Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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WALKER, Robert John, statesman, born at Northumberland, Pennsylvania, 23 July, 1801; died in Washington, D. C., 11 November, 1869. His father was a soldier of the Revolution, and a judge of the common pleas, of the high court of errors and appeals of Pennsylvania, and of the United States district court. After his graduation in August, 1819, at the state university at Philadelphia, with the first honor of a large class, he began the practice of law at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1822. In 1826 he removed to Mississippi, where he entered vigorously into law and polities, taking an active part in 1832 and 1833 against nullification and secession. In January, 1833, in the Natchez "Journal," he made an extended argument against the doctrine of disunion and in favor of coercion against rebellious states, which was highly extolled by James Madison. In January, 1836, he was Union candidate for the United States senate in opposition to George Poindexter, and was elected, and at this time he influenced the legislature of Mississippi to adopt resolutions denouncing nullification and secession as treason. In 1840 he was re-elected to the United States senate by a two-to-one majority over the orator Sergeant S. Prentiss. During his service in the senate he took an active part in its debates, especially in opposition to John C. Calhoun. He supported the administrations of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren; but, when the latter disapproved of the annexation of Texas, Walker opposed him, and in the Baltimore convention of 1844 labored for the nomination of James K. Polk to the presidency. By Mr. Polk he was appointed secretary of the treasury, which office he held till 5 March, 1849. In his course in the senate Mr. Walker opposed the Bank of the United States and the distribution of the surplus revenue among the states, advocating, instead, its application to the public defences. He opposed a protective tariff, and in a speech on 3 March, 1836, proposed the celebrated Homestead bill. He sustained with much energy the treaty for suppressing the African slave-trade, and throughout his political career always and consistently advocated gradual emancipation, exhibiting his sincerity in 1838 by manumitting all his own slaves. He sustained New York in the McLeod case, and introduced and carried the resolution of 1837 recognizing the independence of Texas. He was the first to propose the annexation of Texas by a letter in the public prints in January, 1844, recommending, as a condition, a scheme for gradual emancipation and colonization, which was fiercely attacked by John C. Calhoun. While secretary of the treasury he prepared and carried the tariff of 1846, various loan bills, the warehousing system, the Mexican tariff, and the bill to organize the department of the interior. After leaving the treasury, he was offered by President Pierce in 1853 the post of commissioner to China, which he declined. The part that he took in the events that immediately preceded the civil war was active. He opposed the repeal of the Missouri compromise, though after it became a law he supported it on the ground that was assumed by Stephen A. Douglas. In 1857 he accepted the post of governor of Kansas on the pledge of President Buchanan that the state constitution should be submitted to the vote of the people; but after rejecting the forged and fraudulent returns in Kansas, and opposing the Lecompton constitution, Mr. Walker resigned, and, going before congress, defeated the attempt to force the corrupt measure on the territory. After Abraham Lincoln's election Mr. Walker took ground, earnestly and immediately, in favor of re-enforcing the southern forts and of sustaining the Union by force if necessary. In April, 1861, he addressed a great meeting in Union square, New York, advocating prompt and vigorous measures, and he did this when many of the best men of both parties deprecated a resort to extremities. His decided course had great influence in shaping the policy of the government. Early in 1863 he joined James R. Gilmore in the conduct of the "Continental Monthly," which the latter had established the year before to advocate emancipation as a political necessity, and he wrote for it some of its ablest political articles. In the same year he was appointed by the government financial agent of the United States in Europe, and succeeded in negotiating $250,000,000 of the 5-20 bonds. Returning to the United States in November, 1864, he devoted himself thereafter to a large law-practice in Washington, and to writing for the " Continental Monthly" articles on financial and political topics, in which he was understood to present the views of the state and treasury departments. During this period he was influential in procuring the ratification of the Alaska treaty and in securing the passage of the bill for a railroad to the Pacific. During his public life of nearly forty years Mr. Walker exercised a strong and often controlling influence on affairs. He had a broad and comprehensive mind, and a patriotism that embraced the whole country. As a financier he takes high rank.
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