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Robert Milton Speer papers


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

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Robert Milton Speer (1838-1890) was a member of the United States Congress from 1871 to 1875 and a prominent lawyer. Born in Cassville, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania to Robert Speer (1803-1852) and Agnes Cowan Speer (1802-1851), Robert Milton Speer was the youngest of ten children. He attended Cassville Academy and continued on to study law, opening his own practice in Huntingdon in the spring of 1860. Mr. Speer was "clear in statement, logical in reasoning, unanswerable in argument and eloquent in delivery, it was rare indeed for him to be defeated in his cases and his services were consequently greatly in demand" (Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Biography of Pennsylvania, Volume II). Until his death in 1890, he remained active in the practice of law.

In 1863, Speer was elected as assistant clerk for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives. On April 26, 1864, he married Martha Ellen McMurtie, the sister of his law partner E.S. McMurtie, and together they had three sons, William, Robert, and Victor; and three daughters, Mary, Margaret, and Martha. A few years later, in 1870, Mr. Speer, a Democrat, ran for United States Congress against an adverse majority of Republican voters and was elected to the Forty-Second Congress of the United States as a U.S. Senator. In 1872, he was re-elected for the Forty-Third Congress. After being defeated in the election for the Forty-Fourth Congress, Mr. Speer continued to be a prominent figure in state politics and served as chairman of the State Committee of Pennsylvania in 1878.

On January 17, 1890, Robert Milton Speer died from lead poisoning in New York City after drinking water that had sat overnight in a pipe. His sickness was not caught in time to treat properly and he died in the hospital. He was survived by five of his six children, Martha having died in infancy.

Works Cited: Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Biography of Pennsylvania, Volume II, "Robert. M. Speer." Atlantic Publishing and Engraving Company, New York, 1890.

The Robert Milton Speer papers contains letters written to and by Speer regarding politics, the legal profession and law, and family. The first series deals with political and legal correspondences, the bulk of which were written around the time of his election to Congress in 1870. Also in this series are letters concerning Democratic party meetings, the election of Ulysses S. Grant, political sentiments, and requests for legal aid. There are also two letters written during the Civil War from a Major Frank Zentmyer, a member of the 34th Pennsylvania Regiment, 5th Reserves, which detail war conditions, anti-republican sentiments, and his feelings on uniting the political parties. Letters within this series are arranged chronologically.

The second series consists of family correspondence and contains letters written by Robert Milton Speer's relatives. The letters of E.S. McMurtie, D.E. McMurtie, J. North, and C.C. North, the in-laws of Robert Milton Speer, address legal and personal matters. Most of the letters by Speer's other relatives are personal in nature and many offer congratulations on his election to Congress.

Gift of Margaret B. Speer, November 1976

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Nicole Love
Finding Aid Date
2014 September 29
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Letters to Speer from Major Frank Zentmyer regarding the Civil War, including war conditions, anti-Republican sentiments, and uniting political parties, 1861-1862.
Box 1 Folder 1
Letters to Speer regarding house lease dispute, recommendations, possessions and marriage, and book requests from C. Forbes, 1864-1867.
Box 1 Folder 2
Letters to Speer regarding election, Democratic party meetings, and legal requests, 1868.
Box 1 Folder 3
Letters to Speer regarding recommendations, railway passes, and political movements, 1869.
Box 1 Folder 4
Letters to Speer concerning his campaign and election to Congress: advisory, congratulatory, and regarding votes, 1870.
Box 1 Folder 5
Letters by Robert Milton Speer regarding campaigns and legal requests, 1870-1871.
Box 1 Folder 6
Letters to Speer concerning legal cases, requests for aid, and replies to personal requests, 1871.
Box 1 Folder 7
Letters to Speer regarding legal requests, political interests, personal favors, and letters of thanks, 1872.
Box 1 Folder 11

Letters to Speer from his family, correspondents include: James McIlduff, Robert Speer McIlduff, W. Louden, and Isabella Speer Baker, 1868-1871.
Box 1 Folder 8
Letters of E.S. McMurtie and D.E. McMurtie, 1868-1870.
Box 1 Folder 9
Letters of J. North and C.C. North, 1868-1870.
Box 1 Folder 10

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