Hitt, Robert Roberts

Robert R. Hitt was a pioneer stenographer and verbatim journalist who made his name recording the Lincoln-Douglas debates and went on to serve with distinction as a diplomat and congressman. He was the third of nine children born to the Methodist minister Thomas Smith Hitt and his wife Emily John Hitt. His family moved from Ohio to Illinois and he attended DePaul University. He also taught himself the new skill of shorthand while in college and opened an office as a court reporter in Chicago, the first of its kind in the city. Abraham Lincoln knew of his work and in 1858 took advantage of this pioneering expertise when the Chicago Tribune hired the 24 year old Hitt to cover Lincoln’s debates with Stephen Douglas. Hitt’s success with the assignment led to him being named the official stenographer for the Illinois legislature. Frail and slender but charming and polished, Hitt’s skills led to a succession of posts. He was personal secretary to Senator Oliver P. Morton of Indiana and then served seven years as the First Secretary of the Paris Embassy in the Grant Administration. He married Sally Reynolds in 1874 and the couple had two sons. A brilliant conversationalist and raconteur, he was elected to Congress from Illinois in 1881 and became the country’s leading legislative expert on foreign affairs. Theodore Roosevelt wanted to name him as his running mate in 1904. He died in Rhode Island in September 1906 and was buried in Illinois. (By J. Osborne)
Life Span
    Full name
    Robert Roberts Hitt
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Thomas Smith Hitt (father), Emily John (mother), Sallie Reynolds (wife, 1874)
    Other Education
    Indiana Asbury University (Depauw University)
    Other Occupation
    Shorthand Reporter
    Relation to Slavery
    White non-slaveholder
    Church or Religious Denomination
    Political Parties
    Grant Administration (1869-77)
    US House of Representatives

    Robert Roberts Hitt (Congressional Biographical Directory)

    HITT, Robert Roberts, a Representative from Illinois; born in Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, January 16, 1834; moved to Ogle County, Ill., in 1837 with his parents, who settled in Mount Morris; attended the Rock River Seminary (later Mount Morris College), and De Pauw University, Greencastle, Ind.; first secretary of legation and Chargé d’Affaires ad interim in Paris from December 1874 until March 1881; Assistant Secretary of State in 1881; elected as a Republican to the Forty-seventh Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Robert M.A. Hawk; reelected to the Forty-eighth and to the eleven succeeding Congresses and served from November 7, 1882, until his death; chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs (Fifty-first and Fifty-fourth through Fifty-ninth Congresses); Regent of the Smithsonian Institution from August 11, 1893, until his death; appointed by President McKinley in July 1898 as a member of the commission to establish government in the Hawaiian Islands; died at Narragansett Pier, R.I., September 20, 1906; interment in Oakwood Cemetery, Mount Morris, Ogle County, Ill.
    “Hitt, Robert Roberts,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H000649.

    Robert Roberts Hitt (American National Biography)

    Because of Hitt's shorthand skills, Abraham Lincoln selected him to record the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858. Hitt favored Lincoln's position against federal interference with slavery in the southern states and against slavery's extension westward. From 1857 until 1860 Hitt worked as the official stenographer of the Illinois state legislature. During the U.S. Civil War, Hitt was a reporter on several Federal government investigatory commissions. The most notable was the inquiry into General John C. Frémont's military activities in Missouri in the first year of the war, when the general was at odds with Washington over the need for supplies and men and the objectives of his command, particularly with regard to emancipation policy. In 1872 Hitt served as a reporter for congressional committees looking into the activities of the Ku Klux Klan against the civil rights of freed blacks.
    Thomas M. Leonard, "Hitt, Robert Roberts," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/05/05-00348.html.

    Robert Roberts Hitt (New York Times)



    It is a curious coincidence that two newspaper men who accompanied Mr. LINCOLN in his famous tour of debates with Mr. DOUGLAS in 1858 should have risen to important place in connection with the foreign service of the United States. Mr. John Hay was introduced to his future career by the direct action of Mr. LINCOLN, who invited him to Washington as his private secretary. Mr. ROBERT R. HITT remained in Illinois until 1874, when President GRANT appointed him Secretary of Legation at Paris, whence he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State under Mr. BLAINE under Mr. Blaine, in 1881, and two years later entered Congress.

    Like Mr. HAY, a Western boy, he, also like him, had a natural bent toward culture and toward the attentive study of foreign affairs. He was nearly a quarter of a century in Congress, and for most of the time served as a member, or Chairman, of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. And there was another analogy with Mr. HAY with the “coup” of Panama. Neither achievement was the most creditable in the record of the man closely connected with it, but each was undoubtedly undertaken with the conviction that it was the best thing possible at the time. In general, the influence of Mr. HITT was distinctly in the direction of wise and enlightened public policy. His range of information in foreign relations was not excelled by that of any one in the House of Representatives, and his long service gave him an authority that few thought of disputing. Personally, he was an amiable, accomplished, and winning gentleman. His death is a substantial loss to the Government.

    “Robert R. Hitt,” New York Times, September 22, 1906, p. 6: 2.

    Robert Roberts Hitt, Background (Sparks, 1908)



    Robert Roberts Hitt was born in Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, January 16, 1834. In 1837, the Hitts moved to Illinois and with their following settled in Ogle County, and established what became the village of Mount Morris. Educated at the Rock River Seminary at Mount Morris, an institution founded by his father and uncle, and later graduated from the Asbury (now Depauw) University of Indiana, the subject of this sketch trained himself in the art of phonography and in 1856 opened an office in Chicago and established himself as a court and newspaper shorthand reporter, the first expert stenographer permanently located in that city.

    Edwin Erie Sparks, ed., The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1908), 77.

    Robert Roberts Hitt, Stenographer (Sparks, 1908)



    His work as a stenographer first brought him into the notice of Abraham Lincoln, then practicing law, and later as a newspaper reporter in reporting the campaign speeches of Lincoln and other prominent orators of the day, including Douglas, Logan, Lovejoy, and indeed of all the great speakers of the Middle West of that time. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates he was the verbatim reporter, receiving the highest praise from Mr. Lincoln for the accuracy of his work. During the sessions of 1858, 1859, and 1860, Mr. Hitt was the official stenographer of the Illinois legislature, having the contract for both the senate and the house.

    Edwin Erie Sparks, ed., The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1908), 77-78.

    Robert Roberts Hitt, Later Life (Sparks, 1908)


    In 1867 and 1868 he made a tour of Europe and Asia,daily taking down in shorthand notes his impressions of the peoples and conditions of the countries and places visited. Upon his return he was again employed by the government in confidential cases, including missions to Santo Domingo and to the southern states to investigate the Ku Klux Klan, after which he became private secretary to Senator O. P. Morton, and in December of the same year was appointed secretary of legation at Paris, by President Grant, which position he held for six years. In 1880, upon the request of Mr. Blaine, then secretary of state. President Garfield appointed him assistant secretary, which position he resigned to become a candidate for Congress, to which he was elected in 1882. He served continuously from the Forty-eighth to the Fifty-eighth Congress. While serving his twelfth term, Mr. Hitt died on September 20, 1906 at Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island.

    Edwin Erie Sparks, ed., The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1908), 78.
    How to Cite This Page: "Hitt, Robert Roberts," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/17467.