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Roscoe Conkling: A Featured Biography

Photo of Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York

An enormously confident and powerful political boss, Roscoe Conkling (1829–1888) fought a monumental patronage battle with President James Garfield that ended tragically for both men. As a Republican senator from New York, Conkling supported Garfield's election as president in 1880, expecting to be repaid with appointments for his supporters. Instead, Garfield appointed a reformer to the patronage-rich post of collector of the Port of New York. Conkling resigned from the Senate in protest and returned to New York, convinced that his reelection by the state legislature would be a rebuke to the president. Then a deranged patronage seeker assassinated President Garfield. The New York state legislature defeated Conkling's bid for reelection, ending his political career. These shocking events inspired passage of the Civil Service Act to end the abuses of the patronage system.