Walker, Robert J.

Born: 1801-07-19 Northumberland, Pennsylvania

Died: 1869-11-11 Washington, DC

Robert J. Walker was a lawyer, U.S. senator, U.S. secretary of the treasury, territorial governor, and diplomat. Walker received his education at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1819 and a master's degree in 1822. He read law with his father, Jonathan H. Walker. He earned admission to the Pennsylvania bar in 1821 and commenced practicing law in Pittsburgh. Walker joined the Democratic Party, and in 1823, he became chairman of the Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee. Walker became a staunch supporter Andrew Jackson, working tirelessly to help Jackson in the presidential election of 1824. In 1825, Walker married Mary Bache, with whom he had eight children. The following year, he moved to Natchez, Mississippi, to practice law with his brother. Walker won election, as a Democrat, to the U.S. Senate, serving in that body from March 1835 to March 1845. An expansionist, Walker supported the recognition and annexation of Texas and was instrumental in securing James K. Polk the Democratic nomination for president in 1844. He was a key figure in Polk's election campaign and victory, and the new president rewarded Walker by appointing him secretary of the treasury. Walker's main achievements in the Treasury Department were the passage of the reduced Walker Tariff and the Independent Treasury Act, both in 1846. Before leaving office, Walker persuaded Congress and Polk to establish the Department of the Interior, separating the Treasury Department from the business of the U.S. General Land Office, which Walker found consumed much of his time as treasury secretary. Walker resigned as secretary of the treasury in March 1849. He remained in Washington, DC, to practice law and became closely involved in James Buchanan's 1856 presidential campaign. In return for Walker's service in his electoral victory, Buchanan appointed him governor of the Kansas Territory in April 1857. As territorial governor, Walker opposed the Lecompton Constitution and resigned when it became clear Buchanan would endorse it. Following the Secession Crisis, Walker supported the Union war effort and, in 1863, Salmon P. Chase dispatched him to England to rally British support. He also sold over $150 million in U.S. bonds in continental European nations.

James P. Shenton, Robert John Walker: A Politician from Jackson to Lincoln (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961); James A. Rawley, "Walker, Robert John," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 22:511-13; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1949 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1950), Gravestone, Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, DC.