Robert Charles Winthrop

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This article is about the lawyer and politician. For the banker, see Robert Winthrop (1833–1892).
Robert Charles Winthrop
Robert Charles Winthrop.jpg
18th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
December 6, 1847 – March 4, 1849
President James K. Polk
Preceded by John W. Davis
Succeeded by Howell Cobb
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st district
In office
November 9, 1840 – May 25, 1842
Preceded by Abbott Lawrence
Succeeded by Nathan Appleton
In office
November 29, 1842 – July 30, 1850
Preceded by Nathan Appleton
Succeeded by Samuel Atkins Eliot
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
July 30, 1850 – February 1, 1851
Appointed by George N. Briggs
Preceded by Daniel Webster
Succeeded by Robert Rantoul Jr.
Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born (1809-05-12)May 12, 1809
Boston, Massachusetts
Died November 16, 1894(1894-11-16) (aged 85)
Boston, Massachusetts
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Cabot Blanchard
Laura Derby Welles
Adele Granger Thayer Winthrop
Alma mater Harvard University
Profession Lawyer, Politician, Philanthropist

Robert Charles Winthrop (May 12, 1809 – November 16, 1894) was an American lawyer and philanthropist and one time Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He was a descendant of John Winthrop.

Life and career[edit]

Robert Charles Winthrop was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Thomas Lindall Winthrop (March 6, 1760 – February 22, 1841) and wife (m. July 25, 1786) Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple (October 23, 1769 – July 23, 1825). He attended the prestigious Boston Latin School, and graduated from Harvard University in 1828.

On March 12, 1832, he married Elizabeth Cabot Blanchard (May 27, 1809 – June 14, 1842), daughter of Francis Blanchard (baptised February 1, 1784 – age estimated 29 at death, June 26, 1813) and wife (m. August 29, 1808) Mary Ann Cabot (baptised May 9, 1784 – July 25, 1809), with whom he had three children. After Elizabeth's death, he married his second wife, Adele Granger Thayer (September 1820 – June 16, 1892), daughter of Francis Granger and Cornelia Rutson Van Rensselaer (1798 – December 29, 1823), on November 15, 1865.

After studying law with Daniel Webster he was admitted to the bar in 1831 and practiced in Boston. He served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1835 to 1840, and served as Speaker of the House of that body from 1838 to 1840. He was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1838.[1]

Winthrop was elected US Representative from Massachusetts as a Whig to the 26th United States Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Abbott Lawrence; he was reelected to the 27th Congress and served from November 9, 1840, to May 25, 1842, when he resigned. He was subsequently elected to the 27th Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of his successor, Nathan Appleton; he was reelected to the 28th and to the three succeeding Congresses and served from November 29, 1842 until to July 30, 1850, and served as the Speaker of the House during the 30th Congress. To date he is the last Speaker who was neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1849.[2]

After Daniel Webster resigned from the United States Senate to become Secretary of State in 1850, Winthrop resigned from the House and was appointed by fellow Whig Governor George Briggs to fill the remainder of Webster's Senate term. Winthrop's views proved no more palatable to abolitionists than did Webster's, and he failed to win reelection by the state legislature to either of Massachusetts' Senate seats in 1851. He resigned without completing his term immediately following his election loss. Later that year, Winthrop actually won a popular plurality in the race for Massachusetts Governor but as the state Constitution required a majority, the election was thrown into the legislature. The same coalition of Democrats and Free Soilers defeated him again. His final venture into elected political office was as a presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1852. Afterwards, Winthrop became an independent, unsuccessfully supporting Millard Fillmore, John Bell, and George McClellan.

With his political career over at the young age of 41, Winthrop spent the remainder of his life in literary, historical, and philanthropic pursuits.[3] He was a major early patron of the Boston Public Library and president of the Massachusetts Historical Society from 1855 to 1885, during which time he wrote a biography of his ancestor John Winthrop. He served as the president of the Massachusetts Bible Society for several years where he advocated that Christian morality was the necessary condition of a free society.[4] His most notable Christian philosophy for governing men, was as follows:

"Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet."[5]

His most notable contributions came as permanent Chairman and President of the Peabody Education Fund Trustees, which he served from 1867 to his death. As well as steering the contributions of the Peabody Trust, Winthrop gave his own money to various Southern schools, the most long lasting of which was the $1500 of seed money provided to a teacher's college that renamed itself Winthrop University in gratitude. He became a noted orator, delivering the eulogy for George Peabody in 1870, and speaking at the ceremony that opened the Washington Monument in 1848.[6]

He died in Boston in 1894, and is interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One of his children was Robert Charles Winthrop, Jr. (December 7, 1834 – June 5, 1905), who married on June 1, 1869 Elizabeth Mason (October 1, 1844 – April 22, 1924), daughter of Robert Means Mason (September 25, 1810 – March 13, 1879) and wife (m. December 4, 1843) Sarah Ellen Francis (May 17, 1819 – September 27, 1865) and paternal granddaughter of Jeremiah Mason and wife Mary Means. Robert Jr.'s daughter Margaret Tyndal Winthrop (February 23, 1880 – July 7, 1970)[7] married at 10 Walnut St., on November 28, 1906 James Grant Forbes. James and Margaret were the parents of Rosemary Isabel Forbes. Rosemary married Richard John Kerry on February 8, 1941. Richard and Rosemary were the parents of Secretary of State, Senator and 2004 Presidential candidate John Forbes Kerry.


  1. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  2. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter W" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  3. ^ Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions, Robert Charles Winthrop, Google Book Search. Retrieved 07-03-2007.
  4. ^ Speech to the Massachusetts Bible Society (05-28-1849), quoted in Robert Winthrop, Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions, Little, Brown & Co., 1852, p. 172.
  5. ^ Robert Winthrop, Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1852, p. 172 from his "Either by the Bible or the Bayonet.")
  6. ^ Savage, Kirk (2009). Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-520-27133-3. 
  7. ^ New York Times 1970 Jl 9, 37:6

External links[edit]

Massachusetts House of Representatives
Preceded by
Julius Rockwell
Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives
Succeeded by
George Ashmun
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Abbott Lawrence
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st congressional district

November 9, 1840 – May 25, 1842
Succeeded by
Nathan Appleton
Preceded by
Nathan Appleton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st congressional district

November 29, 1842 – July 30, 1850
Succeeded by
Samuel Atkins Eliot
Political offices
Preceded by
John Wesley Davis
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
December 6, 1847 – March 4, 1849
Succeeded by
Howell Cobb
United States Senate
Preceded by
Daniel Webster
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Massachusetts
July 30, 1850 – February 1, 1851
Served alongside: John Davis
Succeeded by
Robert Rantoul, Jr.