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Robert Crittenden


Kenneth Bridges |  History Columnist

Robert Crittenden was
once a giant in Arkansas
politics. As the first territorial
secretary, he laid the
foundations for the beginnings
of Arkansas government
and the establishment
of Little Rock as the
capital. But he would see
all of his gains slip away
and die at a young age.
Crittenden was born in
central Kentucky, in 1797.
His father was a Revolutionary
War veteran and
former Virginia legislator.
At the age of 17 in 1814,
Crittenden joined the army
in the midst of the War of
1812 and later served in
the Seminole War, a series
of campaigns that the army
waged against the Seminole
tribe of Florida.
His older brother, John
J. Crittenden, enjoyed a
very successful career,
serving three terms in the
US Senate, one term as
Kentucky governor, and
as US Attorney General.
He also went on to pen the
“Crittenden Compromise”
in December 1860 as a lastditch
effort to prevent the
Civil War. In 1819, as the
Arkansas Territory was
formed, he served in the
U. S. Senate and persuaded
President James Monroe to
appoint his eager younger
brother as territorial secretary.
As territorial secretary,
Robert Crittenden would
be acting as a sort of combination
treasurer, lieutenant
governor, and secretary
of state for Arkansas.
The territorial governor,
James Miller of New Hampshire,
was unimpressed by
his Arkansas assignment
and took several months
to arrive.
However, when Crittenden
arrived at the territorial
capital at Arkansas
Post in March 1819, he
immediately became acting
governor and began
making official appointments
and organizing the
new government. He also
declared that the territory
met the population
threshold to organize a
legislature and called for
By the time Gov. Miller
arrived in December, he
found a government almost
totally controlled by
Crittenden. In 1820, Crittenden
pushed to have the
territorial capital moved
from Arkansas Post to Little
Rock, where he owned
valuable real estate.
C r i t t e n d e n C o u n t y,
which encompasses West
Memphis, was named for
him in 1825. Although he
had amassed a great deal
of influence at a young
age, he was increasingly
frustrated by being passed
over again and again for
the position of governor.
His fall began with the
territorial delegate to Congress,
Henry W. Conway.
Since his 1823 election,
Conway found himself at
odds with Crittenden, who
put forward several candidates
to try to defeat him.
Crittenden floated rumors
that Conway stole federal
money meant for Arkansas,
which sparked a violent
feud. The bitter argument
escalated until Crittenden
challenged him to a duel.
The two met in Mississippi
in 1827. Moments
after the shooting began,
it was over. Conway lay
dying, as did Crittenden’s
career. The Conway Family
immediately organized
all their might against destroying
Crittenden’s influence
in Arkansas. With
Andrew Jackson’s election
as president, Crittenden
found himself out of office
altogether in 1829 as
Jackson replaced him with
William Fulton as territorial
He hoped to recover
his influence behind the
scenes, but he brought
only further controversy.
In 1831, the federal government
offered Arkansas
land it could sell to finance
a capitol building. Crittenden
attempted to persuade
the legislature to trade the
land for his own mansion.
Gov. John Pope refused,
and ultimately the land
proved to be worth more
than four times what his
house sold for.
In 1833, he ran in his
only election, for territorial
delegate against Ambrose
Sevier, Conway’s cousin,
and lost decisively. He
continued to work as a lawyer,
traveling extensively
and dreaming of restoring
his political dreams.
Weighed down by ill health
and disappointments, Crittenden
collapsed and died
in Vicksburg, Mississippi,
in December 1834 at the
age of 37.
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the College are subject to
the Arkansas Freedom of
Information Act, Ark. Code
Ann. Sec. §§ 25-19-101 et.

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