Conkling, Roscoe

Conkling, Roscoe, 1829–88, American politician, b. Albany, N.Y. On his admission to the bar in 1850, he was immediately appointed district attorney of Albany. The son of Alfred Conkling, Congressman and federal judge, he became a U.S. Representative (1859–63, 1865–67) and Senator (1867–81) and undisputed leader of the Republican party in New York. Conkling's machine was built upon federal patronage, which was entirely his during the Grant administrations. But in 1878, President Hayes, an advocate of civil service reform, removed two Conkling lieutenants, Chester A. Arthur and Alonzo B. Cornell, from the management of the New York customhouse in defiance of Conkling, who claimed that a Senator had the right to control federal patronage in his state. Conkling was reelected, and another lieutenant, Thomas C. Platt, became his colleague in the Senate, while Cornell won the governorship. Conkling headed the third-term movement for Grant in 1880 and placed him in nomination at the Republican national convention. Although his Old Guard or “Stalwart” faction was unsuccessful, he prevented the nomination of James G. Blaine, his bitter personal enemy. The deadlocked convention chose James A. Garfield as a compromise candidate, and Chester A. Arthur was named for Vice President as a sop to the “Stalwarts.” Conkling gave Garfield only lukewarm support but claimed afterward that the President-elect had promised him the patronage in return. Garfield denied this and further antagonized Conkling by making Blaine Secretary of State. When an anti-Conkling man was appointed collector of the port of New York, Conkling resigned from the Senate in protest. Platt soon followed his leader, earning for himself the nickname “Me Too.” The two expected vindication through reelection by the state legislature, but both were defeated. Conkling then retired to the private practice of law, in which he was highly successful.

See biography by his nephew, A. R. Conkling (1889); study by D. M. Jordan (1971).

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