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See also Roscoe Conkling Patterson, a U.S. Senator from Missouri.
See also Roscoe Conkling McCulloch, a U.S. Senator from Ohio.

Roscoe Conkling (October 30 1829April 18 1888) was a politician from New Yorkmarker who served both as a member of the United States House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. He was the leader of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party and, as of July 2009, the last person to refuse a Supreme Court appointment after he had been already been confirmed by the Senate.

Personal life

Conkling was born in Albany, New Yorkmarker; his father, Alfred Conkling, was a U.S. Representative and Federal judge and his brother, Frederick Augustus Conkling, was also a U.S. Representative. He married Julia Catherine Seymour, sister of the Democratic politician and Governor of New York Horatio Seymour.

He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1850.

Conkling was accused of having an affair with the married Kate Chase Sprague, daughter of Salmon P. Chase. According to a well-known story, buttressed by contemporaneous press reports, Mr. Sprague confronted the philandering couple at Sprague's Rhode Island summer home and pursued Conkling with a shotgun.


He began a practice in Utica, New Yorkmarker. He served as the district attorney for Oneida Countymarker in 1850; mayor of Uticamarker in 1858; elected as a Republican to the Thirty-sixth and Thirty-seventh Congresses (March 4, 1859-March 3, 1863); chairman, Committee on District of Columbia (Thirty-seventh Congress); unsuccessful candidate in 1862 for reelection; elected to the Thirty-ninth and Fortieth Congresses and served from March 4, 1865, until he resigned to become Senator, effective March 4, 1867; elected in 1867 as a Republican to the United States Senate; reelected in 1873 and again in 1879, he served until May 16, 1881, when he resigned as a protest against the federal appointments made in New York State; was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation; chairman, Committee on Revision of the Laws of the United States (Fortieth through Forty-third Congresses), Committee on Commerce (Forty-fourth, Forty-fifth, and Forty-seventh Congresses), Committee on Engrossed Bills (Forty-sixth and Forty-seventh Congresses); resumed the practice of law in New York Citymarker; declined to accept a nomination to the United States Supreme Courtmarker in 1882. He died after falling ill from walking in a blizzard in New York City, on April 18, 1888; interment in Forest Hill Cemeterymarker, Uticamarker. A statue of him stands in Madison Square Parkmarker in New York Citymarker. Roscoe, New Yorkmarker is named for him.

Actions in Congress and the Senate

  • He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Lincoln administration and its conduct of the American Civil War.
  • He helped draft the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution.
  • He was a Radical Republican taking a harsh line toward the defeated South, He was active in framing and pushing through Congress the Reconstruction legislation, and was instrumental in the passage of the second Civil Rights Act in 1875.
  • In the Republican National Convention at Cincinnatimarker in 1876, Conkling first appeared as a presidential candidate, initially receiving 93 votes. His votes would later be thrown behind Rutherford B. Hayes in order to prevent the ascension of James G. Blaine.
  • He was one of the framers of the bill creating the Electoral Commission to decide the disputed election of 1876.
  • Early in 1880, Conkling became the leader of the movement for the nomination of Ulysses S. Grant for a third term in the presidency.
  • He championed the broad interpretation of the ex post facto clause in the Constitution (See Stogner v. California)
  • After resigning from the Senate in 1881, he became a lawyer. As one of the original drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment, he claimed before the Supreme Court in San Mateo County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company in 1882 that the phrase "nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" meant the drafters wanted corporations to be included, because they used the word "person" and cited his personal diary from the period. Howard Jay Graham, a Stanford Universitymarker historian considered the pre-eminent scholar on the Fourteenth Amendment, named this case the "conspiracy theory" and concluded that Conkling probably perjured himself for the benefit of his railroad friends.

Relationship with Chester Arthur

Conkling, a machine Republican, led the Stalwart (pro-Grant) faction of the GOP, in opposition to the "Half-Breeds" led by James G. Blaine. Conkling served as a mentor to Chester A. Arthur, beginning in the late 1860s. Arthur received from Conkling a tax commission post (along with a salary of $10,000), and was later put in charge of the New York City Custom House. However, In 1878 Conkling lost a key battle against Rutherford B. Hayes’s civil service reform. Hayes bypassed any vote on Arthur’s removal from office by simply promoting Merritt from surveyor to Collector of the Port of New York which ousted Arthur. Conkling and Arthur were so intimately associated that it was feared, after President James Garfield was assassinatedmarker, that the killing had been done at Conkling's behest in order to install Arthur as president. Arthur later offered Conkling an appointment to the U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker, although it was thought the gesture was merely "complimentary", that Conkling was too partisan to make a good Justice, and that Arthur was paying back his patron with the honor of nomination, even though it was expected Conkling would refuse. However, Conkling had a great reputation as a trial lawyer, and he had once before (in 1874) been offered the chief justiceship by President Ulysses S. Grant. At that time Conkling had rejected the offer. He accepted this offer from Arthur, was voted into the position by the U.S. Senate, and then declined to take office.

In fact, Arthur's and Conkling's relationship was destroyed by the former's accession to the presidency. The Stalwarts faction that Conkling led was opposed to civil service reform, instead advocating the old patronage system of political appointments. Conkling was not asked by Garfield (a member of the rival Republican faction, the Half-Breeds) before the appointment of William H. Robertson as Collector of the Port of New York, causing Conkling to protest by resigning from Congress. Then, Conkling tried to force the Republican majority of the New York State Legislature to re-elect him, affirming his status as the New Yorker Republican leader, but was blocked successfully by the Half-Breed faction, and Conkling's congressional career ended. When Arthur became president upon Garfield's death, Conkling attempted to sway his protégé into changing the appointment. Arthur, who would become an avid champion of civil service reform, refused. The two men never repaired the breach. Without Conkling's leadership, his Stalwart faction dissolved. However, upon Arthur's death in 1886, Conkling attended the funeral and showed deep sorrow according to onlookers.

See also


  • Burlingame, Sara Lee. "The Making of a Spoilsman: The Life and Career of Roscoe Conkling from 1829 to 1873." PhD dissertation Johns Hopkins U. 1974. 419 pp.
  • Eidson, William G. "Who Were the Stalwarts?" Mid-America 1970 52(4): 235-261. Issn: 0026-2927
  • Graham, Howard Jay. “The ‘Conspiracy Theory’ of the Fourteenth Amendment”. The Yale Law Journal. Vol. 47, No. 3. (January, 1938), pp. 371–403.
  • David M Jordan. Roscoe Conkling of New York: voice in the Senate, (1971) (ISBN 0801406250) the standard scholarly biography
  • Morgan, H. Wayne. From Hayes to McKinley: National Party Politics, 1877-1896 (1969)
  • Peskin, Allan. "Conkling, Roscoe" American National Biography Online, (February 2000),, (29 January 2007).
  • Peskin, Allan. "Who Were the Stalwarts? Who Were Their Rivals? Republican Factions in the Gilded Age." Political Science Quarterly 1984-1985 99(4): 703-716. Issn: 0032-3195 Fulltext: online in Jstor
  • Reeves, Thomas C. “Chester A. Arthur and the Campaign of 1880”. Political Science Quarterly. Vol. 84, No. 4. (December, 1969), pp. 628–637.
  • Shores, Venila Lovina. The Hayes-Conkling Controversy, 1877-1879 (Smith College Studies in History, Vol. IV, No. 4, July, 1919), Northampton, MA, 1919. In The Spoils System in New York. Edited by James MacGregor Burns and William E. Leuchtenburg. New York: Arno Press, Inc. 1974.
  • Swindler, William F. "Roscoe Conkling and the Fourteenth Amendment." Supreme Court Historical Society Yearbook 1983: 46-52. Issn: 0362-5249

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