage for Indian treaties.

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William H. Crawford was U.S. ambassador to France during the negotiations to end the War of 1812. During those negotiations, he was responsible for superintending the American consuls in Europe and keeping them informed of developments. He was also an important negotiator from a distance. He was called home and appointed Secretary...

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President James Madison and his Secretary of War Strategize Future Cabinet Positions and Navigate the Tensions Between the Southern States and Indian Nations

Madison reveals his intention to nominate Clay as his Secretary of War, provides commentary on the Compensation Bill, advocates for the fair treatment of a young condemned soldier, and works with his current Secretary of War to temper southern outrage for Indian treaties.

William H. Crawford was U.S. ambassador to France during the negotiations to end the War of 1812. During those negotiations, he was responsible for superintending the American consuls in Europe and keeping them informed of developments. He was also an important negotiator from a distance. He was called home and appointed Secretary of War by President James Madison on August 1, 1815, succeeding James Monroe. Crawford served in the post about a year, and was then named Secretary of the Treasury by Madison. When Monroe entered the White House, he continued Crawford in office, and Crawford remained at Treasury until the end of Monroe’s administration.

In a letter from President to his Secretary of War, we see the volume and breadth of topics discussed, strategizing to help political allies, and the need to keep up with ongoing tensions with the Indians.

In 1816, two Congressional seats were in jeopardy: Henry Clay’s seat as Representative from Kentucky and Dr. William Wyatt Bibb’s seat as Senator from Georgia, which he had taken over when Crawford resigned the previous year. Madison and Crawford scurried to secure prominent positions for Clay and Bibb to bolster their chances for re-election. Madison made arrangements to offer Clay Crawford’s position as Secretary of War, with Crawford shifting over to Secretary of the Treasury. Madison made the offer, however, Clay turned him down and was ultimately successful in keeping his seat in the House of Representatives. With a vacant cabinet seat now open, Calhoun was nominated and accepted the Secretary of War position in Madison’s cabinet.

Despite looking for a way to bolster Bibb for reelection or find him a cabinet position, Madison and Crawford were unable to come up with anything. Bibb ultimately lost his seat over his support for the Compensation Bill. Reports from Georgia at the time reveal that Dr. Bibb had made himself unpopular by voting for the “compensation law;” in other words, for a bill which, amongst other things, provided for payment “to each Senator, member of the House of Representatives, other than the Speaker, and delegate, the sum of fifteen hundred dollars,” annually, in lieu of the usual per diem pay.”

Madison did offer Bibb the position of Indian Agent to the Creek Nation in present day Georgia and Alabama, but he declined and was subsequently elected as the first governor of Alabama. David Mitchell accepted the post of Creek Agency position, though not without reluctance, as it was a step down from his previous position as Governor of Georgia.

The 1816 treaty between the Cherokees and Secretary of War William Crawford sparked an outrage from Tennesseans who believed the land was theirs by right of conquest, if not by treaty. In Davidson County, a committee that included William Carroll sent a remonstrance to President Madison demanding to know “upon what principle of justice was this land ceded to the Cherokees?” The committee’s protest provided several arguments for reversing the agreement with the Cherokees: first, the land had no real use for the Cherokees; second, it was an area designated to have a “great highway” pass through to connect Tennessee with Mobile and New Orleans; and, third, white settlements there would provide “a perpetual barrier to the communication of the northern and southern tribes of Indians” and lead to security for travelers “without the risk of being murdered at every wigwam by some drunken savage.”

Autograph letter signed, August 31, 1816, to Secretary of State Crawford, in which Madison nominates Clay as Secretary of War, tries to bolster an ally’s political position, and navigates tensions between the southern states and the Indian nations.

“I had the pleasure of duly receiving your letter written from Georgia, and have written one to Mr. Clay founded on its argument in the arrangement tendered to you.

“I am truly concerned at the view you give of the situation into which the unfortunate measure of Congress has thrown Dr. Bibb; and should consider myself as befriending one of the best of men and most enlightened of patriots if I could find a relief from it. But on turning my thoughts on every side, I see nothing practicable that is worthy of him and adequate to the object. I am persuaded that the same difficulty restrained you from suggesting something on the occasion. I anxiously wish that the unfavorable tide may take another turn before the critical epoch arrives and in the meantime shall be attentive to any eligible prospect that may be opened or suggested.

“The enclosed case of a condemned soldier has been some time lying by me. Considering his youth and that it is his first offense, the punishment is too great notwithstanding the aggravating circumstance attending it. Regulate the time and mode of saving him, as you find most proper.

“I enclose a printed remonstrance from Tennessee the original of which came lately to hand and one from the Mississippi territory. The measures which have been taken in relation to the Indians form an answer to them.”

This is an incredible letter showing the nuanced strategy and inner workings between the President and his Secretary of War.

Many of Crawford’s most significant papers were passed down in his family from generation to generation, their papers largely unexamined. They contain his original appointment documents, manuscripts and documents relating to the War of 1812 (including reports from the U.S. negotiators), and letters of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Lafayette and many others. The document offered here is from the Crawford archive, was acquired by the Raab Collection directly from the Crawford family, and has never before been offered for sale.

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