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09/25/2021 05:50 PM
Pennsylvania State Senate

Robert Moffett Palmer



Session Position District Party
1859 N/A Republican
1861 Speaker N/A Republican
 Counties   Schuylkill


1820 - 1862

Born December 14, 1820 at Mount Holly, Burlington County, New Jersey, the Honorable Robert Moffett Palmer was the son of Judge Strange N. Palmer and Jane Donaldson Moffett, and the grandson of former Pennsylvania Senator Nathan Palmer, a native of Connecticut and lineal descendant of Miles Standish. The family relocated in Pottsville, Schuylkill County after 1820. Robert received early training as a printer’s assistant and manager at his father’s Pottsville printing business, attending common schools and eventually becoming editor of the (Pottsville) Emporium. Senator Palmer married Isabelle Seitzinger of Pottsville in 1840, studied law, joined the Schuylkill bar in 1845, and became a prominent criminal lawyer. Governor Johnston appointed Robert, District Attorney of Schuylkill County in 1850. Palmer followed his father’s footsteps, developed an interest in Democratic politics, and eventually aligned with Simon Cameron’s anti-Buchanan faction. In 1854, he advocated Wilmot abolitionism, the pro-war movement, and joined the Peoples Party. Within two years, Palmer surfaced as a member of the Union (Republican) State Central Committee and chairman pro tempore of the Electoral ticket committee. A Lincoln-Cameron devotee (respected by both), he joined the state Senate in 1858, serving a three-year term and becoming Speaker on April 3, 1860 – reelected in January 1861.  He remained Cameron’s dedicated county committee correspondent throughout the early party split with Governor Curtin. Future Republican State Party Chairman and Chief Clerk extraordinaire Russell Errett informed Cameron of Palmer’s sterling qualifications, relevant to serving as chairman of the 1860 State Central Committee. Errett noted Robert’s “coolness, intrepidness, clearness of judgment, talents, industry, energy, tact, and gentlemanly address.”
Palmer supported the 1861 Washington Peace Conference resolution and served as caucus chair during 1861’s successful re-election of U.S. Senator David Wilmot over Harry Welsh. He supported the same session’s $500,000 military appropriations-soldier’s bill, a measure naming Governor Curtin supreme commander in chief of the state’s military; voted as a Cameron advocate, endorsing the Pennsylvania Railroad’s attempt to operate exempt from the tonnage tax; and backed the wartime Morrill (prohibitive) Tariff, replacing the lower (adequate) Walker and 1857 federal tariffs. The senator supported John Penney’s 1859 General Banking Act, creating additional state currency and producing stringent penalties for bank fraud; supported the Schuylkill coalminers’ fair wage bill; and supported Penney’s “Free Banking Bill” of 1860, pioneer legislation leading to the modern national bank system. In addition to his selection as Speaker, he chaired Estate’s and Escheats (1860). After his election to the 1860 Speaker podium, an appointment most likely pre-ordained by Cameron during the 1859 state convention, Palmer wrote the chief in an ecstatic tone, pledging the entire Schuylkill delegation to Cameron’s presidential aspirations at the Chicago Republican National Convention. Should Simon receive the nomination, he hoped the boss might “advise me to become a candidate for your (Cameron) seat in the Senate of the U.S.”  In trade, Palmer offered Cameron his “lifelong services.” While Simon failed to receive the convention’s nod for the presidency, he nonetheless became Secretary of War; and through Lincoln, he influenced Palmer’s 1861 appointment as Minister to the Argentine Confederation. The senator suffered from chronic illness throughout his brief career. During his term in the Speaker’s chair, Robert received occasional leaves of absence, occasionally deputing Republican John Penney of Allegheny County as his pro tem. After the 1861 session, Palmer embarked for South America to begin his diplomatic duties. The Honorable Robert Palmer died shipboard during a return voyage to the states on April 26, 1862, off the coast of Brazil. The crew buried Robert at sea. Senator Palmer had hoped to enlist in the Union Army upon his return to the states. Cameron, minister to Russia at the time, consoled Robert’s father, Judge Palmer: “if God spares me, I will try to aid you in looking after his (six) orphan children.”