Significance: In 1882 Conkling argued before the Supreme Court that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied to corporations as well as individuals. He also played a prominent role in bringing impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.
The son of a New York congressman, Conkling studied law in Utica and was admitted to the New York bar in 1850. A skilled orator, he made campaign speeches for Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. An advocate of vigorous prosecution in Civil War (1861-1865) cases, Conkling promoted a policy for Radical Reconstruction of the South and helped bring impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson. He helped form the Republican party, served in the House of Representatives, and was elected to the Senate in 1867, 1873, and 1879. In 1873 President Ulysses S. Grant offered him a position on the Supreme Court, but Conkling declined. A presidential hopeful in 1876, he lost the Republican nomination to Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1882 President Chester A. Arthur offered Conkling a seat on the Supreme Court, but he once again declined. Later in 1882 Conkling argued before the Court that the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment intended to protect corporations as well as African Americans. However, little positive evidence was or has been discovered for this theory. With politics becoming more issue oriented in the 1880's, Conkling faded from public prominence.