The Full Wiki

Roscoe Conkling: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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

In office
March 4, 1867 - May 16, 1881
Preceded by Ira Harris
Succeeded by Elbridge G. Lapham

Born October 30, 1829(1829-10-30)
Albany, New York, U.S.
Died April 18, 1888 (aged 58)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican, Stalwart Faction
Spouse(s) Julia Catherine Seymour
Profession Lawyer, Politician

Roscoe Conkling (October 30, 1829 Albany, New York - April 18, 1888) was a politician from New York 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 the last person to refuse a U.S. Supreme Court appointment after he had been already been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.


Early life

Conkling was the son of Alfred Conkling, a U.S. Representative and federal judge. Roscoe married Julia Catherine Seymour, sister of the Democratic politician and Governor of New York Horatio Seymour. Roscoe studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1850.


Conkling began a practice in Utica, New York. He was District Attorney of Oneida County in 1850. He was Mayor of Utica in 1858.

He was elected as a Republican to the 36th and 37th United States Congresses, holding office from March 4, 1859, to March 3, 1863. He was Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the District of Columbia (37th Congress). In 1862, he was defeated for re-election by Democrat Francis Kernan. Two years later, Conkling defeated Kernan for Re-election, and served in the 39th and 40th United States Congresses from March 4, 1865, to March 3, 1867. Conkling had been re-elected to the 41st United States Congress in November 1866, but did not take his seat, instead entering the U.S. Senate.

Conkling was elected in January 1867 a U.S. Senator from New York, and re-elected in 1873 and 1879, served from March 4, 1867 to May 16, 1881, when he resigned with his fellow Senator Thomas C. Platt as a protest against the appointment by President James A. Garfield of the leader of the opposing Half-Breed faction, William H. Robertson, as Collector of the Port of New York. He then ran for re-election to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation, but was defeated in a special election after an almost two-month long struggle between the opposing factions of the Republican Party. He was Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Revision of the Laws of the United States (40th - 43rd Congresses), of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce (44th, 45th and 47th Congresses), of the U.S. Senate Committee on Engrossed Bills (46th and 47th Congresses).

Afterwards he resumed the practice of law in New York City. He declined to accept a nomination to the United States Supreme Court in 1882. He died after falling ill from walking in a blizzard in New York City. He was buried at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica. A statue of him stands in Madison Square Park in New York City. Roscoe, New York is named for him.[1]

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 favoring equal rights for ex-slaves and reduced rights for ex-Confederates. 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 Cincinnati 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 University 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 appointed Collector of the Port of New York. 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 Edwin Merritt from Surveyor of the Port of New York to Collector, thus superseding Arthur. Conkling and Arthur were so intimately associated that it was feared, after President James A. Garfield was assassinated, 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. Supreme Court, 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.

Personal life

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.

Roscoe's brother Frederick Augustus Conkling was also a U.S. Representative.


  • Roscoe Conkling at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • 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

Primary sources

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Orsamus B. Matteson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

1859 – 1863
Succeeded by
Ambrose W. Clark
Preceded by
Francis Kernan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 21st congressional district

1865 – 1867
Succeeded by
Alexander H. Bailey
United States Senate
Preceded by
Ira Harris
Senator from New York (Class 3)
1867 - 1881
Served alongside: Edwin D. Morgan,
Reuben E. Fenton, Francis Kernan, Thomas C. Platt
Succeeded by
Elbridge G. Lapham

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ROSCOE CONKLING (1829-1888), American lawyer and political leader, was born in Albany, New York, on the 30th of October 1829. He was the son of Alfred Conkling (1789-1874), who was a representative in Congress from New York in 1821-1823, a Federal district judge in 1825-1852, and U.S. minister to Mexico in 1852-1853. Roscoe Conkling was admitted to the bar at Utica, New York, in 1850, was appointed district-attorney of Oneida (disambiguation)|Oneida county in the same year, and soon attained success in the practice of his profession. At first a Whig, he joined the Republican party at its formation, and was a Republican representative in Congress from 1859 to 1863. He refused to follow the financial policy of his party in 1862, and delivered a notable speech against the passage of the Legal Tender Act, which made a certain class of treasury notes receivable for all public and private debts. In this opposition he was joined by his brother, Frederick Augustus Conkling (1816-1891), at that time also a Republican member of Congress. In 1863 he resumed the practice of law, and in April 1865 was appointed a special judge advocate by the secretary of war to investigate alleged frauds in the recruiting service in western New York. He was again a representative in Congress from December 1865 until 1867, when he entered the Senate. After the war he allied himself with the radical wing of his party, was a member of the joint committee that outlined the congressional plan of reconstructing the late Confederate States, and laboured for the impeachment of President Johnson. During President Grant's administration he was a member of the senatorial coterie that influenced most of the president's policies, and in 1873 Grant urged him to accept an appointment as chief justice of the Supreme Court, but he declined. In the Republican national convention of 1876 Conkling sought nomination for the presidency, and after the disputed election of this year he took a prominent part in devising and securing the passage of a bill creating an electoral commission. In 1880 he was one of the leaders of the unsuccessful movement to nominate Grant for a third presidential term. With Grant's successors, Hayes and Garfield, his relations were not cordial; an opponent of civil service reform, he came into conflict with President Hayes over the removal of Chester A. Arthur and other federal office-holders in New York; and when in 1881 President Garfield, without consulting him, appointed William H. Robertson, a political opponent of Conkling, as collector of the port of New York, and when this appointment was confirmed by the Senate in spite of Conkling's opposition, Conkling and his associate senator from New York, Thomas C. Platt, resigned their seats in the Senate and sought re-election as a personal vindication. Being unsuccessful, Conkling took up the practice of law in New York city, again declining, in 1882, a place on the bench of the Supreme Court, and appeared in a number of important cases. While in public life Conkling always attracted attention by his abilities, his keenness and eloquence in debate, his aggressive leadership and his striking personality. Though always a strenuous worker in Congress, he was not the originator of any great legislative measures, and his efficiency as a law-maker is thought to have been much impaired by his personal animosities. His hostility to James G. Blaine, a fellow Republican senator, was especially marked. He died in New York city on the 18th of April 1888.

See A. R. Conkling (ed.), The Life and Letters of Roscoe Conkling (New York, 1889).

<< Conjuring

Lough Conn >>


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address