Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887

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Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter (April 21, 1809 – July 18, 1887) was a Virginia lawyer, politician and plantation owner. He was a U.S. Representative (1837–1843, 1845–1847), Speaker of the House (1839–1841), and U.S. Senator (1847–1861). During the American Civil War, Hunter became the Confederate States Secretary of State (1861–1862) and then a Confederate Senator (1862–1865) and critic of President Jefferson Davis. After the war, Hunter failed to win re-election to the U.S. Senate, but did serve as the Treasurer of Virginia (1874–80) before retiring to his farm. After fellow Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected President of the United States in 1884, Hunter became the customs collector for the port of Tappahannock until his death.

Born at the "Mount Pleasant" plantation near Loretto, Essex County, Virginia to James Hunter (1774-1826) and his wife Maria (Garnett) Hunter (1777-1811), R.M.T. Hunter was descended from the First Families of Virginia. His mother's father, Henry Garnett was one of the county's largest landowners, her brother James M. Garnett was the U.S. Congressman representing the area (and her other brother Robert S. Garnett would be within a decade). However, Maria Hunter died shortly after giving birth to William Garnett Hunter (1811-1829), when Robert M. T. Hunter was two years old, and shortly after one of his slightly elder brothers, also William Hunter, died at age 5. Educated first by private tutors, R. M. T. Hunter entered the University of Virginia when he was seventeen, shortly after his father's death, and became one of its first graduates. While a student, Hunter became a member of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, then studied law at the Winchester Law School.

In 1830 Hunter was admitted to the Virginia bar. In 1834 he was elected to represent Essex County in the Virginia House of Delegates, succeeding Richard Baylor. R. M. T. Hunter won re-election in 1835 and 1836, but resigned upon winning election to the U.S. Congress as discussed next.

In 1837, Hunter was elected U.S. Representative as a States Rights Whig. He was re-elected in 1839, and became Speaker of the United States House of Representatives – the youngest person ever to hold that office. He was re-elected again in 1841, but was not chosen Speaker. In 1843 he was defeated for re-election, but returned in 1844. Hunter favored annexing Texas and compromise on the Oregon question (opposing the Wilmot Proviso), and led efforts to retrocede the City of Alexandria back to Virginia (removing it from the District of Columbia). After losing the 1842 election, Hunter changed parties, becoming a Democrat. In 1845, he again took the oath of office as an elected Congressman, and supported the Tariff of 1846.

In 1846 the Virginia General Assembly elected Hunter U.S. Senator. He assumed office in 1847 and won re-election in 1852 and 1858. Hunter continued to support slavery and its extension: favoring extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, opposing abolishing the slave trade in the District of Columbia as well as any interference with its operation in any state or territory, and supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Senator Hunter delivered an address in Richmond supporting states’ rights in 1852, and in the 1857-58 Congressional session advocated admitting Kansas under the pro-slavery Lecompton constitution.

In the Senate, Hunter became chairman of the Committee on Finance in 1850. He is credited with bringing about a reduction of the quantity of silver in small silver denominations, helping push forward Senate Bill No. 271 which would eventually become the Coinage Act of 1853. Hunter also drafted and sponsored the Tariff of 1857 (which lowered duties) and creation of the bonded-warehouse system, although federal revenues were thereby reduced. He also advocated civil service reform.

In January 1860 Hunter delivered a speech in favor of slavery and the right of slaveholders to carry their slaves into the territories. At the first session of the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina, Hunter was a contender for the presidential nomination, but received little support except from the Virginia delegation. On seven of the first eight ballots, he was a very distant second to the leader, Stephen A. Douglas, and was third on the remaining 42 ballots. When the convention reconvened in Baltimore, most Southerners withdrew, including Hunter, and Douglas won the party's nomination.

Hunter did not regard Lincoln's election as being of itself sufficient cause for secession. On January 11, 1861, he proposed an elaborate but impracticable scheme to adjust differences between the North and the South. When this and several other similar efforts failed, Hunter quietly urged his own state to pass the ordinance of secession in April 1861. He was expelled from the Senate for supporting secession. One scheme proposed him as president of the new Confederate government, with fellow former U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis as commander of the Confederate States Army. Voters in parts of Virginia which had not seceded elected Unionist John S. Carlile to fill the rest of Hunter's term.

In July 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed Hunter the Confederate States Secretary of State. He resigned on February 18, 1862, after his election as a Confederate Senator. Hunter served in the Confederate Senate in Richmond, Virginia until the war's end, and was at times President pro tem. His portrait appeared on the Confederate $10 bill.

As a Confederate Senator, Hunter became an often caustic critic of Confederate President Davis. Despite this friction, Davis appointed Hunter as one of three commissioners sent to attempt peace negotiations in February 1865. Hunter met with President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward at the Hampton Roads Conference. However, after Lincoln refused to acknowledge the Confederacy's independence, Senator Hunter chaired a war meeting in Richmond where Confederates vowed they would never lay down their arms before achieving independence. Following Lee's surrender, President Lincoln summoned Hunter to confer regarding Virginia's restoration to the Union.

Many of Hunter's Garnett relatives became Confederate military officers, and his cousin Judge Muscoe Garnett (1808-1880) commanded the Home Guard in Essex County. Hunter's first cousins (through his mother) were career U.S. Army officers who became Confederate generals Robert S. Garnett and Richard B. Garnett, both of whom died in the conflict. His son James D. Hunter enlisted as a private in Company F, 9th Virginia Cavalry, which was organized in December 1861 with Lt. Garnett among its officers, and which was initially assigned to protect the Rappahannock River as well as the Rappahannock river port cities of Falmouth and Fredericksburg. James D. Hunter served only months before being furloughed on account of sickness in July 1862, but did participate in raids under Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and Capt. William Latane (who became a Confederate martyr as the only casualty of Stuart's vaunted ride around Union troops) and in General Lee's Seven Day offensive which ended the Union Peninsular Campaign. While his eldest son R.M.T. Hunter Jr. died early in the war of disease, his second son, Robert D. Hunter, served as a staff officer in the Army of Northern Virginia and as an engineer.

When some suggested late in the war that their slaves could be armed and serve in the Confederate Army to win their freedom, Senator R.M.T. Hunter vehemently opposed the proposal with a long speech against it, but after the Virginia legislature passed a resolution to the contrary, voted as instructed but with an emphatic protest.

In 1867, President Andrew Johnson pardoned Hunter for his activities supporting the Confederate States. He unsuccessfully ran to become U.S. Senator again in 1874, to succeed Unionist Republican John F. Lewis. However, Confederate veteran (and war hero) Robert E. Withers of the Conservative Party won. After that loss, Hunter accepted an appointment as the Treasurer of Virginia, serving from 1874 to 1880, when he returned to his farm. Hunter also published Origin of the Late War, about the causes of the Civil War. From 1885 until his death, he was customs collector of the Port of Tappahannock, Virginia near his home.

He died near Lloyds, Virginia in 1887, and was buried at the Garnett family burial ground in Loretto in Essex County.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Mason, J. M. (James Murray), 1798-1871. J. M. Mason papers, 1838-1870 (bulk 1862-1865). Library of Congress
creatorOf Carpenter, Mary B.,. Papers of the Hunter family [manuscript], 1788-1873. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Hammond, Isaac,. Collection, 1839-1875 (bulk 1861-1865). Library of Virginia
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 33: Office Of The Secretary, Outgoing Corres..
creatorOf Baynham, William, 1749-1814,. Papers of the Hunter-Garnett Family [manuscript] 1703-1970 (bulk, 1770-1880). University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Coffin, Charles Carleton, 1823-1896. Charles Carleton Coffin papers, 1861-1890. New England Historic Genealogical Society
referencedIn Garnett, James M. (James Mercer), 1770-1843. Papers, 1806-1840. Library of Virginia
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. R. M. T. Hunter letter to Professor H. Tutwiler [manuscript], 1875 May 20. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Shearman, Francis Willett, 1817-1874. Francis Willett Shearman papers, 1839-1878. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889. Autograph letter signed : Washington, D.C., to John Young Mason, n.p., 1848 Dec. 27. Texas Christian University
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. Additional papers of Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter [manuscript] 1826-60. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn W. W. Corcoran Papers, 1791-1896, (bulk 1849-1888) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Cappon, Lester Jesse, 1900-1981. Articles concerning the construction of Alderman Library, 1935-1939. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Photographic Portrait File The Huntington Library
referencedIn Microfilmed mss. collections [manuscript] 1966-67. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Garnett-Mercer-Hunter families. Papers, 1713-1853. Library of Virginia
referencedIn Everett, Edward, 1794-1865. Autograph letter signed from Edward Everett to R.M.T. Hunter, 1853 Feb. 25. Maine Historical Society Library
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. Papers, 1820-1860, 1876. Library of Virginia
referencedIn Wise, Henry A. (Henry Alexander), 1806-1876. Papers, 1833-1894. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
referencedIn J. M. Mason Papers, 1838-1870, (bulk 1862-1865) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Virginia State Library. [Contact repository for more information].
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. Papers of Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter [manuscript] 1788 [1861-67] 1873. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Timberlake, John H., 1804?-1876. Letter of recommendation [manuscript] : Charlottesville, Va., to James M. Mason and Robert M.T. Hunter, 1860 June 8. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. Letter to Professor H. Tutwiler 1875, 20 May. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. R.M.T. Hunter papers, 1834-1871. Maine Historical Society Library
referencedIn SIA RU000026, Smithsonian Institution Office of the Secretary, Correspondence, 1863-1879 Smithsonian Institution Archives
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. Letter : [Lloyds, Va.?], to L.Q. Washington, n.p., [ca. 1882 Jan. 9]. Texas Christian University
creatorOf Tucker, John Randolph, 1812-1883. Autograph letter signed : Winchester, to R. M. T. Hunter, 1853 Feb. 12. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Duke University Libraries, Rare Book, Ms., & Spec. Coll. Lib. Joseph Henry Papers.
referencedIn Marcy, William L. (William Learned), 1786-1857. Letter, 1855 Feb. 24 (Washington, D.C.) to R.M.T. Hunter, Chairman of the Committee on Finance, Senate. University of South Carolina, University Libraries
referencedIn Janvier, Francis De Haes, 1817-1885. Letter to Sarah Josepha Hale [manuscript], 1857 June 21. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Hunter Family Papers, 1766–1918. Virginia Historical Society
creatorOf Hunter family. Papers, 1766-1918. Virginia Historical Society Library
creatorOf Mason, J. M. (James Murray), 1798-1871. James Murray Mason Papers, 1838-1870. Michigan State University Libraries, Main Library
referencedIn James Henry Coffin Papers, 1848-1884 Smithsonian Institution Archives
creatorOf Simmons, James Fowler, 1795-1864. Letter, 1857, March 6, Washington, D.C., to Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter. Brown University, John Hay Library
referencedIn Confederate States of America. Confederate States of America collection, 1861-1865. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Beatty-Quisenberry family. Beaty-Quisenberry familty papers, 1798-1962. The Filson Historical Society
referencedIn University Of Virginia Library, Special Collections. Hunter Barnett Papers.
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. Letter of R. M. T. Hunter, 1868. Library of Congress
creatorOf Tutwiler, Henry, 1807-1884. Letters concerning Henry Tutwiler of the University of Virginia and the University of Alabama [manuscript] 1830-1875. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Blair, Francis Preston, 1791-1876. Letter : Washington, [D.C.], to Pres[ident Abraham] Lincoln, 1865 Jan. 12. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
creatorOf Harrison, Gessner, 1807-1862. Papers of Gessner Harrison [manuscript], 1827-1862. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889. Letter : Richmond, Va., to R.M.T. Hunter, n.p., 1865 Jan. 28. Texas Christian University
referencedIn Harvie family. Papers, 1831-1913. Virginia Historical Society Library
referencedIn Deas, W. A., fl. 1861. Wellford-White papers, 1860-1928. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Hamtramck, John Francis, 1798-1858. Papers, 1757-1862. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. Letters of R.M.T. Hunter [manuscript], 1846, 1857. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Photographs of Matthew Fontaine Maury and R.M.T. Hunter, ca. 1870. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter Papers, 1807-1916. Library of Virginia
referencedIn University of Virginia. Library. List of books borrowed 1825-1827. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Miller family. Papers of the Miller family, 1806-1914. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Mercer, Charles Fenton, 1778-1858. Papers, 1807-1866. Library of Virginia
referencedIn Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889. Letters to Frank Stringfellow [manuscript], 1878 and 1880. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Bell, John, 1797-1869,. Letters of R.M.T. Hunter, F. Mallory and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1841-1883. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Bancroft, George, 1800-1891,. Carter-Blackford papers, 1736-1908. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Booker, George, 1816?-1878. Papers, 1850-1862. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Timberlake, John H., 1804?-1876. Letter of recommendation : Charlottesville, Va., to James M. Mason and Robert M.T. Hunter, 1860 June 8. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Seddon, James A. (James Alexander), 1815-1880. James A. Seddon papers [manuscript], 1846-1867, 1960. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Corcoran, W. W. (William Wilson), 1798-1888. W.W. Corcoran papers, 1791-1896 (bulk 1849-1888). Library of Congress
referencedIn The papers of R.M.T. Hunter, 1817-1887 University of Virginia Library Dept. of Special Collections
creatorOf Cooke, John Esten, 1830-1886. Annals of the war; chapters of unwritten history, 1877 March 24-1888 July 7. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
creatorOf Shield, J. A. Letter : [Richmond, Va.] to Robert M.T. Hunter [Washington, D.C.], 1846 March 26. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Powell, Paulus, 1809-1874. Papers : of Paulus Powell, 1848-1868. Virginia Historical Society Library
referencedIn Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889. Jefferson Davis autograph letters signed, 1856 Feb. 29 and July 31. Maine Historical Society Library
referencedIn Confederate States of America collection, 1861-1865 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Benton, Thomas Hart, 1782-1858. Papers of the Gooch family [manuscript] 1800-91. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Lee, Robert E. (Robert Edward), 1807-1870. Robert E. Lee letter to R. M. T. Hunter [manuscript], 1864 January 22. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Hunter, R. M. T. (Robert Mercer Taliaferro), 1809-1887. Letter, 1836. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Garnett family. Papers of the Garnett family, 1773-1888. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Letcher, John, 1813-1884. Letters of John Letcher, 1853 and 1859. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Shearman, Francis Willett, 1817-1874. Francis Willett Shearman papers, 1839-1878. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Kemper, James Lawson, 1823-1895. Papers : of James Lawson Kemper, 1837-1903. Virginia Historical Society Library
creatorOf Hunter, Robert Mercer Taliaferro, 1809-1887. Autograph signature cut from the register of a hotel : [n.p., n.d.]. Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Floyd, John B. (John Buchanan), 1807-1863. Papers, 1831-1863, 1850-1863. William & Mary Libraries
referencedIn Wise, Henry A. (Henry Alexander), 1806-1876. Letter, Only, Va., to Robert Tyler [manuscript] 1855 Nov. 18. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Heth, Henry, 1825-1899. Papers of Henry Heth [manuscript], 1758-1942. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn United States. Congress. Virginia Delegation. Petition to the President of the United States, Buchanan, asking that John Munford Gregory be reappointed as U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Virginia [manuscript] 1858 March 9. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Key, Thomas Hewitt, 1799-1875. Papersof Thomas Hewitt Key, 1824-1827, 1870, 1978. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Stuart, Alexander H. H. (Alexander Hugh Holmes), 1807-1891. Papers of Alexander H. H. Stuart and the related Stuart and Baldwin families [manuscript], 1776-1878 (bulk 1850-1861). University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn George Nicholas Sanders Family Papers, 1833-1973, (bulk 1833-1900) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889. Document, 1865 Jan.-Feb. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
referencedIn Confederate States of America. Confederate States of America collection, 1861-1865. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn National Archives And Records Administration. Rg 233: House Of Representatives.
creatorOf Baird family. Baird family papers, 1656-1922. William & Mary Libraries
creatorOf Shield, J. A. Letter [manuscript] : [Richmond, Va.] to Robert M. T. Hunter [Washington, D.C.], 1846 March 26. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Confederate States of America. Congress. House of Representatives. An act to amend an act entitled "An act to regulate the supply of clothing to enlisted men of the Navy during the war," approved April 30, 1863, 1864 June 7. Boston Athenaeum
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Aylett, Patrick Henry, person
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associatedWith Carpenter, Mary B. (Mary Bower), 1909- person
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associatedWith Confederate States of America. corporateBody
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associatedWith Congressional Temperance Society (Washington, D.C.) corporateBody
correspondedWith Corcoran, W. W. (William Wilson), 1798-1888. person
correspondedWith Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889. person
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correspondedWith Everett, Edward, 1794-1865. person
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correspondedWith Marcy, William L. (William Learned), 1786-1857. person
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associatedWith Perry, Trueman Summerfield, 1826-1908. person
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associatedWith Pryor, Roger A. (Roger Atkinson), 1828-1919. person
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correspondedWith Sanders, George N. (George Nicholas), 1848-1890 person
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correspondedWith Thompson, Jacob (Hon.) person
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correspondedWith White, E. B. person
associatedWith Wise, Henry A. (Henry Alexander), 1806-1876. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Essex County VA US
Tappahannock VA US
Essex County VA US
Subject
Slavery--Hiring
Tariff
Patent Office
Temperance--Societies, etc.--Records and correspondence
District of columbia
Congress
Protectionism
Slavery
Smithsonian Institution
Education
Smithsonian Publications
Slaves--Emancipation--History
Light House Board
Inventors
Civil engineering
Banks and banking
Accounts
Surveys And Explorations, General
Meteorology
Occupation
Plantation owners
Senators, C.S.A. Congress--Virginia
Legislators--Confederate States of America
State Representative
Lawyers
Legislators--United States
Representatives, U.S. Congress--Virginia
Public officials--Virginia
Cabinet officers--Confederate States of America
Senators, U.S. Congress--Virginia
Representatives, U.S.--Virginia
Function

Person

Birth 1809-04-21

Death 1887-07-18

Male

Americans

English

Information

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