Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on December 10, 1784, Lowrie was the son of John and Catherine Cameron Lowrie. The family arrived in the United States in 1792, initially settling in Huntingdon County before moving permanently to Allegheny Township, Butler County.
Walter received an early education through subscription schools, became a surveyor, and studied for the Presbyterian ministry under the Reverend John McPherrin. The youth excelled as a master in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek, entering the teaching profession in 1807. He later married McPherrin’s daughter, Amelia, who died in 1832. After his first wife’s death, he married Mary K. Childs. Walter’s public career began shortly thereafter, becoming a county commission clerk, a member of the board of commissioners, and justice of the peace.
About 1809, Walter and brother-Matthew opened a mercantile business in Butler. Within two years he executed a successful campaign as an 1811 Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives. Lowrie served only one year in the lower house before filling a vacated seat in the 1812 Senate. In October 1815, he returned to the upper chamber after serving as Speaker at the end of the 1813-1814 Session. During his term, Senator Lowrie rose to prominence as the old school Democratic caucus leader of Western Pennsylvania, often at odds with his new school counterpart, state Senator Abner Lacock. Lowrie’s chief contributions in the Senate included legislative action that curtailed the ill effects of the Bank Panic of January 1819. He compelled the upper house to “enquire into the expediency of requiring the incorporated banks of this state to resume specie payments,” and to aid the financially oppressed by investigating “specifically the manner in which suits may be brought and supported against banks … for the payment of their notes in the legal currency of the United States.” Lowrie also promoted organizational efforts behind the University of Western Pennsylvania, the forerunner to the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1818, the Republican nominating caucus selected the Honorable Walter Lowrie as the party’s candidate for the United States Senate, winning the joint-session vote for a six-year term. In Washington, Lowrie received wide acclaim as the resident expert on matters of political history and constitutional law. His speech before the U.S. Senate protesting slave labor and the Missouri Compromise invoked a groundswell of support among colleagues against the extension of human bondage. Senator Lowrie co-founded the Congressional Temperance Society and reserves recognition as an originator of the Congressional Prayer Meeting. During six years in national office, he chaired the Committee on Finance, and in his last year of federal service, became secretary of the United States Senate - a position he held from 1825 through 1836. He was a member of the American Colonization Society and the Committee on Indian Affairs.
Walter received an appointment as secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in 1825, dedicating his life to the Presbyterian Church. A devout churchman, Walter built the organization into an important nineteenth-century missionary force. Walter Lowrie distinguished himself as a “modest, unassuming gentleman, whose public career was marked by the same rigid morals and principles that guided his private life.” Moving permanently to New York City and close to synod and missionary affairs, the Honorable Walter Lowrie died there, December 14, 1868, while in the service of the First Presbyterian Church of New York City.
Portrait and Bio: History of Butler County, Pennsylvania (Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphich, Inc., 1977), 674-676; also: Annals of Southwestern Pennsylvania, ed. Lewis Clark Walkenshaw (New York: Lewis Historical Publishers, Inc., 1939), SJ, December 20, 1816, 54; also: Congressional Biographies