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Walker, Robert James

WALKER, ROBERT JAMES (1801-1869), American political leader and economist, was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, on the 23rd of July 1801. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1819 and practised law in Pittsburg from 1822 to 1826, when he removed to Mississippi. Though living in a slave state he was consistently opposed to slavery, but he favoured gradual rather than immediate emancipation, and in 1838 he freed his own slaves. He became prominent, politically, during the nullification excitement of 1832-1833, as a vigorous opponent of nullification, and from 1836 to 1845 he sat in the United States Senate as a Unionist Democrat. Being an ardent expansionist, he voted for the recognition of the independence of Texas in 1837 and for the joint annexation resolution of 1845, and advocated the nomination and election of James K. Polk in 1844. He was secretary of the treasury throughout the Polk administration (1845-1849) and was generally recognized as the most influential member of the cabinet. He financed the war with Mexico and drafted the bill (1849) for the establishment of the department of the interior, but his greatest work was the preparation of the famous treasury report of the 3rd of December 1845. Although inferior in intellectual quality to Alexander Hamilton's Report on Manufactures, presenting the case against free trade, it is regarded as the most powerful attack upon the protection system which has ever been made in an American state paper. The " Walker Tariff " of 1846 was based upon its principles and was in fact largely the secretary's own work. Walker at first opposed the Compromise of 1850, but was won over later by the arguments of Stephen A. Douglas. He was appointed territorial governor of Kansas in the spring of 1857 by President Buchanan, but in November of the same year resigned in disgust, owing to his opposition to the Lecompton Constitution. He did not, however, break with his party immediately, and favoured the so-called English Bill (see KANSAS) ; in fact it was partly due to his influence that a sufficient number of anti-Lecompton Democrats were induced to vote for that measure to secure its passage. He adhered to the Union cause during the Civil War and in 1863-1864 as financial agent of the United States did much to create confidence in Europe in the financial resources of the United States, and was instrumental in securing a loan of $250,000,000 ha Germany. He practised law in Washington, D.C., from 1864 until his death there on the nth of November 1869. Both during and after the Civil War he was a contributor to the Continental Monthly, which for a short time he also, with James R. Gilmore, conducted.

For the tariff report see F. W. Taussig, Slate Papers and Speeches on the Tariff (Cambridge, Mass., 1892).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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