William Adams Richardson

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William Adams Richardson (around 1875)

William Adams Richardson (born November 2, 1821 in Tyngsborough , Middlesex County , Massachusetts , † October 19, 1896 in Washington, DC ) was an American lawyer , Republican politician and Treasury Secretary of the United States .

Studies and professional career

Richardson graduated from Harvard University with a law degree from 1843. After being admitted to the bar, he opened a law firm in Lowell in 1846 . As such, he was also the auditor and editor of the state statutes of Massachusetts, which he presented in 1855 and revised annually until 1873. In 1856 he was judge of the Probate Court ( Probate Court ) of Middlesex County. He was then from 1858 to 1869 judge at the probate and bankruptcy court.

From 1863 to 1875 he was a member of the supervisory board (Overseer) of his alma mater , Harvard University. He was also a professor at Georgetown University . In 1873 George Washington University awarded him an honorary doctorate in law ( LL.D. ). Between 1874 and 1896 he was also the author of a commentary on US Congress legislation .

Political career

Portrait of Wiliam Adams Richardson in the Treasury

Treasury Secretary under President Grant

At the request of Treasury Secretary George S. Boutwell , President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in 1869 . After Boutwell's resignation, President Grant himself appointed him to his cabinet on March 17, 1873, as Treasury Secretary .

During his tenure there was an economic crisis in 1873, after which the money supply became scarce due to the increasing economic development. Richardson responded by issuing 26 million US dollars in bank notes to the demand for money to satisfy. The legality of this act was questionable, but there was no intervention by Congress. In the 40 years that followed, other finance ministers reacted again and again to economic crises. This ultimately formed a basis for the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913.

However, he only held the office of finance minister until June 3, 1874, when he had to resign after the so-called Sanborn scandal. Richardson then hired a citizen named John D. Sanborn to collect tax debts. Sanborn kept half of the taxes collected, while he himself donated the greater part of the other half to the Republican Party's campaign fund. Benjamin H. Bristow was succeeded as Minister of Finance .

Rise to President of the US Court of Claims

Despite his inglorious departure as Treasury Secretary, he was appointed judge on the Court of Claims in 1874. In 1885 he was appointed president of this federal court , which deals with claims for damages against the government. He held this office until his death.

William Richardson was the nephew of Congressman William M. Richardson (1774-1838).


  • The Banking Laws of Massachusetts . Lowell, 1855
  • Supplement to the General Statutes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts . Boston 1860-1882
  • Practical Information concerning the Debt of the United States . Washington DC 1872
  • National Banking Laws. 1872
  • Supplement to the Revised Statutes of the United States . 1881
  • History of the Court of Claims . 1882-1885


Web links

Commons : William Adams Richardson  - Collection of Images