About the Convention Delegates

Over half of the convention delegates were farmers. Most of them idealized an Oregon dominated by prosperous farms such as the one shown above.

Over half of the convention delegates were farmers. Most of them idealized an Oregon dominated by prosperous farms such as the one shown above.

The June 1857 vote that resulted in a 7,559 to 1,081 majority in favor of holding a constitutional convention also brought the election of 60 convention delegates. These men—women were more than 50 years from direct participation in state politics—represented something of a cross section of Oregon, but were numerically dominated by Democrats and farmers. Yet, sheer numbers don't tell the whole story. Individual personalities, past experiences, speaking skills, and other factors also affected the outcome of the convention as it began in the small Salem courthouse on August 17, 1857.

Social commonalities
The delegates had much in common. According to historian Charles H. Carey, they were all pioneers, "none of whom was wealthy, and many of whom had known the pinch of hard times and had suffered from scarcity of the comforts of life...."(1) Most had come to Oregon seeking a rural, noncommercial, and self-sufficient lifestyle that sharply contrasted with that sought by the gold-driven entrepreneurs who had dashed in the direction of California. Despite their sometimes biting rhetoric, the delegates shared the ideals of civic-minded altruism and face-to-face political relationships. A large number had come to Oregon from the Midwest where they had been influenced by issues debated at earlier constitutional conventions. Farmers comprised most of the delegates but they were easily overshadowed in terms of influence by lawyers, a group that included all three territorial supreme court justices. Of the total number, 33 were farmers, 18 were lawyers, five were gold miners, two were journalists, and one was a civil engineer. Seventeen delegates had served in the territorial legislature, one was a veteran of an Ohio constitutional convention, and two had participated in statehood campaigns in Iowa.(2)

Democrats selected Matthew Deady to serve as chairman of the convention.

Democrats selected Matthew Deady to serve as convention chairman.

Political contrasts
Politically the Democrats dominated from the beginning of the convention. According to one estimate, they claimed up to 75 percent of the delegates. The Democrats came in organized, disciplined, and with a plan. Holding a clear majority, they set out to avoid division at the convention by planning to pass the issues of slavery and the immigration of free blacks to a vote of the people. They also had agreed to use the Indiana Constitution as a template and had completed significant work on parts of the constitution. For example, the three territorial supreme court justices, who were also Democratic delegates, had drafted the outlines of a plan for the state judiciary. These intentions were cemented at a Democratic Party caucus meeting the first evening of the convention, as 45 delegates declared their solidarity and selected Matthew Deady to be their candidate for president of the convention. In contrast, anti-Democrats were unorganized and lacked a common purpose. At best, they were held together by a shared animosity for and suspicion of the dominant Democrats led by the Salem Clique. Their ranks included colorful figures such as Thomas Dryer and David Logan, complemented by evangelicals dedicated to the causes of anti-immigration, temperance, and others.(3)

The delegates
The following men served as delegates to the Oregon Constitutional Convention. Click on a delegate name to view a brief biographical sketch as well as an image, if available.

Delegate Birth
Place
Death
Place County rep
Years(4)
Work Political party
Anderson, Levi 1818
KY
1889
Oregon Washington
5
Farmer Anti-Democrat
Applegate, Jesse 1810
KY
1888
Oregon Umpqua
14
Farmer Anti-Democrat
Babcock, A D 1818
NY
1879
Oregon Polk/Tillamook
5
Lawyer Democrat
Boise, Reuben P 1819
MA
1907
Oregon Polk
7
Lawyer Democrat
Brattrain, J H 1813
OH
1859
Oregon Linn
11
Farmer Democrat
Brattrain, Paul 1801
NC
1883
Oregon Lane
5
Farmer Democrat
Bristow, W W 1826
KY
1874
Oregon Lane
11
Farmer Democrat
Burch, B F 1825
MO
1893
Oregon Polk
12
Farmer Democrat
Campbell, A J 1828
IN
1870
Oregon Lane
4
Mechanic Democrat
Campbell, Hector 1794
MA
1873
Oregon Clackamas
8
Farmer Democrat
Chadwick, Stephen 1825
CT
1895
Oregon Douglas
6
Lawyer Democrat
Cox, Jesse 1821
MO
1901
Oregon Lane
6
Farmer Democrat
Cox, Joseph 1811
OH
1876
Oregon Marion
10
Farmer Democrat
Coyle, Reuben 1821
KY
1888
California Linn
10
Farmer Democrat
Crooks, John T 1807
VA
1896
Oregon Linn
9
Farmer Democrat
Deady, Matthew 1824
MD
1893
Oregon Douglas
8
Lawyer Democrat
Dryer, Thomas 1810
NY
1879
Oregon Mult/Wash
7
Editor Anti-Democrat
Duncan, L J C 1818
TN
1886
unknown Jackson
7
Miner Democrat
Elkins, Luther 1809
ME
1887
Oregon Linn
5
Farmer Democrat
Farrar, William H 1826
NH
1873
Wash DC Multnomah
4
Lawyer Democrat
Fitzhugh, Solomon 1804
KY
1884
Oregon Douglas
7
Farmer Democrat
Grover, La Fayette 1826
ME
1911
Oregon Marion
6
Lawyer Democrat
Hendershott, S B 1832
IL
1886
unknown Josephine
4
Miner Democrat
Hoult, Enoch 1820
VA
1884
Oregon Lane
4
Farmer Democrat
Kelly, James 1819
PA
1903
Wash DC Clackamas
6
Lawyer Democrat
Kelsay, John 1819
KY
1899
Oregon Benton
4
Farmer Democrat
Kinney, Robert 1813
IL
1875
Oregon Yamhill
10
Farmer Anti-Democrat
Lewis, Haman 1803
NY
1889
Oregon Benton
12
Farmer Democrat
Logan, David 1826
NC
1874
Oregon Multnomah
8
Lawyer Anti-Democrat
Lovejoy, Asa 1811
MA
1882
Oregon Clackamas
14
Lawyer Democrat
McBride, John 1832
MO
1904
Wash State Yamhill
11
Lawyer Republican
McCormick, Stephen 1828
Ireland
1891
California Multnomah
6
Printer Democrat
Marple, Perry B 1819
VA
1862
Wash Terr Coos
6
Farmer Democrat
Matzger, William 1819
Germany
1883
California Benton
10
Mechanic Anti-Democrat
Meigs, Charles 1830
CT
1883
Oregon Wasco
2
Lawyer Democrat
Miller, Richard 1802
MD
1872
Oregon Marion
10
Farmer Democrat
Moores, Isaac 1796
IL
1861
Oregon Lane
5
Surveyor Democrat
Newcomb, Daniel 1800
VA
1867
Oregon Jackson
4
Farmer Democrat
Nichols, H B 1821
CT
1907
Oregon Benton
5
Farmer Anti-Democrat
Olds, Martin 1799
MA
1877
Oregon Yamhill
6
Farmer Anti-Democrat
Olney, Cyrus 1815
NY
1870
Oregon Clatsop
6
Lawyer Democrat
Packwood, William 1832
IL
1917
Oregon Curry
8
Miner Anti-Democrat
Peebles, J C 1826
PA
1897
Oregon Marion
7
Farmer Democrat
Prim, Paine Page 1822
TN
1899
California Jackson
6
Lawyer Democrat
Reed, J H 1824
PA
1884
Wash Terr Jackson
2
Lawyer Democrat
Robbins, Nathaniel 1793
VA
1863
Oregon Clackamas
5
Farmer Democrat
Scott, Levi 1797
IL
1890
Oregon Umpqua
13
Farmer Anti-Democrat
Shannon, Davis 1815
MO
1889
Oregon Marion
13
Farmer Democrat
Shattuck, Erasmus 1824
VT
1900
Oregon Washington
4
Lawyer Anti-Democrat
Shields, James 1811
IL
1879
Oregon Linn
5
Farmer Democrat
Short, Robert V 1823
PA
1908
Oregon Yamhill
10
Surveyor Democrat
Shrum, Nicholas 1803
TN
1863
Oregon Marion
11
Farmer Democrat
Smith, Delazon 1816
NY
1860
Oregon Linn
5
Lawyer Democrat
Starkweather, William 1822
CT
1905
Oregon Clackamas
7
Farmer Democrat
Watkins, William H 1827
NY
1888
Oregon Josephine
5
Physician Anti-Democrat
Watts, John W 1830
MO
1901
Oregon Columbia
5
Physician Anti-Democrat
Waymire, Frederick 1807
MO
1873
Oregon Polk
12
Mechanic Democrat
White, John S 1828
TN
1886
Oregon Washington
12
Farmer Anti-Democrat
Whitted, Thomas 1832
OH
>1880
unknown Douglas
7
Farmer Democrat
Williams, George 1823
NY
1910
Oregon Marion
4
Lawyer Democrat
   
   
 
(5)

Decorative divider

Notes:
1. Charles H. Carey, ed., The Oregon Constitution and Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Convention of 1857 (Salem, Oregon: State Printing Department, 1926) 56. (hereafter cited as Carey, Oregon Constitution).
2. David Schuman, "The Creation of the Oregon Constitution," Oregon Law Review 74-2 (Summer 1995): 618; Carey, Oregon Constitution, 28-29.
3. David Alan Johnson, Founding the Far West: California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840-1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992) 172-173.
4. Number of years that the delegate had lived in Oregon at the time of the convention.
5. David Alan Johnson, Founding the Far West: California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840-1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992) 358-361.

Next >>

An exhibit by the Oregon State Archives - Copyright © 2009