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Born William Sharman, the eldest son of William Sharman of Moira Castle, co. Down, he took the surname Crawford in 1826 after inheriting the estates of his brother-in-law John Crawford Esq. of Crawfordsburn, co. Down. Added to the estates inherited from his father, they made him a very substantial and rich landlord in Ulster. However, his views were liberal and radical: he supported Catholic emancipation and the rights of tenants.
He unsucessfully contested the seats of County Down in 1831 and Belfast in 1832, but was returned to the House of Commons as M.P. for Dundalk in 1835. He retired from this seat in 1837, but sat again as M.P. for Rochdale from 1841 to 1852. He had been enabled to stand for this northern constituency largely as a result of his support for the Chartist movement. He worked with Joseph Sturge to launch the campaign for universal suffrage.
As M.P. for Rochdale, Crawford was prominent in his campaigns relating to Irish issues. He proposed a federal union between Great Britain and Ireland in contrast to Daniel O'Connell's 'repeal' movement, but this did not receive much support. In 1846 he formed the Ulster Tenant Right Association, and he introduced a number of land bills into the Commons. He was also a magistrate and held various other public offices in co. Down, retaining an interest in civic affairs until his death.
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