Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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HUNTER, Robert Mercer Taliaferro, statesman, born in Essex county, Virginia, 21 April, 1809; died there, 18 July, 1887. He was educated at the University of Virginia, studied at the Winchester, Virginia, law school, and began practice in 1830. After serving in the Virginia legislature in 1833, he was elected to congress as a Democrat in 1836 and 1838, and in 1839 chosen speaker of the house of representatives. He was defeated in 1842, reelected in 1844, and in 1846 was chosen United States senator, taking his seat in December, 1847. Meanwhile he bore a conspicuous part in the political discussions of the day. He favored the annexation of Texas and the compromise of the Oregon question, took an active part in favor of the retrocession of the city of Alexandria by the general government to Virginia, supported the tariff bill of 1846, originated the warehouse system, and opposed the Wilmot proviso. From 1847 till 1861 he was United States senator. He voted for the extension of the Missouri compromise line to the Pacific ocean, opposed the abolition of the slave-trade in the District of Columbia or any interference with that institution in the states and territories, opposed the admission of California, and supported the fugitive-slave law. As chairman of the finance committee, he made an elaborate report on the gold and silver coinage of the country, and proposed the reduction of the value of the silver coins of fifty cents and less, by which shipment to foreign countries was assisted. In the presidential canvass of 1852 he delivered an address in Richmond, Virginia, urging the soundness of the state-rights policy. He advocated the bill of 1855, forbidding the use of the army to enforce the acts of the pro-slavery Kansas legislature, and the repeal of the Missouri pro-slavery law, which declared the death penalty for nearly fifty slavery offences. Mr. Hunter framed the tariff act of 1857, by which the duties were considerably lowered, and the revenue reduced. In the session of 1857-'8 he advocated the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton constitution with slavery. In 1860 he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, receiving upon several ballots in the Charleston convention the next highest vote to that for Stephen A. Douglas, and in January of this year made an elaborate speech in the senate in favor of slavery and the right of the slave-holder to carry his slaves into the territories. He took an active part in the secession movement, and in July, 1861, was formally expelled from the senate. He was a member of the provisional Confederate congress, and according to the original scheme he was to have been president of the new government, with Jefferson Davis as commander-in-chief of the army. He was for a short time Confederate secretary of state, and afterward was elected to the senate, in opposition to the administration of Mr. Davis. In February, 1865, he was one of the peace commissioners that met President Lincoln and William H. Seward upon a vessel in Hampden Roads. The conference was futile, as Mr. Lincoln refused to recognize the independence of the Confederacy. Hunter then presided over a war meeting in Richmond, at which resolutions were passed that the Confederates would never lay down their arms till they should have achieved their independence. When a bill came before the Confederate congress, shortly afterward, freeing such negroes as should serve in the Confederate army, Mr. Hunter at first opposed it, but, having been instructed by the Virginia legislature to vote in its favor, did so, accompanying his vote with an emphatic protest. At the cruse of the war he was arrested, but was released on parole, and in 1867 was pardoned by President Johnson. He was an unsuccessful candidate for United States senator in 1874, became treasurer of Virginia in 1877, and in 1880 retired to the farm in Essex county, Virginia A few months previous to his death he was appointed collector at Tappannock, Virginia
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