Robert J. Walker Papers

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The entire collection is scanned and online.

What’s in the entire collection?

This collection is comprised of a letter book presumably created by Robert J. Walker containing copies of correspondence between Walker and several prominent nineteenth century figures. Among the correspondents are Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce, John Tyler, William H. Gwin, Samuel Stuart Foote, Jefferson Davis, James Buchanan, and Edward Everett. The letter book contains a table of contents that is organized alphabetically by correspondent, accompanied by page numbers. The collection also contains a set of typed transcriptions of the letters.

The letters document the many activities of Robert J. Walker during his years as a senator and as the Secretary of the Treasury. In addition, some of the correspondence relates to Walker’s support of the Annexation of Texas in 1845 and his activities during the Mexican War of 1848.

About Robert J. Walker

Robert J. Walker was a Mississippi senator between 1835 and 1845, and later served as the Secretary of the Treasury under the James Polk Administration between 1845 and 1849. He was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania on July 19, 1801, the son of Jonathan Hoge Walker. Walker graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1819 and began practicing law in Pittsburgh after being admitted to the bar in 1821. In 1826, Walker moved to Natchez, Mississippi where he continued to practice law. While in Mississippi Walker partook in land speculation, accumulating large amounts of debt in the process. It was during these years that Walker became associated with such leading Mississippi political figures as Joseph Davis, Henry Stuart Foote, John A. Quitman, and William M. Gwin. With these men, Walker shared common political beliefs supporting Jacksonian Democracy. Walker, Foote, and Quitman had additional ties from practicing law in Natchez.

In 1833, a scandal surrounding Walker's association with public land sales in Mississippi was brought to light by the anti-Jacksonian Mississippi Senator George Poindexter. Mississippi obtained 15,000 square miles of land in northern and central Mississippi from the Choctaw Indians in the 1831 treaty of Dancing Rabbit. Walker organized a group of moneyed individuals interested in purchasing sections of the land, and created a secret agreement in which no member of this organization would bid against another. Walker had a similar arrangement with small farmers and squatters not to enter into competition which ensured that they too obtained land. He charged one dollar per acre above the government minimum for this service, securing large tracts of land for the organization at very low prices. In an attempt to make this land deal a political issue, Poindexter attacked Samuel and William Gwin, as well as Walker, in an effort to harm his political rivals in Mississippi. Poindexter accused them of collusion with the speculators and of defrauding the government. Walker issued a public address in his defense and no consequential actions were taken. It was through the resulting scandal that Walker became interested in politics.

Brothers Samuel and William Gwin, supporters of Andrew Jackson, were determined to see George Poindexter defeated in the election for Mississippi senator. The Gwin brothers chose Walker to oppose Poindexter, and after a vigorous campaign, won the endorsement of the Democratic Party as its senatorial candidate. Walker began his career as a Mississippi senator in 1835 and served until 1845. Walker, a Unionist Democrat and expansionist, gained political prominence during the Nullification Crisis of 1832. He supported the independent treasury system and constantly attacked the protective tariff, the distribution of the surplus, and abolitionists. He also voted to recognize the Republic of Texas in 1837, and strongly argued in favor of the Annexation of Texas in 1845.

Walker's strong presidential endorsement of James Polk in 1844 would later result in his appointment to serve as the Secretary of the Treasury between 1845 and 1849. As Treasury Secretary, Walker financed the Mexican-American War and drafted the 1849 bill to establish the United States Department of the Interior. His first major achievement was the establishment of the Independent Treasury System of 1846, whereby the Treasury Department was made solely responsible for the handling of public monies. Walker's greatest work was the preparation of the famous Treasury report of December 3, 1845, regarded as the most powerful attack upon the protection system ever made in an American state paper. The resulting Walker Tariff of 1846 significantly lowered import duties. After serving in the Polk administration, Walker was appointed governor of the Kansas territory by President James Buchanan in 1857. Disagreements with fellow Democrats over the issue of slavery in Kansas led to Walker's resignation. During the Civil War, Walker supported the maintenance of the Union and traveled to Europe to sell Federal bonds to support the war effort. He died on November 11, 1869.

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