Crafting the Oregon Constitution - Framework for a new state

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About the Convention Delegates

A farm drawing
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 Aug. 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...." Footnote 1 Most came to Oregon seeking a rural, noncommercial and self-sufficient lifestyle that sharply contrasted with that sought by the gold-driven entrepreneurs who 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 came 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. Footnote 2
A portrait of Matthew Deady
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% 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 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. Footnote 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. Footnote 5

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
Anderson, Levi1818KY1889OregonWashington5FarmerAnti-Democrat
Applegate, Jesse1810KY1888OregonUmpqua14FarmerAnti-Democrat
Babcock, A D1818NY1879OregonPolk/Tillamook5LawyerDemocrat
Boise, Reuben P1819MA1907OregonPolk7LawyerDemocrat
Brattrain, J H1813OH1859OregonLinn11FarmerDemocrat
Brattrain, Paul1801NC1883OregonLane5FarmerDemocrat
Bristow, W W1826KY1874OregonLane11FarmerDemocrat
Burch, B F1825MO1893OregonPolk12FarmerDemocrat
Campbell, A J1828IN1870OregonLane4MechanicDemocrat
Campbell, Hector1794MA1873OregonClackamas8FarmerDemocrat
Chadwick, Stephen1825CT1895OregonDouglas6LawyerDemocrat
Cox, Jesse1821MO1901OregonLane6FarmerDemocrat
Cox, Joseph1811OH1876OregonMarion10FarmerDemocrat
Coyle, Reuben1821KY1888CaliforniaLinn10FarmerDemocrat
Crooks, John T1807VA1896OregonLinn9FarmerDemocrat
Deady, Matthew1824MD1893OregonDouglas8LawyerDemocrat
Dryer, Thomas1808NY1879OregonMult/Wash7EditorAnti-Democrat
Duncan, L J C1818TN1886unknownJackson7MinerDemocrat
Elkins, Luther1809ME1887OregonLinn5FarmerDemocrat
Farrar, William H1826NH1873Wash DCMultnomah4LawyerDemocrat
Fitzhugh, Solomon1804KY1884OregonDouglas7FarmerDemocrat
Grover, La Fayette1826ME1911OregonMarion6LawyerDemocrat
Hendershott, S B1832IL1886unknownJosephine4MinerDemocrat
Hoult, Enoch1820VA1884OregonLane4FarmerDemocrat
Kelly, James1819PA1903Wash DCClackamas6LawyerDemocrat
Kelsay, John1819KY1899OregonBenton4FarmerDemocrat
Kinney, Robert1813IL1875OregonYamhill10FarmerAnti-Democrat
Lewis, Haman1803NY1889OregonBenton12FarmerDemocrat
Logan, David1826NC1874OregonMultnomah8LawyerAnti-Democrat
Lovejoy, Asa1811MA1882OregonClackamas14LawyerDemocrat
Marple, Perry B1819VA1862Wash TerrCoos6FarmerDemocrat
Matzger, William1819Germany1883CaliforniaBenton10MechanicAnti-Democrat
McBride, John1832MO1904Wash StateYamhill11LawyerRepublican
McCormick, Stephen1828Ireland1891CaliforniaMultnomah6PrinterDemocrat
Meigs, Charles1830CT1883OregonWasco2LawyerDemocrat
Miller, Richard1802MD1872OregonMarion10FarmerDemocrat
Moores, Isaac1796IL1861OregonLane5SurveyorDemocrat
Newcomb, Daniel1800VA1867OregonJackson4FarmerDemocrat
Nichols, H B1821CT1907OregonBenton5FarmerAnti-Democrat
Olds, Martin1799MA1872OregonYamhill6FarmerAnti-Democrat
Olney, Cyrus1815NY1870OregonClatsop6LawyerDemocrat
Packwood, William1832IL1917OregonCurry8MinerAnti-Democrat
Peebles, J C1826PA1897OregonMarion7FarmerDemocrat
Prim, Paine Page1822TN1899CaliforniaJackson6LawyerDemocrat
Reed, J H1824PA1884Wash TerrJackson2LawyerDemocrat
Robbins, Nathaniel1793VA1863OregonClackamas5FarmerDemocrat
Scott, Levi1797IL1890OregonUmpqua13FarmerAnti-Democrat
Shannon, Davis1815MO1889OregonMarion13FarmerDemocrat
Shattuck, Erasmus1824VT1900OregonWashington4LawyerAnti-Democrat
Shields, James1811IL1879OregonLinn5FarmerDemocrat
Short, Robert V1823PA1908OregonYamhill10SurveyorDemocrat
Shrum, Nicholas1803TN1863OregonMarion11FarmerDemocrat
Smith, Delazon1816NY1860OregonLinn5LawyerDemocrat
Starkweather, William1822CT1905OregonClackamas7FarmerDemocrat
Watkins, William H1827NY1888OregonJosephine5PhysicianAnti-Democrat
Watts, John W1830MO1901OregonColumbia5PhysicianAnti-Democrat
Waymire, Frederick1807MO1873OregonPolk12MechanicDemocrat
White, John S1828TN1886OregonWashington12FarmerAnti-Democrat
Whitted, Thomas1832OH>1880unknownDouglas7FarmerDemocrat
Williams, George1823NY1910OregonMarion4LawyerDemocrat


Antique decoration 

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.