US Senator from Wisconsin. Born Decatur Merritt Hammond Carpenter, the Vermont native attended West Point (1843 to 1845), studied law, and became a practicing attorney in Boston, Massachusetts in 1847. The following year he moved to Beloit, Wisconsin, where he changed his name to Matthew Hale Carpenter and served as District Attorney for Rock County (1850 to 1854). In 1858 he settled in Milwaukee, winning a reputation for tackling cases that involved important social issues of the day. Carpenter was a Democrat throughout his early career and supported the presidential bid of Stephen Douglas in 1860, but as a Unionist in the Civil War years he switched to the Republican Party. In 1868 he won his first term representing Wisconsin in the US Senate, serving from March 4, 1869 to March 3, 1875. During his time on Capitol Hill he was the Senate's President pro tempore (1873 to 1875) and chairman of the Committee on Enrolled Bills (1871 to 1873) and the Committee to Audit and Control the Contigent Expense (1873 to 1875). A staunch supporter of President Grant, Carpenter was unfairly identified with the corruption associated with that administration, and several unpopular stances (such as his support of railroad regulation) lost him support at home. Defeated for reelection in 1874, he resumed private law practice with offices in Milwaukee and Washington DC. Nicknamed "The Webster of the West", Carpenter was acknowledged as one of the greatest constitutional lawyers of his time. He argued his first case before the US Supreme Court in 1862 and continued to do so while in the Senate. In "Bradwell vs. State" (1872) he argued for the right for women to become attorneys; in the "Slaughterhouse Cases" (1873) he convinced the court that the 14th Amendment did not prohibit states from regulating big business. He also defended Secretary of War William W. Belknap in his US House impeachment proceedings (1876) and represented candidate Samuel J. Tilden before the commission investigating the disputed 1876 presidential election. By 1878 Carpenter was again in his party's good graces and was reelected to the US Senate, serving from March 4, 1879 until his death. He died at 56 in Washington DC from complications of diabetes.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards
Caroline Dillingham Carpenter