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Robert John Walker

Robert John Walker

Robert John Walker (1801-1869) was a U.S. Senator and served as secretary of the Treasury. A lifelong regular Democrat, he fell out with the party leaders over the status of slavery in Kansas.

Robert John Walker was born in Northumberland, Pa., on July 19, 1801, the son of Jonathan Hoge Walker. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1819, Robert practiced law in Pittsburgh. He married Mary Bache (Benjamin Franklin's grand daughter) in 1825 and moved to Natchez, Miss., to enter his brother's law office. There he prospered as a lawyer and land speculator, acquiring several plantations. In 1836 he entered the Senate as a Jacksonian Democrat. In spite of his slight stature (he was five feet three inches tall and weighed 100 pounds) and his wheezy voice, he was an active and influential speaker. A party regular, he supported the independent treasury system and constantly attacked the protective tariff, the distribution of the surplus, and abolitionists. As a passionate exponent of manifest destiny, he endorsed the annexation of Texas.

It was largely due to Walker's efforts that the Democrats nominated James K. Polk as their presidential candidate in 1844 instead of Martin Van Buren. Polk appointed Walker to his Cabinet as the secretary of the Treasury. In that office Walker sought to secure the adoption of the independent treasury and to implement tariff reductions. His recommendations were largely responsible for the creation of a Department of the Interior in 1849 and the establishment of customs warehouses. He was an extremely able treasury administrator, and his important financial connections enabled him to negotiate loans for the Federal government on favorable terms during the Mexican War.

After Walker left office in 1849, he settled in Washington, D.C., having disposed of his plantations and slaves in Mississippi in 1843. He practiced law before the Supreme Court and promoted the stocks of railroads in which he was interested. In 1857 President James Buchanan appointed him governor of the territory of Kansas. Although Walker held moderate views on slavery, his stand that the citizens of Kansas should be left free to choose to have slavery or not was regarded as a betrayal by Democratic party leaders, who were committed to make Kansas a slave state. When Buchanan refused to approve the free-soil constitution, Walker resigned. During the Civil War, Walker was active in support of the Union cause and went on a successful mission to Europe to sell Federal bonds in 1863-1864. He died on Nov. 11, 1869, in Washington, D.C.

Further Reading

A recent study of Walker is James P. Shenton, Robert John Walker: A Politician from Jackson to Lincoln (1961). An early work is George Washington Brown, Reminiscences of Gov. R. J. Walker: With the True Story of the Rescue of Kansas from Slavery (1902). □

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Walker, Robert John

Robert John Walker, 1801–69, American public official, b. Northumberland, Pa. A lawyer, he practiced for a time in Pittsburgh. In 1826 he moved to Natchez, Miss. As a Democratic Senator (1836–45) from Mississippi, Walker was an ardent advocate of U.S. expansion and became a leader in the drive to annex Texas. James K. Polk made him Secretary of the Treasury (1845–49), and he had an influential voice in government policies. He reestablished the independent treasury system and helped to improve Anglo-American relations (strained by the Oregon dispute) by the Walker Tariff of 1846, a moderate protective tariff that lowered the rates on many items. His financial administration (he was a firm hard-money advocate) is generally considered one of the most able in the history of the Treasury. In Mar., 1857, he reluctantly accepted appointment as governor of Kansas. Walker was committed to Stephen A. Douglas's popular sovereignty theory, and believed that the majority of Kansans favored admission to the Union as a free state. When President Buchanan refused to support Walker's contention that the proslavery Lecompton Constitution (see under Lecompton) was fraudulently adopted and should be put to popular vote, he resigned (Dec., 1857). He subsequently supported the Union in the Civil War and served as a financial agent in Europe. An expansionist to the end, he had a part in the purchase of Alaska.

See biographies by W. E. Dodd (1914, repr. 1967) and J. P. Shenton (1961).

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"Walker, Robert John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Walker, Robert John." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/walker-robert-john