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November 16, 1894
Death of Robert Winthrop

Robert Charles Winthrop (May 12, 1809 to November 16, 1894) was an American lawyer, politician, and philanthropist who at one point in his political career rose to the office of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Like most who lived during the Founding Era of the United States, Winthrop was concerned about the moral character of America's development. As was characteristic of many Founding Fathers, Winthrop involved himself in the advancement of Christianity in America—particularly through his political influence, oratory, literary endeavors, and the distribution of the Bible.

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A Survey of His Life

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.
— Robert Winthrop
Daniel Webster

Born in Boston to Thomas Lindall Winthrop and his wife Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple, he attended the prestigious Latin School of Boston before studying at Harvard University, where he graduated in 1828. After graduating from Harvard, Winthrop studied law with the well-known American statesman, Daniel Webster. As a powerful orator, Daniel Webster left a lasting impression upon the speaking ability of Winthrop. Serving in national politics for forty years, Webster served in the House of Representatives for eight years, in the Senate for nineteen years, and finally as the United States Secretary of State under three presidents.[1] Upon completion of his study of law with Webster, Robert Winthrop was admitted to the bar in 1831 and subsequently established a practice in Boston.

On March 12, 1832, Robert married Elizabeth Cabot Blanchard. Together, Robert and Elizabeth Winthrop had three children. When Elizabeth died after ten years of marriage, Robert married a second wife, Adele Granger Thayer.

Washington Monument

Only a few years after he established his law practice, Winthrop entered into a political career. From 1834 to 1840, he was a member of the lower house of the Massachusetts' legislature, during which time he was chosen speaker in 1838, 1839, and 1840. In 1840, he was elected to the United States Congress, where he served ten years with distinction, earning himself a reputation as an able debater, orator, and parliamentarian. From 1847 to 1849, he held the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives, and in 1850, he was appointed by the governor of Massachusetts to fill Daniel Webster's seat in the senate when Mr. Webster was appointed Secretary of State. When defeated in his bid for election to the senate by a coalition of Democrats and Free-soilers, he turned his efforts to an unsuccessful election bid for the office of governor of Massachusetts. Disappointed in political life, he retired from politics to devote himself to literary, historical, and benevolent interests.[2] While still the Speaker of the House, Winthrop received the distinction of being chosen to deliver the dedicatory speech of the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument on July 4, 1848.[3]

He served as the President of the Massachusetts' Bible Society for several years where he advocated his conviction that Christian morality—as derived from the Bible—was necessary to produce a free society.[4] This sentiment was summarized in his 1849 speech, "The Bible," in which he stated, "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]


On November 16, 1894, Robert Winthrop died in Boston and was interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Along with America's Founding Fathers, Winthrop understood that the testimony of world history demonstrates that it is not possible to be, "Good without God." His various written speeches are apt expressions of the breadth of his learning and demonstrations of his intellectual prowess or skill. Following in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers, Winthrop advocated the cause of Christianity—even from the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States.

Please click this article message box to navigate to one of Speaker Winthrop's best known speeches entitled, "The Bible."
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Article Notes and Sources

[1] "Daniel Webster," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Webster, October 27, 2015).

[2] "John Winthrop," Appletons' Cyclop¾dia of American Biography (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Appletons'_Cyclop%C3%A6dia_of_American_Biography/Winthrop,_John, October 27, 2015).

[3] The title of his speech was "National Monument to Washington." Robert Winthrop Winthrop, Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1852), 70-89.. Also see, "John Winthrop," Appletons' Cyclop¾dia of American Biography (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Appletons'_Cyclop%C3%A6dia_of_American_Biography/Winthrop,_John, October 27, 2015).

[4] "Daniel Webster," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Webster, October 27, 2015).

[5] It should be noted that this speech was delivered while Winthrop was still the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Robert Winthrop, Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1852), 172.