Robert Hunter (1801-1887)

Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter was born on April 21, 1801, at "Mount Pleasant," near Loretto, Essex County, Virginia. He was tutored at home, entered the University of Virginia in his seventeenth year and was one of its first graduates; he then studied law at the Winchester (Va.) Law School, and in 1830 was admitted to the bar and commenced practice at Lloyds.

He was a member of the Virginia General Assembly from 1834 to 1837 and was then elected as a States-Rights Whig to the 25th, 26th, and 27th Congresses (March 4, 1837-March 3, 1843). He was Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 26th Congress. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection to the 28th Congress but was elected to the 29th Congress (March 4, 1845-March 3, 1847), where he served as chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia.

He was elected to the United States Senate in 1846; reelected in 1852 and 1858 and served from March 4, 1847, to March 28, 1861. While in the Senate he was chairman, Committee on Public Buildings (30th through 32nd Congresses), Committee on Finance (31st through 36th Congresses). He is credited with having brought about a reduction of the quantity of silver in the smaller coins; he was the author of the Tariff Act of 1857 and of the bonded-warehouse system, and was one of the first to advocate civil service reform. In 1853 he declined President Fillmore's offer to make him secretary of state.

At the National Democratic Convention at Charleston, S.C., in 1860 he was the Virginia delegations choice as candidate for the presidency of the United States, but was defeated for the nomination by Stephen A. Douglas.

Hunter did not regard Lincoln's election as being of itself a sufficient cause for secession, and on January 11, 1861 he proposed an elaborate but impracticable scheme for the adjustment of differences between the North and the South, but when this and several other efforts to the same end had failed he quietly urged his own state to pass the ordinance of secession.

He withdrew from the Senate on March 28, 1861 and was later expelled for support of the rebellion.

After the Civil War began, he became a delegate from Virginia to the Confederate Provincial Congress at Richmond. He served as Confederate Secretary of State 1861-1862 and served in the Confederate Senate from Virginia in the First and Second Congresses 1862-1865. He was President pro tempore on various occasions and, at times, a caustic critic of the Davis administration.

He was one of the commissioners to treat at the Hampton Roads Conference in 1865, and after the surrender of General Lee was summoned by President Lincoln to Richmond to confer regarding the restoration of Virginia in the Union.

He was briefly imprisoned at the end of the Civil War. From 1874 to 1880 he was treasurer of Virginia, and from 1885 until his death near Lloyds, Virginia, was collector of the Port of Tappahannock, Virginia.

Hunter died on his estate 'Fonthill,' near Lloyds, Va., on July 18, 1887 and is buried in 'Elmwood,' the family burial ground, near Loretto, Va.