Senatorial resignations of Roscoe Conkling and Thomas C. Platt

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Hon. Roscoe Conkling, N.Y.jpg Thomas C. "Tom" Platt LOC picture.png

Roscoe Conkling (left) and Thomas C. "Tom" Platt (right).

The senatorial resignations of Roscoe Conkling and Thomas C. Platt from the United States Congress were an abrupt political maneuver by two leaders of the Stalwart Republican faction as a result of compromised bargains with the opposing Half-Breed faction. Although commonly presumed, particularly by contemporaries of the two senators such as critic Thomas Nast, that Conkling initiated the plan due to his leadership of the Stalwart coalition and persuaded the lieutenant Platt in joining,[1] several primary and secondary sources have noted the converse due to conditional agreements that bolstered Platt's election to the Senate.[2]


During Reconstruction in 1870–71, control of the Republican Party in New York was wrested away from U.S. senator Reuben E. Fenton, a Radical Republican–turned–dissident from the Grant Administration. Conkling, the state's senior senator, capitalized on a rift between Fenton and President Ulysses S. Grant over patronage appointments, and subsequently triumphed over Fenton in emerging the New York Republican machine's leader.

Stalwart Republicans



Other members:

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Fenton later joined the 1872 Liberal Republican Party revolt against "Grantism," supporting unsuccessful nominee Horace Greeley.[3]

Platt's rise among Stalwart ranks

Platt, then a minuscule figure in national politics, emerged among pro-Grant "regular Republican" ranks in state conventions as an ally of Conkling's machine against that of the sinking Fenton, and was propelled to the U.S. House of Representatives.[4] In his first attendance at the Republican National Convention during the 1876 U.S. presidential election, Platt led the movement to nominate Conkling as head of the party ticket—despite its lack of success, a grateful Conkling subsequently appointed him chairman of the New York Republican State Committee.[4]

Platt in his younger years.

In the 1880 U.S. presidential election, Platt campaigned for the Half-Breed compromise nominee James A. Garfield in spite of Stalwart disappointment following their failed effort to nominate Grant. When his name was mentioned as a potential senatorial candidate, Half-Breed contender Chauncey M. Depew, satisfied with Platt's adherence to party unity by campaigning for Garfield,[4] agreed to withdraw from the balloting if the Stalwart would promise consistent support for President Garfield, even if the latter submitted Stalwart foe William H. Robertson[note 1] for a lucrative appointment.[5] Platt, obliging, was subsequently nominated by the Republican caucus and elected to the Senate.

Garfield, exploiting Platt's liabilities, submitted Robertson's name for Collector of the Port of New York, the most prized patronage post in the nation.[4] The newly elected senator faced a dilemma: maintain his promise to Depew and support Robertson, thereby betraying Conkling, or stay true to his Stalwart allegiance and break his vow to Depew.[5] Following two months of desperate negotiations with Conkling and Garfield, all submitted names for New York positions were withdrawn except that of Robertson, only placing the contention at the spotlight.

Resignation, subsequent chain of events

Platt, unwilling to openly betray either Conkling or Depew, suggested to his senatorial colleague their immediate resignations as a "desperate remedy" to avoid fulfillment of his vow to Depew that concerned the Senate appointment of Robertson.[6] Upon the publicized sensation of their submitted departure from the U.S. Senate, Platt was portrayed, according to his autobiography:[7]

Garfield's nomination of W. H. Robertson sparked the resignations. a 'Me, too,' an 'Echo' and 'Dromio' of Conkling. It has been an impression among my critics that I merely followed the example of Conkling in exhibiting my presentations by resigning from the Senate.

—"The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt," p. 150

Submission of resignations to Gov. Cornell, early balloting

Wheeler was an early Half-Breed recruit against Conkling.

Conkling at first chided Platt's "[hastiness] about this matter," though acquiesced—the pair on May 14, 1881, submitted their joint resignations to New York's Stalwart governor Alonzo B. Cornell.[8] Half-Breeds outmaneuvered the Stalwarts quickly, adjourning the legislature before Cornell's announcement of the resignation could be officially received to allow for ample preparation prior to caucus balloting in the subsequent special elections.[9] Furthermore, Platt drastically underestimated their odds—legislative Stalwarts were displeased at Conkling's long-standing "my way or the highway" tactics, Half-Breeds viewed Platt's vow fulfillments as insufficient, and the caucus majority broke with the pair's viewpoint that Garfield's nomination of Robertson at the expense of the regular Republicans was "dishonorable."[9]

Vice President Arthur appeared at the state capitol to advocate on behalf of Conkling and Platt.[9] In the balloting at the New York legislature, the Garfield Administration initially recruited former vice president William A. Wheeler against Conkling, and Depew was rumored to be the "Administration choice" against Platt.[10] Beginning on May 31, Platt recollected decades later as constituting "the bitterest Senatorial contest within the history of the State that I can recall." Elbridge G. Lapham, a self-professed Stalwart though early deserter of the faction, became the subsequent formidable candidate in the race for Conkling's seat, and Warner Miller the Half-Breed candidate against Platt.[10]

Platt's withdrawal, Garfield assassination, defeat of Conkling

At the 31st ballot, Conkling garnered only 32 votes against Wheeler's 43, with Lapham at 17 and a minor scattering among the other Republican contenders; Platt with 28 trailed Depew's 51.[10] Believing that his presence at federal politics only derailed Conkling, Platt prepared to withdraw from the special election despite "[vehement protests]" by Conkling and Stalwart ally Louis F. Payn. Speaker of the Assembly George H. Sharpe subsequently announced Platt's withdrawal and his preference switch for Stalwart Richard Crowley, who gained an additional 14 votes.[10] John J. O'Brien urged Platt's reconsideration, eliciting the following response:

I came here seeking a reelection. I find it impossible to secure it. I am injuring Conkling's chances for a return to Washington every hour I remain a candidate. Therefore I have concluded to finally withdraw.

—Thomas C. Platt, mid-1881

In the midst of balloting, President Garfield was assassinated by a mentally ill professed "Stalwart of the Stalwarts" Charles J. Guiteau, triggering nationwide resentment at the faction whose politics were scapegoated as the root cause of needless tension.[9] An eventual caucus on July 7, held by 62 Half-Breed Republicans and Independents, deemed "Featherheads,"[11] agreed to nominate one contender each from the rivaling Republican factions as replacements. Depew withdrew,[11] and Stalwart Lapham and Half-Breed Miller were selected to succeed Conkling and Platt respectively. Garfield Administration–aligned Republican state senators "Robertson, Madden, McCarthy, Wagner, Woodin, and other[s]" facilitated Miller's election, and despite regular Stalwart efforts to thwart Lapham at the behest of Conkling, the latter's campaign manager, Sen. Halbert, handed "the entire Conkling vote to Lapham."[11]


Platt's friendship with Conkling was shattered as a result of their failed political maneuver which vacated themselves out of the U.S. Senate.[9] Conkling, bitter towards the humiliation and numerous betrayals suffered, later disapproved of Platt's support for his old despised rival Blaine in the 1884 U.S. presidential election.[12]

In his autobiography, Platt writes of serving:[11]

...Conkling faithfully so long as he was willing to lead. When disheartened, and stung by the refusal of the Legislature to send him back to the Senate, Conkling voluntarily quit politics, all his old allies marshaled themselves about me and hailed me as his heir.

—"The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt," p. 166


  1. May 16, 1881. Both New York Senators Resign. United States Senate. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  2. Gosnell, Harold F. (1924). Boss Platt And His New York Political Machine: A Study Of The Political Leadership Of Thomas C. Platt, Theodore Roosevelt And Others, p. 27. Internet Archive. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  3. Kennedy, Robert C. The Return of (Liberal) Fenton. The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Collection: Thomas Collier Platt papers. Archives at Yale. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Boss Platt And His New York Machine," pp. 25–26.
  6. "Boss Platt And His New York Machine," pp. 27–28.
  7. Platt, Thomas C. (1910). The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt, p. 150. Google Books. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  8. "The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt," p. 151.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 "Boss Platt And His New York Machine," pp. 27–29.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 "The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt," p. 160–62.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "The Autobiography of Thomas Collier Platt," pp. 164–166.
  12. "Boss Platt And His New York Machine," pp. 32–33.


  1. Robertson, a Blaine faction leader, led a revolt within the New York Republican delegation during the 1880 election that cost Stalwarts a sizeable number of votes for Grant. Conkling was known to despise Robertson.