Oregon Constitutional Convention Delegates Trivia
Leave Out Your Vulgarity!
Oregon Statesman newspaper editor and Salem Clique political leader Asahel Bush once received advice from friend Matthew Deady to tone down the flagrancy of his Oregon Style journalism: "Leave out your vulgarity when you address decent folk." Deady went on to good-naturedly jab at Bush's place in history: "Think how your memory will suffer, when the future Biographer will give your memoirs to the world, with your blackguard letters to me interspersed through the dog-eared volume."
But Deady's advice fell of deaf ears as Bush continued to vigorously go after his opponents, real and imagined, in private and in print. For example, after G. N. McConaha wrote to comment in 1853 that the Oregon Statesman contained vulgar and offensive language, Bush responded personally by unleashing a withering editorial description of McConaha as "a man who very countenance is redolent with filth, from whose polluted lips it drips in an incessant stream, who has festered in brothels and wallowed in gutters half his life." Luckily for Bush, this was an age before libel laws.(11)
The following snippets of trivia describe less well-known aspects of the lives of some of the delegates to Oregon Constitutional Convention of 1857 as well as others in the political arena during the period. This trivia tends to illuminate the fact that imperfect men produced the Oregon constitution—men who often displayed their weaknesses, jealousies, and ambitions. In that fact, as with so many others, their actions prove that some things never change.
Sharpers, thieves, and rowdys
Convention president Matthew Deady argued that slavery in Oregon would protect republican virtue and build a "'high wall and deep ditch'...between us and the tide of New England [abolition] fanaticism...." He went on to say that slavery would help keep the people of Oregon focused on farming the soil "instead of swarming into over grown cities to strive to live by their wits—becoming in some instances purse proud millionaires, but more frequently sharpers, thieves, rowdys, bullies, and vagabonds."(1)
Wandering the Andes
Delazon Smith was appointed by President John Tyler to be U.S. special commissioner to the Republic of Ecuador in the mid-1840s. Smith stayed in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito for a few weeks before disappearing for over a year. Legend has it that he wandered the Andes Mountains. His mysterious disappearance earned him the title of "Tyler's lost minister." Others took to calling him "Delusion Smith," a name that he carried the rest of his life.(2)
Studying with Abe Lincoln
Leading anti-Democratic delegate David Logan grew up in Springfield, Illinois where his father was a law partner of Abraham Lincoln. As a teenager, Logan read the law with his father and Lincoln, later passing the bar. The elder Logan and Lincoln then dissolved their partnership in order to bring the son into the law practice. But an apparent falling out over the son's alcoholism blocked the plan and Logan later made his way to Oregon.(3)
Flourishing his revolver...
A feud between Matthew Deady and David Logan came to a head in 1854 after Deady authored an unsigned letter to a Democratic newspaper that reported a drunken Logan raping an Indian girl in broad daylight on the main street of Jacksonville. Logan, according to Deady, responded by threatening to kill him. A worried Deady soon wrote that "Logan has been beastly drunk and gambling since the first day [of the court session]. We meet every day.... Nothing has passed between us, but when I am not about he flourishes his revolver and says that he will shoot me on the bench." Logan never carried out his threats and never was threatened with prosecution even though Deady claimed that there were witnesses willing to testify.(4)
Have you seen my ear anywhere?
While campaigning for U.S. delegate to Congress in the mining community of Althouse near the California border, former governor Joseph Lane witnessed how liquor could "lubricate the democratic processes." He and political opponent Alonzo Skinner were addressing a citizens' meeting at Ball's saloon and bowling parlor in 1853 when their arguments set off a drunken melee. According to writer Malcolm Clark, "a pair of partisans of the rival candidates exchanged blows. Setting off a general scrum during which one of the original combatants was beaten senseless and lost most of one ear, which was chewed off or removed by some equally efficient means." A dirty and weary Lane later complained that Althouse was "the hottest damned place he'd ever seen and that that fight was the roughest fight, too."(5)
Pregnant with his own future greatness
Colonel Nathaniel Ford, who brought the Holmes family to Oregon as slaves, was once described by Matthew Deady as "pregnant with his own future greatness." Ford acquired his military title by crusading against Mormons for Missouri Governor Lillburn Boggs and then managed to get elected sheriff in Howard County, Missouri. But he left the state in a hurry in 1844 "to escape acute pecuniary embarrassment and harassment by his creditors." He was later party to the 1853 Holmes v. Ford court case that underscored the illegality of slavery in Oregon.(6)
A loudmouthed buffoon
Abraham Lincoln appointed Oregonian founder and editor Thomas Dryer to be minister to the Kingdom of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) after Dryer had helped Lincoln win Oregon in 1860. But soon critics in Hawaii were disparaging him as a "loudmouthed buffoon" who was routinely drunk. He was recalled in 1863 and went to Washington D.C., possibly to plead for another chance. Eventually, Dryer returned to Portland "broken down and dispirited," cobbling together a meager income from serving as justice of the peace and coroner. He died in 1879 penniless and alone in Portland. The newspaper that Dryer had founded only briefly mentioned him as "a figure of some note during the 1850s" in a burial notice on the back pages.(7)
A smooth transition
After his party collapsed in Oregon, Democratic delegate George Williams made a smooth transition to the Republican Party and won election in 1864 as a U.S. senator. His years as senator were marked by his staunch support of railroads and by charges of corruption. But by 1870 at least one Oregon newspaper mentioned his name as a possible presidential candidate. The next year, President Ulysses S. Grant tapped Williams to be U.S. attorney general, a position he held until 1875 when he was driven out by scandals enveloping the Grant Administration. He was nominated in 1873 to be the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court but later withdrew his name.(8)
Attempted political larceny?
Democratic convention delegate La Fayette Grover won election to the U.S. Senate in 1876 under a cloud that he had openly bought votes. Then, before taking his senate seat and while still serving as Oregon governor, he got himself in the middle of a drawn out presidential Electoral College controversy. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the Oregon popular vote but Grover disqualified one of Hayes' electors on a technicality and replaced him with a supporter of Democrat Samuel Tilden, thus apparently giving the presidency to Tilden. But the reaction nationally was fierce and the congressional commission "compromise of 1877" repudiated his actions and affirmed the Hayes presidency. Labeled a pariah, Grover spent the next six frustrating years in the senate as a backbencher.(9)
The power of the pen
Using a pseudonym, future Oregon Argus newspaper editor William Lysander Adams published a notorious play in 1852 entitled Treason, Strategems and Spoils. The play spared no mercy in cleverly lampooning the Salem Clique as "self-seeking and incompetent spoilsmen." Members of the clique were so tormented by the play that they attempted to get their hands on all of the copies and destroy them. Inevitably, a few copies survived.(10)
1. David Alan Johnson, Founding the Far West: California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840-1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992) 156-157.
2. Ibid., 158.
3. Ibid., 168-169.
4. Ibid., 170-171.
5. Malcolm Clark, Jr., Eden Seekers: The Settlement of Oregon, 1818-1862 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981) 258-259.
6. Ibid., 259-260.
7. David Alan Johnson, Founding the Far West: California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840-1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992) 288-289.
8. Ibid., 295-297.
9. Ibid., 302-303.
10. Gordon B. Dodds, Oregon: A Bicentennial History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1977) 108.
11. Malcolm Clark, Jr., Eden Seekers: The Settlement of Oregon, 1818-1862 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981) 257.