Robert John Walker (July 23, 1801- November 11, 1869)


Not the most imposing physically, Walker was the Treasury Secretary throughout the Polk administration from 1845 until 1849, and was generally recognized as the most influential member of the cabinet.

Son of a judge, he gradualted top of the class University of Pennsylvania in 1819. Admitted to the bar in Pittsbugh in 1821, he practiced law there until 1826 when he moved to Mississippi where he joined his brother Duncan in his own successful law practice. Walker began to invest in land, cotton, and slaves in at that time, but searched his conscience and freed his slaves in 1838.

Historians warn up that it is not only unfair, but unreasonable, to apply modern morality—sadism, meanness, mistreatment of animals, infirm, elder, children, etc., excepted, but you get the idea—to cultures in the past. Slavery and its obvious acceptance were historically entrenched throughout human development. American men of letters formed our govenment and developed their ideas from Greek kernals of wisdom. The Greeks had slaves, but, the Greeks were the first civilization we know of that questioned the rightness of one person owning another. It is Greek thought that begins to reason otherwise, and that gnawing doubt began to surface in early America, and especially early in Walker.

His preparation of the Treasury report of December 13 1845 was perhaps his most influential work. The Walker Tariff of 1846 was based on this paper and lowered tariff duties substantially, encouraging the free trade Walker was in favor of. His act did in fact increase trade and an increase in government revenue. An expantionist on domestic issues, he was a leading figure in the establishment of the Department of the Interior in 1849, and died in the same year.