Businessman and politician Benjamin Conley was born March 1, 1815 in Newark, New Jersey. He moved to Augusta, Georgia at age 15. Conley began work as a store clerk and soon proved very adept at business. During the 1840s and 1850s, he became one of Augusta’s most prosperous merchants. He also became involved in local politics - serving as city council member and mayor. As the secession crisis grew in Georgia, Conley took a staunch Unionist stand - even after Georgia seceded from the Union. Conley refused to become involved in the Civil War; he spent those years on a farm in Alabama. After the war, he returned to Augusta to resume his business pursuits.
Just as he had been a minority voice in opposing secession, Conley also was in the minority in supporting Radical Republican Reconstruction. In 1868, he was elected to the state constitutional convention, along with Rufus Bullock. Bullock was subsequently elected governor, with Conley elected to the Georgia Senate, where he was chosen as Senate president. When Democrats regained control of the legislature upon withdrawal of federal troops, Governor Bullock (whose administration was rife with controversy) resigned and fled the state, fearing impeachment. As president of the Senate, Conley became Georgia’s chief executive on October 30, 1871. He served for just over two months before James M. Smith was chosen governor in a special election. Conley was conciliatory in defeat, and earned the respect even of his opponents by his fair leadership after the turmoil of the Bullock administration. Conley returned to Augusta until he was appointed Atlanta postmaster by President Grant in 1875. As postmaster, Conley became a popular civic leader in Atlanta. Conley died in Atlanta on January 10, 1886.