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General History and Description
to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861
19th Century, 1845-1861
|Robert John Walker
U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Treasury, Governor of Kansas Territory
Robert John Walker was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, on July 19, 1801. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia in 1819, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1821, and then commenced practice in Pittsburgh. He moved to Natchez, Mississippi, in 1826.
In 1834, Walker was elected to the United States Senate as a Democrat, where he served from 1835 to 1845. During his time in the Senate he served as chairman of the Committee on Public Lands, was an ardent advocate of U.S. expansion, and was a leader in the drive to annex Texas.
Walker resigned from the Senate in 1845 in order to accept nomination as Secretary of the Treasury, in which capacity he served until the end of President James Polk's term in 1849. As Secretary he re-established the independent treasury system and helped to improve Anglo-American relations (strained by the Oregon boundary dispute) by implementing the Walker Tariff of 1846, a moderate protective tariff that lowered the rates on many items.
In 1853, President Franklin Pierce offered him the post of U.S. Minister to China, but Walker declined.
In April 1857, Walker reluctantly accepted appointment as Territorial Governor of Kansas. Committed to Stephen A. Douglas' popular sovereignty theory, Walker firmly believed that the majority of Kansans favored admission to the Union as a free state, so when President James Buchanan refused to support Walker's contention that the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution was fraudulently adopted and should be put to a popular vote he resigned, in December 1857.
Walker subsequently supported the Union in the Civil War, served as United States Financial Agent to Europe from 1863 to 1864, and engaged in the practice of law in Washington, D.C. He died in Washington on November 11, 1869.
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This page was last updated on January 13, 2017.