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This article is about the United States Secretary of the Treasury. For the Illinois senator, see William Alexander Richardson.
William Adams Richardson
29th United States Secretary of the Treasury

In office
March 17, 1873 – June 3, 1874
President Ulysses S. Grant
Preceded by George S. Boutwell
Succeeded by Benjamin Bristow
Personal details
Born (1821-11-02)November 2, 1821
Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died October 19, 1896(1896-10-19) (aged 74)
Washington D.C., U.S.
Political party Republican
Alma mater Harvard University
Profession Politician, lawyer

William Adams Richardson (November 2, 1821 – October 19, 1896) was the 29th U.S. Secretary of Treasury and federal jurist. Richardson, appointed Secretary of Treasury by President Ulysses S. Grant served from 1873 to 1874. During Sec. Richardson's tenure the Panic of 1873 swept the nation and caused a depression that lasted five years. Richardson responded by controversially releasing $26,000,000 in paper money reserves in an inflationist measure to help alleviate the effects of the general panic. There was debate whether Richardson had the authority to do so, however, Congress had not passed a law to forbid such an action. Richardson secured the $15,000,000 award from the Alabama Claims through the retirement of United States bonds held in Europe. This was to ensure that no gold had to be transferred overseas by ship. Richardson's tenure was marred by the Sanborn Incident, where profiteering took place over the collection of taxes by John D. Sanborn. As pressure mounted for Richardson's resignation, Richardson resigned, while President Grant quietly appointed him Justice to the United States Court of Claims, where he served on the bench for the rest of his life.

Early life and career

William Adams Richardson was born in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts on November 2, 1821. His father was Daniel Richardson who practiced law and was keeper of the post office. His mother's name was Mary Adams of Chelmsford. Richardson was the descendent of Ezekiel Richardson who settled in Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Richardson's mother died in 1825 and his sister became his step-mother the next year. [1]

Richardson studied at Pinkerton Academy and Lawrence Academy at Groton. Richardson then studied and graduated from Harvard University in 1843.[2] He earned his LL.B. from Harvard Law School and passed the bar in July 1846.[3][1] Richardson entered partnership and practiced law with his older brother Daniel Samuel who had a large practice in Lowell. [1] As the junior law partner Richardson was considered to be a painstaking methodical office attorney. [1]

He served in the militia, first as a Judge Advocate with the rank of Major and later as an aide to Governor George N. Briggs with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.[2]

He was president of the Common Council of Lowell 1853-1854, of the Wameset Bank, and of the Mechanics' Association. He was appointed to revise the statutes of Massachusetts in 1855, and subsequently chosen by the legislature to edit the annual supplements of the general statutes, which he continued to do for 22 years. He became judge of probate in 1856, and was judge of probate and insolvency from 1858 until 1872. He was an overseer of Harvard 1863-1875.[4]

U.S. Secretary of Treasury

Bureau of Engraving and Printing portrait of Richardson as Secretary of the Treasury.

He declined a superior court judgeship in 1869, and the same year became Assistant United States Secretary of the Treasury.[4] In 1873 he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Ulysses S. Grant. He had been serving as an Assistant Treasury Secretary under his predecessor, George S. Boutwell. He served as Secretary one year, from 1873 until 1874.

The post-war economy had expanded so quickly that commercial banks became nervous and began calling in their loans. As a result, in the summer of 1873 the money supply tightened drastically, causing the Panic of 1873. Richardson responded by issuing $26 million in greenbacks to meet the demand. The legality of his action was doubtful, but the Congress did not interfere and the crisis was eased. Such cycles of expansion and panic continued for the next thirty years, however, and were the basis for the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. In his last months in office Richardson became embroiled in the "Sanborn incident."

Justice U.S. Court of Claims

Richardson resigned his post at the Treasury to accept an appointment by Grant to serve as a Justice of the United States Court of Claims in 1874. He became Chief Justice in 1885.[4] He served until his death. He was a professor at Georgetown Law School from 1879-1894.[3]

Death and burial

Richardson died in Washington, D.C. on October 19, 1896. He was buried in Washington's Oak Hill Cemetery.[5]


He prepared and edited:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Fairman 1935, p. 577.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hackett, Frank W. (1898). A Sketch of the Life and Public Service of William Adams Richardson. Washington: Private. pp. 19, 33.,M1.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Hackett" defined multiple times with different content
  3. 3.0 3.1 The United States Court of Claims : a history / pt. 1. The judges, 1855-1976 / by Marion T. Bennett / pt. 2. Origin, development, jurisdiction, 1855-1978 / W. Cowen, P. Nichols, M.T. Bennett.. Washington, D.C.: Committee on the Bicentennial of Independence and the Constitution of the Judicial Conference of the United States. 1976. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "[[wikisource:Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Richardson, William Adams|]]" 1900 
  5. William Adams Richardson at Find a Grave, retrieved January 3, 2014


  • Fairman, Charles (1935). Dumas Malone. ed. Dictionary of American Biography Richardson, William Adams. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
George S. Boutwell
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Served under: Ulysses S. Grant

Succeeded by
Benjamin H. Bristow

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