Martin F. Conway, 1829-1882
A bright star in a larger constellation of early Kansas free-state leaders, Martin Franklin Conway was born on November 19, 1829, in Harford County, Maryland. He left school at the age of fourteen and moved to Baltimore, where he learned the printer's trade and helped to organize the National Typographical Union. Subsequently, Conway, who married Emily Dykes in June 1851, studied law, and in 1852 he was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Baltimore.
Conway journeyed to Kansas Territory soon after its opening in 1854. Initially a Douglas Democrat and special correspondent for the Baltimore Sun , Conway soon resumed the practice of law and became deeply involved in the territory's political affairs. Although at first a Kansas-Nebraska Act enthusiast, Conway became disillusioned with the “popular” or “squatter sovereignty” solution to the slavery issue as a result of the territory's first, fraudulent election and was transformed, according to a friend, into “a convicted free-state man of the more radical Kansas stripe.” He was subsequently remembered “as an earnest, devoted and very capable worker all through the territorial period, in the struggle fought out here to checkmate the aggression of the slave power, in its effort to extend its area over Kansas.”
In March 1855 Conway was elected to the first territorial council (upper house of the legislature) but resigned from that so-called “Bogus Legislature” prior to assuming his seat. On September 5, 1855, he was an active member at the free-state meeting in Big Springs. That same year he became a delegate to the Topeka constitutional convention, and in January 1856 was elected chief justice of supreme court under that extra-legal instrument. In 1858 he severed as president of the Leavenworth Constitutional Convention, which draft what must be considered the most progressive of the four proposed Kansas constitutions. The following year Conway was nominated and elected (December 6, 1859) representative in the U.S. Congress under Wyandotte Constitution, and when Kansas entered the Union in January 1861, he was the new state's first congressman, serving as a Republican until March 3, 1863. As a member to the U.S. House of Representative of this legislative body he was known for his radical denouncement of slavery, but nevertheless served as a member of the “peace convention” that met in Washington, D.C., in a futile effort to avert civil war.
Kansas Republicans denied Conway re-nomination in September 1862, and his career in elective office ended the fallowing March. He remained active, however, and following the assassination of President Lincoln and the war, Conway defended President Andrew Johnson against political assaults waged by Radical Republicans in Congress. In June 1866, a grateful President Johnson appointed the former Kansas congressman consul to Marseille, France. But Conway's short, eventful life had a tragic ending. While living in Washington during the fall of 1873, he was arrested for firing three shots at and slightly wounding fellow Kansan and former U.S. senator, Samuel C. Pomeroy. (Conway claimed Pomeroy “ruined myself and family.”) Subsequently Conway was institutionalized and died at age fifty-two while confined to the Government Hospital for the Insane at Washington, D.C.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to present. http://bioguide.congress.gov .
Dictionary of American Biography . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929.
Inez, Dan, and Morris Inez. Who Was Who in American Politics . New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974.