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Roscoe Conkling Letters

An inventory of his letters at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: KM
Date: Apr 1989

Biographical History

Roscoe Conkling (1829-1888) was an American lawyer and United States Senator and Representative. Conkling came from a political family; his father Alfred Conkling, was a U.S. Representative and Federal judge and his brother Frederick was also a U.S. Representative. Conkling practiced law both before and after his time in Washington, served as Oneida County District Attorney, and declined to accept a nomination to the United States Supreme Court in 1882. During more than twenty years in Congress (1859-1882) he was a Radical Republican, and was active in framing and pushing through Congress Reconstruction legislation and the second Civil Rights Act in 1875.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Roscoe Conkling Letters are a collection of 27 outgoing items written between 1863 and 1864 by the Utica attorney and United States congressman. An active participant in Republican Party politics at both the state and national levels, throughout the correspondence Conkling demonstrates his loyalty to candidates as well as those who worked to secure their election. Writing to H.S. Solomon (21 Jun 1872), Conkling regrets that he is unable to attend a meeting to ratify the Republican national nominees, but states:

My belief is that Grant & Wilson will receive more electoral votes than have been given to any President & Vie President, with one exception, for thirty years, and that New York will give them a larger majority than any other state.
President Grant is stronger with the people now, than he was four years ago - he gains greatly from the scandalous assaults made upon him, and from want of confidence on all sides in the movement against him.
Thorough discussion, a full presentation of the truth, from now till November, must it seems to me leave the case the clearest ever submitted to the American people.

In the midst of another election campaign in 1877, Conkling writes "confidential" letters to Republican Party workers John N. Knapp of Auburn and Isaac Schemerhorn of Buffalo, advising them of the importance of getting voters to the polls (13 Oct 1877):

The judgment of tried Republicans from many states impresses me afresh with the importance of this election in our State, and I am able to assure you in confidence that if Republicans come out and vote we shall carry the Legislature and the State ticket by a decided majority.
...a full Republican vote means a full victory...
If you and other discreet friends knew what is known to me there would not be a vote left at home in any town in your County.
I trust this hint will lead you to increased action, and action will not fail this year.

Conkling's letters are best characterized by his use of discretion. With the abuses of public trust symbolized by Tammany Hall never far from the minds of the voters as well as the press, Conkling was aware of the need for propriety in the conduct of elected officials. Approached for support by Thomas Gold Alvord, Conkling writes (7 Dec 1871):

With or without regard to the organization of the Legislature, I shall not hesitate to say any of the many good things which I believe to be true of you, whenever or wherever they may appropriately be said.
So much should I deem only just to any friend whatever my judgment might be of the wisest selection for any place in or out of the Legislature.

In a subsequent letter to Alvord, Conkling registers an awareness of possible charges of impropriety (14 Dec 1878):

Trusting that the 'Journal' will not know that we are in correspondence, lest it should suspect you of unsafe and improper associations

Similarly, Conkling was often approached by voters and colleagues with recommendations for various appointments (David S. Bennett, E.M. Madden), and while he is always cordial and polite in the face of such suggestions, this answer to I.M. Schemerhorn is typical (7 Mar 1871):

For myself, with none but kind feelings for you, I must in this, as I do in all cases, abstain from making promises in advance as to my action in regard to applications for office, to be acted upon in future. You may however as I have often said, rest assured that I shall not forget your wish, and shall never act from any motive unfriendly to you.

In other letters, Conkling refers to sending copies of a speech he delivered on the "arms question" (Henry J. Cookinham, Schemerhorn), and in a single item to Edward Chase Ingersoll, he outlines the terms of a joint real estate transaction.

Arrangement of the Collection

Letters are arranged in chronological order.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Alvord, Thomas Gold, 1810-1897.
Conkling, Roscoe, 1829-1888.
Cookinham, Henry J., 1843-
Dalzell, James McCormick, 1838-1924.
Ingersoll, Edward Chase, 1843-1883.

Corporate Bodies

Republican Party (N.Y.)
Republican Party (U.S.)


Legislators -- United States.
Political parties -- New York (State)
Politicians -- New York (State)


New York (State) -- Officials and employees -- Selection and appointment.
New York (State) -- Politics and government -- 1865-

Genres and Forms




Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Roscoe Conkling Letters,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Table of Contents


Selected index to correspondence


Selected index to correspondence