Conway was born in Harford County, Maryland, the son of Dr. W. D. Conway and Frances (Maulsby) Conway. His father was an Exploring Surveyor in the United States Navy, and a slave-owner. Conway learned the printer's trade in Baltimore after leaving school at fourteen and became an organizer of the National Typographical Union. He married Emily Dykes in 1851, and studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1852.
He soon resumed the practice of law and became involved in territorial politics. In March 1855, Conway was elected from Riley County to the first Territorial Council (Senate), but resigned prior to assuming his seat. In 1855, he was an active member at the Free-State meeting in Big Springs and became a delegate to the Topeka Constitutional convention. In January 1856, he was elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court under the Topeka constitution. In 1858, he served as president of the Leavenworth Constitutional Convention.
The following year, Conway was elected as representative to the U.S. Congress under the 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.
The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863; Conway spent the day in Massachusetts with Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Julia Ward Howe. That month, he put forth a resolution in Congress to recognize the Confederacy then wage war on the south as war between nations.
—Martin F. Conway, in Congress, December 5, 1861.
While in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was known for his opposition to slavery but also served as a member of the Washington, D.C. "peace convention" in an effort to avert civil war. He was not returned to congress for another term, but later defended President Andrew Johnson against political assaults waged by Radical Republicans in Congress. In June 1866, Johnson appointed the former Kansas congressman as consul to Marseille, France.
While living in Washington during the fall of 1873, Conway had a violent confrontation with personal and political enemy, Samuel C. Pomeroy, the former U. S. senator from Kansas. He was arrested for firing three shots at and slightly wounding Pomeroy, but did not stand trial. Conway became a patient at St. Elizabeth, the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C., and died at age fifty-two.
- Find more about formation of the union from the book Origin and Progress of the Typographical Union by John McVicar, pub 1891. Do a google book search and see page 7 for M F Conway's "election as chairman of the executive committee at the first national convention of journeyman printers of the United States".
- Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society - Kansas State Historical Society - Google Books. Books.google.com. 2012-10-01. Retrieved 2014-05-26.
- Olson, Kevin (2012). Frontier Manhattan. University Press of Kansas. pp. 45–46, 67–68. ISBN 978-0-7006-1832-3.
- See 1859 Letter of Thomas H. Webb, Secretary of the New England Emigrant Aid Company warning Conway of persons in Boston spreading rumors about him. From online archives of Territorial Kansas History.
- Conway Speech in the House of Representatives. New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/1862/12/16/news/making-new-states-speech-hon-martin-f-conway-kansas-delivered-house.html?smid=pl-share "Making New States" 1862.
- Find more speeches by Conway from Cornell University, Samuel J May Anti-Slavery Collection. [http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/m/mayantislavery/browse_C.html Samuel J May Anti-Slavery Collection. See Conway, Martin F listed alphabetically.
- See mention of Martin F Conway in personal letter of John Swinton, managing editor of the New York Times, to Walt Whitman, 25 February 1863, at [http://www.whitmanarchive.org/biography/correspondence/cw/tei/loc.00593.html WALT WHITMAN ARCHIVES
- (Read about Pomeroy, bribery scandal. More research and material from the period needed here.)
- [There are indications of some intrigue surrounding his residence there. An area for more research.] Read comments of a friend who visited Conway and spoke to "an eminent physician in Washington" about his condition in The Kansas Memorial: A Report of the Old Settlers Meeting Held at Bismark Grove, Kansas, September 15 and 16, 1879.(See page 129 - Letter from Martin F Conway and preceding paragraph.) Edited by Charles S. Gleed. Available at the New York Public Library (off-site. The Kansas Memorial.
- United States Congress. "Martin F. Conway (id: C000713)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Territorial Kansas History. Hundreds of personal letters and more.
- Hon. Martin F Conway More details and quotes.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kansas's at-large congressional district
A. Carter Wilder