Lame duck president John Quincy Adams nominated Crittenden to the U.S. Supreme Court on December 17, 1828, but senators who supported president-elect Jackson voted to postpone confirmation until Jackson could nominate his own man. After his brief service as Kentucky secretary of state, the state legislature elected Crittenden to the second of his four non-consecutive stints in the U.S. Senate. Upon his election as president, William Henry Harrison appointed Crittenden as Attorney General, but five months after Harrison's death, political differences prompted him to resign rather than continue his service under Harrison's successor, John Tyler.
He was returned to the Senate in 1842, serving until 1848, when he resigned to run for governor, hoping his election would help Zachary Taylor win Kentucky's vote in the 1848 presidential election. Taylor was elected, but Crittenden refused a post in his cabinet, fearing he would be charged with making a "corrupt bargain", as Clay had been in 1825. Following Taylor's death in 1850, Crittenden resigned the governorship and accepted Millard Fillmore's appointment as attorney general.
As the Whig Party crumbled in the mid-1850s, Crittenden joined the Know Nothing (or American) Party. After the expiration of his term as attorney general, he was again elected to the U.S. Senate, where he urged compromise on the issue of slavery to prevent the breakup of the United States. As bitter partisanship increased the threat of secession, Crittenden sought out moderates from all parties and formed the Constitutional Union Party, though he refused the party's nomination for president in the 1860 election. In December 1860, he authored the Crittenden Compromise, a series of resolutions and constitutional amendments he hoped would avert the Civil War, but Congress would not approve them.
John Jordan Crittenden was born September 10, 1787, near Versailles, Kentucky. He was the second child and first son of Revolutionary War veteran Major John Crittenden and his wife Judith Harris. John and Judith Crittenden had four sons and five daughters, all but one of whom survived infancy. On his father's side, he was of Welsh ancestry, while his mother's family was French Huguenot. His father had surveyed land in Kentucky with George Rogers Clark, and settled there just after the end of the American Revolution. Two of Crittenden's brothers, Thomas and Robert, became lawyers, while the third, Henry, was a farmer.