Term: Carpenter, Matthew Hale [B. "Carpenter","Decatur Merritt","Hammond"] 1824 - 1881
lawyer, Senator, b. Moretown, Vt. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (1843-1845), studied law under Paul Dillingham and Rufus Choate, and was admitted to the bar in 1847. In 1848 he moved to Wisconsin, settling in Beloit, where he practiced law and served several years as district attorney of Rock County. In the 1850's he changed his name to Matthew Hale Carpenter. Rising rapidly in legal and political circles, in 1856 he was one of the attorneys for William A. Barstow (q.v.) in the disputed gubernatorial election of 1855. In 1858 he moved to Milwaukee, where he conducted a brief law partnership (1858-1859) with Edward G. Ryan (q.v.). An avid Democrat, in his early career he supported Stephen A. Douglas in the election of 1860. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he became a "war Democrat" and soon joined the ranks of the Republican party. In 1869 he was selected by the Republican state legislature to succeed James R. Doolittle (q.v.) as U.S. Senator. In the Senate, Carpenter identified himself with the radical supporters of President Grant, and vigorously defended him against the criticism of Senator Charles Sumner. One of the leading figures in the Senate, Carpenter was a brilliant orator and logician, but his insistance on legalism and seeming lack of deep-rooted loyalties gave political ammunition to his enemies, who attempted to make him the symbol of reconstruction corruption. In 1874 and 1875 a large portion of the press of both parties attacked Carpenter on both political and personal grounds. At home his defense of the Credit Mobilier and the "salary grab" act, his opinion that the state Potter law was constitutional, and his support of federal regulation of railroads led to his defeat. In the legislature of 1875 a group of Republicans promoted by C. C. Washburn (q.v.), A. M. Thomson (q.v.), and J. R. Doolittle defied the dictates of the party machine and united with the Democrats to secure the election of Republican dark-horse Angus Cameron (q.v.). In 1879 Carpenter was again elected to the Senate, succeeding Timothy O. Howe (q.v.), and held this office until his death. As a lawyer, Carpenter was recognized as one of the leading constitutionalists in the nation. He argued his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1862, acquired nationwide recognition in the McCardle case (1869), and was acknowledged to be the legal advocate for reconstruction policies. His other well-known cases included the famous Slaughterhouse cases (1873), the defense of Secretary of War William W. Belknap in the impeachment proceedings of 1876, and his retention by the Democrats (1877) to present the case of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden to the electoral commission investigating the disputed election of 1876. Dict. Amer. Biog.;..F. A. Flower, Life of M. H. Carpenter (Madison, 1883); J. R. Berryman, ed., Bench and Bar of Wis. (2 vols., Chicago, 1898); Green Bag, 6 (1894) pp. 441-446; E. B. Usher, Wis. (8 vols., Chicago, 1914); Milwaukee Evening Wis., Feb. 24, 1881; Milwaukee Sentinel, Feb. 24, 1881; WPA field notes; E. B. Thompson, M. H. Carpenter (Madison, 1954).
The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Matthew Hale Carpenter Papers for details.
View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.
View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.
[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]