Robert J. Walker Papers
Walker, Robert J. (Robert John), 1801-1869
0.42 linear feet (1 box and 1 oversize volume)
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. This collection contains a letter book presumably created by Walker of copies of correspondence with several prominent nineteenth century political figures. The letters largely document Walker's activities as a land speculator during the late 1820s and the 1830s, his position on the Annexation of Texas and the Mexican War, his opinions on tariffs, and his support for politicians such as John Tyler. Included are transcriptions of each letter within the volume. Digital reproductions of this collection are available online.
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Finding aid prepared by Matt Gorzalski.
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.
Collection Scope and Content Notes
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. The "LB" indicates the page in the letter book where the items mentioned are located. Letters such as a March 22, 1834 copy (LB 2) describes debt obligations through land sales and related lawsuits. Other letters document his opinions on various government issues such as a June 2, 1843 letter (LB 27) in which Walker refuses to endorse the removal of Commissioner Graves or President John Tyler. A letter to John Tyler dated February 8, 1844 (LB 35) states Walker’s endorsement of Judge Upshur for a vacancy on the Bench of the Supreme Court, and a letter dated June 18, 1844 to James Polk (LB 46) reflects Walker’s opposition to high tariffs.
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. A June 29, 1844 letter (LB 47), Walker supports Texas’ independence from Mexico by relating their desire for independence to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. An open statement to the Democratic Party of Mississippi dated May 4, 1844 (LB 43) documents Walker’s arguments for the Annexation of Texas (LB 40 and LB 340.)
The correspondence between Walker and the notable political figures provides good insight about the federal government in the mid nineteenth century. Several other letters during his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury document suggestions given to Walker regarding military and political appointments.
- Land speculation -- Mississippi
- Mississippi -- History -- To 1865
- Mississippi -- Politics and government -- To 1865
- Presidents -- United States -- History -- 19th century
- United States. Congress. Senate.
- United States. Department of the Treasury. Office of the Secretary.
- Buchanan, James, 1791-1868
- Everett, Edward, 1794-1865
- Foote, Samuel Stuart
- Gwin, William McKendree, 1805-1885
- Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845
- Pierce, Franklin, 1804-1869
- Tyler, John, 1790-1862
- Walker, Robert J. (Robert John), 1801-1869
- Adams County (Miss.)
- Natchez (Miss.)
- Texas -- Annexation to the United States
- United States -- History -- 19th century
- United States -- Politics and government -- 19th century
- Washington (D.C.)
- Yalobusha County (Miss.)
- Letter books
Access and Use
Gift of Doctor Ralph to the Darlington Memorial Library in 1937.
Digital reproductions of this collection are available online.
This collection was located in the Darlington Memorial Library in the University’s Cathedral of Learning until 2007 when it was moved to the ULS Archives Service Center for processing, storage, preservation and service. However, it remains in the custodianship of the ULS Special Collections Department.
Robert J. Walker Papers, 1833-1848, DAR.1937.42, Darlington Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh
This collection was processed by Matt Gorzalski in August 2008.
No copyright restrictions.
Walker, (Robert J.) Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, call number Z/0659.000/S.
Walker, Robert J. (Robert John), 1801-1869. Papers, 1842-1866, Duke University Special Collections Library, 6th 17:C.
Papers of James K. Polk, 1790-1889, The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, mssHM 28820-28839.
Records 1839-1847, United States Department of the Treasury, Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, U.S. Mss BM Folder 3.
- Dodd, William Edward. Robert John Walker: Imperialist. Chicago: Chicago Literary Club, 1914.Jordan, H. Donaldson. "A Politician of Expansion: Robert J. Walker." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 19, no. 3 (December 1932): 362-381.
- Miles, Edwin A. "Andrew Jackson and Senator George Poindexter." The Journal of Southern History 24, no. 1 (February 1958): 51-66.
- "Robert J. Walker (1845-1849)." Secretaries of the Treasury. History of the Treasury. United States Department of the Treasury.
- "Walker, Robert John (1835-1845)." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. "Walker, Robert John." Columbia Encyclopedia, 2008.