Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter (April 21, 1809 - July 18, 1887), American statesman, was born in Essex County, Virginia.
He 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. From 1835 to 1837 he was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates; from 1837 to 1843 and from 1845 to 1847 was a member of the national House of Representatives, being Speaker from 1839 to 1841; and from 1847 to 1861 he was in the Senate, where he was chairman of the finance committee (1850-1861). 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.
From 1861 to 1862 he was secretary of state in the Southern Confederacy; and from 1862 to 1865 was a member of the Confederate senate, in which he was, 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. 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.
See Martha T Hunter, A Memoir of Robert MT Hunter (Washington, 1903) for his private life, and DR Anderson, Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter, in the John P Branch Historical Papers of Randolph Macon College (vol. ii. No. 2, 1906), for his public career.