Elections in the United States
Elections in the United States are held for government officials at the federal and local levels. At the federal level, the nation's head of state, the President, is elected indirectly by the people of each state, through an Electoral College. Today, these electors always vote with the popular vote of their state. All members of the federal legislature, the Congress, are directly elected by the people of each state. There are many elected offices at state level, each state having at least an elective Governor and legislature. There are elected offices at the local level, in counties, towns, townships and villages. According to a study by political scientist Jennifer Lawless, there were 519,682 elected officials in the United States as of 2012. While the United States Constitution does set parameters for the election of federal officials, state law, not federal, regulates most aspects of elections in the U. S. including primaries, the eligibility of voters, the running of each state's electoral college, as well as the running of state and local elections.
All elections—federal and local—are administered by the individual states. The restriction and extension of voting rights to different groups has been a contested process throughout United States history; the federal government has been involved in attempts to increase voter turnout, by measures such as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The financing of elections has long been controversial, because private sources make up substantial amounts of campaign contributions in federal elections. Voluntary public funding for candidates willing to accept spending limits was introduced in 1974 for presidential primaries and elections; the Federal Elections Commission, created in 1975 by an amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act, has the responsibility to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, to oversee the public funding of U. S. presidential elections. The most common method used in U. S. elections is the first-past-the-post system, where the highest polling candidate wins the election.
Some may use a two-round system, where if no candidate receives a required number of votes there is a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes. Since 2002, several cities have adopted instant-runoff voting in their elections. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. If a candidate secures more than half of votes cast, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Ballots assigned to the eliminated candidate are recounted and assigned to those of the remaining candidates who rank next in order of preference on each ballot; this process continues. In 2016, Maine became the first state to adopt instant-runoff voting statewide for its elections, although due to state constitutional provisions, the system is only used for federal elections and state primaries; the eligibility of an individual for voting is set out in the constitution and regulated at state level. The constitution states that suffrage cannot be denied on grounds of race or color, sex, or age for citizens eighteen years or older.
Beyond these basic qualifications, it is the responsibility of state legislatures to regulate voter eligibility. Some states ban convicted criminals felons, from voting for a fixed period of time or indefinitely; the number of American adults who are or permanently ineligible to vote due to felony convictions is estimated to be 5.3 million. Some states have legacy constitutional statements barring declared incompetent from voting. While the federal government has jurisdiction over federal elections, most election laws are decided at the state level. All U. S. states. Traditionally, voters had to register at state offices to vote, but in the mid-1990s efforts were made by the federal government to make registering easier, in an attempt to increase turnout; the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 required state governments that receive certain types of federal funding to make the voter registration process easier by providing uniform registration services through drivers' license registration centers, disability centers, schools and mail-in registration.
Other states allow citizens same-day registration on Election Day. In many states, citizens registering to vote may declare an affiliation with a political party; this declaration of affiliation does not cost money, does not make the citizen a dues-paying member of a party. A party cannot prevent a voter from declaring his or her affiliation with them, but it can refuse requests for full membership. In some states, only voters affiliated with a party may vote in that party's primary elections. Declaring a party affiliation is never required; some states, including Georgia, Minnesota, Virginia and Washington, practice non-partisan registration. Voters unable or unwilling to vote at polling stations on Election Day can vote via absentee ballots. Absentee ballots are most sent and received via the United States Postal Service. Despite their name, absentee ballots are requested and submitted in person. About half of all states and U. S. territories allow "no excuse absentee," where no reason is required to request an absentee ballot.
Others require a valid reason, such as infirmity or tra
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is the presiding officer of the United States House of Representatives. The office was established in 1789 by Article I, Section 2 of the U. S. Constitution; the Speaker is the political and parliamentary leader of the House of Representatives, is the House's presiding officer, de facto leader of the body's majority party, the institution's administrative head. Speakers perform various other administrative and procedural functions. Given these several roles and responsibilities, the Speaker does not preside over debates; that duty is instead delegated to members of the House from the majority party. Neither does the Speaker participate in floor debates; the Constitution does not require the Speaker to be an incumbent member of the House of Representatives, although every Speaker thus far has been. The Speaker is second in the United States presidential line of succession, after the Vice President and ahead of the President pro tempore of the Senate.
The current House Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, was elected to the office on January 3, 2019. Pelosi served as speaker from January 4, 2007 to January 3, 2011, she has the distinction of being the first woman to serve as Speaker, is the first former Speaker to be returned to office since Sam Rayburn in 1955. The House elects its speaker at the beginning of a new Congress or when a speaker dies, resigns or is removed from the position intra-term. Since 1839, the House has elected speakers by roll call vote. Traditionally, each party's caucus or conference selects a candidate for the speakership from among its senior leaders prior to the roll call. Representatives are not restricted to voting for the candidate nominated by their party, but do, as the outcome of the election determines which party has the majority and will organize the House. Moreover, as the Constitution does not explicitly state that the speaker must be an incumbent member of the House, it is permissible for representatives to vote for someone, not a member of the House at the time, non-members have received a few votes in various speaker elections over the past several years.
Every person elected speaker has been a member. Representatives that choose to vote for someone other than their party's nominated candidate vote for someone else in their party or vote "present". Anyone who votes for the other party's candidate would face serious consequences, as was the case when Democrat Jim Traficant voted for Republican Dennis Hastert in 2001. In response, the Democrats stripped him of his seniority and he lost all of his committee posts. To be elected speaker a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes cast, as opposed to an absolute majority of the full membership of the House – presently 218 votes, in a House of 435. There have only been a few instances during the past century where a person received a majority of the votes cast, thus won the election, while failing to obtain a majority of the full membership, it happened most in 2015, when John Boehner was elected with 216 votes. Such a variation in the number of votes necessary to win a given election might arise due to vacancies, absentees, or members being present but not voting.
If no candidate wins a majority of the "votes cast for a person by name" the roll call is repeated until a speaker is elected. Multiple roll calls have been necessary only 14 times since 1789. Upon winning election the new Speaker is sworn in by the Dean of the United States House of Representatives, the chamber's longest-serving member; the first Speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, was elected to office on April 1, 1789, the day the House organized itself at the start of the 1st Congress. He served two non-consecutive terms in the Speaker's chair, 1789–1791 and 1793–1795; as the Constitution does not state the duties of the Speaker, the speaker’s role has been shaped by traditions and customs that evolved over time. A partisan position from early in its existence, the speakership began to gain power in legislative development under Henry Clay. In contrast to many of his predecessors, Clay participated in several debates, used his influence to procure the passage of measures he supported—for instance, the declaration of the War of 1812, various laws relating to Clay's "American System" economic plan.
Furthermore, when no candidate received an Electoral College majority in the 1824 presidential election causing the President to be elected by the House, Speaker Clay threw his support to John Quincy Adams instead of Andrew Jackson, thereby ensuring Adams' victory. Following Clay's retirement in 1825, the power of the speakership once again began to decline, despite speakership elections becoming bitter; as the Civil War approached, several sectional factions nominated their own candidates making it difficult for any candidate to attain a majority. In 1855 and again in 1859, for example, the contest for Speaker lasted for two months before the House achieved a result. During this time, Speakers tended to have short tenures. For example, from 1839 to 1863 there were eleven Speakers, only one of whom served for more than one term. To date, James K. Polk is the only Speaker of the House elected President of the United States. Towards the end of the 19th century, the office of Speaker began to develop into a po
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party; the Democrats' dominant worldview was once social conservatism and economic liberalism, while populism was its leading characteristic in the rural South. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran as a third-party candidate in the Progressive Party, beginning a switch of political platforms between the Democratic and Republican Party over the coming decades, leading to Woodrow Wilson being elected as the first fiscally progressive Democrat. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform, supporting social justice. Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist anti-business wings.
The New Deal Coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction—many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s, the pro-business wing withered outside the South. After the racial turmoil of the 1960s, most Southern whites and many Northern Catholics moved into the Republican Party at the presidential level; the once-powerful labor union element became less supportive after the 1970s. White Evangelicals and Southerners became Republican at the state and local level since the 1990s. People living in metropolitan areas, women and gender minorities, college graduates, racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, such as Jewish Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Arab Americans and African Americans, tend to support the Democratic Party much more than they support the rival Republican Party; the Democratic Party's philosophy of modern liberalism advocates social and economic equality, along with the welfare state.
It seeks to provide government regulation in the economy. These interventions, such as the introduction of social programs, support for labor unions, affordable college tuitions, moves toward universal health care and equal opportunity, consumer protection and environmental protection form the core of the party's economic policy. Fifteen Democrats have served as President of the United States; the first was President Andrew Jackson, the seventh president and served from 1829 to 1837. The most recent was President Barack Obama, the 44th president and held office from 2009 to 2017. Following the 2018 midterm elections, the Democrats held a majority in the House of Representatives, "trifectas" in 14 states, the mayoralty of numerous major American cities, such as Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Portland and Washington, D. C. Twenty-three state governors were Democrats, the Party was the minority party in the Senate and in most state legislatures; as of March 2019, four of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court had been appointed by Democratic presidents.
Democratic Party officials trace its origins to the inspiration of the Democratic-Republican Party, founded by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other influential opponents of the Federalists in 1792. That party inspired the Whigs and modern Republicans. Organizationally, the modern Democratic Party arose in the 1830s with the election of Andrew Jackson. Since the nomination of William Jennings Bryan in 1896, the party has positioned itself to the left of the Republican Party on economic issues, they have been more liberal on civil rights issues since 1948. On foreign policy, both parties have changed position several times; the Democratic Party evolved from the Jeffersonian Republican or Democratic-Republican Party organized by Jefferson and Madison in opposition to the Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. The party favored republicanism; the Democratic-Republican Party came to power in the election of 1800. After the War of 1812, the Federalists disappeared and the only national political party left was the Democratic-Republicans.
The era of one-party rule in the United States, known as the Era of Good Feelings, lasted from 1816 until the early 1830s, when the Whig Party became a national political group to rival the Democratic-Republicans. However, the Democratic-Republican Party still had its own internal factions, they split over the choice of a successor to President James Monroe and the party faction that supported many of the old Jeffersonian principles, led by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, became the modern Democratic Party. As Norton explains the transformation in 1828: Jacksonians believed the people's will had prevailed. Through a lavishly financed coalition of state parties, political leaders, newspaper editors, a popular movement had elected the president; the Democrats became the nation's first well-organized national party and tight party organization became the hallmark of nineteenth-century American politics. Opposing factions led by Henry Clay helped form the Whig Party; the Democratic Party had a small yet decisive advantage over the Whigs until the 1850s, when the Whigs fell apart over the issue of slavery.
In 1854, angry with the Kansas–Nebraska Act, anti-slavery Dem
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was an American statesman who served as the eighth president of the United States from 1837 to 1841. He was the first president born after the independence of the United States from the British Empire. A founder of the Democratic Party, he served as the ninth governor of New York, the tenth United States secretary of state, the eighth vice president of the United States, he won the 1836 presidential election with the endorsement of popular outgoing President Andrew Jackson and the organizational strength of the Democratic Party. He lost his 1840 reelection bid to Whig Party nominee William Henry Harrison, due in part to the poor economic conditions of the Panic of 1837. In his life, Van Buren emerged as an elder statesman and important anti-slavery leader, who led the Free Soil Party ticket in the 1848 presidential election. Van Buren was born in New York to a family of Dutch Americans, he was raised speaking Dutch and learned English at school, making him the only U. S. president who spoke English as a second language.
He trained as a lawyer and became involved in politics as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party. He won election to the New York State Senate and became the leader of the Bucktails, the faction of Democratic-Republicans opposed to Governor DeWitt Clinton. Van Buren established a political machine known as the Albany Regency and in the 1820s emerged as the most influential politician in his home state, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1821 and supported William H. Crawford in the 1824 presidential election. John Quincy Adams won the 1824 election and Van Buren opposed his proposals for federally funded internal improvements and other measures. Van Buren's major political goal was to re-establish a two-party system with partisan differences based on ideology rather than personalities or sectional differences, he supported Jackson's candidacy against Adams in the 1828 presidential election with this goal in mind. To support Jackson's candidacy, Van Buren ran for Governor of New York and resigned a few months after assuming the position to accept appointment as U.
S. Secretary of State after Jackson took office in 1829. Van Buren was a key advisor during Jackson's eight years as President of the United States and he built the organizational structure for the coalescing Democratic Party in New York, he resigned from his position to help resolve the Petticoat affair briefly served as the U. S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. At Jackson's behest, the 1832 Democratic National Convention nominated Van Buren for Vice President of the United States, he took office after the Democratic ticket won the 1832 presidential election. With Jackson's strong support, Van Buren faced little opposition for the presidential nomination at the 1835 Democratic National Convention, he defeated several Whig opponents in the 1836 presidential election. Van Buren's response to the Panic of 1837 centered on his Independent Treasury system, a plan under which the Federal government of the United States would store its funds in vaults rather than in banks, he continued Jackson's policy of Indian removal.
In the 1840 election, the Whigs rallied around Harrison's military record and ridiculed Van Buren as "Martin Van Ruin", a surge of new voters helped turn him out of office. At the opening of the Democratic convention in 1844, Van Buren was the leading candidate for the party's nomination for the presidency. Southern Democrats, were angered by his continued opposition to the annexation of Texas, the party nominated James K. Polk. Van Buren grew opposed to slavery after he left office, he agreed to lead a third party ticket in the 1848 presidential election, motivated additionally by intra-party differences at the state and national level, he finished in a distant third nationally, but his presence in the race most helped Whig nominee Zachary Taylor defeat Democrat Lewis Cass. Van Buren returned to the Democratic fold after the 1848 election, but he supported Abraham Lincoln's policies during the American Civil War, his health began to fail in 1861 and he died in July 1862 at age 79. He has been ranked as an average or below-average U.
S. president by historians and political scientists. Van Buren was born on December 5, 1782, in the village of Kinderhook, New York, about 20 miles south of Albany on the Hudson River. By American law, he was the first U. S. president not born a British subject, nor of British ancestry. However, because he was born during the American Revolution and before the Peace of Paris, he was for the purposes of British law a British subject at birth, his birth name was Maarten Van Buren. His father, Abraham Van Buren, was a descendant of Cornelis Maessen of the village of Buurmalsen, who had come to North America in 1631 and purchased a plot of land on Manhattan Island. Abraham Van Buren had been a Patriot during the American Revolution, he joined the Democratic-Republican Party, he served as Kinderhook's town clerk for several years. In 1776, he married Maria Hoes "Goes" Van Alen of Dutch extraction and the widow of Johannes Van Alen, she had three children from her first marriage, including future U. S.
Representative James I. Van Alen, her second marriage produced five children, including Martin. Van Buren spoke English unlike any other president. Van Buren received a basic education at the village sc
26th United States Congress
The Twenty-sixth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, D. C. from March 4, 1839, to March 4, 1841, during the third and fourth years of Martin Van Buren's presidency. The apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives was based on the Fifth Census of the United States in 1830. Both chambers had a Democratic majority. 1839: The first state law permitting women to own property was passed in Jackson, Mississippi January 19, 1840: Captain Charles Wilkes circumnavigated Antarctica, claiming what becomes known as Wilkes Land for the United States. November 7, 1840: U. S. presidential election, 1840: William Henry Harrison defeated Martin Van Buren February 18, 1841: The first ongoing filibuster in the United States Senate began and lasted until March 11 President: Richard M. Johnson President pro tempore: William R. King Speaker: Robert M. T.
Hunter Elected on the 11th ballot This list is arranged by chamber by state. Senators are listed by class, Representatives are listed by district. Skip to House of Representatives, below Senators were elected by the state legislatures every two years, with one-third beginning new six-year terms with each Congress. Preceding the names in the list below are Senate class numbers, which indicate the cycle of their election. In this Congress, Class 1 meant their term began with this Congress, requiring reelection in 1844; the names of members of the House of Representatives are preceded by their district numbers. The count below reflects changes from the beginning of the first session of this Congress. Replacements: 8 Democrats: 0-seat net loss Whigs: 0-seat net gain Deaths: 3 Resignations: 7 Interim appointments: 0 Total seats with changes: 11 Replacements: 15 Democrats: 2-seat net loss Whigs: 3-seat net gain Anti-Masonic: 1-seat net loss Deaths: 6 Resignations: 10 Contested election: 0 Total seats with changes: 17 Lists of committees and their party leaders.
Agriculture Audit and Control the Contingent Expenses of the Senate Bank Note Circulation Bankruptcy Claims Commerce Debts of the States Distributing Public Revenue Among the States District of Columbia Finance Fishing Bounties and Allowances Florida and Its Admission to the Union Foreign Relations Indian Affairs Judiciary Manufactures Mileage of Members of Congress Military Affairs Militia Naval Affairs Patents and the Patent Office Pensions Post Office and Post Roads Private Land Claims Public Buildings and Grounds Public Lands Revolutionary Claims Roads and Canals Tariff Regulation Washington City Charter Whole Accounts Agriculture Claims Commerce District of Columbia Elections Expenditures in the Navy Department Expenditures in the Post Office Department Expenditures in the State Department Expenditures in the Treasury Department Expenditures in the War Department Expenditures on Public Buildings Foreign Affairs Indian Affairs Invalid Pensions Manufactures Mileage Military Affairs Militia Naval Affairs Patents Post Office and Post Roads Public Buildings and Grounds Public Expenditures Public Lands Revisal and Unfinished Business Revolutionary Claims Roads and Canals Rules Standards of Official Conduct Territories Ways and Means Whole Enrolled Bills Librarian of Congress: John Silva Meehan Chaplain: George G. Cookman Secretary: Asbury Dickens Sergeant at Arms: Stephen Haight Chaplain: Joshua Bates, elected February 4, 1840 Thomas W. Braxton, elected December 7, 1840 Clerk: Hugh A. Garland Doorkeeper: Joseph Follansbee Postmaster: William J. McCormick Reading Clerks: Sergeant at Arms: Roderick Dorsey List of Members of the United States House of Representatives in the 26th Congress by seniority List of United States congressional districts List of United States Senators in the 26th Congress by seniority United States elections, 1838 United States Senate elections, 1838 and 1839 United States House of Representatives elections, 1838 United States elections, 1840 United States presidential election, 1840 United States Senate elections, 1840 and 1841 United States House of Representatives elections, 1840 Martis, Kenneth C..
The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Martis, Kenneth C.. The Historical Atlas of United States Congressional Districts. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Statutes at Large, 1789-1875 Senate Journal, First Forty-three Sessions of Congress House Journal, First Forty-three Sessions of Congress Biographical Directory of the U. S. Congress U. S. House of Representatives: House History U. S. Senate: Statistics and Lists Watterston, George. Congressional Directory for the 26th Congress, 1st Session
Whig Party (United States)
The Whig Party was a political party active in the middle of the 19th century in the United States. Four presidents belonged to the party while in office, it emerged in the 1830s as the leading opponent of Jacksonian democracy, pulling together former members of the National Republican and the Anti-Masonic Party. It had some links to the upscale traditions of the long-defunct Federalist Party. Along with the rival Democratic Party, it was central to the Second Party System from the early 1840s to the mid-1860s, it formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party. It became a formal party within his second term, receded influence after 1854. In particular terms, the Whigs supported the supremacy of Congress over the presidency and favored a program of modernization and economic protectionism to stimulate manufacturing, it appealed to entrepreneurs, planters and the emerging urban middle class, but had little appeal to farmers or unskilled workers. It included many active Protestants and voiced a moralistic opposition to the Jacksonian Indian removal.
Party founders chose the "Whig" name to echo the American Whigs of the 18th century who fought for independence. The political philosophy of the American Whig Party was not related to the British Whig party. Historian Frank Towers has specified a deep ideological divide: The Whig Party nominated several presidential candidates in 1836. General William Henry Harrison of Ohio was nominated in 1840, former Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky in 1844, General Zachary Taylor of Louisiana in 1848, General Winfield Scott of New Jersey in 1852 and the last nominee, former President Millard Fillmore from New York in 1856. In its two decades of existence, the Whig Party had two of its candidates and Taylor, elected president and both died in office. John Tyler succeeded to the presidency after Harrison's death in 1841, but was expelled from the party that year. Millard Fillmore, who became President after Taylor's death in 1850, was the last Whig President; the party fell apart because of internal tension over the expansion of slavery to the territories.
With deep fissures in the party on this question, the anti-slavery faction prevented the nomination for a full term of its own incumbent President Fillmore in the 1852 presidential election—instead, the party nominated General Scott. Most Whig Party leaders quit politics or changed parties; the Northern voter base gravitated to the new Republican Party. In the South, most joined the Know Nothing Party, which unsuccessfully ran Fillmore in the 1856 presidential election, by which time the Whig Party had become defunct having endorsed Millard Fillmore's candidacy; some former Whigs became Democrats. The Constitutional Union Party experienced significant success from conservative former Whigs in the Upper South during the 1860 presidential election. Whig ideology as a policy orientation persisted for decades, played a major role in shaping the modernizing policies of the state governments during Reconstruction; the name "Whig" repeated the term that Patriots used to refer to themselves during the American Revolution.
It indicated hostility to the king. Despite the identical name it did not directly derive from the British Whig Party; the American Whigs were modernizers who saw President Andrew Jackson as "a dangerous man on horseback"—like a king—with a "reactionary opposition" to the forces of social and moral modernization. The Democratic-Republicans who formed the Whig Party, led by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, drew on a Jeffersonian tradition of compromise, balance in government and territorial expansion combined with national unity and support for a Federal transportation network and domestic manufacturing. Casting their enemy as "King Andrew", they sought to identify themselves as modern-day opponents of governmental overreaching. Despite the apparent unity of Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans from 1800 to 1824, the American people preferred partisan opposition to popular political agreement; as Jackson purged his opponents, vetoed internal improvements and killed the Second Bank of the United States, alarmed local elites fought back.
In 1831, Henry Clay started planning a new party. He defended national rather than sectional interests. Clay's plan for distributing the proceeds from the sale of lands in the public domain among the states was intended to serve the nation by providing the states with funds for building roads and canals, which would stimulate growth and knit the sections together. However, his Jacksonian opponents distrusted the federal government and opposed all federal aid for internal improvements and they again frustrated Clay's plan. Jacksonians promoted opposition to the National Bank and internal improvements and support of egalitarian democracy, state power and hard money; the Tariff of Abominations of 1828 had outraged Southern feelings—the South's leaders held that the high duties on foreign imports gave an advantage to the North. Clay's own high tariff schedule of 1832 further disturbed them as did his stubborn defense of high duties as necessary to his American System. However, Clay moved to pass the Compromise of 1833, which met Southern complaints by a gradual reduction of the rates on imports to a maximum of twenty percent.
Controlling the Senate for a while, Whigs passed a censure motion denouncing Jackson's arrogant assumption of executive power in the face of the true will of the people as represented by Congress. The Whig Party began to take shape in 1833. Clay had run as a National Republican against J
Robert M. T. Hunter
Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter was a Virginia lawyer and plantation owner. He was a U. S. Representative, Speaker of the House, U. S. Senator. During the American Civil War, Hunter became the Confederate States Secretary of State and a Confederate Senator 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 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 and his wife Maria Hunter, 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. However, Maria Hunter died shortly after giving birth to William Garnett Hunter, when Robert M. T.
Hunter was two years old, shortly after one of his elder brothers 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, became one of its first graduates. While a student, Hunter became a member of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society 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, became Speaker of the United States House of Representatives – the youngest person to hold that office. He 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, led efforts to retrocede the City of Alexandria back to Virginia.
After losing the 1842 election, Hunter changed parties. In 1845, he again took the oath of office as an elected Congressman, 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, supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Senator Hunter delivered an address in Richmond supporting states’ rights in 1852, 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 become the Coinage Act of 1853.
Hunter drafted and sponsored the Tariff of 1857 and creation of the bonded-warehouse system, although federal revenues were thereby reduced. He advocated civil service reform. In 1853 Senator Hunter declined President Millard Fillmore's offer to make him Secretary of State. 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 distant second to the leader, Stephen A. Douglas, was third on the remaining 42 ballots; when the convention reconvened in Baltimore, most Southerners withdrew, including Hunter, 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 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 1862, after his election as a Confederate Senator. Hunter served in the Confederate Senate in Richmond, Virginia until the war's end, was at times President pro tem, his portrait appeared on the Confederate $10 bill. As a Confederate Senator, Hunter became an 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, afte