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Robert John Walker

For the United States Coast Survey ship, see USCS Robert J. Walker (1848).

For other people named Robert Walker, see Robert Walker (disambiguation).
Robert John Walker
18th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
March 8, 1845 – March 5, 1849
President James K. Polk
Preceded by George M. Bibb
Succeeded by William M. Meredith
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1835 – March 5, 1845
Preceded by George Poindexter
Succeeded by Joseph W. Chalmers
4th Territorial Governor of Kansas
In office
May 27, 1857 – December 15, 1857
Preceded by John W. Geary
Succeeded by James W. Denver
Personal details
Born (1801-07-19)July 19, 1801
Northumberland, Pennsylvania
Died November 11, 1869(1869-11-11) (aged 68)
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mary Bache Walker
Children Mary Walker Brewster
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania
Profession Politician, Lawyer

Robert John Walker (July 19, 1801 – November 11, 1869) was an American economist and statesman.

Early life and education

Born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, the son of a judge. He lived in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania from 1806 to 1814, where his father was presiding judge of the judicial district. Walker was educated at the Bellefonte Academy.[1] He graduated in 1819 at the top of his class at the University of Pennsylvania where he was a member of the Philomathean Society, and was admitted to the bar in Pittsburgh in 1821. He practiced law in Pittsburgh from 1822 until 1826 when he moved to Mississippi. There he joined his brother, Duncan Walker, in a lucrative law practice. Walker became a speculator in cotton, land and slaves. (In 1838 he freed his own slaves due to immense pressure from Congress.)

Political life

Senate, 1836-45

He became politically prominent during the nullification crisis, and from 1836 to 1845 he sat in the United States Senate as a Unionist Democrat. Being an ardent expansionist, he voted for the recognition of the Republic of Texas in 1837 and for the joint annexation resolution of 1845, and advocated the nomination and election of James K. Polk in 1844. He favored the award of public lands to new states; endorsed a low tariff; opposed distribution of the federal surplus funds for fear of creating an excuse to raise tariff rates; and, significantly, supported the independent Treasury system idea. He also opposed the Bank of the United States.

As a Mississippi senator, Walker was a passionate defender of slavery, both for economic benefits, and because he believed Negroes would fall into turpitude or insanity without firm masters. He claimed that independent Texas had to be annexed to prevent it from falling into the hands of Great Britain, which would use it to spread subversion throughout the South. He warned northerners that if Britain succeeded in undermining slavery, the freedmen would go north, where "the poor-house and the jail, the asylums of the deaf and dumb, the blind, the idiot and insane, would be filled to overflowing."[2]

Treasury, 1845-49

He was U.S. Secretary of the Treasury throughout the Polk administration, from March 8, 1845 until March 5, 1849, and was an influential member of the President's Cabinet.

As Treasury Secretary, Walker financed the Mexican-American War and drafted the 1849 bill to establish the United States Department of the Interior.[3] One example of financing the Mexican-American war can be seen in correspondence; he wrote to Major General William Orlando Butler, "February 23, 1848. Sir, Upon the ratification of a treaty of peace by the Republic of Mexico in conformity with the provisions of the act of the congress of the United States of America approved March 3, 1847 stated 'an act making further appropriation to bring the existing war with Mexico to a speedy and honorable conclusion' you are authorized to draw on this department for any sum not exceeding three millions of dollars to be paid in pursuance of the promotion of said act."[4] He also supported the independent Treasury system, pushed for a tariff for revenue, and established a warehousing system for handling imports that has had lasting influence.

Walker was involved in a prominent Treasury report of December 3, 1845. It is regarded as the most powerful attack[by whom?] upon the protection system that has ever been made in an American state paper. The Walker Tariff of 1846 was based upon the principles of this paper and was in fact largely the secretary's own work.

After leaving Treasury in 1849, Walker devoted himself to business and land speculation, as well as mining interests.

Kansas Territorial Governor, 1857

Walker at first opposed the Compromise of 1850, but was won over later by the arguments of Stephen A. Douglas. He was appointed governor of Kansas Territory in the spring of 1857 by President James Buchanan, but resigned within the year because of his opposition to the Lecompton Constitution. In a resignation letter to Secretary of State Lewis Cass dated December 15, 1857, he cited clear voting fraud and improper political pressure from the Administration. He did not, however, break with his party immediately, and favored the so-called English Bill. It was partly due to his influence that a sufficient number of anti-Lecompton Democrats were induced to vote for that measure to secure its passage.

Civil War and later life

He supported the Union cause during the American Civil War and in 1863 and 1864, as financial agent of the United States, did much to create confidence in Europe in the financial resources of the United States. During this time Walker was instrumental in securing a loan of $250,000,000 from the German Confederation.

He practiced law in Washington, D.C., from 1864 until his death there in 1869. Both during and after the Civil War he was a contributor to the Continental Monthly, which for a short time he also, with James R. Gilmore, conducted.

Walker was the father-in-law of Benjamin H. Brewster, Attorney General under Chester A. Arthur.

Initially, Walker County, Texas, was named in his honor. However, due to his support of the Union during the Civil War, the Texas Legislature withdrew the honor and honored Samuel Walker, a Texas Ranger, instead.


The survey ship Robert J. Walker, which served in the United States Coast Survey from 1848 to 1860, was named for Walker.


External links

  • Template:CongBio
  • Find A Grave
  • The Colt Revolver in the American West—Robert J. Walker's Presentation Model 1851 Navy


Preceded by
George Poindexter
United States Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi
March 4, 1835 – March 5, 1845
Served alongside: John Black, James F. Trotter, Thomas H. Williams, John Henderson, Jesse Speight
Succeeded by
Joseph W. Chalmers
Political offices
Preceded by
George M. Bibb
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
Served under: James K. Polk

March 8, 1845 – March 5, 1849
Succeeded by
William M. Meredith
Preceded by
John W. Geary
Territorial Governor of Kansas
April, 1857 – December, 1857
Succeeded by
James W. Denver


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