Robert Lucas was born in Shepherdstown, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia), on April 1, 1781. Not much is known about Lucas's early life, other than the fact that he received some training as a surveyor. When he was nineteen years old, he moved with his family to the Northwest Territory and settled near Portsmouth. Three years later he worked as a surveyor, determining the boundary between Scioto and Adams Counties.
Lucas also joined the state militia, rising in the ranks to brigadier general by the time of the War of 1812. He briefly served under Major General Duncan McArthur before joining General William Hull's campaign against Canada. He also held a rank of captain in the regular army for a short time but resigned from that position in early 1813 to devote his time to his militia duties. Lucas saw no additional combat during the war, although after the war he was promoted to major general and made commander of the Second Militia Division.
In addition to his military service, Lucas also became involved in state politics. Prior to the War of 1812, he had served one term in the Ohio House of Representatives. In 1814, he was elected to the Ohio Senate for the first time. He served as a state senator for several terms (1814-1822, 1824-1828, and 1829-1830) before returning to the lower house for a term in 1831-1832. During the 1820s, Lucas became a supporter of Andrew Jackson and joined the Democratic Party. His political and military reputation made him a widely respected figure in the state, and he even served as the first president of the Democratic National Convention.
By 1830, Lucas had become interested in the governorship. He ran unsuccessfully against Duncan McArthur in 1830, losing the election by fewer than five hundred votes. In 1832, he was more successful, winning against Darius Lyman. In 1834, he was reelected as governor over Whig Party candidate James Findlay. Much of his tenure as governor was relatively uneventful, but he did hold office during the dispute known as the "Toledo War". Both Ohio and the Michigan Territory claimed a small strip of land along the northern border of Ohio, no more than eight miles wide. This area was very important to Ohio because it included the community of Toledo, a port on Lake Erie that was expected to become a part of the state's canal system. In his position as governor, Lucas called out the state militia and personally led them to defend Ohio's border with Michigan. In the end war did not take place, as President Andrew Jackson intervened. The United States Congress eventually decided that the land belonged to Ohio and compensated Michigan by giving it additional land in the Upper Peninsula.
In 1838, President Martin Van Buren named Lucas the governor of the new Iowa Territory. He held this position until 1841, when Whig President William Henry Harrison chose to replace him with someone from his own political party. Lucas briefly returned to Ohio and ran for Congress in 1843, but after his defeat, he returned to his new home in Iowa City, Iowa. He was a member of Iowa's state constitutional convention in 1844, but after that point, he no longer actively served in politics. In 1852, after being such a prominent figure with the Democratic Party, Lucas switched to the Whig Party instead. He was unhappy with the Democratic Party's stance on the issue of slavery. Lucas died at his home in Iowa on February 7, 1853.
- Fess, Simeon D., ed. Ohio: A Four-Volume Reference Library on the History of a Great State. Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Company, 1937
- The Governors of Ohio. Columbus: The Ohio History Connection, 1954
- Hall, Betty. Personal Letters of Robert Lucas, Governor of Iowa, and of His Sister Lavisa Steenbergen, 1809-1863. N.p.: N.p., 1990.
- Parish, John C., ed. The Robert Lucas Journal of the War of 1812. N.p.: N.p., 1906.
- Parish, John C. Robert Lucas. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1907