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Carpenter, Matthew H. (1824–1881)


A Wisconsin lawyer and senator (1869–1875, 1879–1881), Matthew Hale Carpenter was a vigorous Douglas Democrat who favored compromise to prevent secession. Nevertheless, believing secession treasonous, Carpenter supported the war and became a Republican. During reconstruction Carpenter successfully argued Ex Parte Garland (1867) which held the federal test act of 1865 unconstitutional. (See test oath cases.) Subsequently General ulysses s. grant hired Carpenter as counsel for the Army in ex parte mccardle (1868). Carpenter's successful defense of the Army and of the right of Congress to limit Supreme Court jurisdiction led to his election to the senate in 1869. There he was generally a strong supporter of Grant's administration, but he only mildly supported civil rights. In 1872 Carpenter vigorously opposed federal legislation mandating integrated schools and juries because, among other reasons, the statute would violate states ' rights. Similarly, as defense counsel he successfully argued for a narrow reading of the fourteenthamendment in the slaughterhouse cases (1873). As a former railroad lawyer, however, Carpenter was a leader in protecting business interests. He led the debates supporting the jurisdiction act of 1875, which greatly expanded the jurisdiction of federal courts to hear cases in which corporations might claim constitutional rights. In 1876 he successfully defended Secretary of War William Belknap in his impeachment trial. In 1877 Carpenter unsuccessfully represented Samuel Tilden before the presidential electoral commission. He was defeated for reelection in 1875 because of his connection with Grant administration scandals, but was reelected to the Senate in 1879, serving until his death.

Paul Finkelman


Thompson, Edwing Bruce 1954 Matthew Hale Carpenter: Webster of the West. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

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