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Dr. William Wroten

Delmarva Heritage Series

* Creswell Credited With Keeping State From Seceding From Union

Salisbury Times - June 25, 1959

James Bishop in his book, "The Day Lincoln Was Shot," says that at 10 a.m., April 14, 1865, a visitor was shown into Lincoln's office. The President arose from his big chair and came around to the other side of the desk for a warm handclasp. The visitor was John Creswell, the man credited with keeping

Maryland from seceding from the Union. Lincoln, catching his mood from the broad beams of sunlight coming through the east windows, sat back in his chair and slapped both hands on the polished oak arms.

"Creswell, old fellow," he said happily, "everything is bright this morning. The war is over. It has been a tough time, but we have lived it out" - then his voice dropped - "or some of us have."

IN A MOMENT, the notation of mass death was gone, and he said: "But it is over. We are going to have good times now, and a united country."

Creswell agreed. The two men chatted about family welfare and the unique feeling of peace, and at last Mr. Creswell got around to the favor he wanted to ask.

The Creswell family is of English origin, and Robert Creswell was enrolled as one of the subscribers to the Company of Virginia prior to 1620. It is believed that from his came the family that sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and settled along the Susquehanna River. The Creswells soon became a very distinguished Cecil County family. A considerable portion of Port Deposit is built on land once owned by John A. J. Creswell's grandfather, Col. John Creswell. In fact, the town of Port Deposit was once called Creswell's Ferry; Gov. Levin Winder signed the bill changing the name from Creswell's Ferry to Port Deposit, December 5, 1812.

JOHN A. J. CRESWELL, born November 18, 1828, just a few days after the election of Andrew Jackson, was educated at Dickinson College, from which he graduated with honors in 1848. After studying law for about two years in the office of John C. Groome he was admitted the Maryland bar. Soon thereafter he married Hannah J. Richardson, a rather wealthy woman.

Creswell was very active in politics, as is often the case with an Eastern Shoreman. At first he was a strong supporter of the Whig Party, but when that party was breaking up he became a Democrat for a short time. In 1856 he was a delegate from Maryland to the Democratic National Convention, which nominated James Buchanan for President.

After the outbreak of the Civil War Creswell became a Republican, and he remained a staunch and influential member of that party for the rest of his life. It was during this period, 1861-1862, that Creswell held his first public office; as a member of the House of Delegates he did much to keep Maryland on the Union side. Also in 1862 he was appointed assistant adjutant-general, with the duty of raising Maryland's quota of troops for the Union Army. He did not hold this position long, for he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1863.

IN JANUARY, 1865, after Maryland had freed its slaves, Creswell opened the debate in Congress on a constitutional amendment to eliminate slavery in the United States. In his speech for general emancipation he reviewed the history of slavery in his state, and said that the institution had been a "most ungrateful mistress." Creswell pointed out that: "It has wasted our resources, paralyzed our industry, checked our growth in wealth, population, and all substantial interests, refused ingress to the intelligent and enterprising of other states and countries, and had even driven our own young men into exile. So far as we have advanced at all we have done so in spite of slavery, and by driving it before us."

After the death of Sen. Thomas H. Hicks, Creswell was elected to take his seat, which he did on Dec. 4, 1865. As a senator, Creswell fought for manhood suffrage, the compensation of loyal union owners of drafted slaves, and for the strict enforcement of the Civil Rights Act. He was a strong opponent of President Johnson's politics of reconstruction, and thus became an early advocate for Johnson's impeachment. President Johnson might have been removed from office if Creswell's term in the senate had not expired in March, 1867. As the conservative Democrats were once again in control of the Maryland General Assembly, Creswell was not re-elected. After much confusion and political ballyhoo George Vickers was elected senator just in time to save the day for President Johnson.

As a leading Republican, Creswell was a delegate to the National Convention of 1864 in Baltimore, which renominated President Lincoln. In 1868 he was a member of the Republican Convention, which nominated General Grant for the White House. In the same year he was elected Secretary of the United States Senate, an office which he declined to accept.

WHEN GEN. GRANT became President of the United States on March 4, 1869, Creswell was appointed Postmaster-General, a position which he held until June 22, 1874, and where he did his most important public service. In regard to Creswell's achievements as Postmaster-General, one historian writes: "The country has had few, if any, abler postmaster-generals. The changes made by him in the department were sweeping, reformatory, and constructive. The cost of ocean transportation of letters to foreign countries was reduced from eight cents to two, and great increase in speed was secured by giving the carriage of mails to the best and fastest steamers, four of which were to sail each week, and by advertising a month in advance the vessels selected; the pay to railroads for mail-carriage was rearranged on a fair basis; there was a great increase in the number of railroad postal lines, postal clerks, and letter-carriers, and in the number of cities having free delivery of mail and money-order departments; one-cent postal cards were introduced; the system of letting out contracts for the internal carriage of the mails was so reformed as ultimately to do away with straw bidding and to secure fair competition among responsible bidders; the laws relating to the Post office Department were codified, with a systematic classification of offenses against the postal laws; and postal treaties with foreign countries were completely revised. Creswell also denounced the franking system as the "mother of frauds," and secured its abolition, and strongly urged the establishment of postal savings banks and postal telegraph."

ON JUNE 22, 1874 Creswell was appointed by the President as a counselor for the United States in connection with the Court of Commissioners for the Alabama Claims. The Alabama Claims, involving that Confederate war ship, which was built in Great Britain and caused much damage to the Union side in the Civil War, is a story in itself for Raphael Semmes, an admiral in the Confederate Navy and commander of the Alabama, was a Marylander. Creswell served in this new position until Dec. 21, 1876.

A little later Creswell rendered public service as one of the commissioners to wind up the affairs of the Freedman's Saving and Trust Company when that institution was experiencing disaster. He spent the last years of his life in Elkton, where he was vice president of a national bank.


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